It's Raining Men

- a romantic comedy -

Beate Boeker
Gwen Ellery

She was dying, and we both knew it. But while my heart felt ready to crumble, she still seemed full of pluck and plans. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, this was Charlotte. She had never given up in all the eighty-six years of her life, and though her skin now was wrinkled and pale, and her white hair a mere shadow of how it used to be, she still exuded that special energy that had always drawn me to her. She was almost fifteen years older than I was, but there had been times when I had been half in love with her—maybe more than half, if I was totally honest. However, she had never had eyes for anybody but her husband, Hubert, who had died half a year ago. I swallowed, remembering her agony.

“Hubert might not have wanted it, but I’m going to do it nevertheless,” Charlotte suddenly said and nodded her head in that determined way she had. The pillow shimmered white beneath her hair.

I blinked. Maybe my mind had drifted off somewhat. “Hubert would not have wanted what?”

“My will, Anatole.” She frowned, and her hands moved impatiently on the white bedspread. They made a faint, rustling sound in the quiet hospital room. “Weren’t you listening?”

“I was listening. You said Hubert would not have wanted something, but you didn’t say what it was that he would not have wanted.”

“I’m making a new will. That’s why I called you.”

I rallied quickly. You had to if you wanted to keep Charlotte’s respect. “You should have told me. I didn’t bring any paper.”

“But you’ve got a fountain pen with you, don’t you?”

“Of course.” What an idea, to leave the house without my trusted fountain pen.

“Well, this hospital will have some paper somewhere. Go and get it. But hurry. I won’t be around much longer.”

I double-checked to see if the well-known twinkle had appeared in her faded blue eyes, but she was dead serious. Oh, Charlotte.

Five minutes later, I returned with the paper. She was lying on her back, her head turned to the window. It was an expensive hospital close to the Parc de Belleville, and the best rooms offered a fantastic view of Paris. In summer, a haze of smog sometimes blurred the outlines of the city’s famous skyline, but on this crisp April day, you could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, outlined against the sky as if stenciled in by a remarkable hand.

“Are you all set?” She asked as if we were preparing for a fun day at the sea, ready to head out to Erquy, as we had done so often in the past.
“All set.” I pasted on a smile that cost me more strength than avoiding red meat for a month.

“Don’t look like that.” She smiled at me. “Life will go on. For you.”

Suddenly, the famous twinkle was back in her eyes. “And it will be fun.”

Fun didn’t seem likely for me, but I wasn’t about to argue the point. I uncapped my fountain pen. “Go ahead. I’ll note your ideas, then I’ll adapt them where necessary so everything will be legally correct, and in the end, it’s best if you write down the final version by hand yourself, unless you’ll find it too tiring.”

“I can do it.” Her chin went up. “Now let’s start. This is the last will of Charlotte Lemont, née Dupont, born August seventh, nineteen—” She broke off. “But you know the year. I needn’t repeat it.”

I suppressed a smile. She was eighty-six and still vain. But why not?
The room was warm and quiet, and the soft scratching of the fountain pen on cheap paper was the only sound we could hear. A sudden shiver came over me, a feeling of something big to come, something that would shift my universe. I ignored it and finished writing the first sentence.

Charlotte continued with quiet determination. “I leave everything I have in equal parts to my four grandchildren.”

“Everything you have?” I lifted my head. “But you—”

She smiled. “I know, Anatole. Don’t ask.”

I couldn’t help myself. “What about your children?”

“They all got enough when Hubert died, and we both told them that my personal property would go directly to our grandchildren. They know, and they approve. I asked them to confirm that in writing, so we’ll have no unpleasant scenes after my death. You will find the four letters in the left drawer of my desk at home.”

“That was clever of you.”

She smiled. “Thank you, but I’m not done yet.” She took a soft breath. “The nature and extent of the inheritance will only be disclosed to the heirs one year after my death.”

I continued writing, though it felt as if my fountain pen wanted to go on strike.

“During that year, as an absolute condition to qualify for their inheritance, every single one of my grandchildren will have to carry my umbrella with them, everywhere, for three months, before passing it on to their cousin.”
My fountain pen stopped writing all by itself. “Your umbrella? What kind of nonsense is that?”

“No nonsense at all.” She lifted her chin. “Write. You’re here to write down my last will, not to question it.” Her mouth had disappeared into one obstinate line.

I now remembered why I had never been fully in love with her. She was as difficult to shape as baguette that has been around too long. “I’ve never heard of that umbrella,” I said. “What umbrella?”

“It’s a very special umbrella.” Charlotte’s face softened. “It was a prototype. You remember the umbrella factory Hubert and I had, way back when?”

“I remember it well.”

“It wasn’t very large, of course, but we loved it. A pity we went bankrupt.”
Her smile vanished.

“That was a very tough time for you.”

