Alice drew in a deep breath, shuddering. She released it slowly and felt some of her anxiety dissipate.
"Why am I being like this?" she asked herself.
Memories, one memory in particular, threatened to rise up in her mind like scum on the still surface of a lake. Things hidden there, things dropped in with weights attached, sunk deep.
"No," she said. "I won't think of that. Not now."
She pushed the memory away, rippling circles spreading on the calm water, ebbing and washing away the last of her fears.
Filled with new determination she approached the box and quickly, so nothing could change her mind, she opened it. At first she thought it was empty, and the relief of that made her sway momentarily on legs like canned spaghetti. But no, something was there, right at the bottom. Two things.
A wedding ring.
She tried to grasp the ring but it dropped out of her clumsy fingers, rolling away over the edge of the table, a bright circle of spinning gold. It fell to the floor, trundling over the kitchen tiles and hitting the table leg.
Alice left it. She was so tense her arms were numb and heavy, her fingers as thick and stupid as if she were wearing gloves. She managed to lift the photo somehow and keep a hold on it.
At first, she couldn't see what it was, it was so dark and faded. In the foreground was the blurred hood of a car. Beyond that, misty and distant, were two figures standing side by side.
TICK TICK TICK
Alice's heart jumped inside her, and hummed the rhythm of panic, faster than the ticking, so fast she was struggling to breathe.
Beyond the figures, perched on the edge of the cliff and facing the sea, stood a house. The house.
"Oh god!" she moaned. "Oh god, oh god!"