There was a dull thump and a hiss of breath, and then Bodie’s voice from the hallway. In the bedroom, Ray wedged another newspaper-wrapped photo-frame into one of the cardboard boxes and went to investigate.
“What’s in here, his bowling ball collection?” Bodie was sucking the tips of his fingers, leaning back on the steps he’d pulled down from the attic and staring malevolently at the box on the carpet at his feet.
Ray took a deep breath. Seeing Bodie, hearing Bodie, the way his accent curled in when he was stressed, the way his sentences leapt out, it was still hard, still raw.
“I’ll get it,” he murmured, stooping.
“I can manage, thank you,” Bodie interjected. “Just bloody heavy is all.” They reached it together, arms tangling and only just avoided clunking skulls – Which is what Cowley would do to us if he was still here and all, Ray thought bitterly. He’d tell us we had no respect and care for precious things.
“Knowing George,” Ray said, crouching, looking at wooden box, dark wood polished to a high sheen in which alien reflections warped into each other, “it could just about be the crown jewels.”
“You take them, then.” Bodie sank down, level once more with Ray. “Be a bugger to keep clean.”
They’d not discussed how they would apportion the late George Cowley’s possessions. But then they hadn’t discussed the fact that until the reading of the will they’d not seen each other for nearly twenty years, nor what they’d said the last time they’d spoken.
Ray rested his hands on the lid, eating the smile that wanted to take his mouth. He was too close to Bodie, back where he’d sworn he’d never be, and here, now, at sixty-five, trying to fight emotions he’d thought had withered.
Then Bodie came back and they blossomed, spreading faster than the pain could keep up and stunt them.
“Open it then.” Bodie’s approach to their conversations, such as they were, was businesslike and flippant by turns, not saying anything at all when a cliché or a joke would fill a space.
It was not unfamiliar.
Ray closed his eyes for a moment, then, trying to clear his thoughts, lifted the lid.
“Wasn’t expecting that,” Bodie said, after they’d both stared a while in a silence that felt almost companionable and Ray couldn’t quite break.
“She was called Mary,” Ray said quietly. He picked up the top dress and then the rattle, then the photograph, the locket, the nursing bottle, all carefully packed with tissue paper and lavender. “His wife died of pneumonia when he was in Spain in the Thirties, Mary went to his parents but died too before he got back. He never saw her.”
Bodie took the photograph, the thin woman and the baby in black and white, staring out at posterity without any evident expectation. “I didn’t know.” His voice had lowered, his posture loosened. His lips still looked like they always had, dejected even when he was happy. Ray fought an instinct to touch his shoulder. “Didn’t know Cowley well at all. But he left me all this stuff, personal stuff, I don’t... I don’t understand.”
“No, you don’t.” Ray took the frame back and packed the items neatly. “And you didn’t and there’s plenty you don’t know, so just keep going and we’ll clear it and you can leave again.”
You ought to see him, Cowley had said, lying in the hospice, serene with morphine. You ought to see him, Ray. Don’t think I don’t know better than you, even now.
It’ll never happen, George, Ray had answered, confidently, off-hand, straightening a pillow.
Beady eyes had looked back at him, cunning as ever.
“Ray,” Bodie was saying, looking at him. His voice was still low, still real.
“Listen, you take that end, I’ll help you carry it downstairs,” Ray cut in. He couldn't fight the smile now, but it was for George Cowley, the sneaky, manipulative, glorious bastard.
His heart was still aching as together they lifted the container of another man's lost happiness and carried it, guiding each other, out into the sunshine.