Jan Carson

Contemporary Uses for a Belfast Boxroom II

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.”

Two: Storing Poets

After six years he realised that the novel was going nowhere. Where he’d hoped for a final, pointed full stop, self-indulgence had unleashed sub-plots, appendices and a whole swooning troop of half-boiled sentiments.

At cocktail parties and funerals he quit calling himself a novelist, then a writer and finally could not think of anything to call himself and hung, like a pair of inconspicuous curtains by the refreshments table. He came to despise words and having never fully trusted numbers wondered if there were jobs which might require no constructive thought: professional athletics perhaps, or deep sea diving. On the night before Halloween he dreamt himself a plumber’s assistant and woke happier than a hothouse flower.

“It’s only paper,” he said and felt confident that it could be made to disappear, individual sheets and sentences disintegrating until it was no longer a mountain but rather the ghost of an avalanche, avoided.

The following morning he confronted his wife over breakfast.

“Darling,” he said, and could tell she was immediately suspicious, “after the weekend I’m going to get a proper job and no longer be a novelist.”

“What about the book?” his wife asked, stirring her breakfast cereal to mush and mumbling nonsense in order to keep the anger occupied. 

“There’s nothing in it. Nothing worth keeping anyway.”

“But it’s enormous,” cried his wife, pointing to the towering stacks of foolscap, like Babel, nestling in all four corners of their dining room. “We haven’t had room for anything else.”

Silence settled over the breakfast table as they thought of all the individual episodes of anything else, which had fallen victim to the book.

“Dinner parties,” he confessed apologetically.

“Hobbies,” she mumbled, “sewing for example and possibly gardening.”

“The loft extension.”

“Summer holidays.”

“Babies,” they both agreed, though her voice was barely audible behind his. And when their losses had been lined up like fine cutlery, it seemed a terrible waste to disregard all those words, all those bloated sentences and paragraphs.

“What about poetry?” his wife suggested, “It’s smaller but it’s still made of words,” and because he did not want to disappoint her again, twice in a matter of meals, he agreed to try poems

After breakfast he kissed his wife on the lobe of each ear and finally on the forehead; she was prettier when he could not see her face.

“Throw the novel in the recycling bin,” he said with forced bravado, “see if it comes back as a dictionary or something useful. I am a much diminished man.”

The boxroom beckoned. Once the patio furniture had been evicted the space was perfectly adequate for a poet of limited ambition. He locked the door, double barred himself against claustrophobia and, snug as a wool-knit sweater, wondered why he’d bothered with anything as continental as a novel. The boxroom shrunk in approval, demanding clipped thoughts, neatly written. The ceiling pressed for concision, the walls constricted, too tight to tolerate anything bigger than a medium-sized sonnet. In the corner by the radiator, the vacuum cleaner hovered, ready to devour every wasteful word.

For company he kept a moleskin and a sharpened pencil. For food he starved. For inspiration he lay on the carpet and watched the summer jets ascending and descending the city airport like wide-winged tropical fish, floating in the boxroom’s skylight.

On the fifth day his wife beat the door down with the blunt end of a steam iron. She found him greatly reduced and grinning like a television set.

“I’ve written a poem,” he said, thrusting the moleskin under her nose. “It’s everything I’ve ever wanted to say.”

She took the notebook from his hands and flicked from front to back finding no stanza, no sentence, no single, sharpish word upon which to hang a compliment.

“The boxroom helped,” he admitted, flinging his arms as wide as the walls would allow. “There’s no room for self-indulgence here.”

She stared at him, frowning as she paced the notebook slowly, finding nothing more than a single, concisely printed letter “A”; the opposite of anything else.

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.