#0021 – The Key

April 19, 2013 § Leave a comment


“Which one is it?”

Aaron looked down at the key for perhaps the twentieth time that day, and ran his hand across the digits embossed there. He checked the beach huts, their numbers rusted from decades of salty air and the occasional crashing wave. “Err, the yellow one, I think.” They stopped in front of the doors. The paint was remarkably bright considering how long the hut had sat neglected on the front. Maybe someone was employed to maintain them? “Exciting,” Fiona exclaimed, as she turned the collar of her jacket up against the wind. Aaron couldn’t tell whether she was being sarcastic or not.

The lock came away with a shrill screech of metal, and Aaron pulled back the doors with a flourish. He had been waiting for this for weeks. First there was the funeral to attend to, of course, and then he had felt obligated to stick around for the sake of his family. His Mum had taken it pretty badly, as had her sisters, and he had stayed home longer than he had anticipated to make sure she was alright. The ride south had taken awhile too; Fiona had insisted on stopping to sight-see along the way. They had made two overnight stops when Aaron had intended to make do with one. But they were here now, finally. The coastline of Hove spread away from them in both directions as far as the eye could see. No-one else was about, which was unsurprising given the hour. Fiona had also insisted on stopping to watch the sunrise send its first wan rays of light across the sea.

The sight inside the hut took them both by surprise. A mass of jumbled furniture, blankets, trinkets, damp cardboard boxes, tool chests and vintage signs lay stashed within, piled and packed in like Tetris pieces. Bric-a-bric and tat, Aaron thought at once. They exchanged a glance. “Cheers Grandad,” Aaron said, with a rueful grin.

The newer stuff was at the front. Aaron hauled down a mouldy box filled with vinyl LPs from the top of a tatty chest of drawers. “Chris Rea, Simply Red… a lot of early Michael Jackson stuff,” Aaron said as he leafed through the albums, crinkling his nose against the smell of dust and damp.

“Runs in the family, eh?” Fiona jibed. She had meant to poke fun at him, but Aaron merely nodded. He closed up the box and cast it aside, warming to his task. The chest of drawers was next to be excavated. One of the handles snapped off as he pulled it out. Fiona began to help, daintily reaching up and plucking the topmost book off a stack of paperbacks that leaned drunkenly against the side of the hut.

“Don’t strain yourself will you?” he chided. Her answer was to fling the book at him. It caught him a glancing blow on his shoulder and spun away into the gloomy depths at the back of the hut. “Oh, very mature.”

By mid-morning, they had moved around half of the items from the hut to the pavement. Dog-walkers and runners were beginning to pass them by. Occasionally somebody would ask them if they were doing a jumble sale. Aaron just shook his head and moved them along. The weather began to improve. The granite clouds that had accompanied their work for most of the morning began to dissolve, exposing a blanket of cerulean blue beneath. Aaron sent Fiona up the beach a ways to an ice-cream truck for a couple of Cokes.

“Why did your Grandad leave the key to you, do you think?” she asked when she returned.

“Dunno. He always felt closest to me I think. Maybe he knew I’d be most interested in what was in here.”

“Maybe he knew you were the only one of his grandsons who would gladly wade through a load of old shit,” she teased. Her eyes were sparkling as she took a swig from her can. She looked beautiful today, he thought to himself.

“You’re a load of old shit,” was his reply. He sat down gingerly on the back of an old leather rocking-horse that he had uncovered, half-expecting it to collapse underneath his weight. One of its eyes, an old button of indistinguishable colour, was dangling from its socket by a lone piece of thread. Its woollen mane was matted with dirt and grime. Aaron watched a spider crawling across it, no doubt livid that it had been thrust out into the sunlight.

For a moment, Fiona and the sea melted away, and he was back in his Grandad’s living room the night before he died. He heard the tinkling of crockery from the kitchen as his Nan made him the cup of tea that he hadn’t asked for. His grandad was slumped back in his favourite armchair, looking pale and gaunt. And old. So very old. The only thing that seemed full of life to Aaron’s eyes was his big, bushy beard, which struck him so much like Santa’s beard that it took him all his willpower not to break out into hysterical and ill-advised laughter. Minutes of silence elapsed, punctuated by the ticking of the gold-plated clock that had lived on their coffee table since the dawn of time. His grandad, quiet for most of the day, suddenly seemed aware of his presence and grew lucid. He stirred in his seat and opened his mouth to speak. Aaron had to lean closer to catch the words. “Over there. In that wooden box.”

Aaron looked over at the old box on the mantelpiece. He rose and unclasped its lock. Inside was a rusty old key with a number embossed on it. “What’s this?” he mused, turning it over in his hands.

His grandad blinked slowly. “So you can know the truth.”

Now, Fiona was talking to him, but he did not hear the words. He rose from the rocking horse and turned back to the hut. Aaron bent to his task.

Image is for illustration purposes only. Photo credit: Amy Massey.

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