There are cupboards in my flat I hardly ever open, drawers I haven’t rifled through in years. They are like some colonial outpost at the far reaches of a god-forsaken steppe that even the local district officer has forgotten about.
Matthew believed that you could never have enough storage space, so when he designed the renovations to the flat he put in closets wherever he could: banks of cabinets on the two walls of the galley kitchen, wall-to-wall closets in the bedroom, the usual cupboards in the bathroom and utility rooms and the more unusual ones, like the cupboard which was built in front of the main bay of pipes for the heating system and whose upper shelves had a depth of only five inches; the similarly shallow drawer that sat below the shelves opened just enough to slide a hand into, and that with some difficulty.
At first I thought we’d never use all this storage space. But we did. The bathroom closet filled with more towels than a family of twelve would use. Two large kitchen drawers were eventually dedicated to the cutlery. Even the five-inch drawer began to fill with things like erasers and rubber bands, rolls of adhesive tape and even a small bowl that, like a drawer within a drawer, itself came to be filled with one- and two-cent coins.
Stuff accumulated. Some of the objects arrived in the hands of guests, things like salt-and-pepper shakers and good-luck charms, Indonesian shadow puppets and wooden salad bowls. Others were purchased out of need or whimsy, like the miniature barn that was meant to store bread. Still others were acquired as a souvenir or bought on impulse, like the set of oversized soup tureens that were used for a single bouillabaisse supper, or testified to an abandoned interest, the sake cups and be-bop recordings of a short-lived enthusiasm that was soon extinguished.
The contents of the flat are like the finds of an archaeological dig, though one deposited horizontally across cabinets and drawers instead of vertically in layers of sediment. The six ceramic ramekins and poker chips spoke to a time when Matthew and I did a lot of entertaining, before he drifted away to spend his evenings down in his office hunched over his computer with delivery souvlaki and cruising chat rooms until the early hours of the morning. The 3 x 3 vinyl mat, folded and stored on a top shelf at the back of the bedroom closet, was witness to a later time, after Matthew had left of course, my time with Wacław. The training fins came even later.
Most of this stuff I never use. Stuff like the heavy stoneware we lugged back from a trip to Ireland, the playing cards emblazoned with figures from the French revolution, back issues of Men’s Health and Gourmet Magazine, the fish poacher and asparagus steamer. They are a legacy of a former life that will never be lived again, a legacy now to be found at the bottom of closets or the top cupboard shelves. Months will pass before I notice them, but then my eye will catch the greying twin-sized sheets from a bed we long got rid of or the hand-cranked ice crusher for cocktails I no longer mix. I’ll stumble across the VCR cassettes of porn and taped TV series that can no longer be played but I haven’t yet thrown them out.
I was up on a stool the other day rummaging through the top shelf of the cupboard above the washing machine, looking for the extra plate rack for the dishwasher that I knew I had stored there. It was all the way in the back, behind a platoon of vases and Mason jars and what was left of Matthew’s sour cherry brandy liqueur. Shifting the jars aside to get at the rack, I thought, why am I even saving this? And I couldn’t answer. And it was then I decided to get rid of it. Not just the Mason jar but the rest of the stuff, too, the painted wooden duck that sat on the mantle above the kitchen fireplace, its head turned to its tail as if looking back on the lake it will never return to, the tea towels that were too small and dildos which were too big, the whole lot.
But not all at once. I am not the abandoned and betrayed lover, who madly sets about stripping the house bare of all traces of the other, as if memory were wholly encapsulated in its manifestation as a preserved object and could so easily be eradicated. I don’t even want to purge the house of its memories. I just want to be unburdened of all this stuff. I always seem to be pushing useless stuff aside to get at something I need. I don’t want to purge the flat of memories. I just want to get rid of stuff that gets in the way.