Lost and Found

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The ring hung from Grace’s finger, clashing, overlapping with her own rings. The problem was money. If only they had more money, she would never have found it.

If Simon’s salary was higher, she would have gone straight out somewhere swish and stylish like Liberty or Biba and bought herself a new winter coat. She could have donated the old one to the Salvation Army or to Mrs Bloom a few doors down. It might have been too small but with eight children and a runaway husband, her neighbour couldn’t afford to be picky.

But although the coat was drab, the cut five years out of date, it was serviceable. So when Grace found the pocket lining had come apart, her heart sank. Make do and mend.

Grace had pushed her hand through the split seam, the frayed silky edge tickling her wrist as she felt for lost pennies. There was definitely something, round and solid- but she couldn’t tell what it was. As she opened her fist, the dull gold had glowed in the light. Her stomach jerked.

Simon’s ring.

He’d never worn a wedding ring, said he wasn’t ‘the type’. But she’d wanted something for him, something he could wear next to his skin. Something he could look at and think only of her.

Grace had bought it from Mrs Bloom with money scraped from the housekeeping. It had belonged to Mr Bloom- a gambling debt repaid in jewellery. One of the only times he’d actually won, apparently. It was the stone Grace was drawn to, the flash of blue. Mrs Bloom had wanted more for it, but she had that lean, hungry look common just after the war, when rationing had cut bone deep. In the end, they’d agreed three shillings.

And Simon had loved it- Grace had known from the heat in his eyes. He’d never taken it off.

Then it vanished.

He’d tried to make a joke of it, of what a dolt he was- not to be trusted with anything. But Grace was devastated. How could he be so careless? Did he know how hard she’d saved, how much she’d gone without? She’d thrown the teapot, taken a nick out of the cupboard door. She’d known she was being unreasonable, that the loss was no reflection on how much he loved her. But once she’d started to cry, to shout, something hot and painful was unleased. It was as if a reservoir of grief was tapped- unceasing, constantly replenished- and she couldn’t find the way to dam it.

Then one day, Simon returned with a bunch of roses- the palest pink, with soft, fleshy petals. A few days later had come a new teapot and not a heavy, brown-glazed one, but bone china with trails of ivy painted on the handle. She hadn’t dared to ask where the money had come from.

But there were other things. His face softened when she talked about her day and when she spoke- even if it was only about the price of fish, or how cheeky the new bread boy was- he folded his paper, turned down the radio and she basked in his attention, sparkling like sunlight in a pool.

And now she’d found the ring.

She could show him. He might smile, laugh, pull her to him and kiss her cheek. He might.

The front door banged.

‘Grace? Where are you?’

Grace opened her underwear draw, slid the ring between a blue petticoat and a pink. She thought of his hand, sliding over the slippery fabric and smiled.

‘Coming!’ she called and headed for the stairs.


Today’s Prompt: Imagine you had a job in which you had to sift through forgotten or lost belongings. Describe a day in which you come upon something peculiar, or tell a story about something interesting you find in a pile.

This is linked to Writing 101 Days Four and Thirteen- Lost and Found– and imagines Grace (the old woman with dementia in the previous posts) as a young woman.

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Found

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The girl with the watery eyes takes me by the arm and her mouth’s smiling, but she still looks sad. She always looks sad. I wonder if there’s something wrong with her.

She leads me into the room with all the chairs in, the one with the big window. Some of the old people sit in there to stare out at the garden, though there’s nothing to see but mud and twigs. It’s raining. It always rains.

I try to explain to the girl with watery eyes that it must be past my bedtime, that I’d better go home to my Mam, but she says I’ve only just had my breakfast. I try to tell her she’s got it wrong, but she won’t listen so I give up. I don’t want to upset her- she smells so nice.

The girl wants me to sit down, but I don’t like the chair she puts me in because I’ve seen one of the old men sitting in it. It’s the man who always has his hand in his trouser pocket. He makes me feel itchy and anyway, he smells like dirty knickers, so when the girl leaves the room, I move to another chair- the one with the big orange flowers on the cushion.

Someone coughs and I’m worried it’s the girl that smells of mince, but it’s another young woman. She’s pretty in an untidy way, blond hair falling from a clip on top of her head. She smiles at me and I smile back and for a minute, we’re just smiling at each other and I’m not really sure why.

‘Hello,’ she says.

‘Hello,’ I say. ‘Have you come to see one of the old people?’

She smiles and nods. She has some bags with her, big blue ones with long handles made of a sort of shiny fabric. The bags are open at the top and lengths of cloth spill from them- there’s pink and a peacock blue and something the colour of peas. I like the colours and the shimmery fabric. I want to feel them, but know it would be rude to do it without asking.

‘What have you got there?’ I say, my fingers twitch wanting to touch.

The untidy, pretty girl’s smile widens. ‘Scarves. Would you like to take a look?’

And she jumps up and begins to lay them over the arm of my chair, the colours flowing and overlapping, so that you can see one through another. Pea mixes with the pink and there’s one with butterflies- a pale ash ground with magenta wings- and as she pulls it from the bag and the wings curl and flutter above my head I can’t help but giggle.

At first I’m too shy to touch. The girl pulls out more and more scarves- like a magician with a top hat- and her cheeks flush and all of the hair tumbles from the clip so it hangs round her face all straggly, but still pretty. She takes off her coat and throws it on her chair and she starts on the second bag. She kneels on the floor and starts to lay the slithering cloths on the carpet and over her coat, and it’s all so beautiful.

