“What time are the removal guys coming?” Flora pulled back the raggy cuffs of her favourite sweatshirt, faded blue and hanging loose on her slight frame.
“In about another twenty minutes I reckon. Plenty of time, we’re just about done.” As she spoke she reached into the rapidly defrosting fridge and dragged out a bottle of Prosecco. “Look! I got this. We’ll open it now and have a little glass, say goodbye to this place. Then when we get to the new flat we’ll have the rest. I’ve got some of these as well.” She wagged a pre-packaged assortment of sushi and one of smoked salmon whirls.
“You’ve pushed the boat out haven’t you?”
“Yeah.” As she answered she gave a little shimmy of her slender hips and the low-slung jeans slid a little further down. She grabbed at them.
“God, look at you Flo. You’re skin and bone. I know you were always thin but this is ridiculous. One thing I’m gonna do once we’re sorted is to fatten you up a bit. Oh, don’t look like that you know as well as I do that you’ll never be much more than a drink of water dressed up but even for you this is wrong.” Carol, reached and pulled at the waist of her friend’s trousers and shook her head, then dragged her into a warm hug. “It’s going to be good. It’ll be good for both of us. Now that pillock Waleed has slung his hook at last, God what was I thinking? Carol gave an exaggerated shudder which caused her long auburn hair to swing around her slender shoulders. She bent and hauled up another cardboard box and moved it towards the door.
I reckon this is what we should have done years ago. When we graduated. Instead of messing about moving in with blokes, getting married for God’s sake, we should have just stayed together.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. For sure things would have turned out differently, eh?”
“Oh, now come on. We said today that is forbidden territory. It’s over Flo, you have to let it go. You have to put it behind you and this is gonna help.” She grabbed the dark green bottle and expertly popped the cork. Flora held out the tulip glasses and they grinned at each other as the bubbles frothed and foamed, sparkling under the unshaded electric lights.
“So, I reckon it’ll take them a couple of hours to unload the van and then we can call that it for today. It was really good of your mum to let us sleep at her place tonight, it’ll be so much easier.”
“Well, she’s looking forward to it, she gets lonely now and doesn’t have many visitors. We’ll have this though, just the two of us. We didn’t have any lunch and even though she’ll have cooked it’s going to be a while before we have anything.”
“You’re so well organised aren’t you. I have high hopes that you’ll be able to get me sorted.”
“What you? Never, it’s not going to happen now is it. Be honest, you’ve never been on time for anything in your life.”
“I was on time for my wedding.”
“Yeah, more’s the pity.”
“Yeah – anyway Cheers love, here’s to us.”
“Ah, right there’s the van. So, all this by the door is to go and the stuff still in the kitchen is for recycling?”
“Yup. Let me get past and open the door… … Hi guys.”
Because Flora was well prepared and the removal men were young, fit and well organised the small house was emptied in a couple of hours. While she oversaw the loading of the pieces of furniture that she wanted to keep and her personal stuff, Carol threw the half dozen bin bags into the boot of her car and swept them away to the tip. By the time she returned the house was empty and Flora was sitting on the bottom stair, her handbag at her feet and her key in her hand.
“Is that it then?”
“Pretty much. There’s just this.” She threw out a foot to indicate a large suitcase standing beside the door to the little lounge.
“Oh did they forget that. It’ll fit in the car. No probs.”
“I don’t know what to do with it.” At the quaver in her friend’s voice Carol stopped and turned towards her. She lowered herself to the step. “Oh, love are you having last minute jitters. I know you’ve been here a while but honestly it’s going to be fine, it’ll be great. I promise.”
“No, no it’s not that. I’m excited about the move, I can’t wait to be honest. It’s that.” She nodded her head towards the case. “I don’t want to take it with us. I can’t leave it here but I don’t think I can just throw it away either. I don’t know what to do.”
“Well, it’s just a case.” Carol stood again and hefted it by the handle. “Oh, it’s full.” Flora nodded.
“It’s his stuff.”
“What, you mean? Oh lord.” The case thudded to the floor as Carol loosened her grip and pulled her hand away.
“It’s Trevor’s stuff.”
“But why? I mean why have you still got it here? It’s been over a year. Why is it still here Flo?” Her friend was shaking her head slowly.
“I never knew what to do with it. I kept thinking they’d tell me, the police you know. After they cleared me of having anything to do with – all that. I just kept thinking that either he’d come back. For a long, time I just thought he’d come back. I reckoned he’d just turn up one day and I’d tell him to bugger off and then… oh I don’t know chuck it all out in the street or something. Then when he didn’t and I started to accept what everyone else had always said, that somehow he was dead. I didn’t know what to do then. I couldn’t send it back to his mum and dad. They wouldn’t have anything to do with me, well you know that. I couldn’t just fling it all. So, I packed it all up and left it in the spare room and now I don’t know what to do with it.” She didn’t cry, though she pressed her lips together to stop them from quivering. Carol moved back to sit beside her again on the staircase and they stared at the suitcase, for a long time they simply stared at it as if it could answer all the questions, as if it could solve the riddle. But it couldn’t. It was after all nothing more than a battered old brown suitcase full of jeans and sweatshirts and trainers, all that was left of a life that had floated away like fog in the morning.