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by Veronica Bright

A green toaster (unused, safety-tested). A set of flying ducks (pottery, slightly chipped). A goldfish bowl (empty).

The old man knows he’s being watched. He blinks behind thick glasses, gathers his purchases into a duffle bag (large). He’s there every Saturday, at the coffee morning. Mostly he sits on his own, munching and watching the world. He might buy one of those cheese flans later, to take home. They’re nicer than shop ones.

The old man doesn’t mind being watched. It’s that nipper again, pretending to wear binoculars, or squinting through a make-believe telescope. He’s always here. His grandmother snaps out commands like the ping of elastic bands, and the boy’s eyes widen as he jumps to attention.

The old man’s house is full of the things he’s bought week by week at the coffee morning, a piece of carpet (pink), a cruet set shaped like lighthouses (no stoppers), a mandolin (from China they said). Bigger stuff too, a nest of tables (scratched), two kitchen chairs (wonky), an old mower (rusting).

His house is on the main road. He’s caught the boy peering through his gate a couple of times. Things sprawl in the garden, over the lawn, up the path, a bird bath (iron, on its side), a hose (with a small split), a chimera (difficult to shift — he borrowed a supermarket trolley. It rattled and shook all the way home).

The boy walks along beside the bric-a-brac, watching the old man out of the corner of his eye. He waits until the stallholder’s not looking, picks up a pack of something, shoves it up his jumper.


“Want a game?” asks the boy quickly.

The old man pauses. “Why not?”

It’s Top Trumps, and the boy has to explain the rules. The old man listens. They play.

“Where’s that boy got to? Oh. Jack! Where did you get …”

“They’re his,” says the boy, pointing at the old man.

“I forgot to put the money in,” says the old man. “I’ll do it now.”

“You can buy anything you like, can’t you?” says the boy.

The old man nods. ‘That’s my trouble,” he says.

Veronica Bright is the author of Cloud Paintings and A Gift from the Horse Chestnut Tree, two collections of prize-winning short stories, available at Amazon as paperbacks and ebooks. She is working on a novel, and it must be going well, because the characters have started telling her what they want her to say. You can connect with Veronica on Facebook or Twitter @BrightVeronica. She writes a monthly blog of interest to fledgling writers on her website www.veronicabright.co.uk.