“I like your room,” Rachel said to Paula. “How come?”
“Grandad is in hospital,” replied Paula. ”Mum said I could move in.”
“Yes,” said Paula. “He is dying. He won’t be coming back.”
“I am sorry.”
“He’s….you know, very old. Coming to the end.”
“Do you visit?”
“Yes. I go with mum. I’m the only one who can comfort her, well she gets really, really upset.”
“She had a close relationship with her dad?”
“Oh yes,” she Paula. “Mind you, granny was very tricky. She and her dad had to hold the whole thing together.”
“The whole thing?”
“You know, the house, their relationship. Make sure it did not blow up.”
“Well they all stayed together until granny died.”
“Can you come tonight?”
“No,” said Paula. “We’re seeing grandad tonight. I promised Mum. He drifts in and out of consciousness. We never know if we will be able to visit him again.”
“Okay,” said Rachel, a little disappointed. “So, the room is nice. All you own stuff.”
“Yes, “ said Paula and then paused. “Well apart from the box.”
“This one, on the bookshelf.”
“What’s so special about it?”
“It’s grandad’s and he said it was special,” Paula explained. “Every woman should have one. That’s what he said, exact words.”
“Can I get close?”
Rachel walked over to the bookshelf. The box stood on the top shelf and was about twice as tall as a World Atlas. It was covered with a blue star pattern on a white background with a large lid which fitted snuggly over the top. There was a posted note on it and written in capital letters. DO NOT PUT ANYTHING IN AS IT IS FULL. Rachel was intrigued and she looked at Paula as if to ask permission to open it.
“Go on, Rachel. Open it if you want. Nothing nasty in there, I assure you.”
She opened the box nervously and stopped, looking baffled. There was nothing in the box but an envelope which was still sealed and written on it. FOR YOU.
“I don’t get it, Paula.”
“Well, nor do I. Nor my mum. But grandad was always adamant. Nothing was to be put in the box.”
“And the note?”
“We are not allowed to open it.”
“So what is this?”
“I don’t know.”
“No idea at all?”
“Something to do with granny, we think,” said Paula.
“Mum and I only really noticed it after he’d been taken into hospital.”
“Have you asked him?”
“It’s not been possible,” Paula explained. “Maybe tonight, if he is awake and alert.”
“And if you never find out?”
“Well, we will open the envelope and then decide what to do.”
“It’s a nice box,” said Rachel. “You could use it yourself, afterwards….you know.”
“But it’s full.”
The girls looked at one another and burst out laughing and then Paula said. “It’s a magic box obviously.”
A week later after grandad died, Paula and her mother opened the letter and there written in pen was the message. “You need nothing else. This is filled with my love.”
The following evening, Rachel came to see her. They embraced and hugged each other. “I’m sorry about your grandad,” she said.
“He died peacefully,” Paula explained. “We are all right. He had his turn, as he said.”
The girls went to Paula’s room with a tray with two cups of tea and sat down. Rachel on the bed and Paula at the chair by the desk. They looked at one another.
“Really all right?” Rachel asked.
“Yea,” she replied. “Mum and I had a long weep and a long embrace, but we are fine now, honest.”
“Did he say anything? The last time you visited.”
“Yea, he did. He struggled as if he knew it would probably his last words with us.”
“He told us about the box,” said Paula.
“This one that is filled to the brim with something?”
“Yes, that one.”
“Granny was a materialistic sort of woman,” Paula explained. “Liked the fine things of life. She always had the latest gadgets or fashions before any of her acquaintances. Grandad had his own business. Engineering business. So, he would indulge her, always. Birthdays, anniversary dates. And on many occasions whenever she dropped her subtle hints.”
“How long were they married?”
“A long time but after this incident…”
“The box,” Rachel suggested.
“Yes, then granny moved out and lived with her mother as she fell ill and eventually died.”
“Go on,” said Rachel. “Let’s have the saga.”
“Well when my grandad got to sixty five, he sold the business and on her birthday which was a month later, he wrapped up the box, and that envelope was attached to the lid. Granny was very surprised. She usually told him what she wanted for her presents and he duly obliged, but not this time. And of course, she did not like surprises but now she had no choice. So she opened the lid and a balloon lifted up and sailed up past her face and she read the message as the balloon sailed up to the ceiling. This box is filled with my love.”
“That’s romantic!” said Rachel.
“My granny was not a romantic,” said Paula.
“Oh, I see,” said Rachel. “She was expecting something…”
“Material. A garment, perfume perhaps but not…” said Paula and smiled.
“Not fresh air?” suggested Rachel.
“Well it was not fresh air. It was all his love, packaged in one box.”
“So I expect you are going to tell me that she did not smile at him and hug him and tell him he was an impossible romantic.”
“She was angry. She said she did not want an empty box and the message was just silly. Birthdays are an occasion for real presents, not some whimsy.”
“Oh dear,” said Rachel.
“She told her friends thinking they would agree with her but they were charmed by the gesture. Her best friend told her she had everything and the gesture was perfect.”
“But she couldn’t think outside the box, so-to-speak,” said Rachel.
“Very droll, Rachel. No, Granny was not charmed at all. She was very frosty and he said she moved into the spare room and then days later, her mother was taken really bad and she moved out.”
“And when her mother passed, what happened?”
“Grandad wanted her back and so he sent her a box with a cheque for five hundred pounds and told her he missed her and did not know what to get her as she had not dropped any hints.”
“And that did the trick?”
“Yes,” said Paula. “She had won. She told him to get rid of this box. He didn’t. He hid it in the attic and retrieved it from there after her funeral. And it always stayed with him.”
“And now it’s yours.”
“If I could find someone who would give me a box filled with his love, I’d be very happy indeed.”
“And so would l,” said Rachel and then added. “But only when I had got everything I needed.”
They looked at each other and burst out laughing.