Last Saturday, with my husband at work and our twelve year old twins squabbling over something at high pitched volume, I sought refuge in the garage. I'd been meaning to clean it out since...I don't know when, and now seemed as good a time as any!
Lifting the garage door I was hit by the smell of old engine oil, paint and dust. When was the last time anyone came in here anyway? Feeling my way through the darkness, I reached the light switch and pulled it. The hanging bulb hesitated for a few seconds and then flickered reluctantly, as if it had been woken from a deep sleep.
Under the eerie yellow light I could make out a mountain of boxes pushed against the back wall, a pile of rags, an old bike separated from its front wheel, some paint cans...seemingly everything we had ever planned to take to the tip, mend or give to a charity shop was in here strewn haphazardly on the concrete floor. I sighed and wished I'd never opened the door!
In the background the girls were still arguing. Knowing that they would come to some agreement about whatever it was by themselves eventually, I decided I was better off staying out here. If I got involved it would lead to one or other of them in an all day sulk or cries of “You always take her side!” Apart from anything else, I wasn't sure how many more enraged slams the bedroom doors could take – and they weren't even teenagers yet! ‘I'll go in if there's blood' I thought, shifting the first box.
I'd lost count of the amount of creatures that had crawled out of the family debris even within the first hour! I remember my husband's reluctance to tackle the job at all came from a particularly bad encounter with a spider that he swore was the size of his hand! “I'm not going back in there unless some sort of spider exorcist goes in first!” That was five years ago and true to his word, he hasn't!
While tidying up, I was aware that my mind was only half on the job in hand. The other half was rushing through things I hadn't managed to finish at work. Phone calls that weren't made, people I hadn't managed to speak to on Friday – and looking at the mess strewn before me on the floor reminded me of my desk!
There was a time when Friday afternoon, was Friday afternoon! I could close the door and happily leave everything there until Monday. My weekends were my own –before husband and children, before meetings, expectations, mortgages, football matches, and dance classes...Wait. Damn it! Dance classes! “POPPY!” I yelled, almost dumping a box on my foot as I headed for the door, “...Poppy! You've got dance class! Get in the car now! Grace...Hurry up!”
Standing in the hallway I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My hands were on my hips, my face was all red and I looked like I hadn't slept for a week. Oh God, I was... MY MOTHER! It was like somebody deflated a balloon inside me. Free spirit, Ha! That was all gone with the idealism of youth. I was bound to my hamster's wheel.
Poppy was in front of me now waiting to go, and Grace stood behind her, pouting as usual. “Poppy, do you want to go to dance class? You don't have to go today. You don't have to go any day.” I didn't know what had come over me, but suddenly I felt guilty for taking Poppy to any sort of ‘class' at the weekends – even though it had been her choice. Poppy rolled her eyes, “Oh Mum...can we just GO”?! I felt better. “OK”I replied, and headed for the car.
The hour spent waiting for the lesson to finish passed more quickly than usual. We had dropped Grace off at a friend's house on the way – even managing to get a smile out of her! Sitting in the car alone, the silence was bliss. I watched the sun dance freely on the dashboard, and thought of my father. He always said he wanted a small boat when he retired. All he wanted was to sit and drink tea on the river while watching the sun reflecting off the water. He loved the peace and was waiting patiently for the day he could do that to his hearts content. With tears in my eyes I wished he'd made it. It was a shock when he died suddenly with only a year to go. Watching the sun again, I thought of his words to me on my twenty-first birthday, “Don't rush, time passes quickly enough. The clock is always ticking, my love, but you can stand still occasionally.”
The girls were quiet that evening. Poppy was practising a ballet move on the hall floor with her Ipod in her ears. She was in a world of her own. I watched as her pair of pink ballet shoes came skipping past me over and over. For a while I watched her face. She was perfectly happy and while she was dancing, it was like nothing else existed for her.
Grace had cheered up too. She was sitting on the stairs with the phone attached to her ear and if I wasn't mistaken, my formerly sourpuss daughter was giggling! Maybe I was doing something right after all. When she saw me coming towards her she mouthed the words ‘five more minutes Mum'. Shrugging my shoulders I smiled at her went outside to the garage.
‘It had to be here somewhere'... I thought, rummaging through the boxes - some of which we hadn't touched since we moved in. I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt because it shouldn't be in here at all. It belonged somewhere safe. Eventually at the bottom of a cardboard box that was still partially sealed with faded packing tape, I found it. A small blue velvet case, still soft on top but slightly worn now. The lid popped open with that distinctive sound you get with small jewellery or keepsake boxes. I peered inside at the silver clock attached to a fob. The hands had stopped moving at twenty to four on a day long gone by. Carefully, I turned over the watch and read the engraving made by a skilled hand,
‘In case you forget. Happy 21st. Dad.'