She’d imagined it was her mother, she’d have been about the right age. Hilda had a prominent nose but that was the only similarity. She didn’t speak German, never had an interest in going there, and certainly wouldn’t watch any war movies, favouring comedies and the lightest of family dramas.
“Life is hard enough than to be reminded of it,” she’d say and Eileen knew she’d had her ups and downs but couldn’t imagine anything would have been as bad as that but understood living that era had been close enough, so didn’t press the matter.
It was too late to ask her now. Eileen wished she could turn the clock back a few months, to when they had their long conversations every other month when Eileen visited from her Scottish home. She should have persevered with the idea of Hilda writing her autobiography, recall those missing years hushed into the corners of her mind. Like an old house, the dust was swept aside, different memories uncovered during each visit. It was only in the last few months of her mother’s life that Eileen started to write things down, the last few weeks recorded on her dictaphone. She would recount previous conversations, to check her facts, only to be met by blank stares as if the events had happened to someone else. Even mention of Frank, who Eileen had been too young to remember, would merit a tilt of the head and the offer of another cup of tea.
Then a few weeks later Eileen had received the call she’d been dreading, travelled the journey long enough to dictate earlier conversations and the jobs ahead.
There followed the paperwork, the funeral, distant relatives giving their condolences to a woman they barely knew. Eileen had put her mother’s house on the market and set to the task of dividing her possessions between charity shop, skip and sentimental keepsakes.
In one of the drawers in the bedroom’s dresser, Eileen found an envelope containing a small silver key, with it a note of the bank and box number. Having lived frugal lives it was the last thing Eileen had expected so drove straight there and asked to see the box. She’d taken her mother’s death certificate and probate documentation and after a phone call and hushed conversation, the bank manager had introduced Eileen to his colleague who would show her the vault.
The man shut the door behind him, leaving Eileen alone surrounded by what felt like her school’s changing room, only the lockers would have held much richer contents.
Eileen stared at the metal box and turned over the key in her hand. Like the room, it felt alien. Her box was one of the biggest and yet, she guessed, one of the lightest; not light enough to be empty but not containing weighty jewels, bonds or cash that she suspected the others housed.
The key glided into its hole and turned easily. Lifting the lid slowly, it made no noise but as Eileen let it fall backwards she leapt back as it clanked onto the hard counter top and exposed the contents within. Just one item, a child’s red woollen jacket.
Photography courtesy of morguefile.com.
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