Jan Carson

Contemporary Uses for a Belfast Boxroom

Jan Carson

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“Boxroom; A room or cupboard used for storing miscellaneous articles, too good to be thrown out or given away, which may be useful at some future time.”

One: Least Favourite Child

When the second child arrived- sky-eyed and abundantly blond, with a keen, Northern wit already peaking- the first child lost its appeal.

“What’s the point of it?” they asked, turning the first child backwards and forwards like long division on the living room rug. “It’s not particularly bonny. It doesn’t speak. It can’t even stand up without the assistance of furniture.”

“It costs money,” they agreed and suspected it was not worth the investment.

“I’d have preferred a small boat,” he admitted. She had thoughts of en-suite bathrooms and continental holidays, unmentioned.

Though no one- not even the lady doctor- had thought to warn them, they’d recently discovered it was almost impossible to return a child, once opened.

“But this isn’t what we ordered,” they’d explained, hanging on the hospital telephone ‘til the pips dripped feebly into the middle distance. “It doesn’t even understand English. Can’t we get a different one?”

The hospital had other things to be getting on with: genuine emergencies and two car pile ups, a harrowing bed shortage in the A and E. “It could be worse,” snapped the lady doctor, “we might have given you a pair,” and hung up before they could petition the managing director.

They shrugged their disappointment and installed the first child in the spare bedroom where it fussed and fell over and could not be coerced into polite conversation, even after several glasses of red.

They were not deliberately cruel and tolerated the child’s presence at meals and in short, social bursts during the space between one television programme and the next. Three weeks after its arrival they gave it a name. Yet from time to time, rising in the night to fill and empty the child, they could recall neither its given name nor a single significant feature which might set it apart from other more useful household appliances.

The second child was Christmas in comparison.

She arrived with a name and a bright academic future; advanced conversational skills. They couldn’t have been more delighted; their only regret, a niggling suspicion that they should have ordered two. Accustomed to measuring their concern in small, dutiful teaspoons they were surprised to find themselves capable of spades, buckets and a tremendous landsliding love.

“Surely,” they said, setting the first child against its secondary sibling, “anyone with an eye in his head would favour the new one.”

The second child beamed back at them, a mirror for their worst and best. The first child, rising in its own defence, reached for a kindly piece of furniture and, finding even the coffee table had now turned its wooden back, fell flatly upon its own unremarkable arse.

Thus convinced they moved the first child into the boxroom and installed the second in the spare bedroom.

When visitors and close family friends enquired about this odd arrangement, pointing out that surely the first child, by nature of birth, deserved the spare room they could barely muster a contrite blush.

“The second one’s our favourite,” they stated boldly. “She deserves plenty of room to grow.”

In time they proved themselves entirely justified for the first child, constricted by the boots, the suitcases and paperback novels which had accumulated in the boxroom, never grew long or loud enough to defend its own birthright.

Jan Carson


Jan Carson is a writer and community arts development officer currently based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She has a BA in English Literature from Queen’s University Belfast and an MLitt. in Theology and Contemporary Culture from St. Andrew’s University, Scotland. Her first novel Malcolm Orange Disappears is due for publication in 2014.