They poured another glass of red wine, pushed back the coffee table to make a space in the middle of the lounge floor and Carol carried it through.
It hadn’t benefitted from sitting in the corner of the damp garage and the handle came away as she had lifted it. She wrapped her arms as far around it as she could manage and, resting it against her front she staggered back into the house. “It’s huge is this. Why on earth did you buy one this size? You could never check it in on a flight, the weight of the case on its own would take you into excess baggage land.”
“Oh I know. Actually, it was never really used as a suitcase. Kevin had it in his flat at Uni, he used it for storage because it fit under his bed. It was a cheap one bought specifically for that and we just carried on.”
“Is it locked?”
“No. The locks have never worked as far as I know and it didn’t matter.” Carol stood aside, her hands on her hips, looking down at the big, old brown case.
“So do you want me to do it, or are you going to?”
Flora moved nearer, “Here, I’ll do it” on her knees she bent forward and with her thumbs, clicked open the small metal fasteners. She took a deep breath and then grasped the edges of the lid and with a flourish she threw it backwards.
For a moment, she was quiet looking down and then she stood, stiffly, her eyes fixed on the suitcase. She shook her head and then backed away into the corner of the room. She crouched in the corner and began to whimper.
“What! What! Christ, what’s the matter?” Carol ran to her friend and enfolded her, “Ssssh, sssh. It’s okay, it’s okay. Flo, I’ve got you. It’s all okay. I’ll take it away. Don’t cry I’ll just take it away. I told you not to didn’t I? I told you not to.” Flora was shaking her head now, tears soaking the front of Carol’s jumper. Her whole body was trembling and her streaming eyes were wide with distress. “Hush, come on now, come on. Just breathe. It’s all okay.” Carol had held her often in the throes of the panic attacks that were so much a part of life for the first weeks after Kevin had vanished. She had thought that was over and now here was Flora, gulping for breath, shaking and sobbing, her fingers digging painfully into Carols arm.
“I can’t, I just can’t.” From where they were, crouching in the corner Carol turned and peered across at the case. From what she could see there was nothing to explain this reaction. She had expected it to be difficult but this total, over the top panic had her nonplussed.
“It’s okay love. It’s just his clothes, some of his stuff. It’s okay, there’s nothing to be frightened off, it’s just stuff.”
“It’s his stuff, God Carol it’s all his stuff. Look, his football medals, the trophy from that daft golf tournament he went to. It’s his life, not just his stuff?”
“I know, I know.” As she rubbed at her back Carol urged her up from the floor. Look come on, get on the settee, have a drink of your wine. Breathe, just breathe. Calm down now Flo. Just calm down.”. She reached out with her foot, slid it underneath the lid and flipped it back over the top, hiding the contents of the case.
Flora took a big gulp of the wine and struggled to gain control. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry Carol. It was just such a shock. I’m okay. I am, I’m okay now. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be silly, don’t apologise. It was forced to be difficult.”
“No, no you don’t understand. I wanted him to go, do you see? I wanted us to split up. That row was just the last. There’d been so many and I wanted him to. But, not like that, I just wanted him gone, but not like that.”
“Of course not. I know, I know. Look, you just need to get rid of it, but it’s okay we’ll do it together and then you can forget all about it.”
“No, no I can’t. I won’t ever be able to, I’ll never be free of him. If he’d gone. Like I told him that night. I told him to get lost, sometimes I can remember bits of that row and I know I said that to him. ‘Get lost you loser.’ I said that to him. But I didn’t mean this. I didn’t mean any of it to happen the way it did.”
“Well, of course not. Look we knew, Waleed and me, we knew things were bad between you but I know you would never have wished him any harm. Don’t go back there again, back into the darkness. You’ve fought so hard to move on. Don’t go back.”
“I was so angry. I just threw his stuff in. I didn’t fold it. I didn’t wrap it up properly. I didn’t do any of that, I just stuffed it all in.”
“It doesn’t matter, look it’s all going on the tip, so it’s not important. Listen to me, listen. Even if he did come back, and let’s be honest if he was going to it would have happened by now. Wherever he’s gone he’s not going to need this stuff. It’s rubbish, it’s finished.”
“I don’t feel as though it’s ever going to be finished though. I was feeling so strong, so happy here and now it’s all come back.”