My name is Simon Greene. One year ago today I stood at the exact centre of my little shop in Abingdon-on-Thames and watched my life go up in smoke, literally. Even now, if I close my eyes, I can smell the damp, acrid odour of the still smouldering walls. I can hear the slow drip drip drip of water in the charred rafters. I can see the crystal blue sky where the ancient thatched roof of my shop had been. I can see a wooden push broom in a dark corner.
Funny thing about a push broom. At the end of it lay all the artefacts of my existence: the singed bits of rhubarb, the shards from bottles of Old Speckled Hen, the cinders of a tattered apron. I pushed the remnants of my business about as though they still mattered somehow, as though motion and prayer would resurrect them. But they were just rubbish at the end of a stick. The fire had swept through my little green grocer shop in an instant, and the only possession it had left untouched was the push broom. Looking back, this was quite a lucky thing, because otherwise I would not have been able to create such a neat and tidy pile for the claims adjusters.
When they arrived they huffed and puffed and clucked, and one of them feebly said “Sorry” as he departed. But they wrote me a cheque on the spot for a princely sum, and this turn of events brightened my day considerably. Even so, I had no work and I had no home. When I thought harder about my situation, I realised also that I had no friends and I had no family. I had considered having a dog, but I never got round to that, either.
I can’t say why I never got to know any of my neighbours terribly well. I loved the quaint quirkiness of Abingdon. I suppose I was just too busy stocking shelves and polishing produce. The people in the town trickled past the smoking remains of my shop in ones and twos and asked, “Where will you go, Greene? What will you do?” I had no ready answer. I had been a green grocer for ten blissful years, selling penny candy and tea cosies to ruddy-faced villagers, and it had never occurred to me that I needed anything else. And so I did what Englishmen have done for centuries when things turned arse over tits and all hope was lost. I went to America.
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