• Vol. 04
  • Chapter 03
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A special acquisition

The thing about collecting that Kay always liked was that no one ever asked her what she was doing. Her reputation as a collector of odds and ends meant that she if she was seen rootling in cupboards or half in and out of hedgerows, people generally shook their heads at the child’s eccentricity. She knew that she was both pitied and ridiculed. She didn’t care. Whatever she found – bird’s eggs, snags of greasy sheep’s wool in thornbushes, a broken shoe – went to her ‘gallery’ in the garden, the shed her father had made over to her once the shoe boxes and tea chests overflowed.

Kay cleaned, labelled and stored her treasures, with the most unusual on display for those who chose to make their way past the raised beds of carrots and frames of sweetpeas. Special acquisitions merited invitations to a new display, most recently the cat skeleton turned up by the gardener next door. She had laid out the fragile bones on a pale green cushion made, her sister saw with some dismay, from an old dress of which she had been particularly fond.

Kay preferred natural treasures. So at first she ignored the flimsy white fabric fluttering like a failing moth next to the style on Bayham Hill. But as a breeze took hold, an edge caught against a branch of hawthorn and seemed to unfurl and set sail. She unravelled the torn fragment to find herself with a flag of fine lace, the edges looped in scalloped embroidery, the net set with pale sewn flowers up to a harsh and violent rip. Kay ran her fingers along the edge and shivered. There was no one there but she felt as though even the trees were watching her. She folded the piece carefully and ran home all the way back down the field.


A special acquisition

She had never seen a piece so fine, so carefully sewn. She soaked the lace in water and soap flakes, rinsed it carefully and saw that there were tiny seed pearls in the centre of the flowers. Pearls! This would be the crown to her collection. She squeezed the piece as lightly as she would a wet chick and pegged it out on the washing line to dry. She watched as the breeze picked up the edges, folding them around each other in a dance, the light playing through the embroidery. She thought, in a flash of reflection, that if she ever married she would have a veil just like this.

When her mother saw the fragment on the line and brought it into the kitchen, something on her face stopped Kay’s objections. Her mother found yesterday’s paper with the story of the bride gone missing from her reception. A veil embroidered with flowers and seed pearls. As her mother telephoned for the police, Kay ran her fingers again along the jagged edge of the torn lace, remembering now the satin shoe resting in its foot beneath the hawthorn on Bayham Hill.