A little bee landed on the steps too. Bees seemed to like me; they were always flying around me, but I was never stung. I could hold them in my hand and not feel fear – something Mom never understood. Sometimes I even hummed to them and occasionally I imagined they answered me.
Muffin, who had been sitting looking hopefully at me wondering if I had more cake, turned his head and then got up and walked through the open door of the hut. I heard him sniffing and scampering about inside. He did not come out again. After a while I heard him scraping the floor and whining. An urgent, high-pitched whine, interspersed with little impatient growls.
"What is it, Muffin?" I asked with a thick voice. As if a dog could answer...
Well answer he did, in his own way. The scraping sounds were furiously rhythmical now, and he was positively howling.
I looked inside through the open door, and saw Muffin in the process of digging his way through the floor behind the little stove.
"Is there a mouse or something?" I asked, walking over to him.
One of the floorboards looked weird. It seemed to be sawn into sections... and the saw marks looked new, if the sawdust on the floor was anything to go by. Now I noticed that there was an old saw in the corner too. The teeth were all rusty and worn. It had not been there the last time we had been here. Next to it were a crowbar and a hammer - and the new nails at the end of the old board looked as though they'd been recently hammered in. Also... there was something marked on the wood. I bent down and peered at it, narrowing my eyes, which had trouble adjusting to the darkness after the bright sunlight. Yes, someone had drawn, or written, something on the floor right next to the saw marks where a piece of the floorboard had definitely been cut through.
I bent closer. D & K. Dana and Kitty. Our initials, the way Kitty always wrote them: the K pointing to the left from the back of the D. "We have each other's backs," she had explained when I had pointed out the wrong direction of the K.
I got on my knees, grabbed the floorboard and managed to get my fingers under the edge. After that, it was easy to lift the sawn piece away. It had been cleverly sawn at an angle so that the lower part was narrower than the upper one and so it fitted neatly into the space without falling right through.
I was looking down through an opening, which gave directly onto the dry ground underneath the floor. Nothing had grown on that earth for decades. And there, placed on the dusty ground, was a little metal box that I knew very well.
The box was white and had a metal handle that fell flat into an indentation on the lid. The lid and sides were covered in little cat caricature stickers. I had always wondered why Kitty did not have a cat, as it was obvious she was crazy about them. Well, probably because she had found Muffin, whom she loved dearly, at a rescue shelter. Muffin was small and his best friend wouldn't have called him good-looking, with his impressive underbite that would probably have earned him an honorable mention in the world's ugliest dog competition. Muffin also hated cats with the same enthusiasm he loved Kitty.
I knew I was looking down at Kitty's little strong box, where she always hid her secrets from her nosy siblings. She carried the key to the box whenever she left home. The last time I'd seen it, it had been on her desk the evening before she was hit by the car. And now it was here... She must have brought it the evening before the accident, after I had left her house. Perhaps because of this she had slept late and was half asleep when I had come to ask her out. Maybe that was why she had not paid attention on the road...
No. I shook my head, though there was no one to see the gesture. It had not been Kitty's fault. It was that damned drunk driver's fault, may she rot in hell.
But why ever had Kitty come here late in the evening with her precious box?
Still on my knees I put my hand through the opening almost up to my shoulder, managed to grasp the handle, and lifted the box up onto the floor. Muffin was whining and running around me, sniffing the box.
The key was attached to the handle with a wide red silk ribbon with embroidered pink roses. I remembered that one too. It had decorated the waist of Kitty's old porcelain doll, the one that sat permanently on top of her book shelf, out of reach of Ella, Kitty's little sister who was still too young to handle such precious things. Kitty had inherited the doll from her grandmother. It was a real antique, not one of those retro-dolls advertised in magazines.
I opened the white box, and an envelope looked back at me. Literally. Kitty had drawn two eyes on the envelope, looking directly at me. The eyes were smiling. She had always been good at drawing, and the smiling expression had been created with skill, lifting the lower lid slightly. The eyes looked eerily real. They looked familiar, too. Even the little mole on the temple, beside her right eye, was carefully drawn. Kitty must have looked into the mirror and drawn her own eyes.
Underneath the eyes something was written in Kitty's bold handwriting. I recognized the long curving loops and strong rhythmical style of it. Kitty's handwriting was like something from another age, and flowed with beauty, grace and character. Nothing like my scribbling – teachers sometimes commented they had trouble reading my handwriting. No wonder – when I wrote, I always felt as if I was in a hurry to finish the sentence. Probably because I typed extraordinarily fast, and writing with a pen was too slow a method to write down my thoughts. They always ran with such speed my handwriting simply could not keep up with them.
"To Dana: to be opened after I am dead," the envelope said.
Muffin glanced through the open door. I thought I heard Grandma returning, and, without thinking, slid the envelope under the waist of my jeans, pulling my shirt over it. Then I replaced the box under the floorboards, got up and kicked the board back in place, just in time before she appeared in the doorway.
"Maybe we should be heading home - what do you think?" Grandma asked.
"Yes, I think so too. Let's drop Muffin off at his house first, though."
We put the coffee mugs back on the window sill, closed the door and began to walk back to the car, with my arm linked through Grandma's, and Muffin leading the way.
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