(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.