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© Sheryl Browne

The Memory Box
by
Sheryl Browne

- 1 -

Damn. Daniel Adams cursed silently, noting the thunderous look on his son’s face.
There was a time and a place for carefree frivolity, and their lounge – with a whole other family, when Jake had lost such a huge part of his – wasn’t it.
Raking a hand through his hair, Daniel walked over to him. ‘Hey, Jake, how’s it going? We were just . . . ’ He stopped, searching for a way to explain. Andrea and her family were only there until their own house was habitable, but still, it must seem to Jake as if she was trying to replace his mother.
- 2 -

‘Sorting through the clothes people have kindly donated,’ Andrea supplied, ‘before Ryan’s forced to go out chatting up babes in his boxers.’
Jake’s expression didn’t alter. He glanced at Andrea, then dragged his eyes back to Daniel.
Daniel placed a hand on his shoulder. ‘You are going to get some breakfast, Jake, before you and Ryan go –’
Jake pulled away. ‘Not hungry.’
Right. Daniel blew out a breath. ‘Jake, you either eat something, or you don’t get to go into town today. Your choice.’
- 3 -

‘Whatever.’ Jake turned to walk towards the stairs, shrugging scrawny shoulders under his rugby shirt as he went.
‘Jake!’ Daniel called after him.
‘What?’ Jake didn’t turn back.
‘The kitchen’s that way. Get some breakfast, please,’ Daniel said calmly, though his patience was wearing thin. How in hell was he going to get Jake to talk to him, if they couldn’t even communicate on a rudimentary level?
Jake did turn around then. ‘Why?’ he asked, his eyes holding a defiant challenge.
‘Because I said so, Jake.’
- 4 -

‘And what gives you the right to tell me what to do?’ Jake demanded, his expression now bordering on hatred.
So here it was. Standoff time. Jake’s fury about to be unleashed and Daniel had no clue how to respond. ‘I’m your dad, Jake,’ he tried, sounding feeble, even to his own ears. ‘If I ask you to do something, it’s because I –’
‘Care?’ Jake gauged him through narrowed eyes. ‘Yeah, right.’ He sneered, and turned away.
‘Jake . . . ’ Daniel counted silently to five. ‘You either do as I say and eat something, or you’re - 5 -

grounded.’
‘Yeah, yeah.’ Jake walked on up the stairs. ‘Yadda yadda yadda.’
‘I mean it, Jake.’
‘Whatever.’
Daniel tried very hard to remain calm. ‘Jake, come back down, please.’
Jake stopped on the stairs, breathing hard, his shoulders tense. ‘No,’ he said shortly.
‘Now, Jake!’
Jake whirled around. ‘No!’ He swiped a hot, angry tear from his face. ‘I’m not doing anything you say! Why should I?’ he shouted. Christ, how Daniel wished he - 6 -

could close the gap, climb the stairs, hold him. Tell the kid to hit him, kick him, whatever it took to make him feel better.
‘Jake, come on . . .’ He took a tentative step towards him.
‘Get stuffed!’ Jake stopped him in his tracks. ‘You don’t care about me. You don’t care about anybody. You didn’t even care about Mum!’
Christ. Daniel felt the blood drain from his face. He couldn’t do this. He swallowed hard. Not here. Not now. In front of . . . Daniel glanced back at Andrea, his own breathing heavy. ‘I . . . ’ he started, shook his head and took another step - 7 -

forwards. ‘Jake . . .’
‘No!’ Jake yelled. ‘You never cared about her. You never did that with her.’ He nodded towards the lounge. ‘Mum never laughed after she was ill when you were around. Never!’ Jake’s expression told Daniel all he needed to know. Jake did hate him, with every bone in his body. He’d every right to. And it hurt more than anything had ever done in his life.
‘Let me try,’ Andrea suggested gently, as Jake turned on his heel and flew up the stairs.
Daniel looked at her bewildered, - 8 -

incapable of coordinating his thoughts let alone his speech.
‘We have a bereavement plan in place at the school,’ Andrea explained. ‘To help children like Jake cope. He might let me talk to him. You never know.’
                           * * *
‘He’s good in a crisis,’ Andrea went on talking to herself, as she had been the last five minutes. Still Jake refused to acknowledge her, his expression stony, his eyes fixed to his PC.
‘He has to use a sat-nav to find the kitchen, but he makes a mean - 9 -

Pepsi Max,’ she went on, expounding her son’s dubious culinary skills.
Still no response.
‘A cup of tea is beyond him, unfortunately, which Ryan’s always at pains to point out,’ Andrea chatted on, ‘he being a man and therefore incapable of multitasking, he says, i.e. putting teabags in the cups whilst boiling the kettle.’
Silence was Jake’s answer.
‘Of course, this is after he’s hilariously balanced the kettle on his head, because I’ve made the fatal mistake of asking him to put - 10 -

it on.’ Andrea waited, wondering what on earth she could say that might at least elicit some response, however small.
Jake shrugged again, then . . . Yes! There it was, a definite upward twitch to his mouth. ‘I’ll go and see if he’s managed to negotiate his way to your kitchen yet, shall I, before we dehydrate up here?’
Jake nodded. Definitely progress, Andrea thought, heading for the door. Pepsi Max and chocolate biscuits were probably not the most balanced breakfast, but at least Jake might eat something if she and Ryan joined him.
- 11 -

