A Small Sprig

“I don’t know why people press flowers in books,” Ken said as he dusted down another stack of hardbacks. “It’s awful for the books and it doesn’t do much for the flower. Why don’t they use blotting paper and then put it in a frame?” He sighed and tipped out another sprig of faded leaves. “At least this one hasn’t stained the pages too much.”

Lynn looked around the crowded room. “Do we really need to go through all these books now? Perhaps we could go for a walk and get some fresh air. It’s a lovely day.”

“It will take more than a day to get through these,” Ken said. “And don’t forget, we have another shipment coming at the weekend.”

Lynn stood up and dusted off her jeans. “I’ll make us a cup of tea,” she said as she picked her way through the towers of stacked books.

The kitchen was just as full. Her late uncle had left her everything. The exasperated landlord had piled the hoarded contents of Uncle Tim’s house into storage and sent Lynn the bill and now the contents of the storage units were being sent down by instalments from Scotland to their Bristol town house. Boxes and boxes of junk were travelling hundreds of miles to pass under Ken’s inspection.

Lynn poured boiling water on the teabags and looked around the kitchen. It was crammed. Uncle Tim had collected some beautiful enamelware and Lynn had suggested that they throw out the mismatched utensil pots and the tea and coffee tins that had come free with her saucepans and use the lovely, warm cream pots and jugs, but Ken was talking about how much the enamelware would fetch and thought that they should keep the old stuff. She added sugar to Ken’s mug and then topped up both drinks with milk. She didn’t want the money. She wanted Uncle Tim back. She carried the drinks back to the living room.

The books were dusty, mainly from Uncle Tim’s house, and Ken had dark smears on his face and shirt. “Thanks for the tea. It’s dry work. I’ve tossed the flowers I’ve found so far into the bin, but some of them have still stained the books. It’ll affect their resale value.”

“What? Some of those were put there by mum! I remember her putting them there.” Lynn stared at him.

Ken shifted awkwardly. “Well your mum’s been gone for a bit now. I don’t suppose she minds now that she’s in a better place.”

“I could have planted any seeds on her grave,” Lynn said. “Why did you do that?”

“I said that it will give a better resale value. We could get enough for a wedding if we sell this lot and get a good price for the enamelware, and perhaps we could get a better car for me, depending on what else is sent down. At least the landlord seems to have been honest. It doesn’t look like he kept back anything valuable. This is a first edition by Hemingway novel. I’ve found the same copy is over £7000 online.”

Lynn looked at him and then back at the book. “I remember Uncle Tim reading that story. He kept that copy for best and read and re-read paperback versions. He loved his Hemingway.”

“Lucky for us he did,” Ken said, making a note in a notebook and putting it to one side. “We could sell this place and get something a little nicer under both of our names. Something with a bigger garden.”

“You hate gardening,” Lynn pointed out as she stared at her partner. He’d been in her life for eighteen months now. Why had she not seen him clearly before? The house was hers, the car was hers, and all these treasures from Uncle Tim belonged to her. Ken didn’t even share the bills. He just paid for the Sports Channels that he had insisted on. At least she had held out for that. She didn’t even remember inviting him to stay. He had been living with his mother and after a while the nights he had stayed over had merged until he never left.

“But it will be nice to relax in a garden,” Ken said. “We can have a quiet glass of wine at the end of the day, perhaps with a barbecue.”

Lynn looked around and started sorting through the books. She was sure it would be here somewhere. “I’m very happy here,” she said. “And the neighbours are lovely.”

“I know that you’re close with the neighbours, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t visit,” Ken said. “You know, now and again.”

He had never liked her friends, Lynn remembered. She hardly seemed to see them nowadays. There always seemed to be something else happening. She shifted a stack of books and found what she was looking for – Pride and Prejudice. She had been holding it as she had excitedly told Uncle Tim about Ken, how they had met on a walk and how he seemed absolutely perfect. Uncle Tim had insisted that she picked a spray of borage from the border and preserve it, as a memory, so that she could look back one day and remember the excitement. She shook the pages carefully and caught the brittle fragment as it fell.

“That looks newer,” Ken said. “I wonder who put that there.”

“I did,” Lynn said. She tossed the small sprig into the bin. “And I’m not moving. But you are.”

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