In a month of unemployment I haven’t done any of the things I said I would do but I have managed to clean up the house a bit. The timing for this is good as it’s spring, though it hasn’t felt like renewal or rebirth or any of those happy clichés that one associates with spring. Instead it’s been heavy and hard and I’ve had to push myself to do even basic things like the vacuuming.
The dust in this place is endless. They say it’s the ‘black dust’ – ordinary dust mixed with Sydney’s pollution. And in this house there is cat hair, which is also endless. It really doesn’t seem to matter how much or how often I clean because it doesn’t make any difference: the place is always coated in a sticky grey dust.
I wanted it to be lighter. In the disturbed decision making process that surrounded my decision to leave work I imagined a lighter, easier life. Naturally that picture was set in a lighter, cleaner house. Less cluttered, less heavy. Of course, it hasn’t turned out that way. I don’t know whether it’s my age or my state of mind but even cleaning seems to have become complicated.
What to keep? What to throw away?
Behind the curtain in the lounge room, for example, I find two model cars parked neatly on the window sill. One is a yellow Mini Minor – I always wanted a Mini Minor. Three times I’ve come close to getting one. When I was 17, my mother and I saw a red Mini in a used car yard on the outskirts of Bendigo as we were driving home to Shepparton one Saturday. The price tag? $499. I was so obsessed that I badgered Mum into getting some friend of a friend who lived in Bendigo and knew about cars to go and check it out. It’s fine, he reported, except that it needs new rings. New rings??!! That would have cost at least another $500, not to mention how to get it home from Bendigo and I didn’t even have a proper licence yet. I let it go.
Ten years later when I was living in Canberra there was a lime green Mini parked on the corner with a ‘For Sale’ sign in the window. They wanted $1400 for it but I didn’t know what was wrong with it and I didn’t actually have $1400 and besides, I had a perfectly usable 1973 Corolla. A few weeks later my partner bought me a frypan for Christmas and said, ‘You know, I thought about buying you that Mini but I wasn’t sure you’d be up for it’. My heart ached, but I just had to let it go.
Even five years ago when I was looking to buy a different car and the local mechanic showed me a Mini that he was fixing up and it had a BMW engine in it and leather seats and all the trimmings but he wanted $22,000 for it and I didn’t trust him and I hate grey so I let it go.
I don’t remember when I bought a yellow model Mini Minor but I have an idea why, though I am not sure why I would keep it now, cluttering up the window sill and gathering dust.
The other car is a black VW Beetle with hippie flowers. You can guess that I love Beetles, too. I about buying one that I saw parked around the corner in - you guessed - Canberra, in my early 20s. They wanted $1600 for it but my friends took one look and turned up their noses. ‘Buying someone else’s problem,’ was their verdict, and I let it go.
The model VW came into my life in Nevada, of all places. It was in the late 90s and I was pursuing a stupid love affair, all the way to the US. We drove from San Francisco to Las Vegas and somewhere in Nevada in the middle of the night we stopped at a petrol station and on a whim, I bought a model VW Beetle for $7.99. That trip was nothing but an extended exercise in betrayal although, with the advantage of hindsight, I thank God that the betrayal came earlier (though not early enough) rather than later and just prefer to forget the whole thing though I have held onto the model car which is the only tangible relic from the whole episode.
I have enough Buddhism to know that attachment is the cause of all suffering. This ancient truth is, well, true. So why keep the model VW? What am I attached to? The love affair, which gave me much, much more misery than joy? The affair that, though I thought it about it way too much for way too long, I haven’t thought about it years now? Or something else?
A different life. A moment of possibility, glimpsed somewhere in the middle of the night in Nevada and never seen again. Often, I hear people talk about the importance of living without regrets. Sometimes I wonder if I have anything else.
The place is full of these random, useless objects. When I’m in a good mood I have been known to say, ‘Everything here has a story’. My friends - bless them - are too polite to say, ‘Yes, and that story is boring.’
The books – the place is full of them. Some people have been impressed by the books and I certainly was, in the past. There was a time when a collection of Foucault’s interviews was the thing that I desired most in life. Now I never look at them, and they just gather dust. But I can’t get rid of them. I would give them away, but nobody now is interested in a collection of Foucault’s interviews.
In my bedroom is the dressing table, which I remember buying back in the early 90s. I thought it was an antique. Turns out it was a reproduction but it has lived in a few houses, that dressing table. I’ve managed to clear off some of the clutter but there is a bowl full of jewellery that has pride of place. The jewellery is rubbish – things that I’m either allergic to (in my late 20s I became allergic to non-precious metals) or things that I have inherited from my mother and grandmother. I never wear any of it. The children to pass these things on to, I never had. Hell, I never even liked my grandmother.
Clearing away the jewellery I find fully half an inch of dust at the bottom of the bowl. The bowl itself is a relic – a pottery creation from art class in Year 7. Forty years I’ve carted that bowl around. Glazed in a delightful shade of 1970s brown, I imagine it reminiscent of Murano glass except that the bowl is hopelessly off-centre and wobbly. Regrets aside, it could use a wash.
As I turn it over in the sink I discover something long forgotten. My name is etched into the underside of the bowl. My full name, which I hated then as I hate it now. But there it is, etched in ceramic. ABIGAIL GROVES.