A Perfect Home, a short story Fiona Harper | Books | Entertainment



A perfect home

Henry was forgetful but how could he mislay his wife? (Image: GETTY)

Henry Milson had been sitting in his armchair for some time when he realised he was actually quite thirsty.

He checked his watch.

Three o’clock.

He probably hadn’t had a cuppa since lunch.

He frowned. He couldn’t quite remember having lunch, but his stomach wasn’t pinching or rumbling so he probably had.

Some days he got a bit muddled and forgot things.

Still, that was life, wasn’t it? No good complaining about growing old.

Might as well just soldier on through.

“June?” he called out. “June, my love. Do you want a cup of tea?” He waited a short while, but there was no answer.

Sometimes, when he thought of his darling wife, he imagined her in her favourite gold lamé dress, ready for a night out dancing, but then she’d walk into the room and he’d get a shock because, somehow, she’d turned into a doddery old woman.

Then he’d look down at his twig-like legs inside his slacks and realise they belonged to a doddery old man, so he really shouldn’t be surprised, should he?

“June,” he called again.

She had to be in the house somewhere.

He pushed himself up from his chair.

Now, where had he seen her last?

Was it in the kitchen or the dining room? He couldn’t quite decide.

Getting to the kitchen wasn’t easy.

Partly because of the “doddery” thing and partly because there was so much stuff everywhere, covering every surface and filling every space, reaching to the ceiling in great tottering piles.

Nearly all of it belonged to June.

On their very first date, she told him she collected things.

Back then it was stamps, autographs and beer mats.

But over the 60 years they’d been together, the collections had grown, from buttons to clocks and even Toby jugs.

Just as Henry neared the kitchen, he stepped on an empty cardboard carton.

He frowned.

It seemed at some point, June had started collecting rubbish, because there was an awful lot of it around.

“June?” he called again, more urgently. There was no sign of her on the ground floor, so he went upstairs. Was she in the bedroom? Maybe she was taking a nap.

But when he got there, her side of the bed was covered with clothes, towels and even more rubbish.

Oh, yes, he remembered. She slept in her floral armchair now, her “perfect home” as she called it, because everything she needed or wanted was piled around it within easy reach.

In the evenings, they’d smile at each other from opposite sides of the fireplace.

Henry shook his head at his own forgetfulness and went back downstairs, calling for his wife, but the only reply was silence, thick and heavy, like the first snow of winter.

Even though their cosy house was crammed, suddenly it felt empty and lonely.

Something’s wrong, Henry thought.

What if she’d had an accident, fallen and hurt herself? He remembered quite clearly that he’d once had to dig her out from under a pile of books that had toppled over.

He started to panic.

He went back to the living room, to June’s chair, and was horrified to find it completely covered in dusty belongings.

How long had it been like this? Hours? Days? And why hadn’t he noticed it before? He started to dig, pushing stuff aside as fast as his spindly arms would let him.

At first, there seemed to be no end to the junk, but eventually he glimpsed a patch of fabric.

Large pink roses.

Was June wearing her housecoat? It had roses on it, too. He really couldn’t remember.

Damn the memories that slithered out of his grip like eels.

He kept digging, heart-pounding painfully, until… “There you are!” he exclaimed triumphantly. “Found you at last.”

Sitting there, like a large egg in a nest of clutter, was an urn, the same brassy gold as her favourite dancing dress.

It had a scrolling inscription on it and even though Henry couldn’t read it without his glasses, he knew exactly what it said: June Milson 1936-2016.

It all came back to him in a rush, every painful second since that day, two years ago, when he’d kissed June’s forehead for the last time and the men had taken her away.

“Silly old girl,” he said, rubbing the urn affectionately. “Fancy getting lost like that.”

He reverently picked the urn up and placed it on the mantelpiece. “Maybe you’d be safer up here?” A new and better “perfect home”.

But he was aware he’d let her down with his muddled-headed ways, that he needed to make it up to her.

And he realised he had just the thing. He reached down, pulled an item from beside his armchair and held it up. “I got you a new Toby jug. Look!”

It was hideous, with a large swollen nose and a fierce expression, but he’d known as soon as he’d set eyes on it that June would love it.

He cleared a space on a bookshelf that housed at least another 50 of them, then pushed it into place.

“There,” he said, glancing back at the mantelpiece.

“What do you think?”

She didn’t say anything, but then he didn’t expect her to.

He was old, after all, not crazy. Now, he thought, smacking his lips a couple of times.

What about that cup of tea? He really was incredibly thirsty. Fiona Harper’s new novel, The Memory Collector (HQ, £7.99), is out now.


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