It was boring, but at least Colin was out of the house. He picked up yet another silver spoon, turning it over in his hand without giving it much attention.
“A fiver,” said the stall-holder.
“You’d have to pay me a fiver,” thought Colin before replacing the spoon on the table, smiling at the stall-holder and moving off.
He could manage another half hour here before he would have to head home. He calculated that if he returned to the car by way of the line of stalls at the far end of the field, that would be just about perfect timing—a half-hour’s drive home, in time to help Barbara prepare lunch.
He sauntered past the stalls that lined the edge of the field, never giving the antiques there more than the most cursory of glances. Then two stalls before the end, he saw it.
It had lots of ornaments piled on top, so it was a wonder he noticed it at all. Later, he would call the discovery “fate.”
It was a school desk, exactly like the one he’d had at Cranmill Primary a lifetime ago. He ran his hand along the back of the seat, enjoying the wood’s smoothness—a product of many years of childish use. It was in good condition, though the metal frame was a little rusty. He was very tempted to buy it, but he knew what Barbara’s reaction would be.
Even so, he wanted to see how the lid of the desk opened, to feel that action again.
“Can I just . . . ?” he said to the stall-holder, not waiting for her permission to remove the ornaments. He placed them carefully on the seat of the desk until the lid was clear. Then he paused before gently lifting it.
If he hadn’t been holding onto the lid, he might have fallen over. There, scratched into the wood on the inside of the desk, were the letters: CT L SB.
Colin Turner Loves Sarah Burch. It was as if a time vortex had transported Colin back to the very day he scratched those letters with his compass. He closed his eyes, remembering the sunny day, with everyone out in the playground, and how he’d stayed behind at break to mark his feelings for the girl he loved. The girl he’d always been too shy to even speak to.
He realized now that he hadn’t been breathing and spluttered for air. The stall-holder came over to him.
“Are you all right?” she asked, genuinely concerned.
Colin took two or three deep breaths, breaking into a smile that became a giggle.
“Yes, yes. Ah … how … how much for the desk?”
The stall-holder put her concern to one side now, reverting to the businesswoman that she was.
“It’s antique, you know. Original. Lovely condition, as you can see, and—”
“How much?!” Colin croaked.
“I’ll take it.”
The woman was about to go lower but stopped dead, a little confused by Colin’s swift acceptance of what was an exorbitant price.
“Er … very good decision sir. We’ve had a lot of interest.”
Colin already had the notes in his hand and counted out six.
“How can I—?” he began to ask.
“I’ll get my husband to help you,” the stall-holder said, pocketing the money.
“You’re late,” said Barbara in her ‘bad-Barbara’ voice. Her ‘good-Barbara’ was reserved for just a random handful of days a year; this wasn’t one of them.
“Sorry, dear,” Colin mumbled, “but I found something at the fair I’m sure you’ll like!”
He took her out to the car and pointed through the back window.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Barbara scoffed loudly, glaring at her husband.
“I thought it could go in the dining room. You know, we could keep the cruets and things ins—”
“No way! That’s going straight in the shed. And make it snappy. I’m serving in ten minutes.”
Barbara stormed back into the house, leaving Colin to struggle with the desk himself. Eventually he got it into the shed and sat at it. It was a squeeze, but it felt good.
He opened the lid again, running his fingers over the scratched letters, remembering Sarah: she was tall, with long, fair hair, by far the prettiest girl at the school, but a sweet soul, too.
He was about to close the lid when he caught sight of something at the right-hand edge, where the side met the bottom: a little yellow triangle.
He picked at it with his fingernail; it was made of paper. He picked at it some more, then managed to get a purchase on it and pulled. It was the corner of a sheet of paper. As he pulled, he could see that the corner was dark yellow with age, but the rest of the paper was a lighter colour. He kept pulling until he had in his hand a folded sheet with a ragged edge.
Colin wondered briefly how it had got concealed inside the desk; apparently there were two layers to the base. But he put that thought to one side and unfolded the paper.
On it was a message, written in crayon in a childish hand. As he read, the paper began to shake between his thin, bony fingers, discoloured by liver spots.
i like you verry much do you want to be my boyfrend?
For the second time that morning, he stopped breathing. The shout from the kitchen made him gasp.
“Oy! Are you coming or what?!”
Colin stayed exactly where he was, catching his breath and reading the note.
Over and over again.