Her chest heaves as she looks at the photograph of days long gone. Her and her big brother, eight and ten years old, throwing sand at each other on Brighton beach. A snapshot of childhood, back when summers seemed to stretch out for years rather than months, giving them hours upon hours of play and playfights to indulge in.
She jumps at the sound of her husband’s voice and the photo frame slips from her hands and lands with a crack on the edge of the hearth.
“It’s alright, I’m sure it’s fine.”
She retrieves the frame, leaving chunks of smashed glass behind on the floor. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” The tears fall fast.
“Hey, it’s okay. We can replace the frame easy enough, can’t we?” He takes the frame from her, swiftly removes the backing and hands her the photograph. “There’s something written on the back of that.”
The world seems to slow down around her. It’s like a spider has wandered across the page, its legs covered in ink. Her brother’s unmistakable scruffy handwriting.
Alright, knobhead! I KNEW you’d drop this frame. You’re so predictable. And stupidly clumsy.
Don’t feel too bad, the glass was already cracked. And it was 99p from Asda — you know me, I love a bargain.
Now, it’s time for a good old-fashioned TREASURE HUNT!
First stop — the cutlery drawer. Go, go, go!
“He planned this for me,” she says quietly. “That idiot couldn’t plan a piss-up in a brewery but he obviously put some thought into this.”
Her husband smiles. “You better get to it, then.”
She abandons the photograph on the mantelpiece and dashes to the kitchen, where she yanks open drawer after drawer, forgetful of the right one. Sod’s law, she finds the cutlery in the last drawer she checks and there she discovers a sheet of paper tucked beneath the teaspoons.
She unfolds the note with quivering fingers.
Do you remember when we learned how to play spoons and we went out busking and NOBODY gave us any money, no matter how cute and forlorn and hungry and orphaned we tried to look? We thought we were gonna be the next big thing in music. You practised doing interviews with NME in the mirror. Ha! LOSER! And you weren’t even any good at playing spoons. I was always the spoons prodigy, thank you very much.
She laughs as she recalls the memories, and feels her cheeks burn with delayed embarrassment at the thought of the pair of them sitting on the curb in the high street, clacking away tunelessly.
Next stop — the bedroom! I promise I didn’t leave any smelly socks on the floor.
She’s surprised by the tidiness of her brother’s bedroom — of the flat in general. He was always so messy, refusing to waste his time on mundane things like dusting and hoovering and putting clothes in the wardrobe where they belong. But he’s made an effort. He knew she’d be left to sort through all of his things, of course.
She scans the room, hoping that he hasn’t hidden the note away in a drawer. She particularly doesn’t like the idea of rooting through the drawers in his bedside table, but she realises that she will have to, eventually.
There — on the bookcase in the corner of the room. A sheet of paper is folded in half and propped up beside a trophy.
“Wait… that’s my trophy,” she mutters. Best Halloween Costume, 1996.
I guess you can have your trophy back now, sis. I know, I know, I swore on my life that I didn’t take it when you found it was missing, but I guess the universe is getting me back for that little lie now!
She tuts. “Awful, tasteless joke.”
I was sooo pissed when you won that costume competition. I MADE most of your costume for you. And we were a bloody double act! Scooby Doo and Shaggy. I was robbed, ROBBED I TELL YOU.
Did you notice that I tidied up? You better appreciate it. I even cleared out anything and everything I wouldn’t want the public to know about. So, y’know, porn, condoms, saucy letters from past lovers, Justin Bieber CDs… the usual.
You’re close to the treasure now. Go to the cupboard under the stairs. Watch out for spiders, but don’t hurt them! They eat the flies. How many times have I told you that over the years and you still kill the poor little bastards?
Last time she saw the inside of the cupboard under the stairs, it was a nightmare. Junk crammed in, piled up high and ready to cause an avalanche at any second. But now it’s pristine. There are some shoes, a couple of coats, the vacuum cleaner and the mop. That’s it. She shakes her head, surprised by his thoughtfulness, impressed by how busy he had been in spite of the disease that had slowly destroyed his body.
There’s a shelf at the top of the cupboard upon which sits a wonky wooden box. She recognises it instantly. Her brother had made it in woodworking class in school, and she’d mocked him endlessly for its uneven corners and dodgy hinges. She feels a pang of guilt now, all these years later.
She pulls the box down from the shelf and sets it on the floor, before dropping down to sit cross-legged in front of it. She wipes a fine layer of dust off its surface and lifts the lid.
Gummy worms. Their favourite childhood treat. Their mum would give them one packet to share and they’d bicker and scrap as they dished them out, fighting over the pink and blue ones which were forever and always the Kings of the Gummy Worms.
She pulls the sweets out of the box and gasps. The packet’s empty.
There’s another note sitting in the bottom of the box.
I ate them all, SUCKER!
I didn’t mean to. I was genuinely going to leave them here as a gift to you. But then I got the craving for them and I knew they were there and I tried to resist but I couldn’t… they called my name and they begged to be eaten. And you know what it’s like with those gummy worms — you have one and you can’t stop until the bag’s empty and your teeth are rotting.
Then again, you could call this payback for when you ate the last slice of my birthday cake when I turned 12. I’ve never known such cruelty as that.
Anyway. Cheers for clearing out my stuff, sis. I appreciate it. And be sure to keep hold of as many souvenirs of me as you like. This exquisite, handcrafted wooden chest, for example. It would make a great centrepiece for your coffee table, don’t you think??
See you in the next life, knobhead.
Her laughter blends with her sobs, and her tears and snot dribble all over the paper as she reads over and over her big brother’s last words to her.
She feels her husband’s arm wrap around her shoulders and squeeze her tight.
“So, what’s the treasure?” he asks.
“Just him telling me he loves me,” she says. “In his own, stupid way.”