It’s very hot this morning. I’ve opened the window to get a breeze. My newspaper is laid out in front of me. I turn to the sports pages, skipping over the reports on Brexit – there doesn’t seem much more to learn from them. But the pages won’t stay still, so I reach for the paperweight on the shelf.
It is made of glass and completely see through; round, apart from a small flat surface on the bottom for balance. It is embedded with coloured stripes, subtly fanning out across its clear insides. The effect is like a playground marble, but bigger and more angular.
It commemorates the 2006 Austrian Presidency of the European Union. The stripes represents the flags of the EU members, as they were then. I was presented with for my contribution to a conference on migration during that year. I had kept it because I liked how it looked, and how it felt.
The conference had finished with a formal dinner. We were in an elegant country house in the hills above Vienna. I was stood on the balcony enjoying the view, when I was interrupted by an earnest colleague who told me that there had been some minor crisis back in London and my boss had had to leave at short notice.
This meant I needed to take her place with the other dignitaries on the top table. Fortunately, all the conference business had been done and dusted some time ago, but it was still important we were represented.
I was ushered quickly to the remaining seat at the far end of the table. My neighbour was from Macedonia, and we made small talk through the meal. My knowledge of Macedonia was limited but we found common ground in law enforcement as this was one of the policy areas I covered. He had robust views.
It was warm by the time we finished the food, so the huge windows were opened to let some air in. The resulting gust of wind scattered my neighbour’s papers across the table.
We gathered them up, and I took the paperweight out of my bag and offered it to him.
‘It’s got the flags of the EU inside it’, I said.
He took it from me, turning it over in his hand. Weighing it, like a ripe apple in a market. The light from the chandeliers above us sparkled on its glass.
His grip tightened until his knuckles went white.
‘This is very strong,’ he said, his accent and dark eyes giving him an aura of authority.
‘But,’ he turned the paperweight round in his hand, ‘Will it be strong enough?’
I followed his gaze as he looked around.
‘People here are smiling, drinking wine, making agreements, coming closer together for the common good. But in their countries, do the people want these deals, these agreements? Do we share a common good?
I wasn’t sure what to say.
He put the paperweight down hard on the table, making the woman across from us look up in alarm.
He held his hand up in apology, then looked again at me. ‘I hope it is strong enough. But I don’t know. I don’t know.’
Now, years later, as I sit with my newspaper, flicking back to the Brexit reports, I remember his words.
I look at the paperweight. It is chipped now, its glass scratched, its colours faded; of the tiny inscription on its underneath, only the single word, Union, remains, almost invisible now.
I hold it up to the light; it still feels strong, but how strong I don’t know.
Story by Jim Minton.
Jim Minton is a London-based spare time writer of stories and other stuff. He’s had his work read by Liars League, and published in Cent and other places and is a regular performer with East London collective Red Army Fiction. His novel, Undertone, is a 1980s story of boyhood friendships, bad haircuts, dangerous dogs, and how hard it is to change the world. It is available on Amazon.
Illustration by Isabel Corrales