By noon, we had gone through the contents of every musty box and sorted into three piles: keep, chuck and sell. A cloying smell of mould, decay and lavender mothballs had settled over the living room. I opened a window. It was much colder today but it was the lesser of two evils. The ‘keep’ pile was small – just a fruit bowl, a candelabra and a mirror. They may have all been from some kind of famous manufacturer, but I didn’t care. I didn’t usually go for really old things, on account of them giving me the creeps, but these had their own charms. The blue floral patterns on the fruit bowl would go nicely with the colour scheme in the dining room, the candelabra would be a good reason to finally start using all the nice smelly candles I got for Christmas and then promptly forgot about, and the mirror was practically begging me to keep it. I needed a new one to fix my hair in the hallway anyway. This was the kind of town where you didn’t even look scruffy going to fetch bread, eggs and milk.
“What do you think, Freya?” I sat back on my knees.
“Well it’s all ugly, so I wouldn’t keep anything else” she mumbled, barely looking up from scrolling.
Carefully, I pushed myself to my feet. I had recently turned forty and all of a sudden I felt every year.
Freya begrudgingly helped me clear the unwanted things back into their respective boxes. I scrawled CHUCK or SELL in thick black letters on each one. My ‘late’ Aunt Isabel seemed even more of a tragic figure than ever. There were some old, yellowed papers in the box, covered in a faded scrawl of tiny black letters, but there was no way I could read it. The letters were just too small and close. I had no idea just how old they could really be. I had decided in the end to put them in the SELL box. Maybe there would be an expert I could ask when I sold the other things. There were probably regular auctions populated by shuffling retirees with a paperweight addiction around here. There were probably also pretty little antique shops with twee names full of twee things nobody ever needed. I had never been to either. I bet they smelled bad too.
It was a dark autumn afternoon and I was staring out of the back window, procrastinating the commission I had been finalising for weeks, when I heard the front door go. James stomped in.
“I thought we agreed that muddy boots go in that silly porch thing” I yelled, scowling at my own reflection in the glass.
“Yeah, these are just my heavy duty socks” I could hear the grin in his voice.
I decided to willingly suspend my disbelief. Annoyingly, I had forgotten the word the chattering classes used to designate that half-porch on the front of the house. Wellies room? Mud room? Freezing cold dust room? I gave up. Over the years, I had become increasingly convinced that acquiring new languages pushed obscure words in your own language out of the other ear.
James scooted into the kitchen and hugged me from behind. It always felt a bit silly when he did that because he was barely a centimetre taller than me. I grinned. A gust of cold air followed him in from the door.
“Been working hard today, I see” he murmured knowingly into my ear.
“Yeah, I know. It’s children’s literature this time,” I sighed, “the publisher wants it by Thursday. He seems to think the amount of words is directly related to the level of work involved. But it always takes me far longer to write for children. I don’t know how they think, and I don’t know how they speak anymore. Freya’s too old and moody to help me.”
I could tell James was only half listening already. He worked outside, I worked upstairs. It was day and night.
“Sounds delightful. I was cutting bonsais all day for some fancy couple down the road. The Harmans. I feel like a pillar of the community already. Just imagine if their perfectly trimmed balls got out of shape! Just what would the neighbours say,” by this point we were both giggling uncontrollably. I had a mental image of him perched at the top of a ladder, trimming a bonsai ball with nail scissors, tongue sticking out with the utmost concentration. My giggling turned into a breathless cackle.
“Alright, there’s no need to flatter me. Anyway, where’s Freya? And fancy a takeaway? I’m starving.”