It was a week after the house-clearers had done their job that Chirwell realized he had forgotten to remove Auntie Lenya's tin from under the stairs.
It was a biscuit tin, and once upon a time, in bright colors, had shown the inches-deep ford that carried the main street across a nineteen thirties' English village green. The colors had long ago faded and the tin was scratched and somewhat dented. The lid still fitted, with a little persuasion, but the hinges, thin strips of metal cut out of the lid and inserted through slits punched into the body of the tin, had given up the ghost.
It had been part of his fifties childhood. Hollow-cast toy soldiers made of lead had been billeted there. Farm animals had been shedded there, briefly, when the wars were over. Then, pens and pencils, and a pencil sharpener. It had followed Chirwell to university, and had been rescued from the wreckage of his first marriage, when little else was. For a short time it had served as a lunchbox. It had stood on shelves, mantelpieces, and coffee tables--still retaining, to the most sensitive nostrils, a faint tang of "certain substances" that had resided in it during the early eighties. It had passed into cupboards, and after that to the top of the wardrobe in the spare bedroom. Finally, it had been buried on the narrow ledge besdie the electricity meter beneath the stairs. Whey there, you might ask? There had never been any thought, in Chirwell's mind, of throwing it out.
It's a family heirloom, he told his wife. I can't just abandon it. Heirloom wasn't the word she would have used, but she understood.
The house was still empty, and still theirs. It was just a matter of driving over. They could make a day of it, take a picnic, visit the park they used to take the kids to. That was better, surely, than driving four hours, there and back, purely to retrieve an old biscuit tin.
As they drove down the motorway, Chirwell remembered the last time he had looked inside it. Lifting it down from the wardrobe, which was going to a furniture charity because they were having built-in storage installed. He had realized from the weight that there was something inside. He hadn't remembered putting anything in it when it had gone up on the wardrobe. Something had moved too, like nuts and bolts or screws maybe. He had laid it on the spare bed and prized the lid off.
It was jewelry. Not a treasure trove. Not even what you'd call costume jewelry. It was just old necklaces and beads, and bangles you'd wear on your wrist, or would have done a couple of decades before, if you'd been his mother. They weren't worth anything, he was pretty sure of that, but he could remember finding them in a cardboard tray that must have been the bottom of a box that something had come in. He'd been clearing his mother's house and had taken the tray home and had tipped the contents into the tin. And sitting on the bed in the spare room with the tin beside him, suddenly the recollection of sitting on the bed in his mother's empty bedroom was so strong he could feel it in his muscles, and he shifted himself into exactly the position he had taken then, twisting his left shoulder forward, and drawing his right leg up slightly, easing himself into the past.
They're not likely to have taken it, he said, meaning the house-clearers, meaning the tin.
They're not even likely to have seen it, his wife said. And they gave each other one of those looks that married couples have when they're making it up as they go along in front of children, or relatives, or friends.
But the house-clearers were professionals, and they had missed nothing. The tin was gone. He rang, of course, but it wasn't listed among the items set aside for auction. Nobody spoke the word landfill, but that, presumably, was its fate, contents and all.
The memory though, of sitting on the bed with the cardboard tray, didn't go away again.
Brindley Hallam Dennis is an English writer of short stories. He lives on the edge of England within sight of three mountain tops and a sliver of Solway Firth. He blogs at www.bhdandme.wordpress.com/ and can be found on Vimeo at BHDandMe