‘He doesn’t talk about her,’ Jake blurted, behind her.
Andrea turned back. ‘Do you want him to, Jake?’
Jake dragged his forearm hurriedly across his eyes. ‘Uh-huh.’ He nodded, trying hard to force back his tears. ‘He never says anything. It’s like he’s scared or something. Like the kids at school, where I went before. No one ever asked me about Mum after she died. No one ever said anything. They just looked, and whispered stuff to each other.’
Andrea sat back down next to him, as close as she dared without - 12 -

invading his space. ‘Why was that Jake, do you think?’
Another shrug.
‘Because they thought it might make you sad, possibly?’
‘Maybe,’ Jake conceded. ‘The thing is . . .’ He hesitated ‘ . . . it does make me sad sometimes, really sad. But I want to talk about her. She was my mum.’ He glanced at Andrea as if he couldn’t quite understand why people didn’t get it.
‘I’m sure your mum knew you loved her, Jake. Mums do, you know? It’s instinctive. We feel it in here.’ Andrea placed a hand over - 13 -

her heart.
Jake’s eyes slid towards her again. ‘She said she was scared. Scared for him.’
‘Your dad?’ Andrea probed softly.
Jake nodded. ‘She said she was scared for me, too, but that she knew I knew she’d always love me and watch out for me. She didn’t think he . . . knew she loved him, though.’
Andrea took a breath, her heart breaking for this little boy and his lost father. ‘Adults don’t see things so clearly sometimes, Jake.’ She saw a chance and took his hand. He didn’t pull away. ‘Sometimes - 14 -

emotions get in the way. Do you understand?’
Jake nodded again. ‘Like anger?’
‘Yes, anger. Hurt, sadness. Sometimes they stop you saying what you really feel.’
‘I did tell her I loved her,’ Jake confided, after a second. ‘When she was ill, she tried really hard, you know?’ He turned at last to look directly at Andrea, his eyes full to brimming. ‘To make sure I was all right. Make me smile and stuff. She tried to make sure things would be okay for me and . . . Dad too, making lists of where things were and how stuff worked. I was - 15 -

kind of proud of her, you know?’
Andrea did know, absolutely. The sense of the woman she’d felt whilst looking through her things. Even knowing how ill she was, Michelle Adams had been strong for her family, yet as gentle and caring as a mother could be.
‘You know something, Jake,’ she said, feeling humbled. ‘There isn’t a mum anywhere who wouldn’t be proud of a son who could say out loud that he loved her.’
Jake pulled in a breath, his skinny chest puffing up. ‘I’d like to tell people more about her, but . . .’
‘No one gives you chance?’
- 16 -

‘It’s like everyone’s pretending she never existed,’ Jake said quietly.
‘How about we make a memory box, Jake?’ Andrea suggested, knowing that he needed to dwell, but on the good things.
Jake squinted at her curiously.
‘We’ll make up a box of special things you can remember her by. Photographs, and such like.’
Jake thought about it, then nodded. ‘They’re in the spare room,’ he said, scrambling off the bed as Ryan came in with a tray laden with biscuits, essential sugar-high fizzy stuff and an actual cup of tea.
- 17 -

‘And anything else you can think of, Jake,’ Andrea said. ‘Things that will help you to think about the good times.’
‘Her perfume. I’ve got some in my room. It makes me remember her better.’ Jake made a grab for his Pepsi. ‘And Harry Potter,’ he added, wiping his mouth on his shirtsleeve as he headed on out.
‘I’ll give you a hand, mate,’ Ryan offered, giving Andrea a knowing wink as he plonked the tray down. ‘Not sure Harry Potter will fit in the box,’ he said, heading after Jake, ‘but . . .’
‘Dimwit. I meant the book.’ Jake’s - 18 -

child-bordering-on-adolescent tones drifted back. ‘Mum used to read it to me at bedtime.’
‘Cool. Which one?’
Goblet of Fire. Prisoner of Azkaban. Most of them, until she died. Have you read them?’
‘Yep. Got them all,’ Ryan said, cranking up his enthusiasm, for Jake’s sake. Bless his mismatched Simpsons socks. ‘Or I did have, before the fire.’
‘Aw, that sucks,’ Jake said. ‘You could share mine.’
‘Cool,’ Ryan said, with rather less enthusiasm.
                           * * *
- 19 -

