grace around the world

by James

Grace around the world

We were having one of usual Saturday morning late breakfasts – scrambled eggs and coffee, followed by fret over our finances. The latest problem – the house lease sold out from under us by a council desperate for cash. It was infuriating. Not that we could have afforded the twenty thousand stipulated, but we knew where we stood with the council. This faceless company that bought the lease didn’t need worry about lurid local headlines. They could jack up the ground rent till we were forced to sell, and as per the lease, give them first refusal. In a years’ time there would be luxury flats where our ramshackle Edwardian townhouse had stood.

We sent Sam to the door when the postman arrived. He came back staggering under the weight of a cardboard box that said Xbox on it.

‘Remember the last “Xbox” that came to this house?’ I said.

‘Har har,’ Sam said. ‘It has a letter. It says “The Family Dixon”’.

Five years ago ten year old Sam had been badgering us non-stop for one. The look on his face when our next door neighbour – Grace – was stood at the front door clutching a cardboard box with the picture of an Xbox on it. The look on his face when he got the box open.

Six A4 ring binders.

I still get a smile out of it.

And the box was from Grace, I recognised the handwriting, the precise copperplate letters in black ink. She was on a cruise, six months around the world. It was bound to something exotic in the box. We all took turns in making suggestions, a shrunken head being the leading contender.

The letter read:

Greetings, from Switzerland. I am dead. Please enjoy the contents of your box. Yours sincerely, Grace Edwards.

Well. That was a morning killer.

We had lived next door to Grace ever since we had bought the tumbledown place, nearly fifteen years ago. She brought across tea as we were moving in, she babysat and she would often say – very loudly – how good it was to have some life in the street if ever the neighbours called by to complain about cowboys and Indians played too loud, or parties gone on a little too late.

Sam said, ‘Maybe it’s her head.’

That got him sent from the room, but wife’s look to me said we couldn’t rule it out.

I slit open the Sellotape seals then eased the box open at arm’s length. Inside were six bricks, each layered in bubble wrap to stop them knocking together.

I looked at my wife’s blank face.

Through the doorway floated Sam’s voice. ‘Now you know how it feels.’

I unwrapped each brick. I inspected them carefully for joins. They were six ordinary red bricks, very much like the kind that had stood for years in a pile by the side of our house where part of the wall had fallen.

‘Maybe that fallen wall really did annoy her,’ I said.

From the box my wife took a thick wedge of white paper that I’d taken to be packaging. It looked old, lined with spidery hand writing. At the top it clearly said “Edwards Close”, and then our house number.

‘It’s our lease,’ my wife said. ‘She bought it for us.’