In the kitchen, unfashionable crockery is wrapped hastily in newspaper and placed in boxes labelled CHARITY. Dad detonates a swear word from the cupboard under the stairs. Uncle Charlie retches violently as he scrubs mould from the corner of the bath. No one notices Ashleigh sneaking past.
To her, Gran’s attic smells of Christmas Past, of old tinsel and sweat and fuse-boxes.
She pushes the hatch wide open and nimbly levers herself up. It’s dark; the chinking and grumbling below now muffled. She waits for her eyes to adjust, then treads softly, carefully, along beams that creak and whisper warnings about putting her new trainers through the ceiling, but she’s already spotted what she’s looking for.
Hanging on an ancient nail is a walnut curio cabinet, each miniature casement holding a treasure. A milk bottle top; a chess piece; a faded Opal Fruit wrapper – the red kind.
Ash peers into each tiny nook in turn: a paper-clip; a knotted silver earring; a daisy-shaped button from a child’s cardigan; a piece of white lace. There must be more than a hundred of these tiny tokens. She uncurls her forefinger and gently touches a sea green bead.
Rain threshes against the roof-tiles outside, startling Ashleigh and pushing air laced with brine and thunderclouds through the gaps in the chimney breast. She steadies herself, and a palmful of red brick dust tumbles to the floor.
At head height, sealed under a bell jar, balanced on a hammer beam – the Bringer of Gifts.
His feathers as dark and sleek as a midnight dinner suit, Crow wooed Gran persistently, bustling forth from the back hedge and bowing his head to drop favours at the kitchen step, in return for pastry crumbs.
Under his dome, Crow can’t smell the salt or electricity in the air. He’ll never fly through a storm to find his nest again. He’ll never spy another shiny trinket. But he won’t be erased. He’s part of his own collection now, offered up in his entirety.
Ashleigh lifts her fingertip to her lips and touches a kiss to the cloche. She turns away, hearing her mother call, and on the glass her print remains.
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