The Memorial

Susie Helme

Why wasn’t SHE at least HELPING? I grumbled halfway through Day 2. She was still his daughter, after all; I stopped being his wife years ago. She was passing quarantine at her boyfriend’s house, claiming that 14 days wasn’t long enough. ‘Anyway, I hated all the stuff, Mum. It was the main reason I never visited him.’ So, here was the ex-wife, wearing a mask and those horrid see-through gloves nurses have to wear, digging through all the stuff of a broken life. ‘You’ll probably find treasures in there,’ Natty tried to console me. He had always claimed that this memento picked up in Indonesia was ‘a museum piece’; this Turkmen rug inherited from his grandmother was ‘worth $5,000’.

I had decided that everything To Get Rid Of would go in the living room; anything I wanted to keep would go in the spare bedroom, the one Natty never slept in. I looked around the house; almost everything was To Get Rid Of, this pile of old books nobody read, these so-called ‘museum pieces’ which had gathered dust for decades, reels and reels of old films of his childhood holidays nobody ever looked at—the old projector was broken, anyway; they no longer made the parts for it. The Hiroshige print he’d so bragged about, his dad had bought in Japan just after the war, was clearly a forgery. Even I could tell, just from comparing it to photos of that print in art catalogues. So far, the only things I’d wanted were some old baby pictures of Natty that weren’t quite good enough for me to have made copies of.

I had the Indonesian artefact, a seated warrior figure—too ugly for anyone to want in their living room–appraised, and found it was only worth about $50. One of the arms was missing, too. I listed it on eBay for $20. The Turkmen rug was clearly machine-made and had moth-holes in it. I would get it appraised, for the hell of it, when I could get Natty to help me lift it into the car. I forced myself to keep the fake Hiroshige. ‘Maybe someday I’ll laugh about all this,’ I thought.

I piled some of his useless junk onto his favourite chair, strands of cane broken off and jutting uncomfortably into one’s behind. I balanced on the arm a coffee mug with the handle broken off and a book without its cover. On the other arm I made a little mountain of some of the so-called treasures. On the seat I placed the horrid wooly cardigan he never wore, thought about it for a few minutes, then turned the cardigan upside down, draping one of the arms across his slippers with the toes worn through. I took a photo of it and had it printed A4 size. I pinned it to the bulletin board, next to the already-kept doctor’s appointments and the already-expired supermarket coupons, and honoured it, as a memorial, more in anger than in grief.

%d bloggers like this: