Day 15 – Christmas plans reveal a surprise history in today’s post…

Rita is another of the participants from the Beginner’s Creative Writing course. I loved having Rita in the class and I’m absolutely delighted that she is still writing 🙂 Usually she had us in stitches when she read her work. Today she made me cry.
Oh the things that Christmas plans can reveal…

Here’s her story…

The Key by Rita O’Brien
As she made her way up the stairs into the attic, Norah wondered to herself whether she was crazy to be putting up Christmas decorations when she was going abroad for most of the festive season.

Her best friend, Aileen, had suggested it in July while they were in Galway on a day out with the local active retirement association. For both of them, it was the perfect solution to their annual dilemma now that they were widowed and their children had moved away from home.

“How will we break it to the kids, though”? Norah had said when they’d started trawling the internet for good deals in the sun.

“Break it to them…..as in, breaking bad news, do you mean”? laughed Aileen. “Are you joking me? Sure, they’ll be delighted to get us out of the way for a change!”

And she was right, judging by the number of sons and daughters who’d offered them a lift to the airport before they’d even booked their flights.

By the middle of August, they’d arranged two weeks half-board in a four-star hotel overlooking the marina in Puerto Banus on the Costa del Sol, departing from Dublin on December 22nd. It was pricey, but neither of them had been on a foreign holiday in the years since their husbands had died.

Aileen had been widowed first, seven years earlier, when Matt collapsed suddenly as he finished his shift at the fire station. She wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy what she had to go through in the first year without him. The loneliness was one thing, especially after her three sons settled back into their own lives less than a month after the funeral. But she never realised that she’d feel so vulnerable being on her own with a house to manage. If it hadn’t been for Norah and her husband, Jim, she didn’t know how she would have coped. She felt blessed that, ever since then, she only had to mention a dripping tap, a blocked drain or a dodgy door handle to Norah, and Jim would be around with his toolbox almost straightaway. No matter how long it took, he wouldn’t leave until Aileen was sure that he had the problem sorted.

Then, four years after Matt’s death, Norah’s life was shattered when Jim was killed in a collision with a drink-propelled driver on the short journey home from Dublin Airport after a golfing weekend in Scotland. His two friends, Dermot and Alan, broke the news to her on the doorstep. She was so distraught that Alan had to phone her daughters while Dermot brought Jim’s golf bag and luggage upstairs out of Norah’s way.

At some stage, one of the girls must have moved them into the attic because Norah never thought about them again until now, when she spotted them on the floor behind the trunk labelled ‘Christmas’. She pulled the dust-covered suitcase towards her and was about to unzip it when she realised that it was locked. It occurred to her that she could get a Stanley knife to cut through to the contents, but Norah felt that it would be sacrilegious to destroy one of the last things Jim had touched before he’d died. Without warning, she felt a wave of grief wash up through her entire body.

Then, her tear-filled eyes settled on the bagful of golf clubs beside it. Reaching across, she noticed that the pouch on the outside of the dark green Slazenger bag was bulging and unlocked. Her hands trembled as she touched the zip and moved it cautiously to the right, the entire length of the pocket. Dragging the bag closer to her under the overhead light, Norah struggled to make out exactly what it was that was stuffed inside.

She barely recognised the dark blue hand towel that Jim had ‘borrowed’ on his way to the driving range one day and had never put back. It was caked so hard with dried earth that it was liable to flake apart if she tried to unfold it. Next, her shaking fingers touched the bone-dry, shrivelled remains of the kid leather golf glove she’d bought him for his last birthday. With great care, she prised it open so that she might fit her own hand inside. Then, Norah’s throat tightened as she felt something flat, hard and stone-cold inside. A key was wedged so tightly into the thumb that it almost pierced the leather.

She struggled to work it out of the glove and as she placed it in the suitcase lock, the thumping of her heart was amplified through the cold, silent, emptiness of the attic. Less than five seconds after the lock popped open, Norah was touching Jim’s golf sweaters, lifting them to her face, getting the faintest hint of the smell of him through the musty dampness that had probably been caused by still-wet raingear being packed at the last minute on top of the woollens.

Christmas keyInhaling tears as she descended the narrow attic steps, Norah let the suitcase slip from her hand and the contents scattered all over the landing carpet beneath her. Then among the jumble of socks and shirts, she noticed a perfectly wrapped package, tied with a pretty blue ribbon. With clammy hands, she clumsily undid the dainty bow and outer wrapping. Inside, she saw Jim’s handwriting on a tiny card like those that he usually tucked into her birthday and anniversary bouquets.

“To my soulmate, the love of my life”, he had written, “I’ve missed you so much all weekend. I bought your perfume so that, by smelling it, I could pretend you were around me all the time. Forever yours, Jim xxx”

Overcome with a burning sensation of happiness and excitement that she hadn’t felt in years, Norah opened the gift box to find a fragrance that she didn’t recognise. She removed the stopper and breathed in the sickly sweet scent of honeysuckle mixed with vanilla.
Aileen’s favourite.

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