Monday, September 20, 2010

Be careful what you write. . .

This is a piece of fiction I wrote more than a decade ago. It has no title.


“Clear it out,” she said to herself. “All of it. Everything.”

It was a new year and soon it would be a new life in a new place: there would be no call for the past. The past only choked life out of the living.

It was the future that mattered.

And so to prepare for her move into the future she set about jettisoning anything that extended too far back into her mind. She threw out all her check stubs and financial records that were more than a year old -- “Trouble if I’m audited,” she thought. “But I’ll risk it.”

She threw out books that her ex-boyfriend had given her: The Enchanted April, Mulliner Nights, Persephone’s Torch, Black Money, The Eyewitness Guide to London. She tore her Flower Power poster off the wall and threw it away. She threw away a cactus plant that her mother had given her: she’d never liked it, anyway.

She had six months worth of Architectural Digest magazines piled on a stand at the end of the sofa. Not that she had ever dreamed of living that way: but looking at the magazines had once rested her eyes and relaxed her mind, providing her with perfect rooms and hallways that no one else could inhabit. Now she believed that that kind of escape was as foolish as worrying about the past. She tied the magazines neatly with twine and dumped them into the recycling bin. There would be no place for escape in her future life.

Among the chotchkas piled on top of the television set was a porcelain gnome no more than two inches high. It had been willed to her by her grandfather, and she never had understood that. She hated gnomes, and her grandfather had died a drunk. She threw it away.

She opened her closet door and was astonished by the memories she would have to be rid of: dresses she had worn so seldom that she could still recall the occasion, suits with interesting stains pointing back to moments of embarrassment or passion, or both. She folded them away neatly into boxes for the Salvation Army, thinking “Sippy’s party. The Museum of Time, where I met Frederick. The interview for the job at Global. Twenty-seventh birthday.

Oh my god. Trip to Mexico with Mom & Dad. Ugh, was my taste in clothes that bad? The night Carl proposed. Wuf, slinky! What a color! I’ll miss this, but... out it must go!”

Of the two rows of shoes extending from wall to wall there was only one pair (made from canvas and molded rubber) that was still comfortable to both her feet and her memory. The rest were boxed or bagged and carried down to the battered pick-up in the yard (“Have to get rid of that, too,” she thought).

In her dresser drawer she found black underwear that she didn’t want to think about, and a wad of love letters from Paul. They were good love letters, not too sickeningly smarmy, full of marginal illustrations and wishes. She looked at them briefly, and knew that looking was a mistake. She crumpled them up as best she could, carried them to the bathroom sink and burned them. 

The worst was still to come. There was a store room off the kitchen, and of course the attic. She could have left the contents of these for the future occupants of the house, whoever they might be, but that would have been doing the thing halfway: the boxes with their objects and subjects would have haunted her if they remained behind, intact, waiting for her possible failure, her potential return. It all had to go.

The first thing she found was a carton of her brother’s old comic books. Her brother was dead. Of what use were these? She found a broken lamp and a clothes bag full of dresses belonging to her mother. Forties stuff: eye-burning reds and sweeping collars. Stylish in its time,  but now? Who would ever wear them again? Not her -- and they no longer fit anyone she knew. Get rid of them.

In the attic there were trolls and coloring books starring Ricochet Rabbit and King Linus the Lion-Hearted. There was a hot potato game called Time Bomb and a Shari Lewis Draw & Play set. There were her Barbies and Kens and the corvette and the wardrobe full of tiny clothes. She thought oh my god oh my god I can’t go back that far, it’s useless, it’s worse than lugging around a corpse. It’s over. And one by one she carried the boxes of things down to the pick-up. Take it to the dump this afternoon, she thought. Don’t wait until morning. Her only wish was that she owned a trash compactor big enough to crush it all.

At last the only thing left was a smallish trunk containing charcoal drawings signed by her father. He had been a pharmacy clerk all of his life and as far as she knew had never owned any ambition for anything else. Yet here were pictures bearing his name: bowls of fruit and nature scenes and a nude woman, not her mother. None were any good: certainly she wouldn’t have wanted any of them hanging on her walls. Her father had made the right choice.

There were too many to burn. She took the trunk outside and buried it, with all of its contents, in the back yard. There they would slowly rot, until nothing remained, as it was with all things of the past.
By the time she had finished she was covered in dust and dried sweat, and had cobwebs sticking in her hair. She took off her clothes, bagged them and threw them away, then stepped into the shower to wash everything off.

“Perhaps I should cut my hair,” she thought. It had never been short or tidy. To change that would be a fine first step into the future.

When she stepped out of the shower she saw that the bathroom mirror was empty. Steam from the shower had fogged the glass, but when she wiped it clear with a towel and stood naked in front of it she saw only the empty shower dripping with moisture, and the dull star-patterned shower curtain pulled back against the wall, and the towel in her hand floating ghostlike in empty space. She had completely gone.

This pleased her. She went out into her new life and became nobody.

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