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.