• Pamela Belle


Updated: Aug 28, 2019

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Johnson. I understand you have a textile article you wish to be valued?”

Jenna had been surprised by how quickly the auctioneer’s expert had been able to see her. A week after May’s funeral, she had taken the brief train journey to St. Pancras, and then, mindful of her precious burden, the luxury of a taxi to the West End. She had arrived rather early at the auction house, and had spent a nervous five minutes with a glossy catalogue of English watercolours on her knees in the reception area, wondering if she was going to make a complete fool of herself. Perhaps her mother had got it wrong, and the casket was only worth a few hundred pounds. She could imagine the disdainful look on the expert’s face as he explained that these objects were very common, and hers not even a particularly good example. And she realised that part of her would be glad if that were the verdict, because the responsibility of ownership would be so much less, and she could enjoy the casket for its own sake again.

A young woman had appeared, dressed in a well-cut blouse and pencil skirt, her hair tied back neatly in a chignon. She looked barely older than Rosie, but to Jenna’s surprise she introduced herself. “I’m Emma James, and I specialise in English needlework and textiles. Did you have a good journey from – St. Albans, wasn’t it? Would you like a cup of tea or coffee? I’ll organise a pot for both of us and then I can have a good look at what you’ve brought, and tell you as much as I can.”

Her office was bright and pleasant, with a windowsill full of thriving green plants, and shelves of books on all aspects of embroidery, tapestry and related crafts. Wishing her palms were not so sweaty, Jenna put the casket’s wooden case on the desk between them, and sat down in the comfortable leather armchair, suddenly longing for the promised cup of tea.

Emma James looked at the box with interest. She examined it closely, turning it round and tilting it to look underneath. Then she glanced up at Jenna. “Can I ask – how long have you had this?”

“Only a few weeks. I inherited it from my grandmother. She told me that it’s been in the family for many generations, passed down from mother to daughter. I would love to know more about it – how old it is, whether it has any value, that sort of thing. To be honest, I’m not planning to sell it.”

“Well, the box looks seventeenth century, I can tell you that much. Probably made of oak, with brass lock and fittings.” She smiled at Jenna. “Shall I open it? I have a lovely feeling I know what might be inside.”

Jenna watched as she lifted the lid and stared down at what lay within. She would be looking at the lady and gentleman on the top face, with the tree between them sewn with tiny beads to represent fruit, and the initials M J. Her expression, unguarded, was one of surprise and delight. Then she slipped on a pair of clean cotton gloves, and drew the casket out of its case.

There was a small silence as the two women gazed at it. In this bright modern room, it seemed to glow with its own light. At last, Emma James sat back in her chair and said simply, “Wow. Not very professional, I know, but just ... wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one so beautifully made, or in such brilliant condition. And you inherited it? Lucky you.”

“Thank you,” Jenna said, amazed. “I mean – I’ve always loved it, I’ve always thought it was special, but to hear someone else, an expert, say it too... “Suddenly overcome anew with grief for May, she blinked back tears. “I wish my grandmother could hear you. She loved it too.”

“I can tell that she did, it’s been looked after so well. I love things like this that have been cherished and cared for and handed down the generations – they’re like voices from the past, speaking to us.” Gently, she began opening doors, taking out drawers, examining the stitching with a magnifying glass. Jenna was glad that she had remembered to remove the little torn heart admitting her love for Simon Berry. She watched Emma James explore the secret sections, and waited for her to discover the casket’s most wonderful surprise of all.

At last, she lifted the lid above the main compartment, and Jenna could tell that she was stunned. Neatly fitted into the small space was the garden, with flowers, trees and grass, all worked in three dimensions and standing free. In the centre was a tiny fountain, with a lady sitting beside it, and a unicorn resting its head in her lap. Obedient to her grandmother’s command, Jenna had never played with it, as such: it had been enough to look, and to make up stories about it, and sometimes to draw it, though she had never managed more than a ham-fisted depiction that bore little relation to the real thing.

“It lifts out,” she said. “There’s a very slim space underneath, I suppose for letters or things like that.” She watched as Emma removed the garden, and laid it reverently on her desk beside the drawers. It was obvious that the specialist was considerably moved, and for the first time she realised that the casket, that had always seemed so special and precious to her and to May, was also very remarkable even to this expert who must have seen dozens of examples in her career.

