No-longer-living things are everywhere in this house.
They shouldn’t be shocked by this. Not really. Not if they thought about it. No-longer-living things sit in their sinks too, and hide in their medicine cabinets, parade upon their countertops, loiter in corners of garages, and drape apathetically over their chairs. Capitalist clutter fills up every curve of their homes, objects composed of the once alive: wine corks, rapeseed oil, and violin strings, to name a just a few.
I needed something garish, a salient signal of a living thing. I bought a Pathos—a hardy plant that featured intense pure green leaves in the shape of little hearts, the kelly-green shade of a tree frog or shamrock—it was obnoxious enough, perhaps. I positioned several variations of the trailing houseplant along the top of the kitchen cupboard, the living room mantle, and within hanging baskets around the house. Vibrant green leaves marbled with pigments of yellow, cream, and sometimes silver: the vine-like plants told stories of having been plucked from a charmed jungle. I’d soon buy more trailing plants: Ferns, Ivy, and Wandering Jew.
I cursorily smeared the dust and cleaning spray across the medicine cabinet mirror. It had been some time since I surveyed the assemblage of ointments, gauzes, bandages, and pill bottles. Most people don’t realize that gelatin is often used in coatings of capsules, or that lactose is a common active ingredient in over-the-counter drugs. I slumped my arm onto the counter and dragged a pile of dental floss and cosmetics into a drawer (both are made from the wax of a tree). I grabbed the sponge and swabbed it around the bathtub, its package had boasted the fact that it was biodegradable, made from wood pulp and cotton. No-longer-living things are everywhere, and I scurried to tidy them up.
I had time to prepare for the visit, I can’t say that I didn’t. But time gets away from you, and I was rushing. Broom, where’s the broom? I swept dust and hair from beneath the corner chair. We all have dust in our homes, don’t we? Dust, the unknowable blend of bits of this world: dirt, pollen, specks of plastic, clothing fibers, morsels of dead bugs, animal dander, and sloughed-off skin cells. Dust was not so out of the ordinary. But I should hide the hair.
I used to have beautiful hair, all down my back. I would return home from a day by the Atlantic ocean, delighted to see that saltwater and laughter had fashioned full and thick waves of my auburn hair, a look striking and effortless, the envy of every pin straight-haired girl whose locks were dull and lifeless.
Throughout history hair has been used in the production of thread, rope, and cloth; textile manufacturers have used it to produce worthwhile items such as carpets, socks for submarine crews, and mattress stuffing. Hair is a valuable item. So really, if they thought about it, they would know that a collection of human hair isn’t so strange.
Five dustpans full. It was more hair than I realized. I shuffled to the kitchen to grab another garbage bag from under the sink. Kneeling was getting harder.
As I laboured my way back up the hall, the puddle caught my eye. The wooden chest at the foot of my bed was leaking again.
It would certainly be irrational to experience distress at the thought of getting rid of accumulated items regardless of their value—that I can concede. But these items were extremely valuable to me, and I could not discard them. That being said, I did not want them detected by my visitors, nor could I risk that a visitor should stumble upon one by accident.
So I wrapped each one, tenderly and cleverly, in garbage bags and blankets, and made spaces for each. A box of handknit baby clothing; another full of old birthday cards, sheet music, and empty sketchbooks; a drumhead from a trip my uncle had gone on, stretched from the hide of a goat; and a cup of bone china, made of ceramic mixed with animal bone ash—those were items that were taking up room. I needed to make space—the trunk, the case, the closet. They would never need to look in those places. Instead, they would comment on my thriving new houseplants and talk about the weddings and pregnancies of girls I used to know.
Traditionally, violin strings were formed of catgut (sheep intestine) wrapped with silver or copper wire. Though gut strings are no longer commonly used, certain violinists prefer this variety because of its warm and complex tone.
I no longer owned a violin. I had to discard the instrument for the storage its case provided me. Unlike the wooden trunk, a violin case was well lined and proofed for leaks.
Bows, my violin teacher had explained, were made from a hank of horsehair. I used to play violin all the time. But then, the muscles in my neck became sore, strained. That was some time ago.
I needed to hurry. They would be here soon.
I knew they loved me, they did. Or cared about me in some way, at least. But I had changed, had been changing for a long time. My voice no longer sounded the same, my eyes had changed colour, and much of my body was no longer living. I knew they would not understand.
The lid of the trunk was heavy. I lifted with my arm and angled my body to take its weight on my shoulder. I struggled under the mass as I tried to reach my arm into the chest while propping open the lid. Shit. The weight of the wood fell hard. I pulled my arm from the trunk as fast as I could, but it was too late. I no longer even felt a sharp pain when this happened, more like the sensation of a fingernail being clipped off. The digit fell to the floor. Damnit.
My left arm, my right foot, my hair, and now my last thumb. These items are extremely valuable, indispensable. Well, they used to be. When I am honest with myself, I know they are no longer living, and I cannot figure out how to turn them into something of use.
I did my best to tidy up. I hid the garbage bag of hair in the closet with the other ones. I threw a large wool blanket over the trunk, making sure it touched the floor to conceal the dried blood. The violin case rested in the corner, no need to keep it out of sight; no one asked me to play anymore anyway. No-longer-living things are everywhere in this house.
I heard the knock at the door. The visitors were here.
(c) Kate Hastings