Jan Carson

Contemporary Uses for a Belfast Boxroom III

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.”

Three: Hobbies

“Perfect for a home office,” explained the estate agent, opening the door to reveal a space roughly the shape and size of a disabled toilet. “It’s amazing what you can do with shelves.”

“Ikea,” replied his wife knowingly. He was unsure if this was a question or answer, but remained certain that they did not require a home office and said as much, forcefully.

“Room for a baby?” suggested the estate agent. “If you don’t have one, you could get one now you’ve got somewhere to put it.”

He answered with great conviction on behalf of his five children, already planted in several cities, and his wife, the third and youngest of three, who was clouding over, threatening rain at the first mention of babies and also his own fragile wit which was too old and life-dull for the joy that such things required.

He glared at the estate agent. His mouth said, “no thanks.” His eyebrows, pitched in furious consternation, said, “look what you’ve done,” and “have a bleeding heart,” and, “don’t be opening that barrel of monkeys, Mate.”

“A great wee space for hobbies,” suggested the estate agent somewhat desperately. “Do you have any hobbies, Sir?”

In the moment he could only recall whiskey, football and last summer’s fleeting affair with the golf course, none of which could be coerced up the poky staircase to settle in a space less than two metres square. His wife’s eyes were already turning bloodshot blue, her nose blurring in the familiar fashion. “Allotments,” he said, with hurtling enthusiasm, “I’ve always wanted an allotment but there’s a terrible waiting listen for the ones down by the embankment. This space would be perfect, don’t you think, Sweetheart?”

It was a brute lie. All three knew it, but bound by the walls and the thin air staling around them, they would believe any fool thing for a fire escape.

“We’ll take it,” he said and within a week was ploughing up the carpet, planting carrots and tiny seedling potatoes in perpendicular drills. After Christmas he hoped to plant flowers and strawberries in individual grow bags. Originally he’d planned on tomatoes but his wife was afraid they’d stink the place out with their green, metal smell.

He carried a kitchen chair up the stairs and installed it in the corner with car magazines and a thermos flask and never felt quite comfortable in his own space.

“He’s so happy in his allotment,” his wife told her girlfriends. “Most evenings he’s just up there pottering away. It keeps him out from under my feet. The allotment’s the best thing that ever happened to us.”

No one believed his wife. She no longer believed herself and did not care so long as the friends continued to come and go, drinking her coffee and occasionally laughing; never once asking how she really, honestly was.

Upstairs in the boxroom, the walls began to fur. His beard grew out in sympathy. He no longer recognised himself in the bathroom mirror. The plants, sensing his desperation, refused to sprout.

He tried new tricks, stolen from the internet. He spread manure, thick as cottage cheese, over the topsoil, drifting in and out of consciousness on its meaty aroma. Occasionally he sang. He kept the curtains closed for heat and tacked black bin liners across the windowpanes. The sprouts failed and the cabbages were sprouts, barely bigger than his thumbnail.

He lit the room by means of Christmas lights and a carefully strung network of desk lamps. He played records on a record player, purposefully selecting softer tracks, ballads and love songs, which might coerce the smaller shoots into peaking. Nothing grew.

He fed the plants daily, a measure blend of whiskey, water and his own sodden rage. The plants drowned, permeating the floor to leave drip marks on the ceiling below. 

“Your allotment’s leaking,” his wife pointed out, barely lifting her head from the breakfast cereal. He willed her to suggest another hobby- embroidery, stamp collecting, basket weaving- anything which would not feel like a door had closed, firmly, between them. But she said nothing as she helped him place buckets and saucepans beneath the worst of the drips.

Later he would find things buried in the allotment- baby shoes, a teething ring, two dozen nappies still packaged. Holding them to the light he could no longer recall if these sadnesses had been planted or sprouted unbidden like weeds in an untended field.

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.