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 the 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 the cabinet’s complete collapse. I considered what to do with it. The cabinet had been stored in the garage for about eight months, ever since we’d moved from our big house into the cottage. I had thought it would be perfect for the cottage because it was small, and yet I hadn’t managed to find a spot for it in our new home. The cottage had turned out to be even smaller than I had imagined.
I picked my way across the garage, 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 there. I reached the cabinet, and checked it from several angles to see whether 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 builder’s dust. I ran a finger over the top of the cabinet, drawing a heart, then an arrow, then my and Jay’s initials.
I wondered whether to take it to the furniture repair man who had 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 glue it back together. It only needed some wood glue, surely. I visualized the enthusiastic young man’s face as I presented him with this antique that only required 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. It also housed 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 the cabinet. 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.
I brought my thoughts back to the cabinet, as 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 the cabinet, really? Some nice pieces of mahogany that a Victorian cabinet-maker had assembled into a piece of furniture. That was the way to look at it. Just pieces of wood. And surplus wood should be taken to the town dump.
There was that nice Jamaican man at the dump, 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 could probably use a cabinet, 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 would like it.
I had lived with the cabinet for at least thirty-five years, but 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 it, but whenever my sisters and I went to her house 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 the small silver toffee hammer. The lucky girl would strike the toffee as hard as possible, and distribute the shattered remains to the rest. I could still recall the way that toffee stuck to the roof of my mouth.
When she died, some years later, she left me this little cabinet. I was sorely in need of furniture, since I had married young and had no money to spare for luxuries. Victorian furniture was in fashion then, and the neat lines of the cabinet appealed to me. I polished its rich mahogany 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, it had been moved to the kitchen, and when I moved to America, the cabinet had come 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 had found it in the basement, filled with old letters and photographs. I’d moved the documents into a plastic bin.
It was no good thinking like this. I gripped the top of the cabinet, and braced myself to lift it. As I did so, the top of it came away in my hand and the sides fell apart. I stared at it for a second, before making a small pile of the remains, and loading them into the back of my car. I tried not to look into the rear view mirror as I 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 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 from the compactor and made for the chain link fence nearby. I leaned the mahogany shelves against the fence. Then 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 dump attendant at the chain link fence. He was collecting the wood. He would glue it together. Wouldn’t he?