It’s the last Friday of the month, so FlashbackFriday time. I’m always tempted to do something for St Andrews Day, but since next year the last Friday will be St Andrews, I’m saving my favourite till then. This time I’m reliving something that I couldn’t quite remember when I was skimming through options, and surprised me. It reminded me that I have a number with interesting twists that could form a collection of short stories some time.
For this one, we were promptless, so Rebecca Douglass and I exchanged random titles. She gave me The Evil Locket or the Moon was a Witness. I gave her Winter Sleep or the Vintage Explorer – random words from leaflets on my desk! You can see the Moon was a Witness here – that was the first reality adventure for my guinea pigs, i.e. from our home rather than in the Realms. The Evil Locket has human protagonists and is exactly 1000 words.
Nobody had been in the attic for decades. Julia picked her way through ghostly shapes, mostly dust-covered upturned chairs. She paused at a tea-chest brimming with old curtains, to sneeze six times.
“Oh god, not another cold,” she said, wiping her nose with her handkerchief.
“You often sneeze six times,” said her husband Paul, creeping through the narrow door behind her. “It’s just the dust. When did they last come up here?”
“I doubt if they’ve been up since I left home.”
“Why did they keep all this junk?”
Julia shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe we should just get a firm in.” She moved to the far end where an old bureau attracted her.
“Let’s check we haven’t got a lost Rembrandt here first.”
“Hardly likely,” Julia said. Old war records were more likely than art. There could be treasure here, unrecognised – her father’s life in documents. Maybe a museum would be interested.
Her instincts were right.
Inside the bureau was a box of medals, a case containing a silver necklace, and a file of papers, possibly her father’s service records.
”We should take these with us.”
Paul grunted in reply as he knelt by a battered tin trunk. “This looks interesting, too. More papers. Old photographs. Lots of old photographs. Who’s this?”
He held up a sepia portrait of a man in uniform, holding a black hat with a plume of ostrich feathers.
“I’ve no idea. He looks very distinguished. Anything on the back?”
Paul shook his head.
“Can we take the trunk with us?”
“Yes, it’ll fit in the boot okay. Anything more in that bureau you want?”
“No. What about that vase?” Julia pointed at an elegant blue glass vase lying on another pile of fabric.
Paul made his way over the junk to it and picked it up, blowing off a layer of dust, which made Julia’s sneezing start up again.
“Sorry. Hmm. It’s got a mark of some sort. Let’s take this with us – it’s a pretty thing.”
“We really ought to examine all the boxes. Who knows what’s in here.”
“Surely your parents would have kept anything valuable downstairs?”
“Not if it came from granny’s. They just cleared her house and put it up here. They always said not to go looking in boxes in her house.”
Paul laughed. “Whyever not?”
“There was something funny about her house. It was creepy. I hated having to visit at half-term.”
Paul laughed again.
“Oh, I know you don’t believe in ghosts. But it did feel odd there.” Julia straightened up and closed the bureau front. “I don’t know, Paul. I think I’d rather leave this lot to the clearance people. They can have whatever they find here. Maybe someone will appear on Antiques Roadshow with something that we could have sold for a million.”
Back in Wimbledon, Julia stowed the battered metal trunk in their own loft. She took the medals and the silver necklace to be valued. An ordinary set of medals, with the campaigns she knew her father had fought in. The silver chain and its locket were a nice piece of work, but nothing special. The valuer asked if the person in the locket was an ancestor.
“I don’t know, I didn’t realise there was a picture in it,” she articulated between sneezes. She looked at the sepia picture of a woman, strong and stern, looking out at her.
“It’s easy to be sentimental over these things,” the valuer said, “but I would say she has the same features as you. Might be worth keeping if you want to do any family tree stuff.”
“I hadn’t thought of it,” Julie said, but thanked him, and settled the valuation fee.
“Your cold’s getting worse,” Paul commented as she reported on her errand. “Your voice is all husky.”
“Oh god,” said Julia, “time for some cold remedy, I suppose.”
“I’ll make you a hot drink.”
Julia took the locket out and looked at it again while Paul boiled the kettle. Who was this lady? She did look like her, well like her mother when she was in her forties, at any rate. A definite family resemblance. Why had her mother consigned it to the attic?
“Here you go, sip this,” Paul said, handing her a mug of lemon-smelling liquid.
“Thanks. Do you think this woman looks like my mother?” She passed the open locket across.
“Hmm. Too old, I think. Maybe your grandmother. There is a family resemblance. Actually…” Paul held the picture up and compared it with Julia, sitting across the room. “It looks very like you did when the Operatic Society did Show Boat.”
Julia had a coughing fit. “Good thing we haven’t got a show on at the moment,” she said when she’d recovered. “I couldn’t sing with this throat, anyway.”
Paul nodded. “Maybe you should get an early night. The auditions for the new show are on Monday.”
Julia’s cold came out, streaming, and she apologised to the audition panel as she took up her position. As a tribute to the style of Annie Get Your Gun, the new season’s show, she’d put her hair up in an old-fashioned style, and fastened the silver chain around her throat. She was sucking Lockets cough sweets to keep her voice from cracking up, and sang well enough to satisfy the panel.
“We know how you sing, anyway; don’t worry about the cold,” the director smiled at her afterwards.
That night Paul watched as she took off the silver locket, laid it in its silver case, and got ready for bed. “Have another cough sweet to help you get to sleep, darling. I’ll use the other room so that I don’t disturb you.”
Paul had made a good estimate of the worth of the junk in her parent’s house, and he wasn’t going to share it with her. His carefully supplied Lockets would do more than stop coughs dead.
“Bye-bye, Julia,” he said softly, as he closed her bedroom door.
© J M Pett 2014