Finally, Emma James set down the magnifying glass, put everything back with care, and removed her gloves. She gazed at the casket for a moment longer, while to Jenna the silence within the room seemed huge with unsaid, unforeseen consequences. If it is really valuable, what do I do with it? Do I want the responsibility of caring for it? Will I have to keep it locked away in a bank? How can I justify not selling it? She didn’t want to keep it imprisoned in a safe. It was as if by doing that, she would be accepting that its worth was only financial, denying the value of a cherished object that had been passed down, mother to daughter, through perhaps a dozen generations.

“Right.” Emma James seemed to pull her thoughts together, and her tone became more businesslike. “First of all, Mrs. Johnson, can I say how very, very glad I am that you’ve brought this in for me to look at? Your casket is far and away the best example of its kind that I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen quite a few, in private collections, auctions and museums all over the world. It’s the sort of thing that people love to have, it’s in extremely good condition, it even has its original case. And then there’s the 3-D garden. Did you know that there are only a few others like that in existence? They’re extremely rare. The Queen has one, the V&A has another, and one was sold at Christie’s a few years ago for more than thirty-five thousand pounds.”

Thirty-five thousand pounds. The one on the Antiques Roadshow, that had so impressed Patricia, had been valued at a mere eight thousand. Jenna said, her voice sounding hoarse, “I – I didn’t think it’d be worth nearly as much as that.”

“Oh, it’s worth more,” Emma James said, with absolute certainty. “Considerably more, I would say. I can think of quite a few collectors of English embroidery who would love to have this, not to mention several museums. I can see it fetching about fifty thousand at auction.”

“But ... the one my mother saw on the Antiques Roadshow last year was only valued at eight thousand.”

“Yes, I know that one - the owner sent it for auction with us in the autumn. It went for just over nine, in fact. But this is far superior. It has the case, for a start, and it’s in much better condition. There doesn’t seem to be anything missing – the other one had lost a couple of drawers, and it needed a lot of conservation. Yours is pretty much perfect, almost as good as when it was made. The standard of embroidery is much higher, too. Whoever made this was an extremely skilled needlewoman. And finally, there’s the tray with the garden on it, which makes it totally unique. Yes, there are a lot of people who’d love to add it to their collections.” She smiled at Jenna. “Thank you so much for bringing to me. I feel very privileged. Shall I ask Becca to bring in some more tea? You look as though you could do with it.”

“Yes, please,” Jenna said, her voice sounding faint in her own ears. “I’m sorry – this has all come as a bit of a surprise.”

“But you must have known it was valuable, surely.”

“Not as valuable as that. I think ...” She struggled to find the words to explain, then went on. “I think that when something is so familiar, when it’s always been part of your life, it’s actually quite hard to think of it as being worth a lot of money, somehow.” She smiled wryly. “I promised my grandmother, before she died, that I wouldn’t sell it. And I still don’t want to sell it. I think it’s wonderful that her mother passed it to her, and her mother before that, down through all the mothers and daughters for centuries, and I don’t want to break that chain. I have a daughter, and I thought that one day I’d like to leave it to her. But knowing now that it’s worth so much – it seems suddenly to be a huge responsibility.”

“I do understand. If it were mine, I’d feel the same, I think. Becca,” she said into the intercom, “can you bring us some more tea? Thank you.”

“And I feel a little bit, too, as though I’ve brought it here under false pretences,” Jenna went on. She liked Emma James, and wanted to be honest with her. “I expect you’d love to auction it, and I came here knowing that I didn’t want to do that.”

“You said on the telephone, I believe, that you wanted a valuation for insurance purposes. And that’s what I’m quite happy to give you. What you decide to do with the casket is entirely up to you. I really don’t want you to feel under any pressure. It’s yours, it’s very special, and only you can choose whether you keep it, or sell it, or – and this is a possibility that might not have occurred to you, but which you may want to consider – or lend it to a museum. That way, it will still be yours, to leave to your daughter, if that’s what you and she want, but in the meantime you’ll know it’s safe, and looked after, and also that other people can look at it and study it and get the same pleasure from it as you do. This is a treasure of national, if not international, importance.”

Jenna thought about her words as Emma put the casket back in its case, while the receptionist brought in fresh tea, and a plate of chocolate biscuits. It might be a solution that solved all the problems. But she was not ready, yet, to relinquish her inheritance, not until she had had the chance to enjoy it, and to share it properly with her family. She realised, with a stab of guilt, that the only person who knew that the casket was in her possession was her mother. She hadn’t even told Rick or the children that May had left it to her, rather than to Patricia. That was something that she must rectify as soon as her husband returned from New York.