“Indeed. Hubert took it to heart and felt it was his fault, which wasn’t true at all. In fact—” She broke off and made a small move with her wrinkled hand. “But that’s old history. Luckily, he found his feet again, and I kept the umbrella. It was especially made for me, a gift from Hubert for my thirtieth birthday. It’s red with white dots, and collapsible, but with a heavy wooden handle because that’s how I liked them.”

I shuddered. “And you want your grandchildren to run around for three months with this ugly umbrella because . . .?”

“Just because.” Her mouth closed with a snap. “Stop questioning me, Anatole. I have my reasons. Just write it down.”

I didn’t budge. “What happens if they refuse?”

“Then they will be excluded from the inheritance.”

“Mon Dieu! Isn’t that a bit eccentric?”

There was the twinkle again. “Who said I wasn’t eccentric?”

She had me there. “Well, nobody.”

“There you go.” She pointed at the paper. “Go ahead. Write it down. And make sure it can’t be challenged. I’m absolutely sane.”

I smiled, and this time, it came from my heart. “Nobody dares to say differently, Charlotte.”

“Good.” She returned my smile. “I knew I could trust you. I first want the umbrella to go to Travis. It’s a bit risky as he’s the most likely to lose it somewhere, but I have a feeling that he needs it most.”

“But isn’t Travis the one in California?”

“Yes, that’s him.” She smiled at something that seemed to amuse her.

“Have you never heard of that song ‘It never rains in California’?” I asked. “There’s a reason why that song was written, you know.”

She tilted her head to one side. “You should have listened to the rest of the song, Anatole. It says ‘But it pours, man, it pours.’ And I sure hope that it will pour when Travis has the umbrella with him in California.”

I shook my head but decided to drop the subject as she was obviously unwilling to disclose more. “Do you have the addresses of all your grandchildren?”

She shook her head. “No. Travis is always on the road because he’s a musician, and that’s another reason why he should have the umbrella first. You can give it to him at my funeral.”

“Will he come?” I couldn’t recall seeing Travis in Paris. The others, yes; I had met all of them on and off in recent years and had known them well as children. But Travis had not been to Paris for a long time.

“Oh, yes, he will come. I sent them e-mails and invited all four.”

I choked. “You sent your grandchildren e-mails and invited them to your funeral?”

“Yes.” She gave me a sunny smile. “I couldn’t tell them the precise date yet, of course, but I informed them that I expected them to be present at any cost, and I gave them your address for all details as well as the address of my travel agent so she could book their tickets. I will pay for them. Travis wouldn’t have enough money to come over otherwise, and it would be unfair not to invite Carlo and Ainsley. Josie, of course, doesn’t need to fly in. She’ll take the métro, as she always does.”

“Josie will miss you.”

For the first time, Charlotte’s lips trembled. “Little Josie. I’ll miss our Sunday lunches, too. But she’ll be fine. She just has to learn to trust her talents. She’s quite a brilliant designer, you know, but it’s hard to earn recognition nowadays. She’ll be the third to get the umbrella. After Travis, I first want Ainsley.”

“Ainsley in Edinburgh?”

“Yes.”

“Well, at least she’ll need an umbrella in Scotland.”

Charlotte nodded. “Ainsley is a good girl; in fact, she’s the most organized of them all, but she urgently needs to loosen up and enjoy life. That’s why she should have the umbrella after Travis.”

“And the umbrella will do just that?”

“Don’t get cheeky with me, Anatole. Did you write it down? First Travis in California, second Ainsley in Scotland, third Josie in Paris. You’ve got that?”

“I do.”

“The last is Carlo in Florence. I’m not sure if he really needs the umbrella.”

“Florence is known for its nice weather.”

“Oh, the weather . . .” Charlotte waved it away. “I wasn’t talking of the weather.”

For one crazy instant, I wondered if Charlotte was having a strange flight of fancy after all, but then I saw her sharp gaze resting on me, and I duly suppressed the idea.

“Carlo needs to be liberated.”

I lifted my eyebrows. “Liberated from what?”

“Liberated from his own expectations of himself. Do you remember his older brother ?”

I swallowed. “Yes, I do.”

Her face turned sad. “My little Amélie was shattered when the accident happened. It was a horrible time for all of us. There’s nothing worse than losing a child, but you know, it’s also bad for the children who survive. Carlo was only five when his brother was killed, but from then on, he did everything to make his parents happy. And that’s unnatural.”

“Is it?”

“Oh, yes. A little rebellion is healthy and necessary.”

“I see. And that little rebellion is supposed to break out when he’s carrying around an unfashionable umbrella?”

Charlotte chuckled, but she didn’t reply to my question. “He’ll suffer, poor boy. Carlo is a true Italian, always dressed to the nines. However, he’ll survive.”

I shook my head, but I finished my list with Carlo’s name. “Is that all?” My voice sounded faintly ironic.

She leaned back into her cushions, a satisfied smile on her face. “That’s all, Anatole. You’ll find the umbrella in the bottom drawer in my desk, at the very back. I guess it’s a bit dusty because it wasn’t taken out for years and years, but it should still work just fine.”