Thursday, 7 April 2011

Cupboard clearance

I am discovered, sat on the floor, turning out my third cupboard. Hacked about toilet rolls, red ribbon tied round scrap paper, uncompleted copies of a unicorn newspaper, half-made dinosaurs, and endless pieces of crudely cut foam - wings, tails, heads, bodies, beaks.

The children assemble the home-made birds and fly them from the roof. When the foam birds fly, they land in the trees and won't come out. The children tie lengths of string to their tails, so they can be tugged back from their hiding places. Their wings wriggle loose and their beaks drop off but the tail comes home, the dismembered body dangling.

I've been quietly shovelling the worst of the stuff into sacks. With each filled sack, I've been slipping quietly to the bins, trying not to let the door click and disturb the distant play. I want to clear away without a trace, to leave the house empty, as clean and as empty as it can be. But the children's stuff, it's everywhere. Under beds, in boxes, in drawers, in cupboards. I can't take it all home; I can't leave it. Secretly, I want not to be defined here, no records, no mementos, no treasured items loving placed to wait for our return.

Shark spoils my secret clearance by coming in on me looking for sewing needles or string or paper or toilet rolls to cut up and stuff in cupboards. She glowers at me and says in an even tone, 'What are you doing?'

Gripping my sack to stop it bursting open and spilling its illegal contents all over the floor, I mutter the same things: insects make homes in old stuff and there might be a typhoon and daddy will fall over and break his leg and the landlord will come round and mend the window and you can fill the cupboard up again.

Shark stares at me. She has thought, long and hard about all this. Insects are interesting and typhoons are exciting and daddy has another leg and the landlord can come round anytime he wants. England, by contrast, has all sorts of restrictions on her liberties. There is no beach, no banana trees, no village with a Cake Lady, and no waterside restaurant selling lemon ice tea. In England there are roads and cars and people like parents telling you the hours you can come and go while trying to menace you with strangers called Truancy Patrol. But here there is freedom and island paths and a new friend called Louise and the sea. There is the sea.

Frowning, Shark goes to the sack, peers inside and pulls out every paper she can see, drawn with Tiger's horse. 'You're not taking the horses to the bin' she says. She extracts Squirrel's copied out fairy poems, her maps of the island - one fistful of hundreds that she's made - then she slaps them all back in the cupboard, and stands over me with her hands on her hips, as if to say, 'Make one move in that direction and there'll be trouble.'

Tiger looks at her in disgust and says 'You can take it all to the bin for all I care'. Squirrel slips away from the tidying scene, her arms filled with treasures she's swept up from her favourite corner.

I don't say anything. I resolve silently to wait until Shark is in bed and fast asleep. Then I will drink half a bottle of wine and get out my sacks again.

She rummages around in front of me, picking out stuff, until the plastic is flat on the floor and the cupboard is full. She wags her finger at me and in her no-nonsense voice says, 'And I want the foam birds. I want the swallow, and the starling, and when you find the pigeon you can put that back in the cupboard too.'