‘Look after your sister,’ I tell Gretchen and I go to hunt for the insurance documents in a pile of stuff, well, it’s more of a sizable mound of stuff on top of the Welsh dresser.
‘The pile’ (it has a name) has a permanent home on top of the Welsh dresser. The Welsh dresser is neither Welsh, nor a dresser. I don’t know how to describe what the Welsh dresser is in terms of its’ design, or indeed, its’ intended function. It’s kind of a tall, deep, white box that stands on legs. We bought in the sale from Ikea about 18 months ago and having neither drawers nor shelving and being too deep to reach the bottom of without climbing into, it is possibly the most impractical object we own.
It cost and arm and a leg and ironically one of its’ legs is broken so it lists quite heavily to one side, meaning that any object placed on top of it will slide towards the wall where it irrevocably becomes part of ‘the pile’.
The pile has been with us for as long as the Welsh dresser has. From the moment we brought the Welsh dresser home it began to gather bits of paperwork, odd socks, bits of plastic stuff (the kind of thing that is left over in the box after you’ve assembled a piece of flat pack furniture but doesn’t seem to be indicated in the instructions anywhere), pamphlets, books, magazines, ties, bras, combs, unpaired gloves, pregnancy tests, a variety of chargers and adapters, school reports, recipes clipped from the Sunday lifestyle supplements. As much as the Welsh dresser attracts the kind of items that can only be classified as ‘stuff’, its’ gravitational field seeming to exert a particularly potent effect on the subcategory of stuff labelled ‘crap’, in some way it also acts as a repository for our failed aspirations.
The reason the pile is home to so many clippings from The Times Magazine about pilates, or the benefits of swimming, which are the best colours to paint a hallway with no natural light and how to make a magical tagine to go with sweet potatoes, is because we cut them out and place them on a vast to – do list, which is kind of what ‘the pile’ is. It’s where good intentions go to die. Whenever a piece of correspondence, such as a letter relating to a recently expired car insurance policy, is placed on ‘the pile’, what the person placing it there is saying is, ‘I firmly intend to deal with you, soon.’
‘You got it yet?’ says Annie dashing through the door.
‘I think it’s in here somewhere,’ I say looking at ‘the pile’.
She looks at me uncertainly. ‘Well he’s getting pretty insistent.’
‘Do you want to invite him in for a cuppa whilst I start looking?’
All hope drains from her eyes. ‘I’ll just have to accept the fine then,’ she says, throwing her arms up.
I nod, resigned to this. ‘How much?’
‘Three hundred quid.’
‘Fuck that,’ I say. ‘Go and stall him.’
The pile was quite benign at first but turned malignant, starting to metastasise other rooms in the house. There are offshoots of the pile in the kitchen, the downstairs toilet, several surfaces in the living room have semi – permanent piles of their own and every drawer you open has versions of the pile.
The insurance documents could be anywhere in the main tumor of the pile or in one of its matastases.
Two minutes later and Annie’s back. ‘He gave me the fine,’ she says flatly. Her eyes are ringed with black smudges of mascara. She looks like she’s just come in from an Alice Cooper gig. ‘And six points on my licence.’
‘Shit,’ I say, ‘when do we have to pay the fine by?’
‘I don’t know Ludek. I don’t care either. I’m fed up with this.’ She stomps upstairs.
‘Shall I make you a cup of tea?’
A door slams and is followed by the sound of Annie flinging herself onto the bed. There is a short hysterical scream, and then silence.
‘It’s not my fault,’ I shout, to no response. The kids and I stand at the bottom of the stairs listening for a while.
‘Is mum mad?’ asks Gretchen.
‘I don’t think so, really,’ I say, ‘I think she’s probably just tired.’
‘Is she going to prison?’
‘Only if we’re very lucky.’
Gretchen doesn’t laugh at this. She walks off into the living room and quietly pushes the door to behind her.
Bobby has stopped crying now. She hugs my leg and I pat her on the head to reassure her. She sighs loudly.
‘Done a poo poo in my nappy,’ she says.