Story 26Button 26



It looked tarnished when she found it at the bottom of the tin. The deep one containing needles and threads, and buttons kept over the years.

It was her nephew David that had said, ‘Don’t forget this Aunty Kath,’ when they packed all her things for the move to sheltered accommodation.

Left to Kathleen, she would have chucked the whole lot in the bin – she had little use for sewing these days.  It had been difficult enough to pick up the brass button between thumb and index finger; her joints were knobbed. She felt its cold smoothness. It reminded her that a lifetime ago she would have preferred the embossed type from Joe Hampton’s uniform.

It had been the night before his grandmother’s funeral. She remembered how they all packed in … the neighbours. They called round speaking in eulogies while someone passed around the tea. You don’t get that now, close community, thought Kathleen, unless it’s in a soap opera.

She was always ready to pop in and embroider her friendship with Molly, Joe’s sister - any excuse. Kathleen only lived around the corner from the family. Molly was stiff and difficult to read, but Grace, the other sister was lively – could make you laugh, she was married though. That night, Grace sat unpicking gold braid, taking epaulettes away from Joe’s black uniform jacket.  He was an engineer on a merchant ship. The men needed sombre coats to shoulder the coffin. Kathleen was thinking how she would like one of those uniform sleeve buttons as Grace smoothed the jacket down.  Why didn’t she cut those off as well?

 ‘Look at these.’ Grace presented pearl earrings on her upturned palm. Kathleen stared, remembered those clasps pinching her lobes; ‘Oh, they’re mine. ’ She snatched at them but kept her voice low.

Grace must have rooted in the inside pocket, how dare she, but … the jacket was for Joe’s brother in law to wear. Joe’s spare uniform. His mother saw to that – the blue-eyed boy. She was the keeper of his secrets. Kathleen had already sent the letter by then. The one pleading, I’m going out of my mind … unless you … don’t know what I might do …
It was always, ‘I’ll walk you home Kathleen,’ never a night out together. No one would have known the depth of their doorstep passion.
After the funeral she cleared away plates. Unseen, and in the dark she sneaked into the cupboard with the coats; found his civilian blazer jacket and snipped off a plain brass button with her nail scissors. Something of him to keep.  

The mother would have known.  Kathleen realised that a long time afterwards. She kept friends with Grace and went on holiday with her and her children. Grace’s husband was away at sea. They had whisky nightcaps in the caravan; spoke of times past. Yes; the mother had told him to put the letter on the fire. And Kathleen had smouldered for years.        





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