On the last night of the old century, my parents held a New Year’s Eve Dinner for friends and family. The following day we created a time capsule, using a large plastic storage box, which we buried under the lawn in the back garden, leaving instructions on its whereabouts hidden in the attic of the main house. Everyone was given an envelope into which they placed a letter or a souvenir of that time. None of us knew what anyone else had written, although the children were open about their contributions, saving sweet wrappers and crisp packets as symbols of the age.
I never expected to see the time capsule again and certainly never imagined I would be sitting at my desk with most of the contents. After being buried for more than thirty years the papers are a little damp but the envelopes are still golden and still firmly sealed. The box also contained a copy of my mother’s menu for that special evening, printed on thin card. She had proudly placed six copies on the dining table so everyone could anticipate and admire the dishes she had prepared to celebrate the end of the millennium.
I turn the menu over and see some brief notes in unfamiliar writing. There were clearly two different hands, alternating and responding to each other.
Do you want to….?
Before the rockets
These scribbled words don’t make any sense, but then nor does my mother’s request. She had asked me yesterday when I visited her in the hospice. It was quieter there than the hospital where she had been treated last year, when the cancer had first been discovered, but it could not cure, it could only calm the pain. Imprisoned by a tube above her slowly dispensing morphine and another below silently dispersing urine, my mother was never going to escape this sterile white bed caged in a silver frame. Her thick blonde hair is now sparse silver, her once strong body now shrunken and frail.
“Is it ‘all that is past is forgiven’, or ‘all that is past is forgotten’,” she whispered to me hoarsely. Her feeble voice harmonised with that haunting choral chant she loved playing in the background, making the hospice feel like a premature chapel of rest. “It’s been so long since I went to Morning Service I can’t quite remember.” Her voice is growing weaker by the day, but she knows she can still command my attention, especially now that she does not have much longer to live.
She closed her eyes for a second, then spoke again even more quietly. “Lisa, you remember where we buried the box at the Millennium. I know it might seem silly to you, but I can’t bear to leave it there any longer now there are builders all over the place. I don’t want strangers finding it. Go back for me Lisa darling. Bring it all back for me.” She tried to smile, as if it was not an urgent request, but her eyes were pleading and I knew I had to do as she asked.