It was ugly — rough pieces of wood glued together in an irregular rectangle. It had held the faces of his family for fifty years, grainy black and white poses of every day life, none of those stylised portraits. She couldn’t understand why he chose such a tacky frame to display what he cherished most and had it propped in the centre of the mantel, for all to see.
She didn’t learn of its origin until after he died, and others fought to claim it. Her mother told her how he made the crude frame out of pieces of wood rescued from the concentration camp he was imprisoned at, a future keepsake to put pictures of his children in. How he hid it under the rags of his shirt when they were loaded like cattle onto the train heading for Poland, how he clung to it when he jumped off after they stopped at a changing signal in the middle of the Polish countryside — just like the officer who bribed the guards for his escape had instructed him to do before he left. It slept and walked with him for months as he headed back to Paris. It had stood between him and his wife as she hugged him in the middle of the street when he finally made it back to her, underweight and flea-ridden.
She looked at the frame now and it was magnificent. As she ran her fingers over the rough wood, she saw its true beauty in its imperfections — the memory of those who never came back mixed with the hopes from those who like him, found a way home. It was all there etched in the grooves, a secret history, one that wasn’t recorded in any books, one of thousands, of millions existing only inside minds, passed down the generations, whispered family heirlooms, but only if you listened, only if you asked.
How many others did she not know? How many questions did she never ask? All that knowledge that might be lost welled up in her eyes, and she wiped the tears with the back of her hand.
“Mum, can you tell me another story about Grandpa?”
“One that I don’t know yet.”
Laure Van Rensburg lives in Essex but is originally from France. She has been longlisted for the Bath Short Story Award and shortlisted for TSS Publishing Summer Flash Competition. Her short stories can be found in online magazines and anthologies including Across The Margin, Ellipsis Zine, Danse Macabre and Reflex Fiction. She tweets here.