‘Jake?’ Daniel knocked on his son’s door.
Would he answer this time? Probably not.
Daniel reached for the handle, only to find the door opened by Ryan.
‘Hi. How’s it going?’ Daniel smiled at the gangly teenager, who, far from being the bad influence Daniel had worried he might be, seemed to be sprouting a halo along with some stubble – and who Daniel reckoned deserved a medal for looking out for Jake.
‘Yeah, good. Just helping Jake sort some stuff out.’
‘Oh?’ Daniel glanced past Ryan - 20 -

into the room, to where Jake sat cross- legged on the floor, no PlayStation control in sight, amazingly. ‘What stuff would that be then, Jake?’
Daniel waited, but took his cue when Ryan motioned him in.
‘Off to get some more Pepsi, mate,’ Ryan said diplomatically. ‘Want some?’
Jake nodded, but didn’t look up.
‘Back in ten.’ Ryan drooped out, skinny fit jeans still clinging to hips, looking every inch the typical allergic-to-anything-strenuous teenager. Daniel owed the kid, that was for sure.
- 21 -

He owed Jake too, big time.
Daniel turned his attention back to his son, who was surrounded by a sea of photographs. Photographs of Michelle, from the albums in the spare room.
Cautiously, Daniel walked across to stand by Jake’s side. Then, hands in pockets, he waited again, wondering what to say that could even begin to heal their relationship. What would he want to hear, if he were Jake?
Sorry perhaps? Wholly inadequate, Daniel knew, but it might be a start.
He looked down at his son, whose - 22 -

head was bent in concentration. He needed a haircut. Needed a lot of things. Daniel closed his eyes, as he noticed the bottle of perfume tucked in the corner of Jake’s Adidas shoebox.
‘Need any help, Jake?’ Daniel asked softly.
Jake didn’t answer. That was okay. Daniel didn’t really expect him to. He swallowed back a lump in his throat, then took a gamble, crouched down next to Jake – and silently prayed.
Biding his time, he studied the photographs alongside his son. ‘You’ve chosen all the good ones,’ - 23 -

he ventured.
Jake did respond then, somewhere between a nod and a shrug.
‘Not many fun ones though.’ Daniel reached for a photograph. One he’d taken himself on what had turned out to be their last time at the theme park together: Michelle – Jake in front of her on the log flume, both shrieking with laugher and soaked through to the skin. Probably the last time she had laughed – with him.
Daniel breathed in, hard. ‘I did make her sad Jake,’ he said quietly. ‘I’m sorry. I know it doesn’t help much, but . . . I wish - 24 -

to God I hadn’t.’
Jake’s head dropped even lower.
‘She did laugh though, you know, Jake,’ Daniel pushed on, ‘with you.’
He placed the photograph carefully in the box. ‘Alton Towers,’ he said, ‘summer before last. She laughed so much she had to dash to the loo, remember?’
Jake dragged the back of his hand under his nose.
‘She couldn’t have been that happy without you, Jake. You gave her the gift of laugher. That’s something to be glad about. To be proud of.’
- 25 -

Daniel stopped, his chest filling up as he watched a slow tear fall from his son’s face. Daniel hesitated, then rested a hand lightly on Jake’s shoulder.
Jake didn’t shrug him off.
‘You won her a stuffed toy that day, do you remember? What was it? A tiger?’
‘Tigger.’ Jake finally spoke.
‘That’s right,’ Daniel said, his throat tight. ‘Tigger.’
‘She kept it in the car,’ Jake picked up in a small voice.
The car she never arrived at the hospital in. ‘She kept a whole family of furry friends in the car,’ - 26 -

Daniel said. ‘I’m surprised there was room for her.’
Jake’s mouth twitched into a small smile. ‘She talked to them.’ He glanced up at Daniel, his huge blue eyes glassy with tears.
‘That was the little girl inside her. The little girl you made laugh.’ Daniel squeezed Jake’s shoulder.
He actually felt like whooping. Like punching the air. Like picking Jake up and hugging him so hard . . . He’d looked at him. Full on. No anger.
Daniel closed his eyes, relief washing over him. ‘I have one of Mum’s stuffed toys,’ he said - 27 -

throatily. ‘One she kept. Not Tigger, but . . . Do you want me to fetch it?’ Jake nodded.
‘Right.’ Daniel smiled. ‘Back in two,’ he dragged his forearm across his eyes as he headed for his own room. He had something else, too. Something he’d wanted to give Jake before, but somehow couldn’t.
The antique locket he’d bought Michelle for her thirtieth was in the bedside drawer. Daniel ran his thumb over the engraved rose-gold surface of it. If Jake needed something to remind him of his mother . . .
- 28 -

‘Bedtime Bear,’ Daniel announced, joining Jake back on the floor. ‘Your very first toy.’ He handed the scruffy little white bear to his son.
Jake laughed – and Daniel really did feel like crying.
‘I have something else for you, Jake.’ He passed him the locket. ‘It was very special to her,’ he said gently, as Jake’s eyes fell on the photograph of himself inside it. ‘She wore it right next to her heart. And that,’ he went on as Jake looked at the lock of hair on the opposite side of the locket, ‘is your hair and hers, entwined.’
Jake went very quiet.
- 29 -

‘Okay?’ Daniel asked.
Jake nodded vigorously. ‘Okay,’ he said, around a sharp intake of breath.
Daniel reached out, ran his hand through Jake’s unruly crop, and then allowed it to stray to his shoulder. He wanted very much to hold him, to reassure him. But Jake’s body language was tense. It would take time, Daniel knew, but maybe, someday, Jake would let him back in.

                         THE END
- 30 -