The Picture

“I don’t know why you’re so fascinated by that picture,” Freddie said. “It’s nothing special. My mother was an art student once. She painted a few pictures.”

Alice continued to stare at the painting. “Why?” she asked. “Every time I see that picture I ask myself, why? Why did she frame it like that?”

“I don’t know,” Freddie said impatiently. “You know what my mother was like. She probably found a cheap frame.”

“But it’s a shame. It should be mounted properly, with a proper matte backing and a larger frame, perhaps a darker one, and a decent amount of wood, not those skinny sticks.”

“Well, it’s all ours now, so take it and reframe it.” Freddie looked around his late mother’s flat. “All of this is ours now. What a mess.”

“You keep saying that your mother had money, and the will said that she left it to you and to not waste what you’re given, but there’s nothing really here.” Alice stared at the painting. “Except this painting.”

“It’s just something she did as an art student.” Freddie frowned and checked the piece of paper in his hand. “The solicitor said that she talked about having planted the money in the flat.”

“Planted…” Alice murmured, still staring at the picture. “Mind you, I don’t think she had two pennies to rub together. Look at the state of this flat.”

“She was careful with her money,” Freddie said. “And she liked a bargain.” He glanced at his expensively dressed wife. “You could have learned a thing or two.”

Alice ignored him and looked around the tousled flat. “That sofa is older than I am! And that side table is scratched to bits.”

Freddie slowly lowered himself onto the sofa and relaxed. “I remember this sofa. It’s one of the comfiest I’ve ever sat on. Mind you, it needs a new cover.” He looked at the side table, cluttered with dirty cups and dried up houseplants. “Though the table isn’t fit for anything. It was only cheap chipboard to begin with.”

Alice turned back to the picture. “Planted. Your mother really liked this painting, didn’t she?”

“Hmm?” Freddie settled himself in a corner of the sofa and looked around again.

“I mean, it’s so striking, and in such a central place.” Alice leaned over. “I bet that’s where she put her savings book. Behind the picture. Or perhaps there’s a safe.”

“She liked the picture because she already had it and it took up enough wall to make it look decorated,” Freddie said dispassionately. He looked around again. “I remember those mugs from when I was a kid. She got them as a free gift.”

“How much money did your mother leave?” Alice asked. “I mean, just a savings book with a hundred pounds or so wouldn’t take up much room.” She grasped the picture and, after a quick struggle, lifted it down.

“The solicitor who handled it all has already paid the inheritance tax and that was a fortune,” Freddie said. “It’s more than a small savings account.” He frowned, then sighed. “She did love her plants. I suppose she wanted us to take care of them, but they died before we got the news.” He reluctantly pulled himself out of the comfy corner of the sofa. “What are you doing?” he asked Alice.

“The information – it’s behind the picture!” Alice said as she wrestled with the painting. “Look, it’s about plants, and everyone knows that you can keep papers behind pictures in frames.”

Freddie shook his head and started lifting the houseplants. “You need to take that picture, reframe it, hang it where you like and then forget about it.” He lifted a formerly magnificent specimen of philodendron. Between the pot and the pot stand was a key. “The safe deposit box key. Mother was never that complicated.”

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