“Please.” Her brittle fingers curled around her granddaughter’s hand. Ellie was surprised at the strength that her grandma had, still at this stage. She winced as the skin on her hand was twisted by accident. Samantha let go, but left her fingers covering those of her granddaughter.
I’m sorry I haven’t been as honest with you as I should have. Before you judge me and toss aside this letter, I want you to know the entire truth.
Ellie waited for her to continue speaking. Sammy knew that she did not have much time left, but she had one last wish to her granddaughter.
“The freezer in the basement.” Her voice had gone down to a whisper and Ellie nearly had to lean in to hear the words. “Don’t let anyone open it.” She was tempted to ask why, but she knew that Sammy would tell her if she wanted her to know. Ellie knew her well enough. She had always been the closest to her. After her father’s suicide, she had been the one to share her pain. No one else could relate. Ellie had lost a father. Sammy had lost a son. That had been thirty years ago now.
I married Val when I was barely 18. He was 28 then, fighting for a peaceful world. I was addicted by his will to improve this world, stop the wars and deaths. I adored him and the power and wealth that he had was every girl’s dream anyway back then.
Again she waited, but this time Sammy did not say any more. She only looked at me with pleading eyes. “Promise.”
Ellie winced again at the fingers closing around hers. She promised. Sammy closed her eyes. Something that had been troubling her for the past eighty years had finally come to rest.
The love that I had felt at the beginning slowly seemed to fall away. I was forced to stay at home, not allowed to work. Val had money. We needed no more.
A second later, her head sank down to the pillow and her hand dropped away.
“No,” Ellie whispered. She took a couple of deep breaths and hastily wiped away the tears that had formed at the corners of her eyes.
When the doctors came in to tell her that her visiting time was coming to an end, they found her lying with her head on her grandma’s blanket, the tears rolling freely.
He was in nearly every peace organisation that existed, fighting to increase those two per cent that were struggling for peace. Einstein was his greatest idol – he would do anything to be at every one of his speeches. Not those about physics, mind you, Val had no brain for numbers. No. He visited every peace speech that Einstein held, hanging on to every word he said. After two years of our marriage, he attended the famous “two per cent” speech that Einstein held. He was gone for a week.
The next few days, Ellie spent concentrating mostly on getting the kids to school. Once they were out of the house, she cleaned the kitchen and living room, trying to shove the death of her grandma out of her mind. For a few days she was lucky. Then the pain hit. She sat down hard. The last words of my grandma raced through her mind.
Her last wish. A strange one to utter.
On his return, I noticed that he had drunk a lot the night before. I still remember exactly how his desire for peace was taking charge of him. He had no thoughts left for anything else. The desire was so great; he admitted to me he had joined the Jehovah Witnesses the night he had returned.
Until a few days ago, her grandma had still lived in the same house that she had been living in since she had gotten married. Even though she had been living there alone, she had refused to leave. Ellie remembered when she had turned ninety; she had found her a beautiful new house, much smaller than the one she had been living in. Sammy had reacted so violently and aggressively that she never again raised the issue. Ten years later the only thing that she could convince her of was arranging for someone to take care of her day after day. Ellie could not possibly manage Sammy and her own children at the same time. And now with 105 years, she had passed away, leaving her house to crumble to dust. It was indeed already close to falling apart. Her grandma had never told her what would become of her house.
Ellie had never even known that a basement existed in her grandma’s house. She did know that there was a door that she had never opened, but thought that beyond it there was nothing there apart from dirt and dust.
I tried to ease him into his bed, but he replied aggressively, telling me to stop hindering his plans. Nothing I did helped. And then he saw the gun that was lying on my bedside table. I had taken it out the night before when I had been remembering my father. The gun was the only physical memory I have of him, something I can hold onto.
Taking a deep breath, she stood up. She grabbed the extra key to Sammy’s house that she kept in a drawer in the case of an emergency.
