HOW TO CLEAN OUT A CUPBOARD • by Cheryl Powell

My mother keeps a jar of Loneliness in the cupboard: top right hand corner, next to the packet of Seething Resentment; both are past their sell by dates, both hardened and crystallized in the suffocating air. I beg her to throw them out, there are better things around now, I say, like that new Optimism that everybody is talking about; removes pessimistic stains and blemishes in only a couple of treatments, they say.

But no. She always says no. She simply hasn’t the Wherewithal. But of course, she does. It’s under the sink, next to the Gumption. If only she would use them again, like she once did; and I’m sure if she looked, she’d also find that gallon drum of Determination that she used to pour into everything — quite undiluted sometimes — until the place sang with it.

But not anymore. “How can I?” she would say, bitterly. “How can I after what your father did?” And I’d sigh. He couldn’t help dying, of course, though she never quite saw it that way. I was there one day when a neighbour came round; left her a little sachet of Friendship, all bright and shiny and still warm from her touch. It came with suggestions: coffee mornings, theatre and help with the garden. My mother took the sachet, and thanked the neighbour politely, a rigamortis smile, and then put it on the bottom shelf. It has never been opened.

It’s springtime, I tell her. Time to clean out that cupboard, and I open the door, picking up a tub of Boredom. She has stockpiled this for years, full strength — none of your polyunsaturated for my mother; this is saturated Boredom; Boredeom that she spreads thickly around the house, working into cracks and crevices with a small trowel, a soft cloth and a rage that knows no bounds. I tell her it’s not good for her. It will kill her in the end, I say. There are healthier substitutes now, like a good dose of Community Spirit, which people swear can work wonders.

But mother shakes her head and unscrews the lid of her deadliest weapon, the one that scrubbed and scoured our childhood, took the skin off our joy and killed all known dreams — dead. Martydom — passed on by her mother and her mother before her. I could smell its acidity, feel its corrosive properties. And, as ever, I cowered before it.

When I had my own children Mother reached into her cupboard and gave me a trial size of Emotional Blackmail. It came in a spray and smelt like misery, but had a lifetime guarantee, she said. I knew that only too well. I didn’t want it. “No, Mother, no,” I said. “Your cupboards are not my cupboards. My generation use different things, like Tolerance and Understanding… like Love.” “Ah… Love.” She laughed, grimly. “Now that really will kill you,” and added, “When your generation become my generation then cupboards will be all you have left. Do you know that? Stock them while you can.”

And so I take the offerings, pushing them to the back of my own shelf, where they ferment like rotten apples and blight the atmosphere. I should throw them out, I tell myself. I have no use for them. But then I spot a special offer, a two-for-the-price-of-one, and I can see the savings. So I put in an order. I probably won’t even use them, there are other things that are better, like Resilience and Fortitude, but there’s no harm in having them put by. No harm at all.

And, perhaps Mother is right: it’s best to stock up while I can.


Cheryl Powell is a member of the Solihull Writers Workshop. She describes her writing as ‘dark with an edge of humour’. Recently, her short story ‘Imaginary Friends’ was included in Breaking the Surface, an anthology of winning stories from the South Wales Short Story Competition, published by Candy Jar.


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 average 3.3 stars • 10 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    I personally keep a grey bar of Writers’ Block next to a jumbo-size packet of Procrastination in my cupboard. Nicely imagined, Cheryl.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    I personally keep a grey bar of Writers’ Block next to a jumbo-size packet of Procrastination in my cupboard. Nicely imagined, Cheryl.

  • Glenn Mori

    Nice idea. Could be applied to any number of life’s situations.

  • Glenn Mori

    Nice idea. Could be applied to any number of life’s situations.

  • Judy Hoke

    The humor makes me picture Cheryl Powell as a standup comic. Well done Cheryl. 4.5 stars. I sadly inherited a few of those cans but recently gifted a few to my youngest sister.

  • Judy Hoke

    The humor makes me picture Cheryl Powell as a standup comic. Well done Cheryl. 4.5 stars. I sadly inherited a few of those cans but recently gifted a few to my youngest sister.

  • Dan The Man

    Cheryl. Absolutely loved it. I smiled as I recognised those attitudes of my generation that I fight against. So well written. Hope we see more. The dark ending will force me to smile even more to counter how I may have been ‘jarred’ by the thought that I could slip into those ways. I don’t normally give full marks – but it is a five star jar from me.

  • Dan The Man

    Cheryl. Absolutely loved it. I smiled as I recognised those attitudes of my generation that I fight against. So well written. Hope we see more. The dark ending will force me to smile even more to counter how I may have been ‘jarred’ by the thought that I could slip into those ways. I don’t normally give full marks – but it is a five star jar from me.

  • Chinwillow

    Yep, this one is a keeper. Well done Cheryl. Thanks

  • Chinwillow

    Yep, this one is a keeper. Well done Cheryl. Thanks

  • Trollopian

    I liked this very much, and (like most readers) instantly recognize the people whom it describes, people who hoard a cupboard full of resentments and bitterness and toxins from the past.

    (Including myself, at times. Once on the subway, when I was carrying Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” a stranger remarked to me that she remembered one message from that book: “Do you want to be like Miss Havisham?” I haven’t forgotten that chance encounter.)

    Picky point: it’s “martyrdom” (not “martydom”). I also wondered whether “rigamortis” was a typo, but I liked to think of it as a newly-coined adjective.

  • Trollopian

    I liked this very much, and (like most readers) instantly recognize the people whom it describes, people who hoard a cupboard full of resentments and bitterness and toxins from the past.

    (Including myself, at times. Once on the subway, when I was carrying Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” a stranger remarked to me that she remembered one message from that book: “Do you want to be like Miss Havisham?” I haven’t forgotten that chance encounter.)

    Picky point: it’s “martyrdom” (not “martydom”). I also wondered whether “rigamortis” was a typo, but I liked to think of it as a newly-coined adjective.

  • This was a really cool idea . . . but I feel it was overdone. By the end of the second paragraph, I was weary of the gimmick, and it became a slight nuisance.

    The writing is great. The people seem real. I think my problem is that, although it’s conceptual, I kept imagining literal jars of this and that in these cupboards, and it really creeped me out.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • This was a really cool idea . . . but I feel it was overdone. By the end of the second paragraph, I was weary of the gimmick, and it became a slight nuisance.

    The writing is great. The people seem real. I think my problem is that, although it’s conceptual, I kept imagining literal jars of this and that in these cupboards, and it really creeped me out.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • I loved it! And I know exactly where you’re coming from. This could be a piece about my own mother!

  • I loved it! And I know exactly where you’re coming from. This could be a piece about my own mother!

  • I liked this and I thought the ending was thought-provoking 🙂

  • I liked this and I thought the ending was thought-provoking 🙂

  • Sheila Good

    Loved it! Recognized many of the items in familiar family cupboards. I won’t say whose. Excellent story and writing.

  • Sheila Good

    Loved it! Recognized many of the items in familiar family cupboards. I won’t say whose. Excellent story and writing.

  • Netty net

    Is she holding on to nagative feeling or something?

  • Netty net

    Is she holding on to nagative feeling or something?

  • S.G

    Brilliant. I certainly recognise the contents of some of those jars…..

  • S.G

    Brilliant. I certainly recognise the contents of some of those jars…..