A version of this was published in the anthology Tangerine Tango. Hope you enjoy it. GC
It was time to tackle the garage. I’d been meaning to do it for some time, ever since we’d finished painting the new house, in fact. I found the light switch and blinked as the glare of neon replaced the furtive gloom of the late afternoon. I looked around and wondered where to start.
I sighed as my eyes finally came to rest on a small mahogany cabinet. It was at the back of the garage, leaning rakishly to one side. The shelves that should have been inside were stacked next to it, probably preventing its complete collapse. I considered what to do with it. The cabinet had been stored there for about eight months, ever since we’d moved from our big house into the cottage. I had thought it would fit in perfectly because it was small, and yet I hadn’t managed to find a spot for it in our new home, which had turned out to be even smaller than I’d thought when we first saw it.
I picked my way across the floor, trying to avoid tripping over the assortment of objects that had been deposited there “just for now” over the last few months. An empty toolbox, two rolled-up rugs, a pile of flowerpots that had fallen over, and various plastic shopping bags, filled with God knew what, littered the floor. Half-empty tins of paint jostled for space with cardboard boxes labeled mysteriously “special occasions”. I had no idea what was in them. I reached the cabinet, and checked it from several angles to see if it looked any better. I noticed the small brass handle on the front, looking rather discolored now. One of the doors was hanging open, and the thin stripe of walnut inlay was covered with a layer of builders’ dust. I ran a finger over the top, drawing a heart, then an arrow, then my and Jay’s initials.
I wondered whether to take it to the man who’d refinished it for me ten years before. He was Italian, and a terrible flirt. I decided that repairing the cupboard wasn’t worth the exhausting banter I would have to put up with. Maybe someone at the charity shop could put it back together. It only needed some kind of adhesive, surely. I visualized the enthusiastic young man’s face if I presented him with this antique that only needed a bit of work. So – not the charity shop, then.
My daughter wouldn’t want it, I was pretty sure. If I asked her, she might think she wanted it, because she’d grown up with it. When she was a little girl, it stood behind the kitchen door in our London flat, and housed the canned and dry goods, as well as the biscuit tin. She might think back to the times when she’d sneaked a biscuit, thinking I hadn’t known, and she’d want it. She might even imagine herself gluing it back together. But I knew that with a cottage smaller than mine, a husband, and two small children, she would never get around to it.
Bringing my thoughts back to the task in hand, I reached for a dusting cloth and wiped the cabinet down, erasing the heart on the top. I must stop being so sentimental, I chided myself. Looked at with dispassionate eyes, what was this piece of furniture, really? Some serviceable mahogany planks a Victorian cabinetmaker had assembled. That was the way to look at it. Just pieces of wood. And surplus wood should be taken to the dump.
There was that nice Jamaican man who worked there, I remembered. Whenever I took cardboard containers to be recycled, we would exchange a few words about the weather (not as nice as Jamaica) or the number of reggae stations you could find on the radio (more than in Jamaica). Now there was someone who might be able to use a little cupboard, and who was always finding things he could fix up. Look at the way he had put that broken stool together, so he had somewhere to sit while he operated the crusher. I would ask him whether he’d like it.
I had lived with this cabinet for at least thirty-five years, but I had seen it long before that. It used to stand meekly in my spinster great-aunt’s house. I’m not sure what else she kept in there, but whenever my sisters and I went for afternoon tea, she would open the cupboard door and extract a small tin of Harrogate toffee. Then she would present one of us with her small silver toffee hammer. The lucky girl would strike the solid bar as hard as possible, and distribute the shattered remains to the rest. I could still recall the way it stuck to the roof of my mouth.
When she died, some years later, she left me this cabinet. I was sorely in need of furniture, since I had married young and had no money to spare for luxuries. Victorian style was in fashion then, and its neat lines appealed to me. I polished its rich surfaces with beeswax, and used it to store my collection of long-playing records, which fitted perfectly. A glass vase glinted on top of it. Later, I’d moved it to the kitchen, and when I moved to America, the cabinet came too. It had seen service in the dining room, where we rearranged the shelves to hold wine glasses and bottles. Later it migrated to the children’s room, where a collection of half made model planes found their way into it, and untidy piles of school papers drifted across the top. Just before our most recent house move, I found it in the basement, filled with old letters and photographs. I moved the documents into a plastic bin.
It was no good thinking like this. I gripped the sides, and braced myself to lift it. As I did so, the top came away in my hand and the sides fell apart. I stared at the wreckage for a second, before making a small pile of the remains, and loading them into the back of my car and headed for the town dump. Driving through the gates, I looked around for my Jamaican friend. He wasn’t there. Slowly, I maneuvered the car towards the gaping jaws of the compacting machine. I parked, opened the back, took out some of the wooden pieces and walked over to the compactor. I was finding this very difficult. I couldn’t just throw this piece of my history away. I turned away and made for the chain link fence nearby. I leaned the dusty shelves against it. Then I went back for the rest. I revved the engine of the car and accelerated out of the dump. Glancing into the rear view mirror for one last look, I saw the attendant. He was collecting the wood. He would glue it together. Wouldn’t he?