The Picnic Hamper – a short story by Veronica Harry | Books | Entertainment



Picnic Hamper

Memories of an alfresco feast down by the river touched Cherry’s heart (Image: GETTY)

She didn’t even have a car.

Parking was so difficult in the city and she could get everywhere by shanks’s pony, train or taxi.

There had been outrage from the local residents when the weekly market had been announced.

They complained about noise, litter and general disruption to their quiet, leafy corner of Bath.

Lulgate Square had a smattering of pretty little shops and cafés, mingled with the houses which had mostly been converted to flats, like Cherry’s.

Cherry had been one of the few residents who’d been in favour of the market. She thought it would bring life to the square, and she was right.

She looked out of her window on the first day and observed the layout with approval. A dozen or so stalls in a circle around the big oak tree in the middle.

There was plenty of room, it wasn’t cluttered or crowded and she couldn’t wait to explore what was on offer. Usually all there was to look out on were a couple of tourists and a few pigeons.

She ventured out into the cool spring air and spent half an hour exploring what was on offer. She found each stall a delight. Billowing loaves of home-made bread, enticing cakes, glorious cheese – she bought a slither of craggy Cheddar to have for her lunch.

She didn’t have much of an appetite these days, but she still enjoyed what she did eat. And then she saw the picnic hamper, on a stall selling vintage kitchen ware, and suddenly the years receded and there she was, in the meadow down by the river, sitting on a rug under the big oak tree, in a dress the colour of buttercups.

George had packed the picnic himself and she remembered every morsel. The thinnest of thin cucumber sandwiches. The slice of gala pie, the egg glowing gold in the centre. The Victoria sponge oozing raspberry jam. He’d brought a flask of tea to have with the cake, but also a flagon of cider.

The cider had made them sleepy, and she had lain next to him, fingers entwined. She could taste it now, the sweetness of the apple on his lips. The afternoon had stretched in front of them, a blissful eternity.

Both of them knew it had to end, though. The wretched war. “What if I locked you in the stable?” she’d breathed in his ear.

“You’d never be able to escape. I could bring you food. I could keep you there for as long as the war lasts…” He laughed.

“That’s not very patriotic, though, is it?” His lips brushed her cheek and she shivered.

“What if everyone did that? There’d be no one to fight.” She pulled him ever more tightly to her.

“I don’t want you to go.”

“I’ll be back. As soon as I can. I’ll bring you another picnic. We can go wherever you like.”

“To the seaside.” He laughed. “To the seaside. Of course.”

There was no other picnic. All she had left was the memory of that one. The hamper brought it back in sharp detail as she looked at the tiny flowers on the china cups, the cream bone handles on the cutlery, the etchings on the glass.

The creak of the wicker; the leather straps that had tied it to the rack on the back of his sports car.

There must have been hundreds of these hampers made but she’d never seen one until today.

“It’s all there,” said the stallholder. “It’s in mint condition.”

Cherry nodded and stepped back, not wanting to be pressured as she paused for a moment to decide.

Suddenly she wanted to remember him, after all those years of being brave and putting on a smile.

She wanted to recreate every moment, pretend they were together again, that the terrible thing hadn’t happened, that they had gone on to share picnics for the whole of their lifetime. She put her hand in her handbag to find her purse.

“Oh my goodness – look at that.” A girl’s voice beside her interrupted her reverie. She looked up from her bag to see a young couple standing in front of the stall.

The girl was pointing at the hamper, her eyes shining. “It’s in perfect condition. Oh, look at it. Two of everything.”

The man with her laughed. Cherry guessed they were in their mid-twenties, perhaps enjoying a romantic weekend away together.

“I’m guessing you want it?” said the man. “I love it!” The girl gave a little clap of her hands. “Hang on.”

He stopped for a moment and gave a frown, looking at Cherry. “Sorry – were you after it? We didn’t mean to queue-barge.”

Cherry realised the expression on her face must have been rather crestfallen and given away her disappointment. For a moment she wanted to say, “Yes. It’s mine! I was here first.”

But she didn’t. “No, it’s fine. I was just looking. You go ahead.” “It’s so sweet, isn’t it? I can’t wait to go on a picnic now.”

The girl’s eyes shone as she tucked her arm in her lover’s. Cherry smiled as she watched the transaction, and the stallholder handed the precious hamper over to its new owners.

She didn’t mind. The thought of them heading off on a picnic together made her happy. Their future was much more certain than hers and George’s had been.

The world might be a troubled place but there was no war on the horizon threatening to ruin everything, trampling over young love with no regard.

She stepped away from the stall. She might not have the hamper, but she had her memories. After more than 70 years, she felt strong enough to visit them now.

Veronica Henry’s novel A Family Recipe (Orion, £7.99) is out now.


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