They only came on a whim, he dragged along by she. She loved a bargain, loved to rummage, loved to make up stories about the previous owner. Look, she’d say, the woman who wore these elbow-high green nylon gloves had secret passions. The woman who wore these might have been a spy, she’d say, maybe a cabaret singer. He hated all of it, felt ashamed, felt she was little more than a tramp for doing such things. He bragged to his friends about labels, price tags, who could pay the most. She, however, loved to tell her friends how such-and-such had cost no more than £4. But still, they loved one another, so he tagged along.
Outside the sheltered accommodation, the old lady’s son had hauled her precious possessions out for the world to judge. No set price, make me an offer, everything must go. The son looked angry, face a permanent frown. She couldn’t understand how he could be so callous, but bit her tongue. Perhaps it was his way of grieving, who was she to judge?
Her eye was drawn to an old wardrobe, clearly stained a too-dark brown by someone in the past. It had an ornate round handle, and a keyhole with no key. She walked around it, the back made of a cheap bit of plywood, and chipped at the bottom. Looking around to see if anyone was watching, she bent down, and gently popped a finger inside. She could feel the dust on the bottom, feel the jagged wood from the chip, and then, she felt something else. Was it lace? Something rough, hanging no more than an inch from the bottom. Her heart gave a jolt. Somehow, she knew this was meant to be.
She stood and beckoned to him, whispered that she had to have it, and could they get it home somehow? He grizzled that they already had storage, why did they need a dead woman’s shit in their house? She stood her ground, and won.
The son took £20 without a word of thanks.
As the sun set, she set to work with first a hair pin, then pliers, then a screwdriver, until the door had splintered open. He laughed at her, said that was £20 wasted now she’d gone and broken the bloody thing, and went out to meet his mates.
Good, she thought, she wanted to be alone for this. Before she opened the door wide, she made herself a drink and gave a toast to the dead woman. To a life well-lived, I hope, she said. Then she swung the door wide.
Inside, the wardrobe was bare, apart from a white lace dress hanging on a padded velvet hanger. A layer of dust covered it, but she could see that it was beautiful. Looking closer, she saw a bag also hung from that same hanger. Frightened the whole thing would turn to dust at her touch, she tentatively reached in, and unhooked the hanger.
The weight caught her by surprise, and the hanger fell from her grasp to the floor. One-thousand moths flew out at her and she panicked, hands flying all around to bat them away. Then she realised her mistake; not moths, just dust.
Again, she lifted the hanger, prepared for the weight of it. Laying the dress – so beautiful, so intricate – onto her bed, she saw the price tag still attached. Her heart broke in two at the sight; one half in sadness for the wedding that never was, the other half in delight that it was her size.
Removing the bag, she took out a pair of silk shoes, tagged and in her size. And something else. A ring box, no, two ring boxes.
She gave a small cry as she opened the first and found a smooth, man’s wedding band. She took it out and walked to the dressing table. There, on a trinket plate, was the ring he sometimes wore, left to him by his grandad. She held them side by side. They were the same size. Even before she looked, she knew what the other ring box held. Sure enough, the ring inside fitted her perfectly.
Later that night, when he came home, he found her lying on the bed, wearing the dress, the shoes, the ring on her finger. She looked so peaceful, fast asleep, dreaming of their future, that his heart swelled with love for his funny little fiancé. He bent down to kiss her, to wake her like a princess in a fairy tale, but when his lips touched hers, they were cold. He shook her, called her name, but it was all in vain. She was lost to him.
A month later, a man came across an old wardrobe, taped shut, with a sign attached that said: ‘Free to a good home’. Hardly believing his luck, he managed to get it home, and put it in the master-bedroom as a surprise for his fiancé. There was something inside, he’d heard the rattling. He contemplated cutting the tape, but decided he would leave that for her. What a surprise she would get.
© Beck Collett
Winning Story: Contest #20
The following stories are the Outright Winning Entries for the Monthly Short Story Contest
March 2020 onwards