Thinking of her other promise to May, she said, “Can you tell me how old it is? And who was likely to have made it? Who MJ might have been?”

Emma James considered. “Well, to answer your first question – it was probably made some time in the second half of the seventeenth century. You can tell that from the stitches that were used, the costumes that the figures are wearing, and the fact that all the other caskets we know of that are dated, were made around that time. They were very fashionable for about thirty or forty years. The V&A have a beautiful one made by a girl called Martha Edlin. She kept all her needlework and trinkets in the box, and they’ve survived too. It’s a lovely thing, and its condition is as good as this one, though it doesn’t have the garden inside.”

“Did she put her initials on the lid, like the maker of mine did?”

“Yes, but she also kept a sampler she’d worked when she was younger, and that had her actual name on. Her life has been researched, and she was about eleven when she made it.”

Jenna stared at her in astonishment. “Eleven? She was eleven? Would a child have made mine, too?”

“Almost certainly.”

“But that’s absolutely incredible.”

“I know. When I think of the sort of stuff I used to produce in sewing classes at school, when I was that age, I feel ... well, I feel humble.” Emma smiled. “But it was a very important part of a young girl’s education then, as much as reading or writing. She’d have started learning to sew when she was very young, perhaps as young as three or four. All girls did, not just the wealthy ones. But obviously, a casket like this would only have been made by a girl from a well-off family. It was her masterpiece, if you like – the proof that she’d achieved the highest level of skill. She would have started off with a sampler, practising all the various stitches, and then graduated to other small pieces. Martha Edlin made a pincushion and a needle holder, and a couple of years after she’d finished her casket, she made a gorgeous bead jewellery case. And obviously, her children and grandchildren cherished them all, and kept them in the family for three hundred years. Just as your family did.”

“Eleven,” Jenna repeated. She thought of her own mother, struggling to teach her the basics of cross-stitch, and the limp, grubby result. “I can’t quite believe it.”

“There are quite a few other named and dated caskets and samplers also made by children. English embroidery has been famous for over a thousand years, since Anglo-Saxon times in fact. And if you want to be really good at something, it pays to start young.”

“So – how were the caskets made? I’m presuming that the girls didn’t make the actual box.”

“No,” Emma told her. “She would have made careful designs first, though, and measured the base material out so it was the right size. Your casket has nearly 20 separate panels, all different. I’d need to study them more closely to decide whether they’re illustrating any story from the Bible, or a Greek myth. Martha Edlin’s figures illustrated the Seven Virtues, and I’ve also seen ones with the Five Senses. She’d have got the detailed designs from a pattern book, and traced or copied them. She may have made some of the more complicated figures separately and then appliquéd them on. Then, when all the panels were finished, they’d be sent to a cabinet maker who would construct the casket and glue the embroidery on. There’s marbled paper, too, on the undersides of the drawers, and the pink satin lining inside, and the mirror – a great deal of work has gone into it, and only a wealthy family could afford such a thing.”

“But my family are quite ordinary. My grandmother never had much money.”

“Well, there must be many generations between her and the girl who made the casket. Social mobility works downwards as well as up.”

“It’s a wonder, really,” Jenna said thoughtfully, “that the casket was never sold. They must have known that it was valuable, surely.”

Emma shook her head. “Who knows? But how fortunate that they didn’t. Because I don’t think anyone other than the family of the girl who made it, would have looked after it so well, or cherished it for so long. Do you really have no idea about who might have made it? Are there any stories handed down?”

“No, nothing at all. And I promised my grandmother that I’d try to find out. The only thing I have to go on is the initials on the top – M J. And there must have been thousands of girls with those initials.” She grinned. “Mary Jones. Martha Johnson. Margaret Jefferies. Not a lot of help, really.”

“Well, you can narrow it down a little. A girl from a wealthy or even an aristocratic family, born around 1660 or 1670, almost certainly in England.”

“Only half a dozen to choose from, then,” said Jenna, and they both laughed.

They arranged that Emma would keep the casket for a week to make a full study of it, and record and photograph it in detail. Jenna signed the authorisation forms and the receipt, and thanked her for her time and trouble.

“Trouble? It’ll be an absolute pleasure. I can’t wait to start. You may hear from me in less than a week, because I warn you, once I get cracking on something like this, it’d take an earthquake to distract me. And thank you, once again, Mrs. Johnson – “

“Please, it’s Jenna.”

