Published On: Mon, Jun 12th, 2017

Fiction: Inventory by Laura Barnett


Dear Katie, I am writing this letter at the kitchen table. Remember the day we found it in that junk shop in Canterbury? You swore it had woodworm and that it wouldn’t fit in the car. But it did, and now here it is. And here am I. 

Emma tells me you’ve gone to Greece for a while. A yoga retreat. I imagine you stretching before the dark-blue sea, eating tomatoes under pine trees. Is he there with you? She didn’t say, and I didn’t ask. 

Anyway, that’s none of my business now, is it? My business is this: returning the things I’m enclosing with this letter. I’d have dropped them round sooner, in person, but, well, I’m not sure I could have managed it. The box I’ve filled with the last of your possessions – the stuff you overlooked in your rush to get everything packed. To fill your cases and be gone. 

And so I’m posting the box, and this letter, for you to find when you get back from Greece. 

There’s something so forlorn about them, these things you left behind. And this letter is, I suppose, a kind of inventory – my small tribute to them, these unremarkable objects, before they, and everything we were, slide off into the past.

You’ll call me sentimental, I’m sure – you often did. But indulge me, Katie, please. At least read to the end. 

Item 1: Your copy of Middlemarch. I found this, splayed and dusty, behind the headboard – it must have slipped off your reading pile. Your bookmark was still in it. You were almost at the end. 

You brought it to Spain last year. 

I spent so long on the beach staring at the book’s cover – those dragonflies with their dark bodies and pale, translucent wings – that I started to hate George Eliot. I’d thought we were there to spend time together, but all you wanted to do was read. When we talked, I could see you weren’t really listening.  

“It’s Middlemarch,” you said. “It’s so huge, so all-encompassing.” 

But it wasn’t only the book that was distracting you, was it Katie? 

I know that now. I should have guessed it then.

Item 2: Your mum’s Rumours LP. This was still on the turntable. You were listening to it that night – the last night. I entered the living room to the sound of “Go Your Own Way” (too obvious, surely – they’d never get away with that in a film). You were stretched out on the sofa, eyes half-closed, one shoeless foot tapping out the beat. 

How beautiful you looked to me then, even as I knew that I had lost you. How much I wanted to set aside the terrible new knowledge I’d acquired, come over to you, lay my head on your shoulder. But I didn’t, because then my anger flared.   

When the first side ended, we left the record where it was. I’d followed you into the kitchen, and our shouts were probably waking the neighbours.

It was only after you’d slammed the front door that I heard it: the scratching of the needle. It was a while before I lifted it. Even that ugly noise seemed preferable to the silence you’d left behind. 

Item 3: Your Betty Boop pyjamas.You bought these in Asda. We were staying at Mum’s, remember? “Your godforsaken little town,” you called it. I knew you hated going there. The smallness of Mum’s life; the boredom of those long, slow hours in front of the TV. 

Then you found these ridiculous pyjamas, and you laughed out loud, and the whole mood of the weekend changed. You have that capacity to transform a moment through sheer force of will. It’s wonderful, and it’s terrifying, and I miss it more than I can possibly explain. 

They were at the very bottom of the washing basket. I remembered, when I found them, that I hadn’t seen them in months. I wondered if you’d taken them with you to the shoot in Cardiff; if he’d seen you in them, if you’d let him draw them, slowly and tenderly, from your skin. 

I slept with them under my pillow for a while, in those first few weeks when the world seemed to have gone dark and I wasn’t sure it would ever get light again. I don’t mind you knowing that now. In the worst moments – late at night, usually, when the silence was at its most deafening – it seemed to help, just a little, to know that they were there. 

Item 4: Your Tiffany ring. I noticed this on the bathroom shelf a few days after you’d gone. 

I thought, at first, that you’d left it there deliberately, as a dismissal of me, of our history, of how happy I’d believed we were on that trip to New York, when you fell in love with those delicate silver olive leaves. (We didn’t know they were olive leaves. It was the saleswoman who told us, and you said it was perfect, that it made you think of Spain). 

Now – 10 weeks, five days, and seven hours since you left – I can admit the possibility that you just forgot the ring. Perhaps you’re missing it. Perhaps, just perhaps, you’ll wear it again some day. 

There, that’s it – my inventory is done. Four objects. Four years. Four hundred more I’d have spent with you, if you’d have let me. If you’d chosen to show me how to be better for you; how to work harder to make you happy. 

Emma says that you’re happy, Katie, and I’m pleased to know it. Really, I am. I like to picture you smiling. I hope that he, too, loves to see you smile.

I’ll be all right, you know. Soon, I’ll be all right. I don’t expect a reply. 

With love, Joe. 

Laura Barnett’s new novel, Greatest Hits (W&N, £12.99), is published on Thursday. See Express Bookshop at expressbookshop.co.uk.



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