Susan held her breath, slowly climbing the stairs to the attic. How many years had it been? Oh, twenty, at least. And now she was finally able to see it all. Last step. In front of her was the attic door.
Susan turned the old brass handle. The door was locked! She laughed. Despite her frustration, Susan realised she should have known. Of course Mother would have securely locked it; far too many secrets to be available for others to see. She knew her mother too well; knew the obsession with secrecy and was now annoyed for not thinking she might need a key.
Tugging her phone from her back pocket, Susan clicked in Toby’s number. ‘Tobes, the effing door is locked, please come and help me. It’s our last chance.’ ‘Honestly, Susan, is it really important to see that old stuff?’ ‘Yes, Tobes, it is. Please come and help me open the sodding door,’ Susan pleaded. Toby arrived at their old family home with carpenter’s tools and lock-picking implements. He was a handy type and soon, ‘Bingo!’ the door opened. (Not popped open, but squeaked and creaked laboriously open).
Susan made her way to the one window and dragged aside the old curtain to shed some light. She looked around. Things she had forgotten about appeared as her eyes adjusted to the dimness. The old bentwood chair that Mother was always going to have repaired; the awful floral cushions that never matched anything but were ‘too good’ to throw away.
Susan stroked the dusty top of the old wooden ‘glory box’ that must have once held such promise. She ran her fingers over the carved front of it. It felt familiar. ‘Please don’t let this be locked also’, was Susan’s silent prayer, as she tried the lid, remembering how her mother fiercely protected the box, never letting her children look inside. Susan heaved on the lid. Never mind the dust, it opened easily. Susan felt a little ill as she prepared for the revelations.
It was impossible to see inside but Susan’s hand dived into the space, ready to lift out whatever was there. Her hand went in further than she expected. She swished her fingers along the width and the length inside the box.
‘Nothing!’ Susan’s shriek woke Toby who, although he’d at first begged to leave once the task of opening the door had been achieved, had stayed and been dozing on the awful floral cushions in the single sunbeam that permeated the darkness of the attic.
‘Nothing!’ Susan’s swear words came tumbling out.
Then, in a final sweep of the box’s insides, Susan’s hand felt a slim envelope. ‘What’s this?’ and then, ‘what the fuck is this?’ (Her swearing was getting worse). Opening a letter, with ‘Susan’ in her mother’s handwriting on the outside, Susan slowly read the words, ‘My dear Susan, You wouldn’t understand, so I burnt it all. Sorry, Darling. Look after Toby, Love Mum’