In a small wooden box, rectangular and russet, are a mixture of things. Things which I have decided to keep. I’ve never really used these things much, and I probably never will, but they are kept anyway. These objects tell the story of who I used to be.
The box once held chocolates, and was perched on a shelf inside an overpriced café where she used to work. A week after my 25th Birthday the chocolates were gone. The raspberry Champaign truffle dust had been sucked from the corners, and soon I was looking at a perfect blank space. A space where I could keep memories together, so they could talk and mix and turn into special little reminders. A compact collection daring me to move on, to change my shoes and go to that café (we will get to that). At the same time these little reminders make me want to stay in their time forever. So, what do we find in the box?
The two most noticeable objects in the box are watches. Both broken. Both were presents from the same person. One is imbued with Christmas warmth, silver, chunky and un-linked. One is slim, minimalist and gold, strapped with quality wedding-gift-leather. One claims it is constantly 3:05, the other 12:40. In this box, time has stopped. One was given to me two years before she died, the other two month. It doesn’t matter which is which. They both serve the same purpose.
The most tangled item in the box is a pair of back-up headphones. Heftier than the standard issue, almost usable as ear stretchers, and with lesser sound quality. Still, these I feel like I need. The brief escapism I get from listening to music on the walk to work is the only thing keeping me from quitting. She used to worry when I put on a song on for her, said everything I listened to was depressing. It never used to be. I would enjoy walking to work, mismatching the songs playing in my ear to the mundane morning surroundings. An old lady walking her poodle- STEAAAALLL THE CHILDREENNNN IF I DON’T PAY THE RANSOMMMMM, AND I’LL NEVER SEE ‘EM AGAIN IF I SQUEAL TO THE COPS! A bunch of children getting the bus to school- THOUGH THEY MURDERED SIX MILIIIIOOOOOON, IN THE OVENS THEY FIRED. THE GERMANS NOW TOO HAVE, GOD ON THEIR SIDE! Market stalls being assembled- THE BOOK OF LOVE IS LONG AND BORING, NO ONE CAN LIFT THE DAMN THING. Now the songs I listen to serve more as a reminiscence than a distraction. More than ever, I feel guilty listening to ‘depressing’ songs, as she would call them. Perhaps because I attach them to montages of our past, rather than the trivial scenes of the present. Bus rides to the cinema together- SOMETIMES ITS LIKE SOMEONE TOOK A KNIFE BABY, EDGY AND DULL, AND CUT A SIX INCH VALLEY THROUGH THE MIDDLE OF MY SOUL. Drinking super-sized beers on the balcony in Lecco- YOUR FACE, YOUR RACE, THE WAY THAT YOU TALK, I KISS YOU, YOUR’E BEAUTIFUL, I WANT YOU TO WALK, WE’VE GOT FIIIIIIVEEE YEARRRS! It’s comforting to know I don’t have to go a day without my morning ritual. I tend to quickly skip ‘our’ song before the first note lands.
I have to be careful when rummaging around the box, because wrapped in a thin sheet of plastic are spare nails and bolts, sharp and ready. It wasn’t until the past couple of years that I really started taking care of things I own. I remember building the furniture of our home. Some of it is slightly crooked and unfinished but it has stayed standing. She made sure I kept hold of any leftover pieces, doubtful of my flat-pack assembly expertise, sure the bookshelf was about to fail and rain pages over the floor, or the T.V. stand would bend at the knees. Ever since, I tend to pick up nuts, screws, bolts and pins whenever I see them. I’ve learned that some things just can’t be fixed. If any of this cheap Ikea clobber breaks however, I know I can put it back together. Inanimate objects, I can save.
Neatly resting against the side of the box is a picture, the only printed picture I’ve kept. It’s an amateur attempt to capture something striking, over-exposed and faded. On the back is written ‘Prague 2016.’ Actually, the picture is of Karlstejn Castle. Emblazoned centrally in the picture is one of the castle’s spires. The edges of the print are too bright and bleached to see our faces, making it seem as if we weren’t even present in that moment. But we were. We were there because apparently Prague is ‘the best city in the world’ and I had to see ‘this idyllic little village just a train ride away’. In reality Prague was searing. The Astronomical Clock was under construction, so all we could see was scaffolding. We were drawn into tourist trap restaurants like dumb hungry flies. The ‘idyllic village’ was under siege by wasps, two of which stung my ear and arm. The Franz Kafka museum was too expensive. I was sweaty. She was secretly irritated. The best part of the trip was shopping for Czech film posters, one of which still hangs above our bed. We never got round to watching that film. I wish we spent our time there having more fun. There is no denying how beautiful it could have been. I still enjoy looking at this picture of her favourite place. I still enjoy how time has not ruined a building so old. I like to think it’s haunted by old royalty and people who belong there.
