Sarah Passingham has published four books of non-fiction and a libretto. Her short stories have appeared in journals including, Brittle Star, The London Magazine and Stand Magazine, in the anthology Said and Done, and been broadcast by the BBC. She won the Julia Fitzgerald Award for short fiction, 1996. Her family memoir is nearing completion. www.sarahpassingham.co.uk
When the couple hadn’t returned at the end of the day following their visit, Hoad had taken the Chinese rug out of the gallery, rolled it up and placed it in the store room. He told his partner that it was imperfect and that he had to contact his supplier before he could set a new price, but he knew he wanted to prevent a sale in case the boy wanted to negotiate.
The days were getting noticeably longer but spring was late and the temperature had, if anything, fallen a couple more degrees. One day, a few unseasonable flurries of snow could be seen beyond the glass. Hoad made the final arrangements for his next buying trip and was looking forward to spending some weeks where the air didn’t make him gasp every time he left his front door. He’d already switched off the spotlights, collected his overcoat prior to leaving for the evening and was writing a note to his assistant when the door opened and the girl was standing in the gallery, alone.
Blood rushed through him and he felt everything from the tips of his fingers to the end of each strand of hair fizz with energy.
‘Oh,’ she said in her quiet voice. ‘You’re about to close?’
He let his coat slide to the floor behind the table. ‘Not at all,’ he said. ‘We don’t close until six o’clock,’ not caring that the discreet sign outside said five-thirty. ‘We have…’ He revised his words. ‘You have nearly thirty-five minutes, at least.’
She walked a few steps into the room and stood motionless, looking at him from those disconcerting black eyes. She’d left the door open, Hoad could feel the freezing air around his feet. Once again the girl wore no coat and he couldn’t understand how she could bear to be outside in just a sweater.
‘Did you want to see the rug again?’ he asked eventually.
‘Because we still have it, if you were interested.’
‘No.’ She shook her head slightly and her hair glinted as the movement caused a ripple to move along its length. The palm of his hand tingled with the thought of it.
All at once, she turned on her heel and walked towards the back of the gallery. Hoad sprang forward, shut the door and toyed with locking it – would have put up a ‘Closed’ sign, if he’d had one – then left it. He followed her to the display case.
‘Please, put the light back on,’ she said.
Hoad obliged. Immediately the vase inside glowed, not with the green more usually associated with jade, but with a pale, milky translucence, and the structure of the cabinet could be seen faintly through finer sections of the vessel. The girl stood, apparently transfixed for almost a minute. They were standing so close that he could smell her shampoo, and the urge to touch her hair had almost overwhelmed him when she spoke again.
‘It’s not for sale.’ He took a step backwards. Why could people only see things in terms of what they were worth and not what they meant? Too many people came into the gallery with a view to obtaining a good investment that would languish the rest of the owner’s life in some vault or safe, unappreciated and unloved.
The words completely disarmed Hoad. His anger evaporated like mist and curled away into the late afternoon.
‘Yes. I am glad it’s not for sale. It means that it’s your favourite piece too.’ She paused. ‘And I’m glad that it’s nephrite. Traditional jade.’
‘It would be worth even more if it were jadeite.’ Their eyes met in the reflection of the display case. His heart beat rose and rose until the thudding in his throat almost hurt.
‘Not to me.’ She paused and took a breath. ‘Tell me about the vase.’ […]
(from Hoad and other stories)