Chapter 4 (To read all five chapters in an e-book format please clink on this link ... Storage [so far])
William walked into the container. He thought of it as a room now, not just a storage space. An extra room to his house, that was far away. It had changed since he first saw it. Back then it was just a cold metal box. The only relief on the eyes was the intermittent yellow stripes along the walls of the container – that was the main reason why he had chosen it: for the colour. It had remained almost bare for years.
Now it was more like a living room. He stands and looks around himself before slowly wandering around the space. “Beryl will like this,” he muses silently. He hasn’t ever mentioned it to her. He always pays for it in cash and keeps the key hidden away safely. Right in the centre of this pseudo-room is the chair. It was going to be a surprise, for their anniversary. He liked to surprise her. It made her happy. It made him happy. The last surprise was a holiday to Verona. Just for the weekend. It was not something William made a habit of. Dry laughter gurgled in his throat as he thought of their short Italian holiday.
“Where are we going, Wills?” she had asked for the hundredth time as they turned off the motorway.
“Ah, you’ll see.” Was all he would say as he hummed along to the radio and watched her from the corner of his eye. He couldn’t identify the feeling that he was experiencing at that moment but he knew he liked it. Later, on the plane, he decided that it was somewhere between satisfaction and happiness.
“The airport? What for? Are we meeting someone? Who?” the questions tumbled out of her as the wheels sped along the road. He refused to answer her with anything but a smile and a squeeze on her thigh.
Beryl had squealed with delight when he took their packed case from the boot of the car at the airport. He whipped out the passports from inside his jacket pocket and she almost did a jig right there in the dimly lit car park.
It was that joy that William was planning on capping with the gift of the chair. Well, there were two chairs now; the first one for her and the other one, not so well preserved – for him. William went over to Beryl’s chair, the one he had been saving for the anniversary delivery, and he ran his hand along the studs. They feel comforting. Smiling again William touches the wood and is reassured. Then his eyes fall on the heavy metal safe in the corner. Instantly he is saddened because he knows what Beryl can never know. “I wish I’d told her straight away,” he says aloud. No-one can hear him, at least he hopes no one can. William always talks aloud in this private room.
Lifting up the table that is set between the two chairs William moves the nearest corner of the rug back and takes the long key that lays there. Leaving the rug bent back he walks to the safe in the corner and with a deep sigh opens it. It’s all in there, his other life. The one before Beryl.
“Oh, God!” Leaning onto the top of the cold iron safe William starts to cry. This is the only place he ever cries. As the tears fall he does nothing to stop them or to move. His sobs get louder and he lashes out with his fist and hits the top of the metal box. The searing pain makes him stop. He knows that he will have a bruise later and immediately begins to worry about how he will explain it to Beryl.
“If only I’d have known before ...” Looking at the photograph in his hand he shakes his head angrily. Reaching into his inside pocket he takes out another photograph, adds it to the ones in the safe and closes the door with a bang. The key won’t turn properly. “Damn!” He says trying to turn the handle and slot the three heavy bars into place. They won’t budge. This sometimes happens but usually it doesn’t bother him. Today it does. William wants to swear without stopping but instead he calmly reverses the twist of the handle and fully opens the door again. The only thing he does without stopping is crying and sighing.
Two hours later he wakes up from his nap in Beryl’s chair. The key is on his lap and the rug has not been put back into place. Panic sets in as William looks at his watch. He was supposed to be home half an hour ago. “What will I say this time?” he wonders. He never became comfortable with lying.
It was forced on him.
“I’m only doing this because I love you, Beryl,” he says quietly as he quickly moves around and returns the container to its tidy state.
Each year both William and Beryl become like furtive rabbits. For months before their day they smile at each other without explanation and go missing for hours at a time. William hopes that he can explain this afternoon’s sleeping oversight as one of those occasions. The only thing he remains worried about is the bruise that has started to appear on his right forearm. It hurts like crazy and is already changing colour.
As he stands by the opening of the container to have his customary last look, he hopes this late arrival will get passed over quickly because they both made a big deal out of remembering the day they met. He practises his smile to himself then turns off the light and locks the door. With rapid firm steps he walks down the long uniform corridors and heads towards the exit sign.
Not having time to put the key in his usual place he opens up his wallet and caressing it briefly he puts the small metal key in between two notes. “Beryl never goes in there,” he thinks. “It’ll be safe until later.” Hurrying along the damp streets William involuntarily thinks of the number on the key when he would rather be thinking about the 15th June: the day he and Beryl first met.
Beryl had just started working in the cafe and William had missed an important meeting with his father’s boss just to stare at her that day. That was the day it all changed for them.
Some things stayed the same through the years. The roses William ordered always arrived on time. Each year Beryl received another long stemmed red rose. Each one with its own message attached. The family at the florist shop now knew William well. The first year, Jane – the original owner, had just smiled at his romantic fervour. By the fifth year they were on first name terms and she was making a special effort to get even better roses for him. By the time she came to retire Jane was passing on her box of notes to her daughter, Ellen. On the information card with William’s details Jane had written, “always the best.” These were the words taken from William’s own lips when he came into the shop that very first day.
