June 8th 1990
The flower shop smelled beautiful. Emmy inhaled the glorious scent of freesias, her mother’s favourites, but she wasn’t shopping for her mum. She found what she was looking for in a tall glass vase near the till.
‘Can I help?’ A slim, dark-haired young lady appeared from the back room, carrying a small bucket of pink and white carnations.
‘Yes please,’ said Emmy, I’d like some red roses … a dozen.’
The assistant put the carnations down next to a pot of tulips and came around to the desk. She dug out an order pad and picked up her pen. Emmy gave her the details and the message to go on the card, then she paid in cash.
‘Must be a special someone,’ said the assistant gently, picking up on a certain sadness around her customer. She had learned to read people well. Flowers so often spoke of emotional occasions in her business – happiness and sadness – weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, funerals.
‘Yes, very special’ said Emmy softly.
The assistant handed her her change and her receipt.
‘Thanks,’ said Emmy. Then she walked out of the shop and back to her car. She carefully folded her copy of the receipt and pushed it deep into a corner of her purse, biting her lip, willing the tears not to start.
2010 – Twenty Years Later
Dennis Hitchcock plonked a shoe box on the kitchen table and eased himself into a chair with a loud belch and a groan. He was getting old. Rampant indigestion when he over-ate, even though he’d cut down, and bloody arthritis. Every bit of him ached and it seemed ten times worse in the cold weather. Maybe he should hike the thermometer up a couple of degrees. Not that he couldn’t afford it. But there again he could always put on an extra pullover and save a few quid.
He pulled the box to him and took the top off. Stuff. Bits and pieces belonging to his wife, killed in a car accident over twenty years ago. He had let go of all her things the same year as the accident, cleaned everything out he thought, but now one of the kids had found this box in an old suitcase in the loft. He picked up the card on the top, a birthday card from her sister Lucy. Emmy had been close to Lucy. She’d been closer to Lucy than she’d been to him he thought with a pang of resentment. In fact the longer their marriage had gone on the wider the gap had become. The pang of resentment grew into a tight acidic ball in his stomach. Hadn’t he allowed her to have her interests? Allowed her to take a job? Let her take up art classes? She should have been grateful. And yes she had been a dutiful wife, a good cook and gardener, and had kept the house spotless. But the physical side and any speck of affection had died a death within a few years of their marriage. He had chewed and obsessed about it for years but could never understand what he’d done wrong.
Dennis sorted through the stuff; Christmas cards, birthday cards, letters from a pen-friend in America, a key-ring, a pair of brown leather gloves he’d given her which still looked brand-new. She’d never worn them. He sat back, stroking the gloves and thinking. He never could get it right. Never got her gifts she was genuinely pleased with. Oh yes, she made the right noises, but in a subtle way let him know he’d got it wrong, again. He threw the gloves in the pile he’d made to be binned, which so far was everything.
The last item in the box was an old red writing case which she’d used for years, he vaguely remembered it had originally belonged to her mother. He unzipped it. There was still a pen in the holder and the remains of a Basildon Bond writing pad, even a couple of old stamps. Too bad they were too old to make use of. There was a letter from an Aunt under one of the flaps and a photo of her mother’s little dog – that snappy little dachshund that had never liked him. He shoved his fingers under the flap on the other side and felt around. Some thin paper … maybe a couple of old pound notes! He pulled it out. Not money, just folded paper. He was about to bin it, then at the last moment he opened it up. It was a receipt from a flower shop in Birchford dated June 8th 1990.
Twelve long-stemmed red roses. £42.00.
‘A piece of my heart goes with you’
Dennis stared at it, puzzled. There was nothing to say whom or where the flowers were to go to. He turned the paper over and then back again, and stared at the message. Then there was a knock at the door.
‘Come in!’ he shouted.
The door opened and a tall, fit looking man, a few years younger than Dennis stepped in.
‘Ah Leo! How nice to see you,’ said Dennis, ‘Cup of tea?’
Leo pulled out a chair and sat down at the table. He looked at the pile of papers and cards, then grinned at Dennis. ‘You look busy, how are you keeping anyway?’
‘Lousy,’ said Dennis, ‘Aching all over, knees, shoulders, everything.’
No change there then thought Leo.
‘I’m just cleaning out an old box of Emmy’s stuff that one of the kids found in the loft,’ said Dennis hauling himself out of his chair and heading for the kettle. He filled it up and put it on, then he grabbed an old shopping bag ready to shove the rubbish in.
‘I’ve just found something a bit weird,’ he said pointing to the receipt on the table. Have a look at that.’
Leo picked up the receipt and stared at it, after a few seconds he cleared his throat. ‘It’s a receipt,’ he said casually, shrugging his shoulders.
‘Yes, but a dozen red roses … and why was it in Emmy’s writing case?’
Leo scratched his head. ‘It’s dated over twenty years ago.’
Dennis put two mugs of tea on the table and flopped back into his chair. ‘But who were they sent to, and who sent them? And look at that message!’
‘I’m sure there’s a logical explanation,’ said Leo staring hard at the receipt. ‘What are you thinking?’
‘I’m thinking what if she was having an affair.’
‘Surely not,’ said Leo, rubbing casually at the back of his neck, ‘I remember you two always being so happy.’
‘Never judge a book by its cover,’ grunted Dennis. ‘She was distant as hell for the last five years or so before she died. I never could figure out why.’
Leo sat up suddenly and tapped the receipt. ‘Wasn’t that around about the time Emmy’s father died?’
Dennis sat back and sipped his tea. Leo was right. And there had been red roses on the coffin. He felt a shiver of relief go through him. ‘You’re right,’ he said, ‘You’ve got a good memory. And she was devastated at losing her father, awkward old sod that he was. Thanks Leo, I’d completely forgotten that.’
A while later after they had put the world to rights Leo finished his tea and got up. ‘Well, I must be getting on, Maggie will wonder where I’ve got to,’ he said, ‘Shall I put this lot in the bin for you on the way out?’
‘Thank you kindly,’ said Dennis, ‘Good idea.’
Leo shoved the contents of the shoe box into the bag.
‘Stop in any time for tea,’ said Dennis, ‘I always enjoy company.’
Leo dropped the bag in Dennis’ recycling bin and made his way back to his car further down the road. car. He got in and sat for a few minutes then opened his hand and stared at the receipt. He unfolded it and the message hit him again like a hammer. ‘A piece of my heart goes with you.‘ ‘My darling Emmy,’ he whispered.
Dennis sat at the table sipping the remains of his tea and eating a biscuit. A chocolate Hob-Nob. He’d kept them in the cupboard while Leo was there. Lovely chap, Leo, but Hob-Nobs were expensive. Leo had been a good friend all those years ago before he moved to Australia. He’d been single then, then met and married Maggie while he was out there. Nice that he’d moved back and took the time to drop in for a chat. When did he move out there anyway? He couldn’t remember. For some reason it bugged him. Bugged him enough to dig out his old diaries. He had kept careful records of everything going back donkeys’ years: events, family, friends, the price of diesel, purchase of cars, weddings, funerals, birthdays, money lent, money repaid, the list was endless. An hour later after much careful searching he found a note he’d made in his diary … on June 8th 1990. How strange. It read: Leaving party for Leo at the Red Lion. Good bash. He leaves for Australia tomorrow. Emmy didn’t go, had one of her bad heads – probably due to the approach of her father’s funeral next week. Dennis put the diary down slowly with a slightly sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. ‘A piece of my heart goes with you.‘ He’d never know.He glared out of the window and wondered when Leo would come for tea again.