Joanna Cannon | Contributing Writer | Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Greatest Of These: A Short Story By Joanna Cannon

The Greatest Of These: A Short Story By Joanna Cannon

The Debrief: The author of hotly anticipated debut novel The Trouble With Goats And Sheep wrote you a short story for your reading pleasure.

Looking for the book to read to kick off this year? You could do worse than Joanna Cannon's  The Trouble With Goats And Sheep - a novel about two little girls on the hunt for their missing neighbour on the cul-de-sac where they live during the 1970's. So far, the fans of this book range from The Girl On The Train's Paula Hawkins to The Shock Of The Fall's Nathan Filer.

To celebrate the books, Jo's written a six part short story to introduce you to Tilly and Grace - her book's 10-year-old protagonists. Over the week, the story's been serialised across the internet and, happily, we've got part six for you below. Enjoy!

This is part six in a seven part serial. Read the other parts below.

1. http://www.litro.co.uk/2016/01/the-greatest-of-these/
2. http://bookanista.com/butterfly/
3. https://forwinternights.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/the-greatest-of-these-part-three-by-joanna-cannon/
4. https://thewritesofwoman.wordpress.com/2016/01/21/the-greatest-of-these-part-four-of-an-exclusive-short-story-by-joanna-cannon/
5. http://popshotpopshot.com/posts/20160122-the-greatest-of-these.html

We hadn’t been digging very long when Eric Lamb held something up and showed Mr Dhillon. They made curious noises, and Thin Brian pushed his head in between their heads and he made curious noises as well.
Everyone stopped. Even Mr Forbes, who had been kicking snow around in the far corner of The Avenue by himself.
Mrs Roper pushed herself to the front, and Tilly and I ducked underneath her blanket, so we could see properly.
It was a gold chain.
Eric Lamb held it up for everyone to look at, and it shone and sparkled against the white.
‘I wonder who it belongs to?’ he said.
Mr Dhillon brushed the snow away from the gold. ‘There’s something hanging from it,’ he said.
It was a crucifix.
‘Well I’ll be blessed,’ said Mrs Roper. And she blessed herself just to be certain.
We all peered in.
‘It’s much nicer than mine,’ said Mrs Roper, and her hand wandered to her neck. ‘I wonder what the rules are with lost property.’
The crucifix was simple in itself, but all around it were leaves and branches, and flowers which threaded themselves around the cross and made a nice pattern. There was no sign of Jesus though.
‘Perhaps they made it before he got on,’ said Tilly.
It was passed around and everyone had a good look, especially Mrs Roper, who looked for a lot longer than anybody else.
No one had seen it before.
Eric Lamb decided Tilly and I should knock on all the other doors, to see if anyone recognised it, and Tilly wandered ahead, kicking the snow away with her wellingtons.
'Except number eleven,’ said Mrs Roper. ‘There’s no need to ask there.’
‘There isn’t?’ I put the cross into my coat pocket, to keep it safe.
‘No, there isn’t,’ said Mr Forbes. ‘Because there’s definitely no one connected with Jesus living in that house.’
I looked at number eleven as we walked past. Snow had wrapped itself around the building, creeping up the front door and across the windows, like the icing on a cake.
‘Aren’t we going in?’ Tilly pointed over the wall.
‘Not at the moment,’ I said. ‘I think we might have to save it for some other time.’

The cross didn’t belong to anyone. My mother thought it looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t be certain, and my father was too busy making a list of provisions to take very much notice at all.
I handed the crucifix back to Eric Lamb. He said he’d take it to the police station once the snow had cleared, and I heard a lot of air escape from Mrs Roper’s nose.
‘It’s strange, isn’t it?’ I said. ‘First we find the butterfly, and then we find the cross, and we wouldn’t have noticed either of them if it wasn’t for the snow wiping the board clean.’
‘That’s it!’ shouted Mrs Roper. She shouted so loudly, it made everyone flinch, and Tilly did a little jump. ‘Now it makes sense!’
‘It does?’ said Thin Brian.
‘The butterfly,’ said Mrs Roper, ‘is hope, isn’t it?’ She pointed to the butterfly, which waited on a nearby gatepost. ‘And the cross is faith. It’s so obvious.’
‘Faith and hope,’ said Mr Forbes.
‘Eureka!’
We all turned around. Mr Dhillon was at the bottom of the avenue, waving to us with his spade. Whilst nobody was looking, he had dug us all out.

 ‘Now we just need the third thing,’ said Mrs Roper.
‘We do?’ said Tilly.
‘Oh yes.’ Mrs Roper started looking around, peering into the hedge and around the gatepost. ‘It’s got to be here somewhere.’
Tilly and I started peering as well.
‘What are we looking for?’ said Tilly, from inside the hedge.
‘I don’t know,’ I said, from the other side.
Mrs Roper heard us. ‘Well, what do you think we’re looking for? We have faith and hope, what’s the third thing?’
‘Charity,’ said Mr Forbes.
Mrs Roper stopped peering. ‘Oh no, it’s definitely love.’
‘It’s definitely charity.’ Mr Forbes and his arms seemed quite positive.
Everyone stopped peering and sprinkling salt, and had a big argument. They were all very certain of what it was, except for Thin Brian, who changed his mind depending on who was looking at him at the time.
‘Aren’t they the same thing?’ said Tilly, but her voice was too small, and it disappeared under everybody else’s opinions.
Mr Dhillon walked back along the tunnel he’d made in the snow. ‘I’ve always thought it was charity,’ he said.
Mr Forbes smiled and nodded at Mrs Roper.
‘The only thing I know about charity,’ said Mrs Roper, ‘is that it begins at home.’
And she looked up at her television aerial and passed Mr Dhillon a sweeping brush, and smiled so widely, it was almost hypnotic.

Catch part 7 tomorrow here.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is out 28 Jan 2016

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