With dust motes glinting in the sunlight all around her Becky was swamped by memories of when she had been a little girl. Straight ahead was the door frame where her height had been marked with a permanent marker every six months. She rubbed her fingers over the marks as if by doing so she could reach back to all those happy times in her past.
She had just unlocked the front door and was standing in a deserted, dusty, yet oh so familiar house. All the furniture had been removed yet the outlines remained on the floor. It was devastating to see the house like this although she could still feel the warmth and love inside its walls.
The late night phone call months earlier still made her feel heavy with sadness. Her Aunt Violet had been having chest pains and an ambulance had been called. The neighbour thought Becky would want to be at the hospital. She had given Becky's phone number to the paramedics as she was Violet's next of kin, but before she could get dressed and into her car she had another phone call. This one directly from the hospital. Minutes after her admission Violet had suffered a massive heart attack and died.
Becky sat with Violet for a long time, sobbing at what she had lost. She was given a bag of Violet's personal effects. So little for the massive impact Violet had made on her life. She drove back home in shock. How she would have loved to have been with her, talking to her in the ambulance, hearing her Aunt's last words, yet hoping that they wouldn't be the last. She would have been holding Violet's hand, comforting her as Violet had done for Becky so many times when she was a child.
Violet felt like her second mother as from babyhood she had taken care of her all day whilst her real mother, Violet's sister, worked. Becky spent less and less hours with Violet as she got older, though she loved being taken to school holding Violet's hand, then seeing her waiting at the school gates at the end of the day. Less again when she started Grammar School. Violet was so proud of her when she passed the entrance exam. She was a big girl now and could get to Violet's on the bus after school on her own.
When she finished Grammar School Becky deliberately chose the local University for her course so she could continue to visit Violet regularly, at least three times a week. She delighted her Aunt when she got a First Class Honours Degree. Violet was there proudly at Becky's graduation as she had been at all her school certificate givings and plays. Her mother had attended none of them.
Becky had been offered a good job in the city they lived in so she took it and every time she was promoted Violet bought cake and got the sherry out. She had been giving little sips of it to Becky since she was quite young. It was their little secret. Becky's mother wouldn't have approved as she was teetotal. Now, aged twenty nine, Becky always kept a bottle of sweet sherry in her own home and she poured herself a glass and raised it to Violet, her darling Aunt. How on earth was she supposed to carry on without her?
The six months since then had passed slowly but Becky’s grief still felt very raw. She'd asked the executors if she could have this one last look around before the house was put on the market. Probate had taken months as it always did, hence all the dust. Violet always kept a beautifully clean home and would have been mortified to see it in this state.
Becky allowed more memories to come back, all so bitter sweet. Playing hide and seek, snakes and ladders, ludo, doing jigsaws and playing silly games that they made up together. Then there were the puppies, a little girl's dream. Violet's dog, Lady, had pups three times a year and Becky loved being surrounded by them, cuddling one, then choosing another. Now the house was empty, no Violet, no pups, although in her mind's eye she could see herself as a child on the rag rug in front of the fire, the coals giving off an orange glow illuminating both Lady and her pups. Lady was the sweetest dog and it had been heartbreaking when she passed away. Tears were pouring down Becky's face unchecked. Had returning been a mistake?
She could stand the grief no longer and turned to go. It was only then that she saw Violet's red coat hanging on a hook by the front door. Becky hadn't seen it for years. Violet had loved that coat. It was years old but as fashion trends were cyclical it was very much back in fashion.
Violet had loved bright colors. As a child Becky had been allowed to rummage through Violet's makeup bag and she smiled as she remembered the lipstick colours. Bright orange, cerise and red to match the coat. She couldn't stop herself from burying her face in it, breathing in Violet's perfume and underneath that Violet's own scent. She couldn't resist putting the coat on. It fitted like the proverbial glove. She was lost in a hundred memories. Without thinking she took off the coat and, using it as an imaginary partner, started to dance around the house, something else Violet did with her as a child. She could hear the song "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady going round in her head and she began to sing it, the words so familiar.
Putting the coat back on Becky wrapped the coat tightly round her and it felt like she was surrounded by Violet's loving arms. She noticed it was wool with a silk lining, obviously expensive which was probably why it looked brand new. Becky wondered how it had got left behind. Feeling a bit naughty for doing so she slipped her hand into each pocket of the double breasted coat. In one pocket there was a clean handkerchief. Opening it out she recognised it from when she was at Grammar School. In needlework lessons Becky had embroidered the bright blue forget-me-nots in one corner. Her Aunt's favourite flower.
"I'll never forget you," Becky said, crying so hard now she could barely speak, so touched that Violet had kept the handkerchief in her favourite coat.
The other pocket contained a gold locket that Becky had never seen before. On opening it she found two photos. One was a cut down version of the same photo Becky had, of Violet holding her as a baby. The other one was of a teenage couple, cuddling and smiling. After squinting at it for a bit Becky was sure the girl was Violet. The man could have been her Uncle Bill but she'd never seen a photo of him so she couldn't be sure. Violet could never have afforded a gold locket and why have it if she never wore it?
