Bone China

18 May

(For the latest Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge)


Shepherdesses. Ballerinas. Marie Antoinette. The Balloon Seller. I grew up with these. It breaks my heart to inhume them between crumpled sheets of The People and the Mail on Sunday. I’ll never see them on these shelves again. Never see these shelves. Never see this room.

They remind me of long afternoons with the tick of the clock, the crackle of the fire, the tic-tic-tic of my great aunt’s knitting needles as she conjured up another jumper for me. I remember reading until my eyes watered in the dim back sitting room while the smell of a roast dinner in the oven tantalised me.

She couldn’t do roasties worth a damn though.

It was here in Ethel’s house that I learned to be still; getting up occasionally to have a tape measure pressed into my nape or the small of my back. Firm, functional touches that I learned to tolerate. It was here that I could escape into a world of words, where four children and a dog could foil international spy rings; where a little old lady would fearlessly accuse a murderer of his crimes; where a man in a bathrobe could wander the galaxy.

I grew taller, the jumpers got bigger, but nothing much else changed.

Then I left home and discovered that stillness didn’t have to be a novelty. I made a home of my own. Minimal. Clean. No china shepherdesses. No ballerinas. No disgraced royalty or cheery peasants. Things like that have a way of accreting and I had no desire to be weighed down. Stillness first became commonplace and then became a burden so I began to roam. But when I was mugged in Florida it was Ethel who wired money for a ticket to the airport. When I was homesick in France it was Ethel who sent me a care package of sherbet dips and chocolate buttons that would have cheered me up at eight. I never cared to admit how much it cheered me up at twenty, too. When I was overwhelmed with wonder and confusion in Japan it was Ethel – who never left the shores of Britain, and who thought Wales exotic – who I rang. And she listened with interest to my ravings about a land she never cared to see for herself.

I should have told her that I couldn’t be this person if it hadn’t been for her quiet back sitting room, stuffy with knicknacks and brasso. If I could restlessly launch myself out on the world then it was only because of the gossamer thread that linked me to the quiet safety of that still room.

The thread snaps so suddenly. One phone call. “In her sleep… Very peaceful.” I would have wished that for her, at least. I come home for the last time, to pack away a lifetime of treasures rendered commonplace by the absence of the person who loved them. Who loved me.

I pack the china in the boxes. Everything I need to take from this place I have in me already.


22 Responses to “Bone China”

  1. Erik Gustafson 18 May 2012 at 15:57 #

    Very powerful tribute

  2. gailaldwin 18 May 2012 at 16:33 #

    Gosh – that brought it all back – my grandmother was called Ethel, she knitted and owned a Shepherdess too.

    • The Sweary Scientist 18 May 2012 at 16:35 #

      Thank you for commenting. I hope she made you feel as safe and brave as Ethel made the protagonist in this piece. These people mean so much.

  3. Mr S 18 May 2012 at 18:00 #

    My Nan’s Madge and she still has one of these! Nice debut :-)

    • The Sweary Scientist 18 May 2012 at 18:05 #

      Thank you Mr S!

      ETA: I genuinely though no one else but my aunt (Doreen, for the record, and not a knitter) had these things ’til I looked them up today!

  4. Lindsay Mawson 18 May 2012 at 20:40 #

    Nice story, reminds me of my own great grandmother and all the memories I have of her place! Always a nice journey for me :)

  5. ElizabethM 18 May 2012 at 21:44 #

    This was really lovely. A melancholy and bittersweet honroing of someone who touched your life.

  6. showard76 19 May 2012 at 08:10 #

    Beautiful and moving, love it :)

  7. marc nash 19 May 2012 at 17:55 #


    I wrote a piece a while back about smoked glass figurines, but it wasn’t nearly so wistful!

  8. W J Howard 19 May 2012 at 19:54 #

    Welcome. Very touching and the last statement is so heartfelt.

  9. AM Gray 20 May 2012 at 00:44 #

    Nice. Oddly my grandmother was an Ethel too; Ethel Emma. Sometimes we don’t value lessons learned until years afterwards.

    • The Sweary Scientist 21 May 2012 at 10:11 #

      That’s all too true, sadly. The few regrets I have are about not telling people what they meant to me when I had the chance.

  10. Tim VanSant (@TimVanSant) 21 May 2012 at 00:01 #

    This is beautiful.

  11. BrindaBanerjee 23 May 2012 at 01:04 #

    Great last line and very moving piece – thank god for grandmothers with their knitting and other comforts, and for the safe havens they create.

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