emacity (noun): fondness for buying
Miniature Brass Carriage Clock, £49.00
Polaroid 600 Instant Camera, £21.78
Organic Chai Seeds, £10.39
We moved in with my mother after the flat sold, so that we could save up a larger deposit. It was Claire’s idea, but that didn’t stop her complaining. ‘Your mum just hovers,’ she said, ‘As I wash the dishes or sort the recycling. She never passes comment, I could take that. Instead she just watches, following me from one room to the next, like a cat waiting for its food to be put out.’
I didn’t speak up for my mum. It was her house we were invading and she was used to being on her own, but Claire needed to be able to vent. The commute to work was longer from mum’s and she was drained from those late nights on the laptop, looking at property sites and god-knows-what-else. So, I kept quiet and tried to distract my mum with those Nineties game-shows she likes to watch.
Three weeks in, though, I got a text from the chap who’d bought the flat saying that there were three parcels waiting for us. It took me a few days before I drove out, after work, to collect them. By the time I did, another two had arrived.
Hennessy Paradis Cognac, £499.95
Morphy Richards Breadmaker, £79.99
In the car, I unwrapped them by size. The small ones – the chai seeds and the camera – seemed like they might be Claire, but the other three were odd. Especially the brandy.
When I walked in with the breadmaker in my arms, Claire was delighted. Then she scolded me for buying gifts when we were supposed to be saving. I explained that I hadn’t ordered them and she pointed out that they were plainly addressed to me. I couldn’t fault her logic, but it didn’t change the fact that neither of us had ordered them. Claire picked at the wax seal on the cognac and turned to my mum, who was in the utility room worrying the corners of the folded sheets.
‘Did you order these things?’
‘What a nice surprise, love. I like the carriage clock.’
‘Did you buy them, though?’
‘Of course not,’ I said. ‘They came to the flat.’
Four of the sellers listed only a postal address, but the cognac had an email address as well. The reply to my email came two days later. It said the bottle had been bought through an auction website. At the bottom of the email was the price. I calculated that each sip we’d had was worth eighty-three pounds.
My mum stood in the dining room while I flicked through the tabs Claire had left open on the laptop. The auction site was one of them. As I checked it, mum reached out to the orchid on the windowsill and rubbed the petals between her finger and thumb. Then she followed me out to the hall, where I phoned the bank. I’d cut up the credit card, but never cancelled it. I explained this to the bank, while mum re-straightened the lines of shoes by the door. The girl on the phone told me the card had been used only the day before, for three more purchases.
Kitchen Table, Bare Wood, £37.00
Antique Wood Sideboard Cabinet, £222.00
Pair of Gothic Revival Chairs, £110.00
I texted, the next day, to warn the guy in our old flat and he replied to say that they’d already arrived. Then he added a laughing emoji. That confused me a little, but I was in the van rental place at the time so I didn’t reply.
When I went to pick them up, though, I found only three tiny packages. They could all fit comfortably on the passenger seat. I drove home with only dust-sheets and strappings in the back.
‘They’re for a doll’s house,’ I shouted as I came in.
‘What?’ Claire was at the door to the living room.
‘Doll’s furniture. You can hold them in your hand.’
She burst out laughing, but my mum – standing just behind her – was shaking her head and squeezing a sofa-cushion between her hands like it was a concertina.
‘Mum?’ I said.
‘They should list dimensions, sweetie.’
‘What do you mean? Was this you?’
‘You guess the price, you see,’ she said. ‘And if you win then they send it to you.’
‘So… it was?’
‘You were so happy with the breadmaker, but… they should have listed the dimensions for these ones.’
Claire had covered her mouth, but she was still smiling. I would have expected her to be furious. Instead, she lifted one of the packages and tore it open. When she pulled out one of the Gothic chairs, she had to kneel down on the floor with the laughter coming like convulsions.
‘Mum,’ I softened my voice. ‘Did you not hear me on the phone to the bank? Did you not hear us when we were talking about the first lot of parcels.’
‘Oh, dear,’ she said. ‘I don’t like to interfere.’
‘But you knew you’d bought all those things.’
‘Not bought, darling, won.’
She frowned. Then looked down at the cushion as if seeing it for the first time.
‘You know I don’t understand computers, love,’ she said.
‘Come on,’ Claire took a breath. ‘Let’s get a glass of cognac and we can have a seat on these nice new chairs you bought.’
My mum looked upset at that, so I led her away from the fresh screams of laughter and back into the living room. I flicked on Challenge TV and there was Bruce Forsyth.
‘You see,’ mum said, pointing. ‘Like the gameshow.’
‘Yes, mum. Not quite the same, though.’
Back out in the hallway, I sat myself down on the floor beside Claire. She held out one of the chairs, presumably intending to repeat her joke. She couldn’t even get the words out.
‘This furniture she bought,’ I said. ‘Is too small for this house, you know.’
‘You don’t say…’
‘I’m saying, though, that she might need to downsize.’
Claire stopped laughing, looked up.
‘We wouldn’t buy her a doll’s house,’ I said. ‘But something more manageable.’
‘Bigger than a doll’s house, smaller than this place.’
‘Somewhere she can make her own chai seed bread?’ Claire smiled.
‘We’d make sure she has everything she needs, yes.’
‘Shall we have a quick look online?’
‘I’ll get the cognac.’