Peas and Antiques

Long-listed for the annual Irish Times Short Story competition

On Twitter, she was an observer; she never tweeted, herself. She had joined to prove that she could surprise herself. And was still waiting to see if it was worth it.

She didn’t have a dog or cat; didn’t want tiny faces looking up at her, expecting.

She watched TV, never selecting randomly, always pre-recording. She liked nature programmes. And Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Sometimes, she dreamt herself into the chair. The appeal was the challenge, not the money. Phoning a friend would have been a problem. She tried to watch The Antiques Roadshow but the people on it upset her, too hungry to realise the true value of what they owned.

She liked to eat frozen peas frozen. And carrots raw. These were things you could do when you lived alone – without disappointing anyone.

She restored antiques. Fixing things that had been broken brought a unique satisfaction. This vase was curious. The way it was cracked. She turned it over in her hands like a radiologist trying to discover the source of an unusual fracture. It was a beautiful piece, Chinese, simple, ancient. She loved it. Its value was important only as part of its story. Someone powerful had once owned this. She imagined an emperor. And smiled to herself.

Antiques were special. It wasn’t just their beauty, it was their story – who had owned each piece, how it had been passed down, discarded or lost, and how finally someone cared enough to have it fixed when it broke.

She didn’t ‘chat’ with customers the way good business people do. As much as possible, she avoided direct eye-contact. But to the quiet man in front of her, hiding under a battered hat, she just had to ask:

‘How did it happen?’

He seemed startled by the question.

It struck her that he would have been equally startled by any question. She recognised herself in him. It made her brave.

‘It’s just an unusual break,’ she explained, engaging more with a customer, with anyone, in a very long time.

‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘It was left behind.’

‘Left behind?’


She dared peer under his hat.

‘There was an antiques fair in the hotel where I work. The vase was left behind.’

‘And you took it?’

He shrugged. ‘It needed to be fixed.’

Her eyes widened as it occurred; she longed to ask how someone liked his peas.