So when no footsteps echoed from inside, when no one called out that they were coming, I knew that I was quite alone and that I would not be disturbed.
I still didn’t know why my mother was so anxious for me to do this, but I knew it had to be done. Now she knows that she will die soon she has been tidying her life with an urgency I have not seen since she last spring cleaned or moved house. She has selected pieces of jewellery for favourite friends and decided her collection of Staffordshire figures will be shared by various cousins. So I wondered if it was a desire for final order that has made her so keen for me to undertake this task.
“People will ask questions,” she kept saying. “There will be more interest than ever.” I suppose she means that my father’s career will re-examined because of his book, but I cannot understand why else she should be concerned.
But she is my mother. She is frail and sick and I would do anything to help pacify her in her current state of nervous anxiety. When she asked me her voice was weak but insistent. “I shan’t feel at peace until I know you have found it. Please don’t let me down.”
So then I began digging into the turf, attempting to fulfil my dying mother’s wishes. A trowel was not the ideal tool, but I could not conceal a shovel in my raincoat pocket. I dug away at the sandy soil, which yielded easily with each thrust.
But after digging down for nearly a foot I still had not found it. I was sure I had measured out the paces from the house correctly. But maybe it was buried deeper than I remembered, so I removed another layer of soil and then another. Then finally, there was something solid and I could see the dirty black plastic binbag in which we had wrapped the box.
I dug all around the lid, revealing the entire surface, but realised that to free the sides and pull the box right out of the ground, I would have to dig away many more shovelfuls of soil than I had the time or the freedom for. I was afraid I might soon be discovered and stopped. So I tore away the plastic wrapping, ripped at the tape sealing the lid and pulled at its edges. It started to lift and then slid from my grasp, snapping shut and grazing my fingertips. So I used the trowel as a lever and jammed it under the lid to prise it open.
It gasped with a sad sigh as I forced it to reveal its contents. Everything inside, the videos, and the envelopes, was double wrapped in thick plastic. I pulled the package open. Some damp had seeped through and mould had discoloured and distorted the newspapers we had included, but it looked as if it was all readable. Whatever everyone had written at the start of the Millennium had not been left in the past, it was still here now.
I left the opened box in its pit and brought the wrapped contents home with me. It is too late to visit the hospice again tonight, so I will see my mother tomorrow. But now, I must think about what we did then and try to understand why she is so concerned and why, after all this time, what happened that night, the night of her wonderful dinner, matters so much to her.
to be continued Monday, December 7