Legal Widow

The fact that Subjudice was systematically selling everything in the house on eBay only came to light when we ran out of pens. By then, most of the lamps had gone, together with things you never think about until you need them – the good dinner service, the bicycles, the dinner jacket and dress shirt – or actually notice them (rugs, ornaments, silver picture frames…).

Apparently, she soon realised that old bric-a-brac was never going to make her much money, and was about to give up her little sideline until she stumbled on the collectables section and discovered that there are people out there who actually collect plastic pens. Naturally, every pen in the house came from a client, a rival or from the depths of the stationery cupboard, and she was able to ship them all off to odd-sounding places in Middle America, where I suppose there are middle-aged American men arranging Biros and rollerballs on black velvet boards and delighting in the sound of the firms they came from – Innards & Ovaries, Late Spring Kill, Always Shacks and so on.

“You can actually make money out of them?” asked the Lawyer doubtfully.

“Yeah – and those silly baseball hats you’re always being given,” said Subjudice.

It’s true. We had a rack full of cheap caps the Lawyer receives on golfing days, and they’re always hideous. Subjudice has been shipping them off for a fiver a time.

“You couldn’t get hold of any more of those bouncy balls with the name in them which light up when you throw them, could you? I make a mint out of them.” This item, the nadir of the firm’s promotional campaigning, actually gives great pleasure to babies and small dogs, but is not the slightest use to anyone who has, say, mastered the use of something even as basic as a spoon. Naturally, the firm ordered thousands of them. Subjudice has been making £10 a pop.

The Lawyer’s eyes were getting as round as saucers, and I felt we were getting off the point.

“The thing is, you can’t just sell these things. It’s not right. They belong to… well, they belong to your mother and father.”

“But you’re always complaining when he comes home with another golf umbrella or rubbish T-shirt or plastic briefcase from a stupid conference. You never want any of that stuff, but you can’t bear to throw any of it away.”

I cursed the clear-sightedness that comes at 13. “I wanted my silver picture frames and all the lamps.”

“Well, I’m sorry for those, and I’ll pay you for them,” she said, hauling out a chequebook. The child is obviously loaded: I’m going to have to start touching her for school fees. But I admit I was stumped. I’ve often lamented the sheer waste involved in all the promotional jiggery-pokery that goes on: the vats of plastic boiling away to produce all those pens and mousemats and laminated cardholders, the daft rocking clocks, the useless golfball covers, the hideous mini teddies. But I can’t bring myself to bin them, because that really does seem wasteful.

“Besides,” said Subjudice, as if clinching the matter. “At least all the stuff I’m selling was given away. Dad’s always nicking stationery from the office. You haven’t bought an envelope or a piece of A4 for yourself in about 16 years. I’d call that stealing.”

I fixed her with a steely look, put her cheque in my pocket, and wondered if she’d remembered that her father keeps all the spare golf umbrellas in the garage. I could make a fortune on those.