The Memory Room
For most of my life, jumble sales meant nothing to me. They we're nothing more than a church hall smelling of moth balls and the dust of things too long stored in the attic. Places I would only ever venture to shelter from a sudden downpour, or perhaps to take cheeky advantage of cheap coffee and cake. Life has a habit of giving a meaning to things you don't ever expect it to and life did just that for jumble sales and me. Since this, I appreciate jumble sales for what they are to me and many others I've discovered. Jumble sales are memory graveyards. In and amongst the surface junk, every sale has items that come engulfed in the memory of something now gone. Whilst we never seek to forget our best memories, our difficult ones try to ensure we never forget them. They tie us to places, sounds, words and objects like a dog to a lead. We're never taught how to deal with such things, we're just told we need to move on and there are many ways to attempt that. Whilst some people try and throw out that which binds them, others find that to sell is so much more symbolic. Life can bring a meaning to many things, and such things are what I've learned to seek out at jumble sales.
At a typical sale, around nine out of every ten stalls are there to make a quick sale and clear some space in a cluttered home. I'm not interested in any of them, it's the other one in ten I seek out. With practice, they become easier to find. These people always stand a little back from the stall, sheepishly trying not to look at the symbols of the life they want to leave behind. I like to slowly browse these stalls, take my time and watch their eyes as I finger their things. Every collection has a key item, that one piece that underpins all of the memories centred on the table. Eventually I'll find it. I've learned to almost hear their heart beating faster as I touch it. I always hold this object a few minutes, play with it, turn it over and carefully examine it. All the while looking and listening for the effect the object has on the stall owner. If I can feel enough tension, I'll hand it to them. This is a tough moment for them. Do they really want to hand over that memory forever? The choice lies in the coins I'm holding out in my hand. If they take them, their tie to these memories leaves with me. Its then I can ask them about the item and learn a little about the meaning I've bought. I always ask after I've bought it, it would make the sale much harder otherwise. I suppose I'm a kind of retail therapist. I help people let go, I buy their past. I take it home and store it in my memory room.
I live in a big house. Way too big for just me, but it wasn't always this way. This house used to feel too small for the smiles and the noise of happy living that used to go on within its bustling walls. That was 16 months and 3 days ago. Since that day, they can't come and visit me anymore, instead I have to go to them. My memory room is right at the top of the house. It is accessed by a drop down ladder with a sensor that switches on the room lamps as you climb up. I'm always out of breath by the time I get into my single leather reclining chair. The memory room stretches right across the whole roofspan of this big house. It has room for many objects. Each new item is entered into my log book along with the location of the sale I bought it from. I have 571 items now logged, and 572 in the room. The only sound in there is the tick tock of a little white clock in the far corner. Yet the memory room never seems quiet, there are far too many things to think about here. The crystal snowstorm was one of my first items. It belonged to a young boy who was hit on Christmas Eve as he walked home by a driver too far over the limit and too late home to care about his speed. The Rubiks cube belonged to a strange but bright young woman who suffered from hypoglycaemia. The cube helped her settle in times of hyperactivity and often so took her thoughts she failed to notice where she was. No-one quite knows where she's got to. Just along from these two sits a half naked action man, covered in little black pen dots by a young boy who found them rapidly growing all over himself. His father now leads the campaign against the new nuclear plant opening in place of the one he used to manage. I know these are such sad stories, but this is a positive act I'm doing. In bringing them all here I like to think of all of these memories playing happily together in some wonderful afterlife place. It’s a good thing, ask any of their previous owners. It's a good thing for me too, it means that my memories have others to play with too.
I can hear Ella shouting me, she'll be finishing for the day.
'Come up!' I beckon to her
She smiles and carefully steps up the ladder.
'Are you ready for the sale tomorrow?' she asks as she carefully picks up and strokes the dark hair of the gypsy doll to the left of my chair. I bought that from her 11 months ago.
'I think so, are you still coming?' I ask in return.
'Yes' she smiles and places the doll back in its place, its hair now better kept.
