Only Angel saw
Having little to his name when he died, the reading of Henry Fromm’s will went quickly. Angel'd tied her hair back and put on a jacket, borrowed from Dave, in an attempt to be sympathetic to the occasion; both formal and official, and of course quite sad.
She'd been surprised by the letter, with her name properly spelled and all neatly laid out on a really lovely thick and creamy sheet of paper, definitely worth keeping to use the other side. Perhaps a memory portrait of Henry in a happy mood. Eating of course, something that might capture his essential purity and simplicity.
So now she owned everything in Henry’s room. All his clothes, his bed and blankets and books, his hot plate and cooking stuff, his clocks and everything except his money. His sister from Liverpool got whatever money there was, which was all she was interested in, so there was no need for the sniffy attitude and stares at her bare feet. Dave'd be happy too; they could move into Henry’s room with its big window and space to move around. Of course they’d have to get rid of all that stuff somehow. Maybe just put it all on Jen’s stall at the market.
“One more thing, Miss Davidson,” said the lawyer. “There is a receipt here for rent paid for his room in Congreve Street for the next 10 months, and a similar receipt for rental fees on a storage facility. Brown's Storage and Cartage of Brook Lane, in Bushey. Both the contents of his room and whatever may be in storage are yours, constituting as they do all his worldly goods, other than monetary assets. Here is an abstract of the relevant passage of the will, which you may show to establish actual possession of the articles in question.”
“Thank you.” She took the offered pieces of paper. More of that thick creamy stuff, and put it all neatly folded as it was into the jacket’s inside pocket.
Dave was enthusiastic about the stuff in Brown’s. He speculated endlessly about what could be there, so next day they went to see. They had no problems, no-one asked to see any bits of paper or anything. They just used the key with the big plastic tag, “Browns S & C” which was hanging on a nail beside the door in Henry’s room. Brown’s didn't believe in being nosey it seemed. They walked in the gate and found door #7, matching the number on the back of the tag, and tugged it open through the dead leaves and cigarette butts lying in a soggy mess all along that side of the yard.
Inside they found several cardboard boxes tied with string, which looked as if they hadn't been opened since the end of the War, more than twenty years before. The first one was filled with Army stuff, khaki uniforms and boots neatly wrapped in thick brown paper that looked as if it'd come from a butcher’s shop. Which was, as Dave pointed out, appropriate for what it represented. Henry had been in the Army in the War. He'd been with something he called the South African Irish, which didn't exist according to Angel’s friend Jane’s boyfriend, who worked in the Home Office in London. Well, at least there were neat little harps on the uniforms, so they were something to do with Irish anyway.
Henry always talked about fighting in Africa, in Abyssinia against the Italians, and then in the Desert. He'd always got blind drunk after he started on about someplace he called Sidi Rezegh, and never said much after he got that far.
In the second box they found old papers. Yellowed newspapers, bundles of letters written in neat feminine longhand in light blue ink and tied with string, typewritten official looking papers in big stiff brown envelopes, and a few books. All of it smelt of mould and damp and mice.
Angel tried to read the title on the fattest book, which actually looked like it was written in gold leaf, but it seemed to be some weird foreign writing with strange shapes. She asked Dave, “What’s this Dave, is it Hebrew ? You can read that, can’t you?”
Dave took a quick look, and frowned. “No way, this isn’t Hebrew, or anything like that. I should know. After all I am a Cohen, you know. My Dad made sure I learnt all that stuff. This must be that Abyssinian writing, what do they call it? Geez.”
Of course, they dug right down to the bottom of the box, to see what good stuff might be under everything else, and were rewarded by the contents of a bundle wrapped carefully in oiled paper and silk.
Some kind of costume with great bright stones decorating the chest area, which Dave grabbed and put on over his t shirt while she was admiring the pattern in the silk wrappings. There was also a very ornate crucifix right at the bottom of the box, which Angel held up to admire in the weak light from the open door.
Dave was already ripping the last box open as she turned to him. “Wow look at this, isn't it beautiful? Look how it shines in the light, it must be gold!” crowed Angel.
That caught his attention enough to turn his head to her as he opened the lid on the box. Which emitted light of its own in dazzling intensity, blazing bright in the dim room, but seen only by Angel.
By the time Dave turned again to look, that first coruscation had dimmed to a bearable level, enough to puzzle him as to its source, but no longer blinding. What he saw was another wooden box carefully protected inside the cardboard, with what looked like carrying poles packed beside it. Light shone gently from every crack in the seemingly normal wood.
“Hey wow! That has to be worth something,” said Dave. “There’s something in this box shining the same way. The old guy had a whole stash of gold stuff mouldering here while he got by on his Army pension.”
He tried to pull one of the planks off the box, but found it too much for bare hands. “Lets go to the pub and celebrate.”
They locked up again and Angel slipped the key into her back pocket, with the tag dangling like a plastic tail, and the crucifix hung neatly from the leather thong around her neck, next to the glass trade beads from Morocco that Dave'd given her. She also took a photo of a smiling young man in army uniform, slim and mustached, primed for the battles of life. Henry around 1940 or so, a long road and fifty pounds away from the Henry she knew in the Sixties.
They stayed in the Rose and Crown until last call, then piled in someone’s van and went to a really cool party in a huge bare country house that someone who was someone else’s boyfriend had just bought. Something to do with Pinewood Studios and a movie called 2001. Anyway when they got back to town it was Monday afternoon, and Dave had to go into College to write an exam.
Angel took the photo and started her portrait of Henry on that nice paper, young and smiling.
When Dave came in carrying fish and chips, he had news. “That was a breeze, I just knew everything, the answers just came easy. I did great, Baby, just great.”
He grabbed her and tickled her until she thumped him with the fist that held the water-colour brush, and sprayed yellow paint over his face and hair - Henry had been blond of course - and then they ate while sitting on the bed, side by side.
“Oh, by the way, we can forget about whatever was in that last box. Brown’s burned down yesterday,” he said through a mouthful of cod.
"I wonder what was there? What shone like that, I mean"
"Oh hey, it coulda been the Ark of the Covenant Babe, for all we know. I mean it would've killed anyone who opened the box, except a Cohen dressed in the right way, which is me."
Angel looked at him. "But I'm not dead and I looked in, right at it, so it must be something else, silly boy."
"Yeah Babe, but you're a real Angel, aincha? Pass the salt."
Angel forgot to make sure her feet touched the floor as she crossed to the table by the window. "Here. Catch."
She tossed the salt shaker to Dave and stood and looked out at the cloudy day. As she turned back to the room again the sun broke through for a moment and threw a halo around her, so Dave saw her limned with light, and forgot to chew. He just stared with an open mouth until the moment passed, and things returned to normal levels of hope and beauty.