Whenever I open the box there’s always one item I have to remove instantly: a cheap and awkward guitar capo. It’s the only item that hasn’t found a space, made of funny-shaped metal and woven black fibre. I was going to buy a better one, but I wanted to learn how to play properly first. I bought the guitar in the first place so I could learn how to play songs that I liked. Visions would often occupy my mind of me playing to a group of family and friends around a campfire. They’d be impressed at my natural rhythm and understated voice. Truth is the songs I did learn nobody knew or liked, and the one time I played it in front of a crowd I kept getting requests I didn’t know. Frustration reddened my cheeks until I nearly used the guitar as fire fuel. The smoothest act I ever did pull involved this capo and my plastic guitar, however. She arrived home from work one night and was greeted to a candle lit room. I positioned myself in the centre of the floor and sang a song I had learned that day called ‘Once I was’. At first she was not impressed. “Fuck sake, what are you doing?” she tried to ask but I interrupted her: ONCE I WAS A LOVER, AND I SEARCHED BEHIND YOUR EYES FOR YOOUUUUU. She cringed so much, but deep down I know she enjoyed it, found it funny and endearing. After that she encouraged me to learn some finger picking techniques for songs she liked, and I was getting pretty good. Problem is, once I had nobody to play her songs to, I just put the guitar down and placed the capo in the box to keep from losing it. I don’t know if I ever will buy a new capo. I’d have to relearn all the old stuff first.
By far the strangest thing in the box is a little Lego version of myself. It’s also my favourite item. I remember unwrapping it on Valentine’s Day and instantly recognising the assembly of myself. I’m wearing a plastic blue cap, a two-dimensional woolly coat and some jeans. My yellow cylindrical head beholds a bearded, dopy looking face. I’m even carrying a miniature copy of my favourite book! It baffles me to think that she knew me so well that she could assemble five tiny pieces of plastic and capture my essence. All I ever wanted was for someone to know me that well. I returned the favour the following Valentine’s Day and together our Lego-selves decorated a shelf near our front door, greeting visitors as they entered our home. One day her Lego-self dropped from the shelf and seemed to disappear. We searched the shoe rack, under the rug, even outside, but to no avail. That happens sometimes. One second something is there and then it just seems to vanish. Only my Lego figure rests in the box now. Making a new version of her has crossed my mind but I’m scared to do so. Frightened I’ll create a false image. I worry I’ll need more pieces and won’t be able to find them. I often wonder, if someone was to make a new Lego-me, would it look the same? Would it be as funny or friendly? My mother would probably choose child-like clothes and a little baby head. I prefer the dopy, cap-wearing image of me.
Only two more items remain in the box, and they’re both the newest editions. The first is a collection of bookmarks from my favourite café (which I’m counting as a single item). We used to go to this café every so often, normally at my request. She said it was trying too hard with the book-stacked table legs, newspaper covered counter tops, lazy jazz and skinny art-degree waiters. Personally, I enjoyed the place. I haven’t worked up the courage to go back yet. Each half-read novel on our bookcase reminds me that I should. Whenever I imagine myself there it’s like I’m watching a movie. I’m a sharp jawed intellectual, mixing cigarette smoke and hard coffee. I’m scribbling notes into moleskin notepad and pushing my hair back. It looks nothing like me. Some blonde with dinner plate eyes and a funny accent admires me from across the room. Sexual energy trails between chair legs, and swirls coffee steam. Eventually I catch a glimpse of her eyes and freckled nose. I smile slowly. The ‘movie’ I imagine myself in then devolves into a perfume advert. We flirt and chase each other around an empty European city. For some reason I take my shirt off, and she bites my jaw. The woman in my movie looks nothing like her. I feel guilty. The café will have to wait for now. When all of my bookmarks are lost between forgotten pages, I might return for more.
The other, and last item is a spare set of shoelaces I received in the post with my new trainers. I’ve always been an old-school trainer kind of person. I would wear a pair of Sambas, Originals or Classic and not much else. Usually suede and mute colours. Recently I decided to try and branch about a bit. I thought it’s about time I did. So, I ordered these colourful, but still casually-styled trainers. Instead of grey or tan they’re teal, patched and popular. Currently, plain white laces are keeping them together, keeping me within the realm of my old self. Keeping me comfortable. These laces, the ones in the box, are also teal, just slightly brighter than the actual shoe. I tried them out once before, just around the house, but my feet felt too noticeable. In my periphery it seemed like they were glowing and effervescing. A pop-art shoe, in place of a realist shoe. Perhaps I’ll try them again one day, when I’m ready. I could wear them on my café adventure. They don’t fit the European-perfume-advert-city aesthetic, but that’s not truly what I want. I just want to make a new start. With blue laces tied, I will go for it. Just small step outside our door, so I can leave a footprint somewhere else but here.
For now, these are the only items that live in my box. In the future I’m sure I will have collected more knick-knacks and things. However crowded my box gets, these memories will always remain. I might one day come across someone else with a box of things. We could swap items and share each other’s pain and pleasure, filling in any gaps so that there is no room left. But then I think the box will just get bigger. Perhaps when I’m old and the thread of time has stitched me up, I will have so many trinkets that they will be able to bind together and form an image of myself, messy plastic, tangled wiring, page torn and fabric soft. Perhaps then, I can be whole.