Three days after I bought the doll from Ella she came knocking at my door. I took her to the memory room and showed her where I had placed it and told her about the items in there with the doll. There we're fewer then, still to this day Ella is the only seller I've ever been visited by, and she's the only other person to have been in the memory room. Ella has never left since that day. She pays her keep by keeping the place clean and tidy. The village gossips would say otherwise. I don’t really mind such rumours, we've known each other nearly a year but its only this summer I've really noticed how beautiful she is.
The morning is a grey one and misty to the point at which I put on my headlights as we make our way to the sale. Ella and I travel quietly, an occasional smile to each other breaks the silence on the very extraordinary day that lies ahead. We pull into the layby just in front of the community hall and quickly open the Jeep. I lift in the first box, Ella the second. As we arrive at our table Ella touches my hand and stops me returning to the van for another one.
'Those we're the heavy ones, I can manage the rest.'
'But.' She stops me again
'You’d do the same for me' and with that she was off across the hall.
The first box contains a full set of lego spacemen. I set them out at the front of the table. Next come the star wars figures, Shrek dvds and Harry Potter books. All 5 boxes gradually unpacked, I take the spacegun and placed it well out of first view contact. I check the viewpoint of the gun from every angle possible around the stall. There are people coming in, so I take my place behind the stall. Ella goes for coffee.
Its an hour into the sale and we have taken £20. Ella spots a young, red headed boy running from stall to stall. He stops as she caught his eye and he holds his fingers out to her in a gun shape. Ella smiles and pulls out a toy cowboy gun from the stall to return his fire. He runs over excitedly and takes the weapon off her for himself. As he pulls the trigger and giggles at the bullet sound effect, he stops and gazes directly at the space gun. He slowly picks it out from behind of the items hiding it. I try not to look. I feel my heart beating hard and fast. His eyes grew wider and wider as he turns the gun over and over in his hands.
'Mum' he screamed, 'Look at this!'
I spy a plump, red haired lady making her apologies at the stand across from ours and making her way over hurriedly. She smiles as she approaches and wiped a sweaty forehead with her hand.
'I do apologise.' She said hurriedly
'Look Mum, its just like Malcom's!' said the boy
'Is it that Freddy, have you asked the man how much?'
He looked at me, eyes wide with excitement
'Please sir, how much is this gun?'
I could feel the sweat dripping down my back. Ella touches my arm and squeezes as if to usher an answer out of me.
'erm, 3 pounds.' I replied
His little face dropped. He looked at his mother.
'No Freddy, if you can't afford it you must save up and come back another day.'
He slowly started sobbing.
Ella stooped down to his height, 'Who's Malcom Freddy?' she asked.
His mother answered for him 'Malcom is his older brother, he's away right now.' She looked down to the floor as she spoke.
'He's an astronaut.' sobbed Freddy
'Really?' asked Ella, 'How long has he been away?'
'He went up into space two years ago.' Replied Freddy
I looked to his mother, 'Is he coming back?' I asked
She forced a smile. 'No this is a lifelong mission'.
I watched Freddy holding the gun. He had a nasty truth awaiting him later on in life.
'Freddy, have you got £1?' I asked
His smile began to beam throughout the room once again, and he hands me a collection of 20 pence pieces. I hold the coins tightly and watch him walk away with the spacegun.
His mother took my hand and whispered 'thankyou.'
I look to Ella and take her hand as she offers it to me, I hold it tightly.
I don’t believe in fate, or God, or in any force that has power over life to bring happy endings. I don't believe anyone can when your dearest are taken away from you. On the way to visit my dearest, I stop at the local Tesco and spend the £1 on a small bunch of flowers. I place them one by one onto their graves and tell them how I have finally sold the space gun to a worthy new home. Its easy to say that whatever happens in your life there is always a new beginning, such a thing does not come easy, you have to make it. Today I have begun to make that new beginning for me. I tell them I will continue to visit jumble sales. I will still buy from those most reluctant to sell and take a contact point for each one. I will be careful to whom I re-sell to and tell those I bought from to whom and why I sold their memory. I've told my dearest of my plans to revamp the memory room, in place of the items and memories of those now gone, I want to post emails, letters and all things from those now moving on. As I place the last flower, I touch the soil between their graves, linking them with my hands. Standing up, I walk towards the peaceful trees, to Ella awaiting me in my jeep.
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