“Thank you so much, Jenna, for giving me the opportunity to study your casket. It’s a privilege, truly it is. And good luck with tracking down its maker!”

It seemed strange to be going home without her precious burden. She took the tube and nearly missed her stop, because her mind was fizzing with excitement and questions, to which there might never be any answers. When she got to St. Albans, it was raining, but she walked the mile home almost without noticing it, and arrived wet, chilled but exhilarated.

The smell of burning brought her straight back down to earth. The twins were in the kitchen, examining a rather charred pizza, and looked up guiltily as she walked in. “Oh, hi, Ma,” said Tom. “We didn’t think you’d be back till later, so we thought we’d have tea before we went out.”

“It’s our farewell night,” Joe explained. “We’re all meeting up later at the Horn, Ryan’s band are playing.”

“Farewell night?” said Jenna, keeping her voice cheerful despite the pang the words caused her. “But you’re not going till next Wednesday.”

“It’s Friday today,” Joe said, adopting the condescending tone indicating that she was a Mother of Very Little Brain Who Needed Everything Spelt Out No Matter How Obvious. “It’ll give us the whole weekend to recover.”

There wasn’t much that Jenna felt she could say in response, so she asked instead, “What happened to the pizza?”

“Oh, I forgot it was on,” Tom told her airily. “We were having a kick-about in the garden.”

“The smoke alarm went off,” added Rosie, coming in with a smug smile. “You’ll just have to put another one in.”

“That was the only one left in the freezer.”

“I’ve got a suggestion,” Jenna said. “How about we phone up Dominos and order one each? I don’t fancy cooking, and we’ve got something to celebrate. No, I’m not going to tell you yet. Let’s wait until we’re eating.”

Of course she still had to tell Rick about it, but that, surely, could wait. She couldn’t, though – the news was still so fresh and exciting that she felt she had to share it with somebody, and who better than her children, including the daughter who might one day possess the casket in her turn?

The pizzas arrived, delivered by a boy on a moped who looked as if he should still be at primary school, and Jenna heaped them on the kitchen table for the vultures. She had thrown together a bowl of salad and another of tomatoes, as a concession to healthy eating, rather cancelled out by the bottles of calorific salad dressing and mayonnaise that Joe had retrieved from the cupboard. They all sat down, and Tom said, round a mouthful of pizza, “Go on, Ma, spill. What have we got to celebrate?”

“Apart from you going off to Australia and leaving us in peace? I’ll tell you. Do you remember Nanna May's casket?”

“It had a bunch of flowers on it that looked like her hat,” said Joe, who had a black and irreverent sense of humour.

“No! Idiot,” added Jenna affectionately, thinking that, annoying as he could be, she would miss both of them intensely once they had gone. “I mean her embroidered casket. The heirloom.”

“Oh, I remember it,” said Rosie at once. “I used to love looking at it when I was little, and I used to make up stories about the people on it, and the person who made it. Oh, I love pepperoni,” she added, helping herself to a third piece, “but it must have a zillion calories!”

“You really don’t need to watch your weight,” said Jenna. Rosie still had the boyish figure of adolescence, unlike her friend India, who was forever dieting. “The opposite, in fact. Eat up before those two gannets grab the lot. Do they have Dominos in Australia?”

“You can get pizza delivered all over the world,” said Tom.

“It’d be stone cold by the time they’d got it to Sydney, though,” Joe pointed out with a grin. The twins guffawed, nudging each other, and then took another slice each. In five minutes, most of their pizzas had vanished, and they were eyeing Jenna’s, even though it had extra mushrooms. Pointedly, she transferred most of it from the box to her plate.

“Anyway, what about the casket?” Tom enquired.

“Nanna May left it to me.”

“To you and not to Granny?” Rosie asked, cutting straight to the heart of the issue.

“Bet Granny didn’t like that much.”


He grinned at her. “I bet she didn’t, though.”

“That’s neither here nor there,” said Jenna, feeling that control of the conversation was beginning to slip from her grasp, as it usually did with Joe. “Anyway, she left it to me, and today I took it up to one of the big London auction houses to get it valued.”

“And?” Rosie’s blue eyes were shining as she poured blue cheese dressing over her salad. “Was it worth lots?”

“Quite a lot. Around fifty thousand pounds, probably.”

Tom choked over his pizza. “Fifty thousand? That’s amazing! Are you going to sell it, then?”

“Yeah, sell it and then we can all share the money.”