Becky pulled the coat even more tightly round her. As she did so she felt something digging into her. To her surprise the coat had an inside pocket. Reaching in she pulled out a lumpy cream envelope and was shocked to see her name on it, To Rebecca, in Violet's beautiful handwriting. It contained several sheets of paper which she pulled out and was sure she could smell Camay soap, another memory. Becky had very long hair as a child and Violet would gently wash it for her twice a week with Camay soap then put it up in rags to make beautiful ringlets. This made Becky smile through her tears. It used to make her feel like a princess.
The lump was a ring, clearly very expensive. Slipping it onto her finger Becky held it up in the dusty light, turning it this way and that, marveling at the clarity of the many diamonds. The center one was square and radiated light of its own. The ring was beautiful. She needed somewhere to sit while she read the letter so she hung the coat up again, not wanting to get it dirty, then sat down on the front doorstep and began to read.
My Darling Becky,
If you're reading this then you have discovered the secrets of my coat. I asked my executors to leave it there for you and I want you to have it and all that it contains.
You are the daughter I could never have. That's why I never had Lady spayed. All those pups were my children and even though it was such an honour to help Lady give birth each time, I loved you far more than any pup.
Please don't be angry with me for what you are about to read. I was very young and had no choice but to do as I was told.
I know I said that my husband, your Uncle Bill, had died young, just before you were born but that was a lie for which I apologise. I never wanted to lie to you. I never married Bill and he isn't dead.
I wish things could have been different, but when you were born in our strict family illegitimacy was still a scandal. I was telling the truth earlier when I said you are the daughter I could never have. When I became pregnant with you I was sixteen, like Bill. My parents sent me away to stay with my older sister Annie, your "Mum", at Catterick Army Camp to hide my pregnancy from their friends and neighbours. Annie was five years older than me. She was a harsh sister, no less harsh with her own children, and I didn't want her to have you but it wasn't my decision. She'd been away on Army Camps for years so it would be no surprise when she came home with a third child which she did soon after you were born, as your "dad's" time in the army was over.
Annie had been fine living in the camps without him but as soon as they were together for real, day in day out, the arguments started and they very quickly split up.The bonus was that she had to go back to work full time and I jumped at the chance of being your babysitter. As you grew older I saw how harsh she was with you, just as she had been with your "brothers", and many times I wanted to jump in and tell her to stop shouting at you but my parents had told me I must be seen to be your Aunt so I couldn't intervene. They paid me an income, enough to live on, as part of my agreement not to tell you the truth and to stop seeing Bill so I didn't need to work, but someone needed to look after you, keep you away from Annie as much as possible, and I jumped at the chance.
I was never allowed to see Bill again so I lived alone with Lady. There was never another man for me, but he would love to be your father, as he should have been, and I hope you will be able to have a relationship with him. The executors can give you his contact details. We've been seeing each other for years in secret. I didn't want Annie to know and use it as an excuse to stop me seeing you. He's a lovely man and can't wait to finally meet you. I hope you can help each other get through this.
It was such a delight to play a part in your upbringing. It has been so hard not to tell you the truth until now. I'm so proud of you, of the lovely young woman you've become and how successful you've been in your career. Please don't think badly of me. Annie bullied me into not telling you sooner. With our parents now dead I should have stood up to her but she scared me, always so unpredictable. However she never adopted you. Surprisingly I was allowed to choose your name which meant such a lot. You couldn't have my surname or have Bill and I on your birth certificate as your parents but the solicitors are looking into having that changed. If you want them to.
Regardless of your current birth certificate you are my closest relative so my entire estate goes to you. I needed to tell you this myself which is why you haven't already heard from my executors. They have been under strict instructions not to contact you until after you visited the house, which I knew you would do eventually. My estate means this house and my furniture. It has been put into storage along with my clothes in case there was anything you wanted to keep.
The ring, which I was never allowed to wear, was my engagement ring from Bill. He bought me the locket when you were born and managed to smuggle it to me when I got back from Catterick via a friend. Wasn't he a dish? He also bought me the coat. All were way out of my price range. His parents had money so they didn't want us to be together either. I was very much a commoner in their eyes. Please feel free to sell the ring if you like but it would look perfect on you and I would be so happy if you would wear the coat.
So this is goodbye, my darling daughter. It feels so good to finally be able to call you that. You were always in my heart.
Love Mum xxxx 💋
Violet had ended it with a real red lipstick kiss.
Becky had run the full gamut of emotions reading the letter, anger at her grandparents and Bill's parents, anger at Annie, for her part in it and the horrible childhood she had suffered at Annie's hands. Also overwhelming grief that because of her grandparent's outdated rules she was not allowed to live with her own mother who would have been so much kinder to her. Her heart ached at what she had lost. Now it made sense that Violet was always the one to take her out in the pram. Annie had told her that. The photo of Violet holding her as a baby. At every stage of her life Violet had been there.
Yes, she would contact Bill and get to know her father, yes, she would wear the ring with pride and the locket too, and yes, she would wear the red coat, but more than that she would keep the house and modernise it whilst keeping the character. It was her true childhood home and some of her mum's furniture deserved pride of place too. As to the rest of the estate, however much that might be, no amount of money could compensate her for what she had lost. Her darling Violet. The mum she'd never known she had until it was too late.
© Caitlyn Kilbee