Saturday 21 June 2014

'The Journal' by Susan Philip

It’s one of those days. A late afternoon lull, the children at school, dinner slow-cooking, and there’s you with not much else to do.

The garden shed beckons; it is time. You pull on your cardigan and old trainers and let the door slam. Trudging through wet grass, your feet squelch.

The air in the shed smells of dust and tastes of cobwebs and the earthy damp sends a shiver over your spine. The gnawing in your stomach grows.

Leaving the door open, you rummage for a torch and manoeuvre a chair from between two boxes. For a moment you sit in the semi-darkness, listening to the roof under the rain.

You think about how you followed him once. A Sunday morning, you woke first and waited on the porch. When he came out you begged to go with him but he refused, told you to stay home with mother. He walked in the direction of the river, carrying his fishing gear and you slowly followed, carrying a heavy heart. You kept out of sight, slinking behind trees whenever he looked up. Full of panther like stealth you made a child’s game of it. 

You flick on the torch and your gaze falls upon the trunk. Your mother gave it to you the day of his funeral. He was adamant you have it, not your brother, not your sister. You.

You lean over and sweep your hand across the top. A layer of grime dirties your hand; you’re not sure you want to see what’s inside.

Your name is etched into the clasp of the metal lock. A key on a thin chain rests at the base of your neck, just below the tight lump in your throat. Eventually, you reach for it and after a number of tries, hands shaking, you manage to prise the trunk open.

You never asked him about that day - didn’t know how, didn’t dare. You weren’t even sure what it was you saw. It certainly wasn’t fishing. The pole was propped against a tree and the tackle box, from what you could see, was empty save for a leather bound journal which he took out. He sat on the bank with his back to the river and you feared he would see you, but he was too engrossed in writing. Scribbling frantically and looking towards the base of an old oak, he watched and wrote, looked up, looked down. Then, just as you were starting to get bored, a woman’s laughter pierced the silence. Your father frowned and hurriedly scratched out what he had written. A pause, then more writing and, after a few minutes, more laughter. It was softer and he smiled and wrote faster. You watched, in awe, as he wrote her into existence.

Presently, you peer into the trunk. Your heart is racing as you pick up the journal, its cover cracked and darkened with age. Hurt turns to forgiveness and then you hear it: soft laughter.

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