The Cupboard Under The Stairs

We don’t have stairs, is probably the first thing I should tell you. But we do have a cupboard that goes under them. The cupboard is ours. The stairs belong to the neighbours. For all you radio rental tenants out there, you’ll know what it’s like.

Moving again, it’s what we do. Rental gypsies. Off we go with all our shit in the back of a car-van, into the sunset. A few streets from the last, into a slightly new postcode, the other side of the north circ, who knows where we’ll end up. And if needs be, I can always stitch us a new refugee curtain to keep the other unhappy campers out, like we did at uni. If properties are described using ladders then rental is described using a conveyor belt. Not up or down, just across, till you fall off the edge and into a shopping bag heaven or hell, carried by some housewife angel to another life, where you can start again.

But we know how to do this, we’re so fucking good at it. I can fold up and reassemble in a day. But it’s the plants I worry for the most. They need stability, it’s affecting their personalities. Evil Edna’s leaves are reddening at the tips. She’s got to that age where she hates us, we cramp her style so she reaches for the ceiling and slowly begins the crawl across it, desperately looking for a kindred on the other side.

Our cupboard under the stairs was getting to be a bit of a magic cupboard. The place you’d find anything you needed. The place you store stuff you don’t need right now, but might do in the future. A giant emotional fridge for your baggage and the person you could have been if only you had stuck to playing tennis, learning the guitar, painting on canvas or had the baby you were supposed to have. So our cupboard under the stairs was filled to the brim with baby things. Boxes of stuff I couldn’t bare to look into. Boxes of brightly coloured toys, pastel blankets and all the unique things you must collect when pregnant. Stagnant and functionless in their coffins, they wait. For a chance at a new life maybe. So we pull them out and dust them off and take them to my mum’s where they will live in the other cupboard with my wedding dress and old school things.

Looking at all the space we once inhabited and I’m struck at the size of it. Why didn’t I clean more, keep it tidier, lie on the ground and swing my legs? Why didn’t I make better use of it? This cupboards big enough to shag in, surely it is. If you squatted over the hoover and leaned on the ironing board, you could just about manage it. The estate agents really ought to use that as a selling point. ‘Huge lounge and bedroom, tiny kitchen, a cupboard big enough to fuck in, what more could you want?’.

We only moved into this house because it was more baby friendly: cheaper rent, a spare room, ground floor. We never would have come here otherwise. Looking around with the landlord at our heals, I didn’t notice the damp in the spare room. I just saw a brightly lit room big enough for a cot and some baby things. That’s a lie, from day one I pictured a purple room with stars on the ceiling, a baby asleep in a crib. I pictured how mesmerised I would be by it, sit there for hours watching it sleep, thinking ‘fuck, i made that little human’. And if the sun came through the white billowy curtains in brilliant heavenly shards, I could see our baby squinting out the daylight as he slept. And when we visit the cemetery, I close my eyes and picture myself holding him, at last being a mother, kissing his fat face and laughing. But my imagination is as redundant now as it ever was, because nothing ever comes of this darkly narrated novel.

A little girl I know asked me what it was like to know someone who has died. Those sharp young eyes of hers, probing the world, boldly asking the questions that the answers of which, no one wants to know. Thinking and staring, I struggled for a sentence, the rusty old typewriter of my brain, clean out of ribbon and paper but churning over none the less. Patiently she waited, sat as still as could so as not to frighten away the fickle moth of my thoughts.

‘To know someone who has died, is a sweet heavy ache that makes everything that’s still alive brighter than it was before. Like a pencil sharpener, it razors around your love, giving it a sharper point so it hurts more when it stabs into you, bursting the bubble of bollocks and mundanity that you create around yourself. It wakes you up. Consumes you. Sets you apart from the world. Holds you in it’s spell. Like a black cloud it hangs over your head tainting everything you do. Things take on a deeper significance, music means more to you and you can become even more sentimental than you were before. You love people more, hug them tighter because you know you are going to have to say goodbye to them one day. Makes you appreciate the little things. Gives you back the imaginary friend you mugged off when you outgrew them. Because everyone who knows someone who has died, will keep a picture somewhere, a special thing of theirs, a corner of the house, a blanket, a grave, a tree…, they will have something that connects them in their mind to that person. And you might see them in their quiet alone moments touching the photograph, the thing, the plant, whatever and smiling to themselves in that really inexplicably melancholy way. Knowing someone who has died is a bit like unrequited love, but you’ll never know about that because you’re too beautiful for any man to turn down.’ I laughed and she laughed too because kids are always ready to see the joy in things, aren’t they?

So off we go to a one bedroom flat with no cupboard under the stairs, with our memories and our faithful furniture, to start a new journey, meet the ghosts of tenants long gone, plug in all our electricals and put up our posters and find some other window views to stare at while I write. x