The Button 2

I’m sharing again the first few chapters of a story I began a few years ago; it really is time I got around to finishing it! In the first chapter, Clare, who has moved to a new town unexpectedly meets a schoolfriend in a water-mill the friend and her husband are restoring. The friend, Jenny-Lee, for some reason mistakes Clare for another girl, Clare Cherry. There was obviously some history between the girls when they were at school so it’s strange Jenny-Lee has mis-remembered it.

Out of the Box

Clare had downsized, she had downsized to some tune; going through her parents’ things when they had moved into the supported living, had begun to persuade her that hanging onto stuff – either because it might come in use, or because it reminded her of something, or it seemed a waste to throw it away – hanging on to stuff was not a good idea.
This thought impressed itself even more firmly when her role as executor for her aunt presented itself unexpectedly, the old lady having been found dead, lying in a deck chair as if asleep in her beloved garden… She lived near Salisbury Plain and Clare hadn’t visited for years, and what she remembered as a house full of stuff didn’t come anywhere near the actualitée… her aunt was a compulsive hoarder.
Dozens, scores of everything, piles of stuff going back decades, mouldering at the bottom, hundreds of packets of cereal from before there were sell-by dates, enough spirits and wine to keep Clare happy for years – and her aunt was a Salvationist and didn’t drink, dozens of pairs of scissors, two accordions, thirty-four tea-sets, a wardrobe full of stationary including more paperclips than several branches of W.H. Smiths had in store… endless amounts of stuff… and then there was what was up in the roof, and in the garage, the two sheds, the greenhouse… and the cellar…
Everything needed to be gone through, money was hidden in all sorts of places, in magazines, in cushions, down the side of chairs, taped beneath tables and chairs…. There was jewellery secreted about the place, and Clare had to visit every bank and building society in town to check whether aunty had accounts there…
Aunty’s death had coincided with a difficult time at work, and Clare, as the sole beneficiary of the estate, was able to hand in her notice… and spent the next year, a whole wonderful year of fredom, clearing the house…
A lesson learned, and the result, funds enough to buy a place anywhere she wanted. She got a job in Easthope, and for the moment rented… Much of her stuff was in storage, but she was beginning to think she might send most of it to auction and start again…
Her rented house was a small terrace and she used the little second bedroom as an office and where she used her computer. A friend had lost all her most precious things in a fire at the storage facility looking after her possessions, so Clare had everything she valued most with her… including photos, memorabilia and all-purpose stuff from her past.
The boxfile she was looking for was near the bottom of the stack… she wasn’t sure she had hung onto what she wanted, there had been many moves in her life, and she’d had other down-sizes. At some time, she couldn’t remember when, she had gone through all her school photos and records and put them into poly pockets, junior school, grammar school, other grammar school, sixth for… and then Uni…
She didn’t allow herself to get side-tracked, too easy to go through the memories of her early childhood, in nativity plays and May Days… She took the ‘other’ grammar school pocket and looked through the school reports, the school photos, a couple of programmes from school plays. The photos were class photos, just two official ones, then a couple which the form teacher had taken.
Angela Fergus, Sandra Panton at one end, Joan Marshall and Pauline Davis, Heather Thoms and  Jenny-Lee Harper, Clare Cherry  and Clare herself, Clare Mason as she was then. There was the usual mixture of natural and unnatural smiles, half closed eyes, irritated faces, blank expressions…
Clare Cherry… how could she be mistaken for an adult Clare Cherry? She looked at the girl in the picture, wavy dark hair falling across one eye, her head slightly turned and looking directly at the camera… and then she looked at herself, a picture of misery. Her dark curly hair was all over the place – was this a result of her enforced haircut? She couldn’t remember. Little Clare had tipped her face forward so her expression was hidden, but the droop of her shoulders said it all.
Jenny-Lee was smiling broadly, a wide confident smile, brazen and cocky… cocky, they wouldn’t have used that word then… In fact now she looked at the photo, Clare thought that Jenny-Lee hadn’t changed very much. How could she think Clare was Clare Cherry, Clare Cherry, Jenny’s best friend?
This wasn’t what she wanted… interesting to look at the old pictures now she was an adult, now she could stand up to –
She put everything back except that one photo… so where was what she wanted, had she thrown it away? Surely she hadn’t… not that she could remember looking at it…
There was a box right at the bottom, labelled ‘miscellaneous’. It was a cardboard box with red wrapping paper stuck to it, leftover from a distant Christmas. Clare took it downstairs and sat on her settee with a glass of wine and opened the box.
Diaries, notebooks, letters, odd things like a flattened Milk Tray box, luggage labels, receipts, envelopes with things in, postcards…
It was an unassuming brown envelope, slightly furry with age. She moved to sit at the table and switched on the reading light; she shook out the contents of the old envelope.
‘See you on Monday Button, behave yourself, you don’t want to become unButtoned!! Haha!’… ‘Did you enjoy detention, Button, naughty you scribbling on my book!!’… ‘Wishing you an unMerry Christmas, Button, and a very unHappy New Year, from your best friends J-L and C.C.’… ‘Did you think we couldn’t see you in Dark Fort, wherever you are, we will know!’ ‘Button up, Button!’
Clare spread them out and looked at them… what vile little bullies they were…pick on the smallest girl, how brave they were…
Oh well, it was all in the past… She gathered them together to put back in the envelope, she’d put them in the bin. One slipped from her fingers and fluttered to the floor and as she picked it up she saw there was something on the back.
It was her own writing, neat and small. ‘I will climb out of the box and I will find you and kill you…’
 She didn’t remember writing that, she turned the paper over ‘Halloween Button, we will put you in a coffin and see how you like that! From your spooky best friends J-L and C.C.’
 She shook the notes from the envelope, each one had a message in her own hand…’you can’t hurt me, I have secret powers’ ‘my Christmas will be merry and bright, and so will yours as you burn in hell’, ‘you saw me in the Dark Fort but you didn’t see my friends who live there, they will find you and haunt you…’

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