The coalscuttle gleamed softly in the firelight. I sat back on my heels to regard it, my pleasure in the job tainted. It was everything I’d imagined, but still … I shrugged it off. It had taken over an hour to bring a uniform brightness back to the brass, and a lot of my irritation had been buffed away with the tarnish. It wasn’t Andy’s fault. It wasn’t mine, either; I hadn’t any reason to know that the coalscuttle that had seemed such an elegantly practical item to me would strike my husband so differently.
It was clutter, he’d said. It was just something to keep clean. I wanted to turn our home into a labour camp.
I’d been sure that he’d love it. I’d been hurt, I’d been shocked. That’s no excuse, but perhaps it explains why I’d answered as I had, and of course that had driven him to say … I stood up abruptly, as if the movement would break up the chain of memory. We’d said what we’d said, and slept apart, and breakfasted in silence. It was only as I laid the fire that afternoon that I’d calmed down enough to see my way to making the best I could of things.
So I polished the damn coalscuttle. At least I could prove that I didn’t expect Andy to keep it clean; if that didn’t bring him round I’d find some excuse to pass it on. My brother, I thought, could probably be persuaded to develop a lifetime’s desire to own one. I looked at it once more, gleaming in the firelight. If it came to that.
By the time Andy got home I’d polished more than the coalscuttle, and there was more than the firelight to set it gleaming. He was civil, but he barely glanced around the room; it might as well have been lit by arc lights as by a dozen candles. Maybe candlesticks were just something to clean too. I gritted my teeth and served the dinner I’d planned. We hadn’t come so far to fall out over a coalscuttle – at least, I hadn’t thought so. By the end of the meal I was starting to wonder. Even when Andy offered to take out the plates he went stiffly, and what remained of my facade crumbled. When I heard his footstep in the hall I realised my eyes were brimming; I grabbed up a napkin and turned to riddle out the fire. It didn’t need it – Andy must have made it up whilst I fetched the dessert – but anything to keep my back to him.
I added a few lumps of coal blindly, my eyes filmed by the tears I was determined not to shed. I wiped them furtively and took two deep breaths. Then I blinked. I’d been staring blankly at the coalscuttle, and I realised in the same moment that there was a smudge of coal dust on the handle and that Andy had settled behind me. I reached out almost absently to buff the mark away, but his hand closed gently on my wrist before I could reach it.
“It doesn’t matter.”
I half turned within his embrace.
“It matters to you. I … I should have known it would.”
He kissed my cheek where it was still damp.
“You shouldn’t have to work round that.” He took the napkin from my hand and buffed away the mark himself, then dropped the cloth guiltily. “I’ll work on that.”
I kissed him back.
“You shouldn’t have to.”
He mumbled stubbornly into my hair.
As some of you know, I’ve recently been given custody of the Birmingham Writers’ Group Twitter and Facebook accounts (no, I’m not quite sure either, but it seemed like a good idea at the time, and it hasn’t gone horribly wrong yet). So what do you want on Twitter, I asked. Prompts? Tips? Members’ news? All of the above, they said. So I’ve been throwing out some pretty random prompt words, and it occurred to me that anyone who’s not familiar with my usual response to prompts might think that the words were excessively random, that I might not be taking my role quite as seriously as I might. I figured I’d better play along. Yesterday’s word was coalscuttle.