‘Captured rainbows,’ I say and she smiles wider than ever.

She looks so happy, I’m sure she won’t mind if I hold just one. It’s a blue-green that makes me think of ducks. I run a finger over its length. It’s soft and slippy and the cloth makes little rasping noises as it slides over itself. I curl my fingers around it, scrunch it in my hand and it’s so fine it fits in my palm.

And then.

I smell the sea, taste the salt, feel the wet sand sloshing between my toes. From one hand hangs my sandals, and the wind tugs at my scarf, the teal- coloured one that Simon bought me for my birthday. I realise my other hand isn’t free by my side, but swaying with a rhythm that isn’t mine. I look up. I see a shirt, crumpled as always, and a blond head, higher than mine so I have to lean up to kiss the cheek. It’s his hand I’m holding, that swings me back and forth, that pulls me out of step, then slips back into it. The hairs are golden on bronze skin and I’m sure I’ve never seen a more beautiful man.

‘Simon,’ I whisper, but the wind snatches the sound away.

‘That’s right, Auntie.’

I’m in the room with the chairs. The sand has gone from under my feet and the only smell is air freshener and boiled veg. But the smiling girl is still here. She’s draped scarves round her neck, like boas. Her hand is on mine.

‘You look pretty today, Suzy,’ I say, ‘I like what you’ve done with your hair.’

She squeezes my hand again.


Day Thirteen: Serially Found

On day four, you wrote a post about losing something. Today’s Prompt: write about finding something.

This is a second installment, a continuation of Lost, Day Four’s post. It’s about the same character, in the same setting. A little sad and a little hopeful.

Lost

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I need to go home now.

I keep telling them, the girl with the watery-eyes and the other one. I don’t know their names. No one tells you anything here and I don’t know why. It makes a fluttery ball form in my chest when I think about it, so I try not to think about it.

They’ve put me in a room but it’s not the right one, because the sun comes in from the wrong angle. The sun’s always come in from left to right, not right to left. And it’s the wrong shape- I get a wiggly shadow on the floor that never used to be there, not when I was home. I’ve told the girl with the watery eyes, but she just smiled and patted my hand. I didn’t want her to pat me- I’m not a dog. But the sun had moved all the way to the left, which means it’s nearly time for something and I get all jittery and find it difficult to think when I know it’s time for something.

At least the girl with the watery-eyes smells nice, like… something sweet. Something to do with a big piece of wood and a rolling pin.

The other one just smells like mince, like she’s got a pound of mince tucked into each bra cup. Dirty cow. What’s she doing looking after old people when she’s got mince in her undies. I tried to have a look, lifted her arm, tried to pull down her top to see how she was keeping it in place, but she grabbed my wrist. It pinched and I tried to wriggle free so she pinched some more. I screamed like billy-o until the watery-eyed one came and took me to my room. She’s got a soft voice, like a wood pigeon’s coo.

Almonds. That’s what the watery-eyed one smells of. Almonds, like that cake with sliced fingernails on the top and jam on the bottom. Sliced almonds, that’s what I mean- but they look like fingernails, like my Mam’s fingernails when she took the polish off with a ball of cotton wool. The cotton would start white like a snow cloud and end up with a smear of sticky red like a post box.

The food’s all wrong, too. They don’t mash the carrots and there’s no butter in them and no matter how much I try, I can’t find my cruet set, the one with the push-button on the top. I asked one of the old women today if she’d seen it, but I think she was a bit simple because she started to tell me about her cat being run over. The old lady had sticky spit in the corners of her mouth and her nose was running. I didn’t have a hanky, so I wiped her nose with her dressing gown. My Mam used to spit on a hanky to clean our faces- the spit smelt of cigarettes and she always scrubbed hard until I cried.

The watery-eyed girl told me her name. She says she told me what it was before, but I think she’s got me confused with one of the old people, because I’m sure I never knew it. When she told me and I smelt her smell again, I thought of a wooden table big as a door, sunlight slanting onto it through a high little window. The table’s white and dusty, covered in flour. There’s a ragged circle of something beige and a metal pie dish and my Mam standing over it with a rolling pin. And her fingernails are clean and white, just like the flaked almonds that sit in a bowl in front of me.

My Mam making Bakewell Tart.

I don’t know why the thought made me feel so sad, but I started to cry and the watery-eyed girl put her arms around me. I told her, she needs to send me home now, else my Mam will worry. The watery-eyed girl patted my back and I didn’t want to shrug her off this time. She sat me in the chair they’ve put in my room where the light’s all wrong and said she’d fetch a cup of tea. I asked her for a slice of Mam’s Bakewell Tart, but she just smiled and left the room.

I really think they should send me home now.


Today’s Writing 101 challenge was to write a post about losing something.

Much of my fiction seems to involve losing things- people, memories, minds- it’s clearly something I’m fixated with. But then it’s a good subject to write about, making the protagonist terrified, agonised, forcing them on a quest to recover what’s gone.

Sadly in this story, my protagonist suffers from dementia and has lost her connections with the present, with her own past and she’ll never get them back. But she grasps at moments that comfort her- the memory of watching her mum baking.

My first published stories were in an anthology called Still Me in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society. If you’re interested in supporting the society and reading some short fiction and poetry, do take a look at Pewter Rose Press