Cabbage, he read.
Then there was a word he could not make out, smudged and faded in a fold in the paper. Then:
The list was written on a page torn out of a notebook, pocket sized, with pale blue horizontal lines quite close together and vertical columns ruled in red. A personal account book, for jotting down expenses. He supposed you could still buy them, but he had not seen one for ages.
The handwriting puzzled him at first. It was familiar. The shaping of the letters was immature, carefully rounded, but they were small and confident and the light touch of the pencil on the paper was quite unlike a child’s desperate pressure. Nothing like his father’s sloping scribble. He turned the sheet over, but the other side was blank.
He was about to set it aside on the dressing table when the answer came to him. It was his mother’s writing. And in fact he could remember her making lists like this one, standing at the open door of the larder and scanning the shelves. He could even remember the notebooks. They had blue card covers and the paper was held together by a couple of staples through the spine. She always wrote on the centre page, to make it easier to tear out.
A shopping list. Why was his father carrying around a shopping list? It must have been tucked in his wallet since she died. Twenty years. More than that. Twenty years ago there were fridges and supermarkets. The mother he remembered checking through her stock of tins and packets was tall. He could see her holding the pencil between her teeth as she tucked a strand of brown hair behind her ear. Forty years ago at least. His father must have transferred the scrap of paper from wallet to wallet for more than forty years, along with ten shilling notes, pound notes, fivers, twenties.
He set it aside, one more mystery, and emptied out the other odds and ends. A couple of credit cards. Have to cancel those. Receipts. Library ticket. Should that be cancelled as well? When nothing had been taken out for a year or so perhaps they took it for granted that a reader’s book had been stamped for the last time. Mark him Withdrawn from stock and take him down to Oxfam. He put the credit cards in his own wallet, dropped the receipts and the library ticket in the waste paper basket but hesitated over the shopping list. Finally he found an unused airmail envelope and put the paper carefully inside.