The coast and the mountains were left to another Sunday, but she wasn’t having it all her own way. I drove straight past Brambles.
‘We’re stopping on the way back,’ Anna said.
When I didn’t reply she reached over to snap on the handbrake.
‘What the f-?’
I pulled over, sending gravel scattering into the hedge.
‘I’m driving,’ Anna said.
‘We’re not going to bloody Brambles.’
‘I’m driving,’ Anna said, staring straight ahead.
I’d had enough. I wasn’t risking the Volvo. I tossed her the keys. To my surprise she didn’t turn round, but carried on driving, heading up into Cheshire. We came to a crossroads where someone had taken the trouble to make fingerposts and paint them. There was a gleaming telephone box surrounded by daffodils. It was one of those twee little villages with window boxes and white wicket fences where the phone box was probably carpeted. Anna turned left and groaned.
‘You had this all worked out, didn’t you?’
A sign in fluorescent yellow card announced a book sale.
‘How the hell could I? You’re driving.’
She pulled up and folded her arms. ‘Well go on then. Knock yourself out, bookworm.’
St Winifred’s church hall had seen better days. The roof tiles were mismatched and buckled in places. Moss and buddleia grew in dripping gutters. There were only a handful of cars parked up on a gravel yard sprouting with turf. I felt sure there’d be bargains here and no competition.
‘I’ll wait in the car,’ Anna said.
She was putting on lipstick, admiring herself. As I slammed the door she opened the window and sniffed.
‘I can smell them from here.’
One of Anna’s bugbears was the smell of damp, fusty old books. She moaned about the warped pages and the brittle, yellow paper. I had bookcases packed with them and boxes stuffed full of old paperbacks causing the beams to sag in the loft.
An old dear in an oatmeal cardigan was perched on a bar stool. She wore a bottle green skirt that reminded me of the curtains in school assembly. She coughed and held out a wrinkled palm. It turned out there was a ten pence admission. I handed her a coin and she passed me a turquoise cloakroom ticket, number 67. Her fingertips were cold as porcelain.
Inside it was like a Scout jumble sale. There were trestle tables, decorating tables and stacked crates dressed in tablecloths and rescued from a strawberry fair or village fete years back. Scout troop flags hung from the walls and sepia-tinted photos of long-dead vicars and parish chairmen. The tables bowed under the weight of paperbacks and scattered hardbacks missing their dust jackets. It was a lottery, like buying tin cans without the labels. I opened a hardback. The dust jacket was torn, but I could see a clumpy pair of footballer’s boots from the 50s. The flysheet was spotted with damp. I tossed the book back into the pile. Under a scattered stack of comic annuals like Beezer and Whizzer and Chips and Topper, I saw what I was looking for. They weren’t first editions, but they were nice to own. There was a handful of old Ian Fleming’s. They had 1950s and 1960s illustrated covers with BOAC airline tickets, pistols with mother of pearl handles and tarot cards. I took Live and Let Die and flicked through the pages. A piece of folded paper fell to the floor, turning over like a leaf. It wasn’t unusual; people often kept scraps of paper like shopping lists or memos as bookmarks. I stooped, wincing as my knee cracked, and picked the paper from the dusty floorboards. It was a sheet torn from a reporter’s notepad.
Read me or you’ll never know. You’ll always wonder, someone had scribbled.
I opened the paper. There was a scratchy drawing of a hill and some trees. A path wound its way past a stream. There was a cross like a headstone and a building I couldn’t make out; an old shed perhaps. I turned the paper over and saw the first side was meant to be three-dimensional, while the other side was a sort of map with numbers scrawled alongside. Eighteen was jotted next to a footprint. Of course! It was a map so it had to be paces!
‘Would you like to buy that?’
It was the old dear. ‘How much is it?’
She asked for two pounds and I gave it to her, doubtful that anything on that table cost more than 20p. She put the book in a brown paper bag, making me wait. Outside, I saw Anna tapping her wrist. I got into the car and waved the book at her.
‘Have you ever been on a treasure hunt?’
She sighed and stared out of the window. ‘The fence won’t paint itself.’
I handed her the note. She glanced at it and huffed.
‘I know where it is,’ I said.
She didn’t answer. I turned the back cover of the book. Someone had written The Coppice. I showed it to Anna.
‘See,’ I said.
‘You don’t think it’s maybe someone having a laugh?’
‘We won’t know unless we check it, will we?’
‘Well I won’t anyway,’ she said.
If Anna wanted to spend the day choosing scented candles she could. I fiddled with the stereo, waiting. Finally, she turned the key in the ignition.
‘Fine, then. If I can’t convince you otherwise, I’ll drop you off,’ she said.