That was my family: the world could be collapsing around us but we must never show our feelings. Always put on that carefully stage-managed facade, or else. Or else what? Would they see a tiny chink in the flimsily thrown together armour? Would it matter?
This thing, this family heirloom, had been passed down through the ages. It was an ornately carved box with the family crest on it. Oh, yes, my family had delusions of grandeur. Of course, they never had their own crest; one of my ancestors had designed one.
It was terminal, we knew that, but we weren’t allowed to be sad: heaven forbid. My father took it stoically, as always, whatever life threw at him, or in this case, death. I tried to be the doting daughter but he was resistant to the end. I knew not everyone was like this. I had encountered many people who seemed to care. They cared about other people, their friends and family, even strangers. They were grateful and irritated and happy and sad. He said I had been tainted by them.
“My will, you know where that is, don’t you?” he said, always in charge.
“Yes,” I said, trying to soothe his forehead with a cool damp flannel whilst he was brushing me away all the time.
“Just never open the box,” he said, his eyes showing just the faintest hint of anger, fear and panic. I had not seen him like this before so I didn't fully recognise it. I didn’t know what was in the box, just that I should treat it with great respect. No one had opened it in three hundred years, he had once told me proudly. Perhaps that needed to change with his passing. I could wait another few days.