Harriet was a little excited, and a little confused, by the package that Sybil had left for her. During all their chats over the years Sybil had never suggested that she would have left anything at all for Harriet, or even that they were that close for it to have been a possibility. Sybil only really knew Harriet as a close friend of her son in law, and that hardly counted as close, no matter how well they got on each time they had met.
“What do you think it is, Monty?”
Monty took a sniff at the package as Harriet held it out to him. It was definitely an interesting smell, and Monty seemed to want to sniff it all over and even took a tentative lick of the corner. Harriet pulled away a little at that in case Monty took a bite of it. Monty sat and looked on attentively uncertain if it was a treat for him, or just a thing to take notice of.
Harriet laid the package carefully on the table and looked again at the words.
‘Dear Harriet, This is for you alone. I trust you will understand why, and will appreciate it for what it is. Sybil x’
Using a sharp knife, Harriet slit the end of the package open and peaked inside. There were a few books, a small photo album, and some letters. Harriet took them out and laid them separated on the table. There was a proper letter in a thin unsealed envelope, again addressed to Harriet, and the books looked like notebooks, but the dated written on the corner of many of the pages suggested they were diaries. Harriet felt a little embarrassed as she took a very quick flick through them in turn not reading Sybil’s hand writing but establishing that they were quite old. The photo album was newer and looked to be from the nineties. the little square black and white images were presented with decoratively cut edges and clearly much older then the album and were tucked loosely into the oversized clear pockets of the album. The photos were of a parent and young child, the child growing up, being a teenager with a friend, and some school photos that appeared to have been photocopies. They looked like they had been carefully selected out from a family collection.
Harriet opened the envelope and took out the letter:
You are probably wondering why you have all this from me, I would be too in your place. But you won’t be able to ask me as I will be gone by the time you read this letter.
I have always been fond of you, and fascinated by your life, and the opportunities open to you that I could only have dreamed of in my youth. We will gloss over that difficult phase in your life and I am glad to see that you have come out of the other side of that safely. I missed our little chats during those years but Amanda kept me informed that you were otherwise well, if not happy. We have only just met again for Christmas and I am not sure I have another one left in me so I was very happy to have seen you there and heard about your woodworking and plans for a workshop. I do hope that has happened and you are happy and successful in your work. If I have managed to see you again in the mean time then I will know, but at the moment I don’t so can only wish you well.
Anyway, the reason for all this…
With this letter should be some photographs, letters and some notebooks. I hope you will recognise me, I am the child with my parents, in some of the photos and with a friend in the later ones. The books will explain things further. The pages are dated for when I wrote them. No one else has seen these and now I am gone I don’t suppose it matters any more, but I thought that you might appreciate them before they are disposed of with my other belongings, but I leave their future to your discretion.
You have my love and best wishes for your future, and I hope you will find a lovely woman to spend your life with, you deserve that.
Monty whimpered softly and placed a paw on Harriet’s thigh. That touch brought Harriet out of her thoughts as the tears fell on the table. “I’m okay, Monty, honest.” She rubbed the top of Monty’s head and toyed with his ears. He put his paw down and rested his head on her lap reassuringly.
Harriet dried her eyes and looked at the spread on the table. She opened the album and had a closer look a the photographs and found she couldn’t really tell if that cubby faced toddler was Sybil, or not. But there was more sixty years between that little child holding her mother’s hand in a park, or was it a garden, and the woman Harriet last saw over a year ago. She could see in the album that it was the same child growing into a young girl, in school uniform, a colour photographs of her leaning against a friend, the same friend at a birthday party, next to each other in the school group photo… It was a brief photographic journey through Sybil’s life into her teenage years, but no further.
Harriet opened the first of the diaries and tried to read the earliest entry.
She remembered starting school, but only as a series of images in her mind, little snips of events that occurred and seemed important at the time. The way the big room sounded different to the big room at home, the way all the other children seemed to know what to do and where to stand or sit. The room was very drab and muted, or maybe it was her memory of that room that was muted by the passing of time. She didn’t know but could not recall much more about that day, how it started or ended, or when her mother reappeared to take her home. The next memory was of falling over in the school playground and grazing her knee and crying (she still had the scars from that, more faded now then the memory). And the other girl who came to pick her up to soothe the hurt and dry tears. She wore a white and yellow dress, that much was definite, though the pattern of the dress was lost to time. “You alright?” was all the girl said before placing a cold hand on the graze to make the pain go away. Sally looked up at the girl and stopped crying. She couldn’t help but smile at the feeling of being cared for in the middle of all the bustling and laughing children still playing and unaware of her plight. “I’m Elle, want to be my friend?”
