She kept an antique shop, or rather, it kept her: Auntie’s Antiques.
She tickled under the chin of the bell above the door, just to check it still worked, and flipped over the sign to prove they were closed for business.
“Elevenses, dear!’’, she said to the pink-lipped, long-dead, Victorian girl in the portrait, flicking her frame with her faded ostrich-feather duster as she doddered by, “Auntie needs her tea.”
The stairway at the back of the shop took her, carefully, up to her self-contained flat and kitchenette. She lit the gas and put the kettle on the flame, automatically pushing open the top window to let the steam out, then absentmindedly watched a tube train crawl noisily between the tunnel and the back of the old paint factory, rinsing her Imperial Russian porcelain cup under the tap. Blank commuters stared out at her.
No one ever waves back anymore.
Her slight pique amplified her trembling and in an instant the cup was tumbling, dissolving with barely a tinkle on her chequered tiles.
“Oh Auntie! That was priceless.”
She swept the memories into a silver dustpan with her badger-hair brush, and went back downstairs, laying the dustpan on her sales counter for a moment. Shy under the gaze of the Grandfather clock standing silently over her, she shrugged off the feeling of paternal admonishment and picked out a Louis XV snuff box from her cabinet of prettiest things.
“You’ll have to be patient with Auntie.”
Stroking the tortoiseshell inlay with her finger the velvet-lined lid purred when opened. She emptied the delicate fragments into it, closed the lid, and then pulled out a box of crucifixes. Choosing plain gold she laid it a-top the snuff box and then cut off a hunk of ribbon to tie around it, holding the crucifix in place.
“A love bow,” she whispered, to concentrate herself against the shaking.
At the back of the shop she let herself out into her dark, walled yard and felt the cold. With her best gold pansy trowel she scraped a shallow grave at the back, laid down the box, and scattered over it a shroud of dirt, the ribbon bright against the grey grit.
She hurried inside, closing the outside out.
“Auntie still hasn’t had her cup of tea.”