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Chapter 2, The Keepsake Box
With the wake over, and the guests gone, Hanna and Nan put the last few kitchen items away in relative silence. Grandad was out the back putting the folding chairs and tables away and Grace and Steve had already gone home to prepare dinner for the immediate family. The day had finished well, with Steve giving a lovely salute to the magnanimous Mak, unstoppable to the end and Hannah felt proud of her dad for talking about the sister in law he remembered and standing in the gap at a time when the rest of the family were in shock.
Wiping the kitchen bench, Hannah’s thoughts moved back to earlier in the day, and she wondered if Flynn was okay. That tightness in her chest began to rise again, and she concentrated even harder on making the bench gleam.
But she didn’t have long to spend time worrying as Nan walked over to her from the dining table, breaking into her silence. ‘Hannah?’ she enquired, quite the pea in the pod to Hannah with hair, eyes and build practically the same, despite their age and her now grey locks.
‘Hey Nan, are you okay?’
‘Oh yes, I think so, thank you, love. I wanted to have a word with you if I may?’
Hannah was always amazed at how beautifully polite and diplomatic her grandmother was. Coupled with her refined demeanour, she could easily sit in a room with diplomats and royalty and was quite known for her capacity to provide quiet but powerful insight into the lives of others. Nan was, in her career days, the classic example of a 1950’s woman, full of grace, poise and a mind sharp as a blade. But she never raised her voice. In fact, Hannah didn’t think she’d ever heard Nan raise her voice at anyone, not even Flynn.
‘Sure, of course, Nan. I think it’s probably time for some tea anyway. Why don’t we sit down?’
‘Okay, let me just get something first’, and with that Nan toddled off to the adjoining lounge room and came back with an oversized shoe box sized trunk. ‘Here we go’ she said, as she carefully popped it onto the table and sat down.
‘What’s this?’ asked Hannah, who by now was curious to know what might be inside. She reached her hand out, gingerly stroking the leather straps that hugged the thick canvas casing of the box.
‘It’s Mackenzie’s. She wanted you to have it’. Nan paused, swallowing hard. It wasn’t meant to be like this, but she owed it to her daughter and promised to fulfil Mak’s wishes when the time came. ‘She left it for you in her will, Hannah.’
‘Oh…’ was the only response Hannah could muster. ‘But why me? Why not mum?’
Nan leant over and took Hanna’s hands in hers. ‘Darling, there are things that you don’t know about Mak and your mother – about what happened when you were younger – and I don’t think Grace realises the full extent of what happened with Mak and why she moved away. Mak said that this box contained the answers, and she made me promise to follow through giving it to you. At least, you would have the full story, from her point of view. At least, then someone would know the truth.’
Hannah locked eyes with her grandmother. She’d known that there was a deep and real issue underlying the disconnect between her mother and aunty and now, on the day of her burial, Mak was giving her the answers. Mak was trusting her to uncover her story and reveal the truth.
Hannah had a sudden and intense sense that she was about to step into a crossroads scenario – if she takes the box, she’ll have to open it, see what’s inside. Take action. That was what Nan intimated from Mak’s instructions. If she didn’t take the box, she’d never know the whole story but she’d also never know what might be done to give her family peace. Hannah sat at the table, deep in thought, staring at the unopened trunk.
‘Nan, I don’t know… this is a big responsibility. Are you sure Aunty Mak wanted me to have this? I mean, shouldn’t you have it? Or mum? It just seems odd that she’d want me to have it. I’m not sure I want to know what’s inside…I’m not sure I am the one who knows what to do with what’s in there either.’
Nan’s gaze was unwavering. She said nothing. Hannah knew Nan well enough to know that this look was the one that meant there was no more argument on the matter, regardless of what the case was. This look was her final comment. She stood up, gently caressed the side of Hannah’s face and brushed back a strand of unruly curls, kissed her on the forehead and walked out of the kitchen. Moments later her grandparents were quietly heading out the door to go back to Hannah’s house for the evening.
She sat quietly at the kitchen table for a long time. The day began to fade and the air cooled, coaxing Hannah from her deep reverie and stretching, she gathered her things, including the trunk. Back home, she tucked it away under her bed. She just didn’t feel ready to open it and find out what all these secrets were. Mak’s comments when they met swirled around her head, and she felt the weight of the world resting on her heart. Mak wanted her to take this path. Nan wanted her to uncover this mystery. But she just didn’t know if she could.
On the drive home, Hannah wondered why Nan waited until Mum had gone home before she gave Hannah the box. But then she realised that if Grace had been there, she would have wanted to take it, which Hannah felt, she had every right to do, but this action of Nan’s made it clear that Mak wanted Hannah to open it privately and not share about it until she was ready.
On top of all this, Hannah was struggling to understand why her aunt would leave something of this value to her. Why not to her mum? Mackenzie and Grace had been so close, and Hannah felt guilty to have something so personal and precious that surely her mother deserved to have instead.
Wrestling with the unknown contents, Hannah struggled to sleep. What on earth could be so important that only Hannah could discover? She fell into a troubled and fitful sleep, dreaming of her last day with Mak, all the things they talked about, and worrying about why Mak didn’t share this with her then.
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(c)2016 Miriam E. Miles. All rights reserved. Please respect my copyright as I have worked so hard to bring this story to life and would be devastated to see it plagiarised.