It was an itch for a long time before she actually decided to scratch it. Nothing profound or traumatic, just a wondering as she poured water on to her morning coffee, or flicked through mundane television programmes, or pushed the vacuum cleaner back and forth over the mottled carpet – what was in the loft? She had the thought the first day her and Bernard walked into the new flat, and now it was not even new anymore. The flat downstairs had already had three people come and go, and the one next door had a ‘To Let’ board tilting into the window.
She knew that it was unlikely to be anything exciting, just another dusty space in the roof of a terraced London house, but couldn’t help but wonder. They joked about dead bodies, but she knew that nothing so dramatic would be up there. It had been a cold evening, and the day a long one.
Bernard was out again; he was always out at the moment, seeming to be working long hours or catching up with new people. So the second glass of wine was welcome as she poured it into the glass, enjoying the round sound of the liquid leaving the bottle and hitting the glass. It lubricated her just enough to lower the censorship and lethargy which sometimes limited her, and she, not sprung exactly, but got up from the russet coloured armchair in which she reclined with more vigour than usual.
The ironing board collapsed onto her, trapping her momentarily as it opened out in the small corner of her kitchen, but after much tussling she managed to retrieve the stepladder from where it had been shoved accumulating dust since they arrived. Having tugged it over to underneath the loft hatch, she pulled out one half to balance it in a perfect triangle, only to see it collapse back down and hit the floor with a smash. This happened seven times. On the last she left it there and pushed the armchair over instead, noting the unwalked on plush square of carpet and four little divets in each corner as she did so. Hoisting herself up she stood on the arm, gripping it her with her toes as she wobbled, and pushed up the hatch with force.
Little flecks of paint fluttered down like confetti. She brushed them from her hair, even though she could not really see whether they had landed there.
Her arms shook as she pressed her bodyweight into them to heave herself up, and she gasped as she knocked her knee against the wooden frame. ‘There’ll be a bruise there tomorrow’ she thought, like her mother might have.
The dark light took a while to get used to, her eyes aching as she tried to make them see, knowing that the only way to do so was wait. Patience was not her thing. As her eyes adjusted she saw a white cable winding on the floor, and followed it to the plug socket. As she flicked it on dust glittered in the soft light that bathed the gnarled floorboards and piled up boxes. Suddenly she was bored, seeing the same debris, forgotten artefacts, left over objects and stuff to save for later that filled every loft space in the land. She looked at the room with an almost mournful passivity.
Over in the corner was a chest, and a sudden thrill coursed through her at the same time as she laughed at herself for the idea of there being any kind of treasure up here, buried or not. She walked over to the dark fabric chest and lifted up the lid, tugging hard as she expected it to be locked tight.
It wasn’t. As the smell of must hit her, she looked inside and saw it.
Her face crumpled up and her stomach knotted. She gasped and edged back, an automatic reaction to fear, even when of an inanimate object. She must have taken more and longer steps than she realised, and it was too late by the time she slipped and fell through the loft hatch. Hitting her head on the seat she groaned and slouched back.
The next morning Bernard found her.
‘Stupid bitch, drunk again.’
Francesca Baker is a word lover, book geek, and literary enthusiast…among other things she runs a writing workshop and blogs at https://www.andsoshethinks.co.uk