Short Story – Mum – Part Six
Having stowed the suitcase in the boot of her car, Audrey was just locking the bureau when the doorbell rang. “Just coming!” she called, hastily pocketing her new keys, tucking away Naomi’s slip of paper and wiping her face with her hands. Two blurry shapes hovered on the threshold as she fixed on a polite smile. Standing blinking, she heard a voice asking, “Got a wardrobe for moving today, eh?”
“Yes, that’s right. Come in, it’s just through here…” and was relieved to turn away for a moment.
“Oh, it’s just a small thing, is it?” said the broad, genial man clearly in charge, bringing with him a thin, sloping junior with downcast eyes. “We’ll have that over to you in two ticks. Going to 15 Welltower Gardens, you said?”
“Yes, that’s right. I’ll come and let you in. It’s not far.”
“Right you are then, missus.”
The sight of two men standing ready to do her bidding was unaccountably cheering. She smiled as the bureau was carefully carried out of the house, stowed in the back of an enormous van and driven away. She caught up with them and then stood by as they brought it into her house. It looked a bit ridiculous parked alongside the elegant coffee table in the living-room, but Audrey was thinking about the briefcase, the suit and the bureau’s contents. Paying the two men in cash, she closed the door with a sigh of relief. Tomorrow, she would be at her sister’s house again for the handover, but she had the rest of today to investigate and to wonder, what was so secret, it had to hide for twenty-five years?
Fingering keys and breathing deeply, Audrey faced the bureau and lifted the lid. That the contents were private was obvious. But there were faces in among the letters, the scraps of photos of houses, lanes and tall gents she recognized. Some of these were from her life too, and Audrey was puzzled as she lifted each picture gently and squinted down, remembering. There, a picture of her husband laughing, of Pamela dangling bare legs on a seaside wall. Of Naomi looking so happy…when had that been?
Dreaming would not answer her questions. Audrey impulsively collected every scrap out of the drawers, checking under the blotter, at the back of the desk and feeling round edges. Everything retrieved, she looked at the emptied-out cabinet and sighed: now it stood devoid of its secret hoard, such a sad, neglected item, but on closer inspection, surprisingly promising. Shades of earlier grandeur might be restored and polished up.
Carefully, Audrey lifted small, folded letters out of crumbling envelopes and read. There were so many, that finally she decided to sort them in date order, to make more sense of them. She knew Naomi’s rounded, childish script, and the other, more sloping and spare. A hole opened up, small at first, like a slow puncture of alarm, hardly conscious, but gathering weight as the day wore on.