Jane had shown him the complete range of blooms that were available and, seeing what she thought was an impulsive young man, she had offered him a deal on the flowers that would have to be thrown out in a day or two – she always regretted that suggestion. Immediately he rejected them saying, “Anything I get for Beryl, even though I’ve only just met her, will always be the best.” He kept his word. Always.
In the end he settled on a single long stemmed rose. The petals were the same colour as the velvet on the first armchairs that they had bought together. He knew that Beryl kept all the roses, especially that first one. He pretended that he didn’t know, but he had discovered it one day when they were moving the old dressing table to the new house. She loved that piece of furniture – she had inherited it from her grandmother. Furnishing the houses that they lived in had become her passion. The removal men had the slim drawers out and they were taking the seemingly empty draws down the stairs when a piece of paper floated in a spiral across the railings and down to the hallway. Inside its folds were the carefully pressed flower and the handmade card that he had insisted was included in that initial delivery. He had a beautiful script – something that his father had wanted him to utilise in the same company that he had worked at for forty years, but because of meeting Beryl, William did not attend the interview and his father never forgave him. His own spotless record was spoilt by the non-appearance of his youngest son. They didn’t speak for ten years. His father, Stephen, never even attended his wedding to Beryl six years later. They were ready to get married after three years, but – hoping that his father would change his mind – William delayed the date. Beryl didn’t mind the delay as much as her mother did. “You’re not getting any younger, dear,” was the usual comment when Beryl failed to give a firm wedding date. Beryl just held William’s tightly whenever he met her after he had visited his parents’ home. They never argued about when they were getting married, they both knew it would as soon as things were sorted out. That was important to William. He had been close to his dad before that day. He wanted his relationship back.
Whenever they discussed it Beryl simply said, “I’m not going anywhere. It’s only a ring and a fancy ceremony. It won’t change how much I already love you.” So they waited. Until one October evening William’s mother, Clara, said after the usually quiet family meal, “I’d like to attend your wedding before I can’t walk anymore.” Her illness was making her less mobile every year. She looked at her husband and said, “He’s not going to change his mind, love. He’s stubborn. Pigs will never fly here. I know. Trust me.” Laying a hand on her son’s leg she set her face in the familiar look of resignation that she had had to wear for many years.
Stephen shifted in front of the television and picked up the newspaper. He turned his back to them. It was his habit not to speak at all when William was in the house. Afterwards was a different matter.
After leaving his mother William went to see Beryl. He didn’t take her with him to his parents’ house anymore because not being spoken to by his father was painful enough for him but when Stephen also refused to be polite to Beryl, William felt a deep stirring anger that made him want to hit his dad really hard.
Beryl opened the door and they kissed without needing any words. After a few minutes of silence as they stood in the doorway together William spoke, “Beryl, do you want to get married as soon as possible?” Then before she could answer he added, “Let’s not wait anymore.” He knew that she’d be happy, what he didn’t know was how happy she was. Uncharacteristically Beryl jumped on him and hugged him when he asked the question. It was more enthusiastic than when he had first asked her to marry him. She threw her head back with joy and her green eyes seemed to sparkle more than usual.
“If I said yes a thousand different ways would you believe me?” She grabbed his hand and danced around the room. Three months later they were married.
Immediately after their honeymoon in France they moved into a house that William had already bought. That first house had been an experiment. He cut his teeth there. Beryl’s only doubts about William were the ones she had in the three years before they were married. He didn’t meet her as often as he used to, and all he would say was that he was busy. Although he smiled at her still Beryl felt uneasy because he told her everything before that. It was something they had promised to always do – be open with each other.
Secretively William inhabited a different world. One that she was not included in. It worried her. William, on the other hand, was proud of what he was doing. Every time he went to the house he smiled. It was to be their home. He was building it to suit them both. It had to be the best. That was the biggest surprise he had for her in all their years together.
At first he didn’t tell Beryl that he had bought the house three years previously as a wedding present – it was when he thought his father was close to giving in and talking to him again. But that never happened. He remained disappointed in his father. William had determined to be different and have good family relationships in his life. He started off by making regular monthly mortgage payments on a house he couldn’t live in, visiting it to keep it clean, and through all that time he never said a word. He was building a better life for them both.
As he hurried back towards their home, the fifth one they’d lived in together, he thought about the chairs that he had just checked on in the storage container. The surprise would be revealed soon. He could hardly wait for that day to come. It was approaching the end of May and there were only just over two weeks before he got to see the huge smile on Beryl’s face when she saw the chairs she had been yearning for for a decade.
As he got out of the car and walked towards the front door William saw Beryl through the window. He felt the same as he did that first day. It still surprised him as he felt the joy seep up through his legs and into his heart.
He would do anything to make her happy. Except tell her about what was in that safe. She could never know that. That would kill them both. Sighing then smiling became a habit. William did them both and opened the front door with a smile on his face and a sigh in his heart.
It was worrying him that he was becoming an expert at keeping secrets.