“Joe, I’m not going to sell it. I promised Great-Nan I wouldn’t. It’s been passed down from mother to daughter for hundreds of years, and I really don’t want to break that chain.”

“Well, when you croak we’ll get it anyway, so why not save time and sell it now?” Joe was grinning, needling her. The difference between her and Rick was that she knew it was a joke: her husband often took his elder son at face value, sometimes with unfortunate consequences.

“It’s passed down from mother to daughter,” Rosie pointed out. “And last time I looked you weren’t a girl. Unless you’ve had a sex change since this morning?”

“Just call me Joanna.” Joe fluttered his unfairly long eyelashes and preened himself.

“You’d do anything – for the casket – anything!” Tom warbled, and got a punch on the arm for his pains.

“I didn’t know you knew Oliver!” said Jenna, diverted despite herself.

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Ma,” Tom said. “Oi, pig, that’s my last slice!”

“Tough,” said his twin, cramming it into his mouth. “Come on, let’s go, Ryan’s on first. You coming, little Rosie?”

“I’m going round to Indy’s. Anyway, I’ve lost my earplugs.” Rosie, brought up with two boisterous older brothers, could always give as good as she got. The twins shot upstairs, there was much thudding about and a poisonous waft of deodorant spray before they crashed back down, shouted “Bye Ma!” and were gone.

In the blissful peace and quiet, Rosie helped her clear up. “So what are you going to do with the casket, Mum?” she asked, loading the dishwasher.

Jenna emptied the remains of the salad into a plastic box and put it in the fridge. “At the moment, it’s still with the auction house – the expert is studying it, and hopefully she can tell me more about it. Did you know that embroidery like that would probably have been made by an eleven or twelve year-old girl?”

“No way! Really? Wow. That’s amazing. But you’re not going to sell it, are you?”

“No, definitely not. That’s why Nanna May left it to me, because I promised her I wouldn’t.”

“And Granny would?”

“People are different,” said Jenna awkwardly. “Granny doesn’t feel quite the same about it as I do.”

Rosie gathered up all the pizza boxes and took them out to the recycling bin in the utility room. She said, “Well, I like the thought that it’s been passed down all those years, mother to daughter. Who was the girl who made it?”

“I’ve no idea, other than that her initials were MJ. But I promised Nanna May I’d try to find out.”

“I’m nearly MJ – Rosie Martha Johnson. How would you find out? There must have been loads of girls with those initials.”

“I know. And I’ve no idea where to start, really.”

“Start at the end. With us,” said Rosie. “And go back. Amy Barlow’s mum did that on the computer in the library and she found they were related to Gary. Like, about ninth cousin five times removed or something, but still related.” She giggled, and suddenly her expression bore a strong resemblance to Joe’s at his most infuriating. “So she comes in and tells us all, like, that she’s Gary Barlow’s cousin, and I said, ‘Who’s Gary Barlow?’ And she didn’t speak to me for a week. Perhaps you’ll find out we’re related to someone really important.” She gave her mother a sly sideways glance. “Like Harry Styles?”

Jenna laughed. “I doubt it. We’re bog standard ordinary. Granny and Nanna May lived in a council house.”

“But whoever made the casket wasn’t ordinary. She was special.”

“And wealthy,” said Jenna, remembering what Emma James had said. “Only a girl from a well-off family could have afforded something like that. Her initials are worked in pearls, and there’s silver braid round the edges.”

“And it really is worth fifty thousand pounds? Really?”

“Really, honestly and truthfully. Cross my heart and hope to die.”

“Oh, Mum,” said Rosie, with amusement. “Sometimes you sound like you’re in an Enid Blyton book.”

“That’s because I read Enid Blyton when I was a kid.”

“So did I, but I don’t sound like her.” Rosie struck an elegant pose. “I think I’ll be Elizabeth Bennett. She’s so cool.”

“Who’s your Darcy, then? Jack Newton?” She named a ridiculously good-looking friend of the twins from school.

“Bleah, no thanks! He’s completely up himself. Anyway, I’m going to wait till I get to uni. Joe’s told me all about what happens in Freshers’ Week. God, is that the time? I told Indy I’d be round at seven. Bye, Mum!” And with almost as much haste as her brothers earlier, Rosie grabbed her bag and shot out of the house, banging the door behind her.

