The auction room was packed but we managed to find two seats before the bidding started. Iris perched on a kitchen stool at the back, and a little further down the standing crowd I sank into a wingback chair. Crates containing old books, dull and dusty ornaments, and tatty framed photographs sat alongside sofas, wall units, and computer desks under the high ceiling.
Miss Bates, our flamboyant and loquacious childhood neighbour, had departed this world seven weeks previously, and I'd been anticipating the appearance of the house contents at the local auctioneers. Iris too was curious. Eventually I'd found what I was hunting for, taking care to conceal my excitement.
The lot number was called. I raised my hand and someone out of sight bid against me. My hand went up again and my opponent responded. Several bids later I felt uncomfortably hot.
'This can't be happening.'
'First time, eh?' The stout man standing behind me had heard my exasperation. 'Must be another collector of miscellaneous bits, there's a few about,' he smirked.
I quickly bid and leant forward to peer around his obstructive paunch, seeking out my rival. Iris was standing up, staring intently at the auctioneer, one hand half raised. Incensed, I sprang out of my chair, gesticulating for her to stop. Her face was a picture of complete surprise.
'I wanted it for us both,' she said as I paid at the booth. 'A boxful of memories, Sis.'
We shared the entire contents only after I had quietly extracted the sheet of paper from behind the framed print of The Beatles. Decades ago Miss Bates had shown me the handwritten and double signed letter of thanks when I had refused to believe her extraordinary story.
My next auction was a year later; this time I was selling.