Do you think he will be okay? Amanda smiled and picked up her bag. A huge thing that looked like the sort Mary Poppins might cart about with her.
‘I am sure he will be.’
‘There is just nothing anyone can do.’
‘I know, but it doesn’t do to worry too much.’ Amanda patted Melanie on the shoulder and walked towards the door.
‘I’m just worried that….
‘I know, I know.’
Melanie went upstairs to her room. The windows were iced up and the air was stiff with cold. Her own breath came out like small drifts of smoke. Only her and her father lived here. In her room there was a bed, a single wardrobe that had seen better days and an ancient stereo. Her friends at school had much more than her, at birthdays and Christmases, the hours came laden with gifts in brightly coloured paper, sometimes bows and sparkly ribbons stuck to the outside of dreams. Her own presents were few and far between, usually something plucked from an over-crammed table at a car boot sale and wrapped up to make it look new and unused. Most of it got dumped in the wardrobe. Whereas her friends had the gifts of perfect dreams, she had the dregs of the waking moments.
‘I was going to go and have another look.’ Her father stood in the doorway, moving from one blue slippered foot to the other. ‘You know, just to–‘
Melanie groaned and got up off the bed. They had circled the car boot that very morning, once, twice, three times and come away with one white carrier bag of what looked to her like rubbish. ‘I will get my coat.’
Her dad had an illness, a physical one with a long name that she couldn’t pronounce. He couldn’t really go out on his own, so she always went with him, if she wasn’t at school, but then when was she ever at school.
‘What do you hope to find?’
‘I don’t know, something useful, something that might put a smile on your face.’ Melanie looped her arm through her dads and they walked towards the bus stop.
Twenty five minutes later, they were browsing the goods on each long table. Her dad took ages, examining each thing that caught his interest, picking it up, turning it this way and that, putting his glasses on to get a better look. She would stand, often bored, listening to music on her headphones. The pink cord was going to break soon, because of all the twisting she supposed when she stuffed them in her pocket.
‘I can’t find anything here.’ Her dad took a deep breath. His lungs sounded like a crackling exhaust. He learned on his walking frame, then began to move off. ‘Do you think they will leave me alone?’ I mean, I have done what they asked.’
His daughter looked at him and dropped her gaze. Scanned the floor with its worn, yellow grass and the discarded litter that bounced around in the wind. She wanted to reassure him, but she didn’t want to lie.
‘That looks like the chest Aunt Margaret had.
‘It’s nice isn’t it and not too much money actually.’ Her father ran his finger along the wood. It looked like birch, smooth, pale with an elaborate filigree silver catch.
A woman of about fifty had been sitting on a foldable chair, knitting. She peered at him over half-moon glasses. ‘The price is on it.’
‘Oh come on, fifteen.’
Melanie blushed, she hated when her father bartered.
‘Seventeen and you have a deal.’
‘Oh, gone on then. Be off with you.’
‘Can you help.’ Melanie picked up the chest, surprised by how light it felt and they left the bootsale.
Her father had a nap when he got home, sat snoring softly in his armchair with his mouth in a perfect ‘o’ and his arms resting on his lap. When he woke to the smell of sausages wafting through the air, he sighed and hobbled across to the chest. The letters that had come this morning lay in a pile atop of the fireplace, two of them demanding more tests to prove he was sick. He opened the silver catch. They sanctioned him three months ago, even though he had been rushed into hospital and couldn’t have made the appointment. He lay the chest on the floor and looked inside its dusty interior.
A brown a4 envelope sat inside.
She came and sat beside him, feet curled beneath her thin frame. ‘What’s in there?’
Her father tugged at the gummed seal and opened the flap. Melanie sat up, resting on her knees. Her father tipped the envelope upside down and spilled the contents on the living room carpet. A wad of fifty pound notes fell out.
‘Oh my god. How much is here?’
They both grabbed some with excited hands and began to count. By the time they had finished, their fingers feeling faintly greasy, they had a total of ten thousand pounds.
‘We should take this back.
She knew this was coming. She took her fathers cold hands in hers and looked at his careworn face. ‘Let’s keep it. No one misplaces ten thousand pounds.’
‘The government isn’t helping.’
‘No, they aren’t.’
Three weeks later, on a Saturday, they went back to the car boot sale but no matter how many times they wandered round and around, they could not find the woman who they’d bought the chest from, but one day, they did notice Amanda, sitting with an old guy in a wheelchair but she only raised her hand and moved off with her large bag and a smile.
© Copyright Henrietta M Ross.
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