It’s summer and it’s hot. When I get the kids from school, they’re cross and squabblish. So I take them down to our village beck and sling them in to cool off.
Our village beck is lovely. When the weather’s right we can all spend hours pottering around in it. Today, the weather is definitely right. Within about a minute of getting in the water, all three of us are happy and relaxed.
One of the kids’ favourite things to do is to prospect for treasure. For some reason, the river bottom is full of little fragments of dinnerware. Maybe previous villagers used to come down here and throw plates in when they were mad, I don’t know. Whatever: my kids love to dig around in the mud and the stones and find bits of plates and cups and so on, then carry them home in their socks with the plan that we’re going to make a mosaic with them. (To date we have never yet made a mosaic, but that’s okay. The joy is in the collecting.)
Today, we do loads better than that. Within minutes, my son comes bounding over to me brandishing a massive glass…thing…and begs me to interpret it. “It’s a lampshade,” I tell him, with no real evidence. He lays it on the side of the beck and returns for more treasure.
Within minutes, we find it. My daughter appears with a look of reverence on her face. “I think…” she can hardly speak with excitement. “I think I’ve found a glass bottle.” We rinse it off in the beck. I think she’s found a glass bottle too. Quite a pretty one. Today is a good collecting day.
Then my son comes back with something else. I can tell from the look on his face that he’s not sure about it.
“Look at this,” he says. “It looks like some sort of bone.”
“Goodness,” I say. “So it does.”
“So, what is it then?”
“D’you know,” I say, “I have absolutely no idea.”
We head home with the glass lampshade (possibly), the glass bottle (definitely) and the thing that looks like a bone. I wash them in the sink and then put them on the downstairs windowsill to dry. Then I sort of forget about them. The glass lampshade and the glass bottle and the thing that looks like a bone become part of the background.
Months pass. It’s next January and it’s cold. The British Gas boiler-man comes to service our boiler.
(Unsolicited plug for the British Gas boiler-man: he was ace. The boiler-man comes when he says he will, does everything he said he would, explains the paperwork, fixes our dodgy radiator for free with a part he happened to have on the van, tidies up after himself and leaves on time. This has nothing to do with the story and no-one is paying me to say this. I just mention it because it’s true, and it’s nice to acknowledge great service in public.)
Our boiler is in the downstairs bathroom. Naturally, this means the British Gas boiler-man spends time in there. Also in there are the glass lampshade, the glass bottle, and the thing that looks like a bone.
After he’s been there a while, I go in to offer him a cup of tea.
He is, as I mentioned above, ace. This is partly why I feel so bad when I see the look on his face. He is looking at the windowsill. Is he looking at the glass lampshade? No. Is he looking at the glass bottle? No. He is looking at the thing that looks like a bone. Rather belatedly, it dawns on me that there is a very good reason it looks like a bone.
He looks at me for a second, then looks back at the bone my son fished out of the river and which I carried home, washed and have kept on my windowsill ever since.
In any reasonable country, he would ask me, “What’s the deal with the bone on the windowsill, missus?” and I would reply, “Damn, I only just noticed. Here’s how that happened…”
But we’re British, so we don’t speak of it. Instead, I say, “would you like a cup of tea?” and he pretends to think about it for a minute and then says, “Um…no, thanks, I’m fine. But thank you” and then he gets on with fixing the boiler and I go and hide in the kitchen and no further eye contact is made between us and the bone is never ever mentioned again.