[Fiction] Friday Challenge #166 for July 30th, 2010
A covert trip into an attic reveals something unexpected.
Jessica picked up the centrepiece of the cupboard, an unopened tin of food that had no label. The edges showed flecks of rust, the sides spotted with black marks.
“Nanna, why don’t you ever open it?” said Luke, fifteen and Jessica’s older twin (by four minutes as he liked to point out).
“Because I like to keep it a mystery. It could be anything in that tin. Not knowing what’s in there makes it a mystery. And we all like to have secrets that no one knows about.”
“Well, I’m going to set up a stand at the next school fete and charge people fifty cents to come and gawk at The Tin of Mystery.” Luke waved his hands like a conjuror and broke into a laugh.
“Nanna, are we going to have chocolate barbarian cheesecake for dessert?” said Jessica.
“Yes, we are having chocolate Bavarian cheesecake for dessert. Run along, but don’t go too far as lunch is almost ready.”
“We’d better go before Nannaggedon descends upon us,” said Luke as he walked out beside Jessica, fearful they would be given a job to do.
Sunday lunch at Nanna’s house was a ritual, a tradition that bound the family together. The meal never varied, save for dessert. A leg of lamb roasted with rosemary, baked potatoes, carrots and pumpkin, a tureen of peas you could swim in and a gravy boat slopping with a thick, brown sauce made from scratch (Nanna would never have used the powdered variety).
Nanna had rebelled from the austere, formal meals of her parents, preferring the chatter of children and the laughter of family to be shared as entrees and aperitifs alongside the soup.
“Hey, Jessica, come and check out the attic.”
“But we’re not supposed to go in there.”
“We won’t be long ‘cause lunch is finished and everyone else is busy cleaning up.”
Jessica followed Luke up the stairs and pushed open the door. The air was stale and dry with a thin film of dust.
“Reckon we’ll find some shrunken heads, or even Christmas presents?” said Luke.
The attic was Nanna’s place of forgetful remembrances, a place to store miscellaneous trinkets and memories. Luke spotted a cardboard box newer than the rest. Peeling back the flaps he peered inside with Jessica over his shoulder. On top rested a khaki officer’s hat, the army insignia a tarnished bronze.
“That must be Grandpa’s hat from the war,” said Jessica. Luke picked up the hat to see what was beneath.
“It’s like a music box or a jewellery box,” said Jessica picking it up and opening the lid. Inside was a brown paper bag. Jessica unfolded the mouth of bag and drew out its contents: a sepia photograph, a lock of hair tied with white cotton and a postcard.
Jessica took the edge of the photograph and ran her finger around the edge.
“It looks like Nanna, but heaps young and what’s she holding?”
“Looks like a doll,” said Luke.
“Can’t be. It’s a baby.”
The woman in the photograph wore a simple summer dress and cradled the baby who wore a lace bonnet and was dressed in a long smock.
“Do you reckon the baby in the photo is Mum?” said Luke.
“I’ve never seen this photo before in any of the photo albums. So why have this one hidden away?”
Jessica turned the photograph over and on the back in pencil was written “December, 1940.” “That’s seven years before Mum was born.”
“So was this Nanna’s younger sister or something?”
“I don’t know. I thought she was the only girl with four brothers, but in this photo, Nanna is quite young and she was the last of the family.”
“Was it Nanna’s baby?” Luke said.
He turned the post card over and read the brief note, Dear Hazel, thanks for the photograph. Wish that I could be there. With love, Alfred.
“This must be from Grandpa during in the war.”
“But if it’s not Mum in the picture and it’s not a younger sibling, then who is it?” said Jessica.
“Could be a cousin or some other relative.”
“But it doesn’t make sense to keep a photo, a lock of hair and the postcard. What if the baby was Nanna’s? Before Mum? If it is, why keep it a secret?”
“Maybe it’s like the tin in the cupboard? A secret stays hidden because it’s meant to.”