Minutes later, she was standing with her car in front of her grandma’s house. It looked much the same as when she had died. Carefully, Ellie unlocked the door. The air smelled strongly of dust and it was so stuffy, that she nearly backed out again. Her instinct made her open the windows first. Only then did she walk to the door that she had seen more than once, yet never opened. Before even trying to open it, she knew that it was locked. She looked more carefully at the key chain that her grandma had given her years ago. It had two keys on it. One was for the front door. The other one, her grandma had never told her. Ellie now tried the lock. The door squeaked as she opened it. Beyond it there was darkness. Ellie was glad that she had her phone on her. She switched on the flashlight app. Dusty wooden steps led downwards. She carefully climbed down. Once she had reached the bottom of the stairs, she found herself standing in a small room. The walls were concrete and it seemed nearly bare, much like a prison cell.
He exploded when he saw the gun.
On one side of the room, there was the freezer that her grandma had referred to.
He grabbed me and told me I had betrayed him. I was a traitor to the country, supporting the military. He said that I was the exact same as my father. Nothing could ever change that. I was a supporter of the military.
On the other side, she saw a small shelf, which had lots of loose pieces of paper. She picked one of them up. It was a cut-out newspaper article. A picture of a young man smiling brightly into the camera. Above it, there was a large headline: “Valentine Clarke: Has his Dream of Peace Finally Killed Him?” Flipping through the other papers, Ellie realised that they were much the same. This must have been her grandfather. Sammy had not told her much about him, but she did know that they had married when she had been barely eighteen and he was ten years older than her. When they had been married for barely two years, he had died. Ellie had never known how he had died, even though she had tried to find out. Her father had not known either, but it seemed that he had blamed himself. He had not even been born yet when his father had died. Ellie put the articles back on the shelf. None of them told her how her grandfather had died. She decided to read them back at her own house. This basement did not seem the ideal place for finding out how her grandfather had met his death.
She turned instead to the freezer that stood on the other side of the room. She wondered what was inside that had troubled her grandma so much. Slowly, she opened the lid. What she saw made her suck in her breath. She took a step back, her hand covering her mouth in shock. Inside the freezer, the same face that she had just seen staring at her from the newspaper now stared up at her with blank eyes. She shuddered as she took in the bullet wound in his head.
I shot him, Ellie. I don’t know how exactly it happened. I pulled that trigger on him. I’m a murderer, Ellie. I couldn’t tell your father. I could not live with him knowing that. When I killed him, I was pregnant with your father. He thought that it was him who killed Val, but I couldn’t tell him the truth.
Shaking, she slammed shut the lid of the freezer and, grabbing the newspaper articles, raced back up the stairs. Trembling, she dialled 999.
When the police showed up, she was still shaking. She was sent home, but ordered to report the following day at the station.
Val scared me that night. But I think I was more scared of myself than I was of him. I dragged his body into the basement immediately after I shot him. I stayed there the entire night. I didn’t know what to do. I could hardly have run to the police to show them the body. After a few days, I hid him in the freezer. I didn’t want his body to be taken away from me. Every night, I came down to the basement to look at his face. To remind myself of what I was capable of. I was scared that I would kill someone else. When your father committed suicide, I nearly did the same down there in the basement the night I found out. I stopped myself. Killing myself would only have been worse. I had killed Val and I forced myself to continue living with that knowledge. I owed him that much at least.
The next day, they told her that the man in the freezer was indeed Valentine Clarke, Sammy’s husband, who had been dead for 85 years. From the newspaper articles, Ellie had found out in the meantime that Valentine had never been found and reported missing by Sammy, a few days after he had last been seen.
Ellie could not see the connection. She knew it had been Sammy who had killed her husband. That much was clear. Sammy had warned her not to tell anyone about the freezer. A part of Ellie told her that she had betrayed her grandma’s last wish. Yet she suddenly wondered how much Sammy had hidden of her past. She found herself thinking about her father’s suicide. Had her grandma been involved in that too? Had it not been a suicide? She shoved the thought out of her head. It had been a clear suicide. There had been no doubt. And yet… The dead eyes of Valentine were watching Ellie as she pondered.
She could not understand why Sammy had killed him. There was no clear motive. There had been no maltreatment, as far as Ellie knew. But, what did she know? She let her head drop on the table.
The police came by later that day. They had a letter for her. It had been found beside the body, within the freezer. They had been forced to read and keep a copy of it, for the records, they said. She waited until they left, then she began reading.
…I’m sorry, Ellie. I never wanted you to see this side of me. I hope you never find this letter. It would break my heart.
Sweet Ellie, farewell.