The Ghosts of Things

by CJ Stone

So I’ve managed to move at last. Three days of intense activity, driving to and fro between the two addresses, two days of cleaning, a whole day of tidying up, and now, here I am, firmly established in my new home.

I’m sitting in my room, having found a place for everything at last: surrounded by all my ornaments, my books, my pictures, feeling homely and comfortable.

It’s odd how inanimate things can carry such a weight of meaning. They are only objects after all. They have no life. And yet, looking at my things, seeing them across the room, it’s as if I bring them to life with my awareness, as if, by holding them in view, they draw something from me that makes them alive.

There’s a shared history there. They are familiar to me. They remind me of my family.

Take that green and yellow pottery parrot, for instance. It sits on the shelf on the bookcase between two rows of books – between Confucius and Karl Marx, the I-Ching and the Communist Manifesto – perched on a pottery tree stump, hunched forward slightly, as if it’s about to take off.

I don’t know how old it is. It probably has no financial value. There’s a chunk out of the base which someone has tried to glue back in.

It’s been in my life for as long as I can remember. Always there, always in the background, always poised in that same position, on the threshold of flight.

I rescued it from my Dad’s house, before we got rid of the furniture.

It was in a glass-fronted cabinet in the dining room, where my Mum had obviously placed it for safe keeping. I don’t know why she valued it. I don’t know why I do either. I guess because it reminds me of her.

There’s an old wooden clock ticking away on the shelf above. I found that in Dad’s attic. It used to be in my bedroom when I was a little boy. And on the shelf beneath there are three miniature urns, not much bigger than eggcups, which once contained Creme de Menthe.

I drank the entire contents of all three when I was about eight years old. I popped the foil seals, squeezed down the corks with my thumb, and sipped the sickly, sweet liquid with guilty glee. I don’t know if I liked the taste or the effect, but I was sure Mum wouldn’t like it if she found out. I’ve been carrying the guilt ever since.

They came from Malta, where Dad was stationed in the 50s. Dad was in the Navy. Mum and I joined him and, later, my sister Julia was born there. We spent several years on that sun-soaked little island, during which time I lost my Brummie accent and became as sunburnt as a native. Looking at the urns reminds me of the island, the crumbling limestone walls, the harbour full of ships, the wild seas and the dusty streets.

If anyone looked at this stuff they would consider it junk. None of it has any value. And yet there are stories there, stories which only I know. Stories that will be lost once I am gone.

I think that’s why I am a writer. A writer is interested in stories. It’s the stories that make the objects come alive. Without the stories they are nothing but bits of tat upon a shelf.

I won’t go on listing my possessions. Suffice it to say that they all have meaning, they all have a place, that they are all inscribed upon my life in some way and that I am incomplete without them.



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From The Whitstable Gazette 15/11/18

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