Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Money To Burn - Short Story

This story was inspired by me actually finding a piece of a five pound note (blue in those days) on the floor of the filthy kitchen in the house I shared as a student. This story has many of the elements seen in others of the time based on where I was living and the lives that people around me were beginning to adopt as we began to really become adults. I remember searching for a deep cereal bowl (I used to consume 1Kg of cornflakes a week in those days) in Co-op and a couple (I had long fancied the woman, Rachel, a woman who gave in all aspects without ever taking which was unnerving but had bottled out that evening when it looked like we were going to get it on and she had hit it off with a flat mate, something I was present at and left quickly not wanting to be gooseberry), anyway they realised that unless they spent above a certain amount they would have to pay for parking in the car park. They had come in looking for some bedding for their love nest about eight miles away but had not found anything they liked. Rachel without thinking asked me 'why don't they do Thomas the Tank Engine bedspreads for double beds?'. Anyway, I pooled my purchases including the deep bowl (which I still own 21 years later) so that together we made enough to get the free parking. Anyway, finding the part of five-pound note fed into thoughts about their possible relationship. I wonder if they are still together. At least two couples I know who met when we were all at university are still married now.

Money To Burn

“This floor is filthy.” Paul murmured out loud as he bent over to retrieve some of the raw onion he had dropped. He scooped up pieces of discarded pasta he found down there amongst the dirt round the base of the kitchen unit. Kevin in the other room made no response, he sat silently, entranced by the screen.

“Hang on.” Paul paused as he crouched down to get a better view of the litter on the lino floor. There was a small piece of paper, just like many of the others which floated around the kitchen floor, blown in from the living room or dropped on their way to the bin. But this piece was different, it bore a pattern in blue. He took it by his finger tips. It was charred around the edges but it could only be one thing, it was the corner of a five pound note. A five pound note, one of those which had just been phased out. Paul flicked it over in the palm of his left hand. He assured himself that it was real, not an advertising gimmick thrust through the door. The design told him it could be nothing else. Who would burn money, especially in a house like this?

“Hey what’s this?” Half-asking himself, half his housemate. As he did, Paul thought of those stories he had heard of drunken bets to smoke notes. Yet who would try that? He knew those he lived with, and yet this distinctive scrap of paper, a thumb’s width, begged so many questions. In this kitchen it could have lain there for weeks, months, undisturbed amongst the burnt up matches and ingredients slipped from the chopping board. He wandered into the next room, his find resting gently in his left palm.

“Yours?” He dropped his find into Kevin’s hand. Kevin grunted something and turned his vision back to the screen. Paul hurried back to the kitchen, his overactive imagination distracted by the water hissing as it boiled over the side of the saucepan.

“I don’t need your money.” She exclaimed as she ran into the kitchen, with him close behind. Her voice betrayed a mixture of annoyance tinged with the helplessness of resisting this man she loved. She snatched up the large box of matches and grabbed one protruding from the crammed box. Awkwardly she struck it against the side. It flared and she rammed it against the notes that had been forced upon her. He stood there in the doorway as they both watched the black follow the advancing red flame across the fine paper. Both were breathless from their run from the bedroom. She twisted the burning notes in her hands to spread the flame and resembled a curious child studying an insect. Both watched with reverance, in silence. There was a sense of ceremony, of the sacriligeous, the blasphemous. How many unbelievers would draw back from cursing God? How many from burning money?

“You’ve just got no imagination. We’ve all seen the same tricks. I want to explore our own version, not something second hand.” She flicked the ash as the flame approached the last corner she held. The blackened paper showered to the floor. She pushed the remanants through the stained fliptop lid, and turned to look straight into his face, his mouth covered hers, as she yielded, back towards the sink. They broke, their warm breaths condensing in the air of this cold house. He turned back to the doorway, and extended a hand out towards her. She grasped it and they ran back the way they had come, to her bedroom, this time together.

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