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A room of suitcases and packing boxes, rucksacks full to bursting, Bags for Life muscled out of shape. It’s the spare room at J’s parents’ house. There is a print on the wall of a river meandering through a green meadow, reflection of cherubim clouds in the water. That’s what J is staring at when P calls from below. J giraffes his neck out to the landing. P asks if J has seen her memory box and J shakes his head.
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P is a dynamo. Kneeling. Arms like a sprint canoeist. She opens a packing box and scrabbles through the contents. She pulls out a sports watch (his), a Spice Girls t-shirt (hers), a Mr Incredible heat-changing mug (his) and a pair of llama slippers (hers). Everything is jumbled together. There wasn’t time for careful packing. P mutters under her breath as she searches. J stands there watching, wondering whether he should offer to help.
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It’s a red box, P says. You’ve seen it, you must have seen it. J asks how big it is and P tells him the size of a hardback book. What’s in it? J asks. P looks at him and breathes in through her nostrils. Her face is flint. Memories, she says. She spits it out. But then in a calmer voice, she explains – postcards, photos, letters, little things. J knows if they haven’t packed it, it will somehow be his fault.
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P sits in the corner with her head in her hands. There’s other stuff they’ve left behind. They couldn’t bring everything, after all. But she doesn’t know how she has forgotten this. J sits down next to her and puts his arm round her shoulder. P lets him comfort her for a moment but then pulls away.
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J finds a box of chocolate truffles in one of the rucksacks and passes it to her. P takes one absently and puts it in her mouth. J gazes at the other contents of the rucksack and wonders if they made the right choices in their rush. He thinks they left behind the tea towel of all their friends’ cartoon faces. He hasn’t seen the Murano glass candle holder they bought on their honeymoon but he knows he chucked a Poundland snow globe into one of the bags.
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Downstairs, the television is on. The evening news. A reporter on the edge of the flood in wellingtons and a mackintosh. The water sloshes about behind him and a dishevelled teddy bear bobs in the water. The colour of it all is murky grey. There are cars submerged up to their windows. A green wheelie bin lumbers on its side, lid open, plastic pots and sodden cardboard in a floating mosaic. Somewhere, perhaps, a red memory box has spilled photographs of holidays in Thailand, love letters from their halcyon days.
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The television news flicks to a breaking story. A woman has died out on the downs. She left behind a husband and a daughter, the reporter tells them as if she had just gone out for a stroll and decided not to come back. P stands up from the sofa and leaves the room. J follows her up to the spare bedroom where they’re staying until their house can be put right. The box of chocolate truffles sits half-eaten on one of the bedside tables. The print of the river scene is still there mocking them, a swan drifting serenely on the water’s perfect sheen.
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P empties the remaining chocolate truffles into a spare plastic bag and writes across the top of the box in a black marker – NEW MEMORY BOX. She scribbles something on a piece of paper, folds it and places it carefully (as if it were made of glass) inside the box. J looks on nervously. P looks up at him and smiles. It isn’t like anyone died, she says. And then immediately regrets her choice of words. I mean, we didn’t die. No one we knew died. She picks up her llama slippers and slips them onto her feet. I’ll make a brew, she says. And J hands her his Mr Incredible heat-changing mug.
Matt Kendrick is a writer based in the East Midlands, UK. His stories have been published in Fictive Dream, Lucent Dreaming, Reflex Fiction, Spelk, Storgy, FlashBack Fiction and the BFFA Anthology. Further information about his work can be found on his website: www.mattkendrick.co.uk