by Lilla Scott

Highly Commended in the 2005 TWO! Short Story Competition


Joan returned her attention to the cardboard box, carefully packed with bric-a-brac. She’d sort it later. There were China ornaments cushioned against balls of wool, unravelled hand knitted garments rewound for thrift. Joan couldn’t resist removing a pewter frame and pressing her thumbs hard against the embossed ivy leaves before she slipped it back into position between the stacks of glass dishes. Her fingers curled around the handle of a gravy boat loaded with wedges of colour. On closer inspection, the cargo revealed itself as chiffon scarves. She flicked them open, unfurling one delicate swathe after another until she’d gathered them into a fistful. When she pumped her arm up and down, it made her think of a jellyfish.

Someone was coughing, trying to get her attention at the counter. Joan stuffed the scarves into a glass vase, snagging them on her rings. More haste, less speed she said to herself as she approached the customer.
"They look nice there. Cheery. You’ve got some quality things in this shop."
"Thank you. That’ll be Ј1.50 for the jumper and 60p for the scented candle. Ј2.10 altogether."
"I like burning those. They make the place smell nice."
Joan nodded as she folded the garment around the candle and put the woman’s purchases into one of the used carrier bags stored on the ledge.
"Thanks." she said as she took the money. The woman smiled "Bye for now."

Joan lifted the box, wincing with the effort, and left the arrangement of scarves as they were, trusting in the customer’s judgement. In the back there was all this other stuff to put out, already marked up. Vi must have done it yesterday. She always left everything well prepared and organised. Joan really admired Vi’s ability to establish order out of the public’s unwanted goods, often delivered in black bin bags and indistinguishable from rubbish. Vi knew how to tackle the task. Strategically rubber gloved she just got on with it, sifting and picking her way through the donations, gleaning and discarding systematically; categorising and labelling. She found a meaning in mess.

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