This short story was first read at Bare Lit Festival 2016 during the ‘Stories To Life’ session.
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It wasn’t hoarding: it was a form of survival. She could not appreciate that when she was younger, but she knew that now. Back then the weight of her parent’s possessions always felt too much. Stacks of rustling tartan-striped plastic bags loomed in colonised cupboards, the hastily-stitched seams straining to contain shrunken clothes, lightly-worn shoes and tightly-packed books and catalogues. The spare bedroom was the land of “Just In Case”. Once-loved items never to be thrown away were kept in exile waiting for reincarnation in another world back home. Old toys were squirrelled away for countless unknown cousins, and brand new gadgets from Maplin were set aside unopened, ready to be one day shipped across oceans and prove useful for those who could not buy them in whatever provincial market they frequented.
She understood it now. When you restart your life halfway across the world with nothing but a cheap suitcase filled with necessary items, everything you amass from that point on can feel some type of precious. These objects become symbolic of all that you have to show for your new life estranged from everything else you hold dear. They fill the spaces meant to be inhabited by extended family and absorb the echoes that would be lost in laughed exchanges in your mother tongue. She now understood her parents collections of disparate and mismatched objects, ephemera that represented an idea of what it meant to make a home here and thrive. But she was not them.
They had both gone now. Neither of them could take any of their worldly treasures with them, so alongside a modest red-bricked terraced house, she had inherited forty years worth of affirmations in the shape of bags and boxes and rooms full of abandoned belongings. It had taken the better half of the spring to work her way through the mounds, methodically sorting the half-forgotten into piles for donation, recycling, and landfill. If she was her mother she would have a pile of things to sell too, which would be repatriated to a recently vacated corner. Her mother’s resourceful intentions were always regulated to the elusive deadline of “some day”. But she was not her mother, so ritualistic trips were made to various charity shops, while every Tuesday morning the recycling and rubbish would be patiently waiting in their colour-coded refuse sacks for the low rumble of the garbage truck’s approach.
The squat little house now stood empty, completely empty for once in its colourful history. Even the good oak furniture and upholstered dining chairs had been loaded into rented vans by grateful freebie-hunters who had staked their claim on a freecycling website. All that was left were the carpets, the embossed wallpaper and the stippled ceilings, although a few months of steady work pulling up, pulling down and sanding off would see to them. It would be back-breaking, and already she could taste the sweat that would collect on her top lip as she engaged in this solitary exercise, but still, it had to be done. In fact, it was a task she looked forward to. She looped and tied the last black bin bag before straightening up and cracking her knuckles against her waist. The bare interiors would be temporary. They had left her the house, now she must fill it.