Sally’s second memory of starting at school was the one that would carry her through to her teens…
Harriet put the book down. It wasn’t a diary, it was a story written in the third person. Was it fictional or was Sally a real person? Every few pages there was a date. Sometimes the pen was different but matching the date. In other places the pen ran out and a different pen was used. There were crossing out and changes, little edits, done at a later date, or at least in a different pen. Some of the inks had faded, others not, giving the writing a proof of its age. The dated pages showed it to have been written between the late sixties and early seventies, so after the era the photographs covered. Maybe it was a diary, written in the past tense, or maybe a novel written about a time easily reminisced about. Harriet would have to read them all to find out but she still had that uneasy intrusive feeling peering into a hidden part of Sybil’s life. She had to assume Amanda was not aware of any of this and keeping Sybil’s confidence could be awkward if Adam or Amanda were to ask.
Harriet stacked all the books, letters and album and placed them, along with the letter from Sybil, into the drawer of her bedside cabinet. She included the two sturdy brown envelops they came in, carefully folded., and then her phone rang…
“Hey Adam, how are you both?”
“Oh, I’m fine, but you said you let you know if I had another one of those prank calls…”
“Yeah, a woman again. This time I took the details and then asked for her phone number.”
“Yes, I did that straight away, it was some chap, in Scotland I think, who had no idea what I was talking about. I just said ‘Sorry, wrong number’, but it was the number she gave me.”
“Yeah, I’m keeping a record of it.”
“Well, no idea, but the only new person I have in my life is that recycling collector woman. I have no proof, or evidence, but…”
“Oh, I hadn’t told you about her! She seemed really nice when I met her collecting my recycling box months ago. And then we met up and went for a walk at the nature reserve just before Christmas. She was really lovely and, well, I liked her, and I think she liked me. But I’ve not heard from her since and then there were these phone calls…”
“Suspicious, yes, but like I say I have no evidence.”
“Yeah, I will do”
“Cheers. You look after yourselves too.”
“Ooh, Steve, can you just pull over for a sec?” Daisy tapped on Beryl’s dash panel to attract Steve’s attention as they were driving down the high street.
Steve tapped the brakes preparing for an emergency stop uncertain how urgently Daisy needed to stop, and then looked around frantically for somewhere to park up safely. “Yes, what’s up! Hang on, lemme just pop Beryl in that bay. What’s happened?”
“Nothing, I just need to…” Steve lost the rest of Daisy’s reply as she leapt out the cab and dashed across the road and into an estate agent. Steve looked around confused and then tried to manoeuvre Beryl into a better position so that her back end wasn’t intruding into the traffic lane. He got out and busied himself with tidying the recycling, just in case a traffic warden decided that the taxi bay wasn’t an acceptable place for him to have parked for no reason.
Daisy ran back over, “Sorry, I just needed to grab a brochure, we can carry on now, I’ll look at it later.” and she jumped back in the cab.
“Oh, is that all, I thought it was an emergency or something. Are you back house hunting again?”
“I dunno yet. But I saw they do auctions and Fran and I were talking about it the other day and I thought there was nothing to lose in finding out. I don’t see them open when I am on my way in in the morning, and I’ve forgotten on my home, and it is more out of my way then when I’d really rather just get home for a cuppa. Anyway, sorry about that.” Daisy tucked the brochure behind her seat in Beryl as Steve walked back to the driver’s side door to get in.
“So are you’re thinking of buying at auction now? I’d have thought you need to have a lot of ready cash for that. It always makes me think of those builders who buy up everything and turn them into no end of student houses.” He pulled out from the space and carried on to their next collection.
“It might be like that but I figure if I have a look, and maybe go to a few auctions I might see something really cheap that needs doing up, but I need to do a bit of research first to see how it works. And then if I go to an auction I need to sit on my hands in case I accidentally end up buying an old woollen mill or a two million pound studio apartment somewhere silly.”
“Well, as they say on that TV programme, ‘Always read the legal pack, and view the house before bidding!’” Steve laughed as he parked up. “There was one the other week where they didn’t realise the house had floors missing due to rot, and another that had to pay the debts from the previous owner! That’s a lot not to be expecting. Not trying to put you off but easier to laugh at the mistakes on TV then to have top deal with it yourself.”
“Oh your not wrong with that, but the more I know the better.”
Steve pulled over at their next collection area, the car parking courtyard of a small group of new build housing. “Yes, true. Changing the subject, how are things going with, err… what’s her name again?”
“Who? Fran?” Daisy checked the clipboard to see which address they were collecting from, “Hmmm, sixteen to thirty four…” she muttered to herself.
“No, the woman at the workshop. You were going to see her again.”
“Oh, Harriet. I don’t know. We went for a walk together and we seemed to get on really well at the café after, but I’ve not seen or heard from her since then.” Daisy picked up a box to sort into the back of Beryl, “I was wondering if she was just busy after Christmas and new year, but I am not sure. It’s been long enough that I feel odd, pushy, if I was to get in touch. I mean we’re at, what, second week in January and nothing. She hasn’t even been there on collection days.” Daisy returned the box and picked up the next two combining the contents to save carrying both boxes.
“That’s a shame.” Steve put down the box he had sorted and gave Daisy’s shoulder a squeeze. “Maybe she is just busy with something. But if not then it’s her loss.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Daisy sighed. “I was just hopeful I had met a friend if nothing else.”