Lately I've been thinking a lot about a friend I used to have. Or, rather, about one of her little habits. Sarah (not her real name, but it could have been) kept a small piece of satin cloth in her pocket - she had one in her trousers, skirts, dresses and later in the pocket of her dressing gown when she was too ill to get dressed. Occasionally, she'd rub the fabric between her fingers.
'It calms me down,' she once told me.
We were sitting opposite each other in the lounge of her new married quarter; a house in Plymouth she and her naval husband had moved into a few days earlier, together with their three small children. Sarah was apologetic about 'the mess', but all I could see were a couple of unopened boxes and several John Lewis bags tidied up in the corner of the room. (Her husband joked that their house was really just an extension to the John Lewis warehouse, because Sarah would always have something or other ready to be returned to the store.) She must have seen me spot her right hand slipping into the pocket of her gathered skirt (this was early Nineties when Laura Ashley flower prints used in abundance was high fashion).
'I can't remember when I started this, I think I was five or six,' Sarah said and produced a small, frayed piece of deep blue satin lining fabric out of her pocket. She saw my puzzlement and pushed it back into the folds of the skirt and explained, 'Just touching it makes me calm down. It's silly, really.' Her pale face was flushed.
Three years later we lost Sarah to cervical cancer, at the tender age of 35. Still, after fifteen years, I think of her often and miss her terribly.