If we were necklaces, memory with its attendant flash-backs would be the string holding the sum of ours parts together. Sometimes, during the day, unsolicited images pop up. They appear to have nothing in common with our present concerns, yet they nudge us. I try not to push them away, as if they were revealing the hidden texture beneath the surface.
I was washing a blue wine glass tonight. It is faintly chipped but the dent is small enough not to give you a hare lip. I firmly resisted the inner voice telling me to throw it away. Torn or battered objects don’t usually offend me. I have a sneaking sympathy for them. The image of a cousin rose immediately. She was my mother’s sister daughter and was there every holiday. I did not question her presence. It just was. Then my parents stopped seeing her mother and she disappeared from my life. I forgot her easily, as you forget a nightmare as soon as you smell coffee brewing in the morning.
Then, twenty years later, I met her again in the street. She was profusely welcoming. She invited me on the spot to her apartment near the Etoile in Paris and showed me around as if she were a boat captain and I a new member of her crew. Fortunately, I knew the lift was there, ready to carry me down to the street again. I was no prisoner. This was not the eternity of a childhood holiday, this was life. She moved to her kitchen and her hand fell on a plate. ‘It’s chipped!’ she said in disgust and dropped it in the maw of the metal dustbin. There was not a moment’s hesitation. In the clean, bloodless kitchen the only thing I could think of was a guillotine.
The man who was my partner a few years ago also disliked chipped crockery. His grounds were quite different. ‘Germs,’ he said, ‘they lodge themselves in the nooks and crevices. See?’ He pointed at the offending item. I could see nothing. But I nodded and saved the wounded plates and glasses by packing them in a cardboard box. They felt like ugly Sleeping Beauties, parts of myself I could not attend to right then – parts that had to wait in the shed. Until finally I felt I had nearly entirely moved into the shed.
I cannot imagine two more different people than that man and my cousin. One was capable of many kindnesses, the cousin still haunts my dreams. Unkindness can become a kind of sport, like saving can be to misers. Why do people influence me so much, I asked myself? But the blue glass is washed and safe in my cupboard, alive and well, ready for use. My mother loved crystal glasses. ‘They can sing,’ she used to say. ‘See?’ And flicking a delicate finger at one like a tiny conductor, she would make me listen. Just as my father made me sit on the floor of the Sainte Chapelle to ‘listen’ to the music of the stained glass windows. Even though so many other things have been lost, I brought my mother’s glasses all the way to Australia.
The Russians say that objects have little souls. Yet the other day, one of the metal retainers holding the shelf in the cupboard fell off and when I took a glass the whole shelf tipped over. About twenty of my mother’s glasses broke.
Only two survived, huddling together.Though I took a photograph of all the others, I felt no sadness, just numbness as if time had tied a knot in my necklace. Objects need to be respected and loved, but like us all, their time must come. I needed new Australian vessels, new ways to think about things.