Assignment was to write a story of 500 words based on the first item I heard on turning on the radio. I caught the tail end of a piece on Woman’s Hour about an exhibition about the way people attach meaning to articles left by somebody who has died; things like a bag, or a book. It’s about 550 words.
500 word story. Crossings out and italics are edits.
Making a special effort, bending her knees and concentrating, Marjorie managed to get down as far as the drawer of the divan, below the deep mattress. With what felt like almost the last of her energy, she pulled the drawer. Surprising how much effort such a small movement could take, and how the body could play tricks on you, pulling upwards instead of outwards. She had a flash of an O Level physics lesson on fulcrums, or should it be fulcra? Wasn’t it a Latin word?
Whatever. There was a job to do. Ever since she had been to that exhibition in Liverpool, the one about bereavement and things left behind,
she had she’d had it in mind to do this final act of sorting things out. She lifted a lacquered basket out of the drawer and turned herself quickly so that she collapsed onto the bed instead of onto the floor. The basket had lasted well. She remembered buying it in one of those new hippy shops in the sixties, which sold craft things imported from India, and even more exotic places, like Peru. She had borne it home proudly in a plastic bag, and it had been the secret home of her little treasures ever since.
As she tugged at the tight-fitting lid, she marveled at the transparency of the skin on the back of her hands. Every blood vessel was clearly visible, blue cords stretched over the bones and sinews. Soon there would be nothing left of her at all. She imagined being in a coffin, looking up at the lid.
“That’s enough for now,” she thought.
She was going to write a list of all her precious things and put the girls’ initials against them. There would have to be a balance of size, quantity and value, but in any case she had a feeling that Gemma and Sarah would do the reckoning, while Amanda would just be happy with anything. Then there were the grandchildren to think of. Perhaps a ring each for them.
One by one, her jewellery came out of the basket, strings of beads, bright and glassy, tumbling through her fingers. A box of silver earrings, a little velvet bag with sparkly things in. Here was the black jet brooch her mother had passed on
to her from her grandmother, a ‘mourning’ brooch, Mum had said called it. It occurred to Marjorie that perhaps she should have worn it when Max had died. Too late now. He hadn’t known it was coming, lucky sod. Now it was her turn, and she knew only too well what lay ahead.
At the bottom of the basket was a twisted blue silk handkerchief, with something round and flat tied into the corner. She untied it and her heart lurched. A black plastic badge, with a white Women’s Lib emblem on it. The female symbol with the raised clenched fist inside the circle. Chris. Clutching the badge tight in her left hand, Marjorie wrote in her notebook ‘On me for my funeral – wedding ring, Women’s Lib badge’. When she was gone, Max would still be recognised as her husband. But it would be Chris who would be recognised as the love of her life. She started a new page. “Girls, I know you are bound to be a bit shocked to learn that before you were born your mother had an affair with a married woman….”