A frayed collar

A couple of people have told me I don’t post frequently enough and they’d like more, but I’ve taken on quite a lot recently which together with the day job is limiting the time I have to finish up the half written posts I’ve got sat in my drafts folder and the many that are in my head waiting to be typed up. Hopefully I’ll catch up soon, but here’s something I wrote a few years ago.

This comes from the habit I’ve got of quickly writing down experiences and emailing them to myself for future reference, like a diary, or sometimes just because I find them worthy of noting down for no reason other than that they affected me in some way. As a result my inbox is full of small rapidly typed vignettes of (mostly Lewes) life, the majority of which – even if I polish them a bit – will just be filed away and never go anywhere else. I was in two minds about sharing this but I think it happened long enough ago now that it’s OK to:

Afternoon drags, time stretches through a day heavy with heat and uncomfortable brightness, traffic shackled through the bottleneck and down the High Street, choking it’s way past pavements thick with snatched songs and sounds of cricket commentary and indistinguishable voices pulled through car windows opened in hope of relief.

In the Grange children are tying together transient moments forever as triggers in minds still uncluttered by memories: they are tasting ice cream for the first time, noticing the hum of bees between flowers, playing beneath a sprinkler as the water catches sun-scattered diamonds and rainbows…and down the hill into town the Ouse sparkles too as it is pulled through Lewes, through Landport, Malling and Cliffe, past yellowed grass and trees that seem wearied by the effort of growth.

And in Cliffe, near the river, an elderly man is walking with a faded green suitcase. He wears a tie and a jacket despite the sun.

But I don’t notice him when he comes into the charity shop where I am looking at old books.

A few moments later though I am behind him in the queue for the tills. I see how he is holding the suitcase off the ground even though he could rest while he waits, and how it is heavy, or at least uncomfortable because he is easing the weight off his fingers one by one, taking them off the handle in turn and flexing them then putting them back again almost as if counting.

Finally he is at the front and I see how he visibly readies himself, how his hands shake as he props the suitcase on the counter and talks to the lady who stands behind the till.

I have here some of my wife’s clothing and I didn’t want to throw it out if someone else can get some benefit and

His words rush out each propping up the next until he catches himself and slows down, and he has the case open now too, pausing as he looks at the carefully folded blouses, skirts and hand knitted tops.


a deep breath, as if stifled


his hand is now laying on top of the fabric. I feel my breath catch.

well, I don’t suppose you can make use of everything

and he picks up a blouse with a collar frayed at the back of the neck and runs his thumb across it. There’s a history of touches in that collar, that thumb,.that momentarily breaks me.

but maybe someone can get some use?

He looks at the shopkeeper with a look that hopes she says yes and hopes she says no.

Now the lady speaks, softly, judging the moment perfectly

 – this is all lovely, thank you. I am sure we will be able to use it all…

and she continues talking but even as I listen I’ve stopped hearing, my mind racing, until I register his surprise at suddenly having to consider the future, his reaction almost like a sleep twitch when he is asked if he’d like the suitcase back.

This brings a pause, and with both hands he returns the carefully refolded blouse to the case

  – I don’t think I’ll be needing it no, thank you

He appears momentarily detached, then he pulls out a silk scarf, white with a pattern of blue wildflowers and birds and butterflies and he holds it as if weighing it

 – I think maybe I’ll just keep this though if that’s alright

And he closes up the case, sighs heavily, and takes his hands away, hesitatingly

– she would have been very pleased

Then that visible steadying again but this time marginally more confident, slightly more set, and he walks out of the shop, into the heat and the bell above the door tinkles briefly before disappearing in the noise of a passing lorry.

The lady tenderly picks up the case and puts it behind the till before turning to me. There’s a silence as we look at each other, struck dumb until she asks me for the money for the book I’ve forgotten I’m holding, and so paying, I leave.

Later on my walk home I need space so I go through the Grange and there he is, sat on a bench with an ice cream., by the trees, by the wildflowers where butterflies dance between petals away from the children whose shouts and laughter blend into the background..

I think about asking him if he’d like company but he looks peaceful, almost happy even.

So I go past, making sure I give him a friendly smile, a comment that might bring further conversation if it seemed appropriate

 – what a lovely afternoon

and he smiles back and agrees

 – yes, yes it is. A lovely afternoon

And he’s back in his own world, watching two birds sing to each other in a tree.

I say I hope the weather holds nice a little longer, but he doesn’t hear, so absorbed and cheered is he by the birds, and then I see where he has one arm folded across his chest, under his hand and in the front breast pocket of his jacket, very neatly folded and over his heart – of course – is the silk scarf.


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