The long white envelope had changed everything, but it’d also changed the set of problems. Instead of, ‘How can I afford to pay the mortgage this month and still have money for food?’ it was, ‘What part of the country should I move to and how many acres of gardens do I want?’ Yes, those premium bonds sure came up trumps, even if they’d taken fifty years to do so!
So now one of my dreams was a possibility – a circular library! I’d envisioned burnished dark shelves, perhaps oak, stained a deep brown, areas of lighter brown and gold shining in the sun from a cupola high in the ceiling. Antique shelving would be nice, I thought, or I could get a skilful carpenter to make them. It’d take him some time, a lot of it in situ I guessed, but expense wasn’t an issue, I could probably afford to have them made of silver, if not gold.
The problem was, how do you actually build a circular bookcase? Well, the most obvious thing was to have a circular room, but I’d found that houses with such rooms were in short supply in my locality. The other possibility was to have it constructed in a large square room. Now that was a much more realistic possibility. I even had one already, a kind of office cum junk room, high-ceilinged and barely used. But what about the corners? Surely they’d be cut off, redundant, inaccessible, and gathering grounds for dust and cobwebs. Maybe even unwelcome rodents?
“What you need is EPS!” said my friend, Dave.
“What’s EPS?” I asked.
“Expanded polystyrene foam. Didn’t you know that?”
“Well, why isn’t it EPF then?” I retorted.
Anyways, it seemed if you got the right type, you could have it made into blocks that would round the corners of a room off, leaving a perfect circle for the shelves to be constructed around. Apparently you could even have some cavities made in the foam for storage too, stuff that you would basically never need until you moved house, as it would to all intents and purposes be inaccessible. Anyway, that would get rid of some of the junk. Dave knew someone who could do the job.
We spent some time with graph paper and compasses working out the dimensions for the foam and in the meantime I’d found a ‘chippy’ who would fabricate the shelving from antique mahogany in his workshop, then bring and install it in a couple of days or so. I’d seen examples of his furniture in a showroom and online, and I was very excited about his work. So much so that I’d also ordered a beautiful coffee table from him in an exotic solid wood – Amboyna Burl. A deep honey colour, with swirling, marbled grain. It was great when money was no object!
Life was looking good. There was just one fly in the ointment. Sandra. Thirty years of marriage had been twenty too many. Once an attractive young woman with flowing brunette locks, she’d now become ‘dumpy,’ to put it kindly, irritable and argumentative. Even my new found wealth had barely cheered her.
Dave had a solution. “Look, I know a mate who makes these special, er, ‘suitcases.’ They’re hermetically sealed. You can put, er, stuff in them, and there’s no smell. Then when the heat’s died down, you can dispose of the, um, ‘contents’ more normally like.”
“What ‘contents’?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“What ‘contents’?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
So it was decided. I would take a fortnight’s holiday on a cruise. The perfect alibi! Meanwhile Dave’s ‘mate,’ the one who made the special ‘suitcases,’ would call round. Sandra would have an ‘accident,’ be popped into the case, placed in a cavity in the foam and sealed up. A car would be taken, so that it looked like she’d gone off somewhere and never arrived. Dave would then organise the carpenter.
The ‘accident’ wouldn’t be cheap but Dave, a financial wizard, would take care of the ‘laundry,’ and my ‘investment’ would be untraceable.
OK, it’d be inconvenient to have to take all the books off the shelves and disassemble some of the shelving to extract the case at some distant future date, but it seemed like a foolproof plan.
Six weeks later I sat in my beautiful library with Dave. Everything had gone perfectly, police informed, all very sad. Half the shelves were filled and there were boxes of books piled everywhere, waiting to be unpacked and assigned to their designated places. I estimated that there would still be perhaps twenty percent of shelf space available for further purchases, which could happily now be resumed, Sandra’s resistance having been ‘overcome.’ Once the shelves were full maybe I could do it all over again with a smaller room? The house was certainly big enough, especially with only one occupant now.
Dave sat on a ruby red leather sofa, sipping wine at the exquisite coffee table. “Nice piece of wood,” he said. “Very nice piece of wood!”
I sat in a browny-green leather arm chair, one of a pair, on the other side of the table. Behind me were two glass cases, housing some of my more valuable and interesting books. “Yes, it’s Amboyna Burl,” I said. “So over here are my first editions,” I gestured accordingly. “That section is books about books, and all that lot over there is on music.” I’d been a book-dealer, then semi-pro guitarist for parts of my life, and Sandra, incredibly enough, had been quite adept on the bagpipes, much to my perturbation.
Dave murmured appreciatively. “What’s those magazines in that glass case?”
A creature with its features set low in a huge round head glared at us, against an indigo background, full of what could have been bubbles or planets, reminiscent of the individual’s head. Its face bore a frightened expression, as if it knew what we’d done.
“Oh, that’s Science Fiction Monthly. They were published from 1974 to 1976, I’ve got the complete run, 28 issues!”
“I like science fiction,” said Dave. “Russ Ballard and them other writers.”
I rolled my eyes. “J.G. Ballard!”
The doorbell went.
“I’ll go,” said Dave.
A minute later he came back, ashen faced, accompanied by a lady. My jaw hit the floor.
“Well aren’t you going to say hello,” said Sandra.
“Y-yes, … of course,” I said. “But er, where’ve you been?!”
“Yes, sorry about that darling, I wanted to tell you, but you were off on your cruise thingy. I went to stay with Vanessa. Ronald’s left her and she needed some support. I actually thought you were coming back next week. When I saw your car just now I realised you must be back. I rang the bell. I didn’t want to shock you, coming in unannounced!” She barked a laugh.
“Oh, it’s … it’s g-good to see you!”
“The books look very nice. Your fellow did a good job. Did he do that table too? It’s lovely!”
“Yes, it’s Amboyna Burl.”
“By the way, darling, I had a lady in to measure up for curtains and carpets while we were both away. Has she been in touch? I haven’t heard from her.”
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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