Bin bags, she thinks, that’s what she needs and so she goes back into the kitchen, admires the empty work surfaces, the lack of clutter, the neat lines.
This house is beginning to resemble her own, everything in a place and a place for everything.
She resolves that in a few days, when this is over, that she will go home and go through her possessions, neatness, she decides is not enough, there must be more order, no possibility of stray objects for strangers to go through, to make snap decisions about her based on what is left in the cutlery draw.
It suddenly hits her, hits her so hard that she has to sit down, legs folding, almost collapsing onto a chair, that when she dies, it will be strangers, at best, friends, colleagues who will go through her home, make the three piles, bag things up and dispose of them, dispose of what remains of her life.
It is a horribly sobering thought. She shakes her head, tries to physically dislodge this thought, the path that this way of thinking will take her.
She has been alone for too many days, not spoken to anyone, not eaten enough, been too caught up with this task and with her notebook, the mysterious clippings.
She needs, really needs to get a grip.
Why, she wonders, is she assuming a future of loneliness, singlehoodness, a death alone.
For gods’ sake, she’s 41, she could meet someone tomorrow, fall madly in love, even have a baby,maybe two.
Her life could be filled with children, grandchildren.
She is not going alone, unmourned, that sort of thinking belongs to a Victorian novel.
She abandons the binbags, instead picks up her phone from the kitchen table, first she will eat and then she will ring a couple of friends, remind herself that,even in this house of death, she is very much still alive.
An hour later, replete with pepperoni pizza, garlic bread and a healthy measure of her parents’ emergency brandy and soothed by a silly, inconsequential catch up with a friend, she feels the ghost of future loneliness fading away.
She feels strong, nurtured and a second glass of brandy is slipping down easily, warming her.
Sipping it, she moves to the sofa, recklessly ups the thermostat on the central heating and refuses to allow her fathers’ voice , his carefulness to stop her taking care of herself. Then she wraps the duvet around her shoulders and begins to read the latest story.
She has to remind herself that she has written these, that they are her work. The process has been so intense, so strange that she could, if she allowed herself to indulge in further fancifulness, almost feel that the stories have written themselves.
This one – “The man who loved his work more than his wife”, surprises her less than some of the others. It has a ring of familiarity, of personal truth.
She remembers sitting at her own kitchen table, the inevitable pile of marking next to the tea pot with the hand knitted ironic tea cosy and the Spitting Image mugs, listening to Josh and his plans for the English Dept, which were, if you listened carefully, actually plans for Josh, promotions, study, recognition, headship before he hit 40 and the way his eyes lit up, entranced by the vision for his future that he was creating as he sat there and her realization that this vision did not, actually, include her at all.
Since Josh, she has been careful to choose men with little ambition, little drive. She fiends their company soothing, easy on the mind and her own ambition, never a very robust plant, has quietly withered and has been, at least by her, mostly unmourned.
Her head drops and she allows herself to slip into the delicious almost sleep, stretches luxuriously, considers simply falling properly asleep, but the unfinished task, the piles of sorted object, just awaiting bagging, nudges at her. She knows that she will not settle, not properly, until the task is finished.
She grimaces, annoyed with herself, her inability to just let things slip and heads back into the kitchen to grab the black bags and complete the first sort of the spare room.
The house is, for the first time since she arrived, warm enough and stopping to unplug the kitchen radio, she needs some music, some noise, she starts to head out of the door and then stops, retraces her steps, looks more carefully at the plug socket.
The kitchen radio has lived on the breakfast cereal shelf for as long as she can remember. The radios themselves have changed over the years, but their location has never varied, placed between glass jar one and two, of three, each filled with a different breakfast, carefully decanted from boxes straight after the big weekly shop.
Under jar 1 – usually corn flakes, sometimes those mini shredded wheat, there is a carefully folded piece of newsprint, the jar firmly over it, making sure that there is no chance of the paper moving, getting lost.
She leans across, tilts the jar and picks up the clipping, unfolding it, smoothing it and reading the headline.