Julia was tidy. As a child she always coloured inside the lines, with light pressure, while all around her other children gripped their crayons and scored circles and spikes into the page.
When Julia left school she got a job in an office. She folded letters exactly into thirds and slid them into envelopes, and then unfolded other pieces of paper and filed them away. At the end of the day she packed herself into a tin can of commuters, ate a balanced meal, and slid between the white sheets of her bed with a sigh of relief, smoothing the covers over.
On Sunday mornings Julia did her laundry, folding pillowcases into four, and rolling and stacking towels until her bathroom resembled a boutique hotel in a magazine. She delighted in the row of creaseless garments waiting in her wardrobe, and almost regretted removing one from its companions to wear it.
She was hanging up a freshly-pressed blouse when she saw a buttercup-yellow, star-shaped button lying on the wardrobe floor. She picked it up and it glowed in her palm. Where had it come from? She couldn’t imagine wearing something with star-shaped yellow buttons on it.
The sun threw squares of light onto the floor, and the yellow button glinted. ‘I need to find out where this belongs.’ Julia thought. The button jumped in her hand as she stepped outside, but she put it down to a slight stumble on the steps.
On impulse she turned right, looking at every passer-by for signs of a missing yellow star-shaped button. Most of them didn’t notice because they were looking at their phones. ‘Perhaps I should take it to a haberdashery,’ she thought. But that seemed cruel, like leaving it on the steps of an orphanage. ‘I must find its owner.’
The little button jumped again, and weaved Julia along streets big and small, through an arcade, and down an alleyway to the wrought-iron gate of a square she had never seen before, though she had lived in the town all her life. Music floated towards her, and the little button trembled in her hand.
The music led Julia to a bandstand. A young man was playing the flute, surrounded by people sitting on the grass. Her eyes leapt to his shirt-front, where - yes - a button was missing! Then she looked up, and their eyes met. She had to grip the button tightly to keep it in her hand. The song finished, and while the audience clapped Julia walked up and held out her hand. ‘I think this belongs to you.’
The man looked down at his shirt, and smiled. He held out his hand and the button jumped into it. ‘No, I think this is yours.’ He reached into his pocket, untwisted a green paperclip, threaded the button on, and tucked the buttercup into Julia’s lapel. She looked up at him, and her chin glowed yellow.
And from there, everything unfolded.