“Grimm’s Fairy Tales?”
“I give up, it could be anything.”
Natalie and I were back in the Black Swan. She’d been upset after the death of her boss in a bizarre accident and I figured she might need someone to talk to. I was drinking Vicar’s Venom and she was on chardonnay. Anyway, we’d somehow got onto the subject of our earliest possessions. She’d said hers was an envelope with her first haircut in it. Locks of blonde hair, silky soft to the touch and unfaded since clipped from her head nearly 40 years ago.
“But not a hair on your head perishes,” I’d said, paraphrasing the Bible. I’d told her mine was a book, so she’d guessed in that direction.
“OK, as far as I know, my earliest possession is a copy of Wind in the Willows, inscribed by my Dad ‘Christmas 1966’. I was three!”
“What? Could you read then?!” Her wide emerald eyes opened wider still.
I was tempted to exaggerate but decided from the point of our future relationship to tell the truth. I thought of Mark Twain’s advice, ‘if you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.’
“Actually, I don’t think so, probably my mum read it to me.”
“Where is it?
“Oh, it’s in a storage unit in Lincoln.”
The previous week I’d gone there, looking for a dartboard. Piles of boxes, up to the high ceiling, stood ominously in the gloom, leaving just small channels between them. Then garish fluorescent tubes had flickered on, dispelling any mystery, except in the deepest alcoves formed by bookcases and an inverted bed.
The dartboard was easy to find, then I’d felt an inexplicable hankering to find the box that had all my childhood books in it. I decanted twenty boxes outside the unit until I’d exposed a box that said simply, ‘Books 1’. I’d actually found my breath coming quickly and my hands quivering as I slit the tape fastening it. Then my heart stopped. Inside the box were a set of scales, a rolling pin and some crockery, wrapped in tissue. I remembered now, that when preparing to move, my aged mother had come to help and I’d caught her throwing out our childhood Monopoly set.
“What are you doing?”
“You don’t need it any more, why on Earth do you need so many collections – books, magazines, toys, bottles!”
“We used to play with that when we were little kids!”
She brushed greasy white hair off a wrinkled face. “You’re fifty five for goodness sake. Grow up!”
Again I looked in the box. Surely, surely she hadn’t thrown out possibly my most treasured possession, even with her deteriorating mental state. I remembered the dust wrapper, a lovely painting by E. H. Shepherd – Ratty and Mole sitting in a boat by the riverbank. Fruitlessly, I’d looked through some other boxes before I’d had to leave. Irate, I’d phoned her on my return. She “couldn’t remember,” or so she said.
“Stan, Stan, are you OK?” Natalie woke me from my reverie.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m OK. I’ll get some more drinks, same again?”
She nodded, looking concerned.
I headed to the bar, thinking of that hardback book, covered in dark-green waxed cotton, and felt a yearning to feel the smooth paper wrapper again, to look inside at my dad’s inscription, written before I could even read. I turned into an alcove and wiped my eyes, then had a sudden thought. Maybe the book was just in another box I hadn’t searched? Brightening up, I realised I didn’t want to “grow up”…
If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.