The tools of Dad’s obsession were strewn across the floor. A compass, a gas stove, a few shotgun cartridges. All that was left of a lifelong quest to become a man he could never have been. The beam caught the etched sides of a silver box that did not belong in Dad’s macho dream. Ian flinched when he saw he hadn’t been mistaken. It was a jewellery box. He shoved the handle of the flashlight into his buoyancy jacket and picked it up. He turned it around, and the glare of the flashlight faded from a glass cover over a miniature photograph. He hadn’t seen that face since he was six years old, but his mother’s smile stabbed through him like a knife. His eyes stung as he searched for a memory of her smiling like that. It didn’t come. Her smiles had been rare and fearful, smuggled beneath the radar of Dad’s disapproval of everything from coddled children, to living in Didcot and working in a department store.
Dad must have brought the box with him after she died in the car crash. All that time he’d forbidden him and Jack to mention her, and Ian had thought Dad had erased every trace of her from his life. He had thought Mum’s death had been a dream come true for Dad, as he’d been able to buy Coldwater Cottage cheaply and play at self-sufficiency between trips to buy booze. Yet what was this box if not proof that he’d never escaped from the memory of her? Proof that he had loved her even if he’d never known how to show it? Ian’s eyes stung, and not from sea salt. Dad, you bastard!
The catch on the box was tiny and it took Ian several attempts to get it open. There wasn’t much inside. A pair of pearl ear-rings, a gold necklace, and pinned to the velvet under the lid, a silver brooch in the shape of a Celtic cross.
Next week: The Dark
Cover by Manda Benson
Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online