Suddenly, the house seemed utterly bereft of life. Jenna sat down at the kitchen table and wondered at herself. Surely she had been looking forward to the peace and quiet when the children left home. But if this oppressive vacuum, this absence, was anything to go by, she’d go mad before the end of the first week without them. And suddenly it was all so close – the twins off to Australia on Wednesday, Rosie to her own old alma mater, the University of East Anglia, ten days later. She had to do something constructive. A job – though they weren’t so easy to come by, she suspected, for someone who hadn’t worked for years – or volunteering, though that conjured up a picture of worthy ladies in twinsets, very like her mother, ‘helping out’ at the day centre or at the Oxfam shop, or showing tourists round the cathedral. She was only – only! – forty seven. Plenty of working life in her yet.

Or she could concentrate on researching the casket. It had been a good idea of Rosie’s, to start in the present day and work back. She thought of the box of paperwork that she had brought back from her grandmother’s flat last weekend. It would probably contain May’s birth certificate: she could start there. In fact, she could start now.

As she got up, the phone rang. She went into the hall to pick it up. “Hi!”

“Jen. You’re in. I tried earlier but no-one answered.”

It was Rick, and although he was in New York, his voice sounded as loud and clear as if he was ringing from his office. She smiled. “How are things going? What time’s your plane on Sunday?”

“That’s why I’m ringing. I can’t make it. It’s taking much longer here than I thought, to sew up the deal, and I can’t leave yet. I’m hoping I can get it all sorted by next Friday at the latest, Thursday if I’m lucky.”

Jenna stared unseeing at the picture hanging on the wall by the front door. It depicted an untidy sofa strewn with books, knitting, sewing and a comfortable cat or two, below the legend ‘DULL WOMEN HAVE IMMACULATE HOUSES’. “Friday?” she said, her heart thumping suddenly. “But that’s a week away. The boys are going on Wednesday. You’ll miss them.”

“I know, I’m sorry, but it can’t be helped.”

His tone was off-hand rather than apologetic, and Jenna felt suddenly angry. “Are you sure about that?”

“What do you mean?” He sounded wary now.

“Are you sure you couldn’t have tried a bit harder to be back when you said? You might not see the boys again for months, maybe even a year or more. You’ve been so busy, you’ve hardly seen them at all since they got back from uni.”

“I don’t suppose they mind that too much. I’m sure they think I’m some old fossil out of the ark, with nothing relevant to say.”

This was a little bit near the bone, but Jenna ignored it. “Please, can’t you manage to wrap everything up by Tuesday? It would be so nice if you could make it back in time.”

“I really don’t think that’ll be possible.”

There was finality in his voice, and something else – guilt, she hoped. “You did promise,” she said at last. “And I know it’s not the end of the world – “

“You’re right, it’s not.” He sounded irritated now. “They won’t even notice I’m not there. And there’s nothing I can do to hurry things along here, so that’s that, I’m afraid.”

“It’s a shame,” she said, trying to sound calm and reasonable, but inside she was seething. For Christ’s sake, can’t you even be bothered to come home and see your sons off on their trip of a lifetime? What’s so important about work anyway? You earn shedloads of cash, surely you can afford to take a bit of time off for your family.

“Well, it can’t be helped. Come on, Jen, it’s not like you to make a fuss.”

Just for once, she was tempted to make a fuss, to shout and scream at him down the phone, to take him to task for – what? Something that, apparently, couldn’t be helped. She was being unfair. And he was right, his presence wasn’t necessary. The twins were all packed and ready to go, the working holiday visas obtained, the passports and tickets sorted, and two huge bulging rucksacks taking up most of the room in the larger of the two front bedrooms, which they’d shared since returning from Bristol. All she had to do was drive them to Heathrow and wave them through into the departure lounge, with promises to keep in touch by phone and Skype and Facebook that probably would be fulfilled on a very irregular basis. She didn’t need Rick at all – but she had very much wanted him to be there, because it was the last time they’d all be together as a happy family for at least a year.

“Ok,” she said briskly. “Fine. Just let me know when your plane is, and I can come and pick you up.”

“I’ve no idea yet, but I’ll call you. Or text you. Gotta go, Jen, bye.”

She was left listening to the dial tone. And he hadn’t even given her the time to tell him about the casket. Feeling angry, and annoyed at herself for feeling angry, she replaced the receiver and went back into the kitchen. There was nothing a nice big glass of pinot grigio wouldn’t sort, and her DVD of Mama Mia Here We Go Again might be mindless pap, but it was hugely enjoyable mindless pap, and she could sip her wine and imagine herself on some sunlit Greek island, with Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and that Scandinavian bloke whose name she could never remember all vying for her hand.

There were worse things, all in all.

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