Hard Surfaces

Susie Helme

The rain hasn’t let up for three days, and I feel a sore throat coming on.

I’ve been careful, wearing a mask the whole time, and those horrible blue plastic gloves nurses have to use. But they say it can live on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours.

I’ve spent the last two weeks clearing out my ex-husband’s flat, and that’s two weeks of my life I’m never going to get back. Our daughter hasn’t lifted a finger. ‘I don’t want anything to do with all his blasted stuff,’ Natty said. Right after the funeral, she pissed off to her boyfriend’s.

He always claimed his junk was so valuable, ‘museum pieces’, some of them, he said. He left pages of instructions in his will as to what to do with this or that—instructions I largely ignored, to be honest. Oxfam wasn’t taking donations. Nobody wanted to touch all those hard surfaces.

I’m sitting in my car, wishing for cough drops, longing to cleanse myself from feelings of dirt, resentment, hoping to clear my heart so that some appropriate grief might creep in. I watch the rain falling on all his stuff piled into the skip. All that stuff—the last 30 years of his life—just dumped in a skip, getting soaked in the rain.

I survey the boot of my car, the few ‘museum pieces’ I’d kept. Are there any hard surfaces in there that I should worry about? On top is that photo album of Natty’s baby pictures, the infamous photo album.

She had grown more and more estranged from her father, more and more crowded out by stuff, but one Thanksgiving he entertained her and her boyfriend, and he’d gone through the boxes and boxes of photos he’d obsessively saved. Goodness knows, he had about five copies of every one he’d ever taken. He had chosen 30 or so of the masterpieces, and they’d spent an enjoyable hour showing Dennis what a cute baby she’d been.

Now, people don’t generally like their parents showing their boyfriend their baby pictures. But Natty was touched. He’d taken the trouble to select out the 10,000 or so non-masterpieces. He looked her in the eye when he remembered this or that occasion. He told Dennis how much he loved her. He paid attention to HER for a change.

That Christmas under his tree for Natty, he’d piled an obscene mountain of cataloguing supplies—an expensive Album-Maker kit, empty photo albums in five pastel colours, a big box to store the albums in, ten packs of plastic slipcovers for the photos, three different sizes of scissors, a labelling gun with ten extra rolls of tape, ten boxes of sticky-backed corners in colours to match the albums, five packs of fabric labels and a 24-set of metallic-coloured pens.

She left it all under his tree; she didn’t even open some of the parcels. I see now, she hadn’t even taken home the photo album.

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