Between the Lines. A Short story by Linda Leatherbarrow

Between the Lines

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While enjoying an unaccustomed and leisurely breakfast in bed, Rose was struck by a new thought. She laid down her toast, flicked away a crumb, and gazed gloomily at her surroundings: whatnots, little gilt console tables and hand-me-down tapestry chairs, and that was only the bedroom. What had once seemed so comfortable, offering continuity and a well-polished notion of permanence, was now nothing more than a baleful echo.

There was no getting away from it, her flat was just like the Museum. The Westgate Museum, that is, where until yesterday she had worked.

She began to off-load her furniture on to family and friends.

‘Are you sure, are you really sure? How will you cope without . . . and so soon after your . . . ?’

‘Not at all,’ Rose replied, jumping swiftly in. ‘Perfect timing.’

She didn’t want to hear them say it – retirement; such a horrible word suggesting slippers. She didn’t let on that retirement was really a euphemism for redundancy, one suggested by the Museum, not by her, but twenty-three years of beehive thimbles and decorated spindle whorls was more than enough for anybody. And besides, she drew the line at slippers.

‘Are you moving?’ asked her landlord, emerging from his ground-floor flat.

‘Just having a clear-out, Mr Aldridge. That’s all,’ she said as she helped a man-with-a-van shift a heavy Victorian wardrobe through the communal hall.

Mr Aldridge raised one bristly, silver eyebrow, but Rose took no notice. She was much too busy scooping up fallen coathangers and hurling them into the van. Vases, ornaments, pictures, curtains, cushions – everything was given away to anyone who would take it. If she put something outside by the front gate (a broken umbrella-stand, for instance) then, in moments – pouf – it was gone. Nothing could have been more liberating.

Soon she had whittled her possessions down to clothes she actually wore, plus a few kitchen and bathroom necessities. And her books? Won

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About the contributor

Many years ago, at art school, Linda Leatherbarrow’s fellow students were producing larger and larger paintings, exuberant and expressionist, while her own kept stubbornly shrinking. Words began to creep in underneath or round the edges of little prints – lino cuts, woodcuts – single words and then whole sentences until, thankfully, they took over altogether. Between the Lines is her longest short story.

Her short stories have been widely published in anthologies, magazines (literary and commercial) and in her collection Essential Kit. They have also been broadcast on the radio. In 2009 she won the Guardian Hay-on-Wye Short Story Prize. She has also won a Bridport Prize, an Asham Award and an Arts Council Award, and is three times winner of the London Short Story Competition.

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