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Task: A specific and unusual object

Mother told me to go and empty his room.

I’m not sure whether it was something she really wanted me to do, or it was just to get rid of me. We were laughing a little too much for a family in mourning. The tears being shed were through laughter and the undertaker had sprayed his tea down his trousers - well, it was that or choke when he discovered what dad had been doing as he had his heart attack. You shouldn’t laugh - but it is unavoidable.

It appeared to be quite an easy task when I walked in there.

Once the odour had had had its moment, reminding me of him, I placed the empty cardboard boxes on the floor. I savoured the scent, alone with the absence of him. That distinctive mixture of aftershave and WD-40 clogging up my nostrils, while my eyes bounced around, scanning objects old and new, familiar and strange. I half-expected to hear his shuffling gait behind me, his cough or, most likely, his laugh.

But there was only my heavy heartbeat.

The room had an excited buzz about it, as though anticipating his arrival, like a dog might do. But I knew this would fade, along with his memory.

Looking about, there seemed to be nothing for me to do. The bedspread was smooth and the pillows uncreased. All was tidy, recently dusted and vacuumed.

So I stood, hands on hips, dreamily sighing the sigh of a bereaved son.

I ventured to the corner, where the double doors hid the shelving that was in-built into the wall beside the chimney breast. Heavily glossed far too often over the years, the doors resolutely refused to close properly, or, in fact, open easily. I gripped the small door knob and it immediately rejected its shaft, preferring my fingers instead. Unprepared for its jump for freedom I allowed it to drop. It landed smartly and rolled swiftly in an unrepeatable direction and with such unexpected momentum that it disappeared underneath a freestanding bookcase an Olympic-distance away. Although my eyes followed its trajectory my body could not keep up with the speed and I jerked my neck a little too much in the process.

Very soon I was on all fours, rear in the air, hands fumbling into the darkness, scrabbling for it.

My head - I should have foreseen this - was resting on the newly hoovered carpet, so I inhaled a little too much fresh dust, thus causing me to sneeze. I’m one of those people to exude violently - both physically and verbally - so being crouched down was not a desirable position to be in for such a grotesque exhultation. In my haste to unravel and stand in the traditional manner, I grabbed the knob, leaned on the bookcase for support and hoisted my limbs up. Sadly, the knees, being more jaded than they used to be, couldn’t straighten in time.

My sneeze rocked my body forward - thrusting my head against the bookcase which wobbled, because although certain Swedish bookcase manufacturers test their products for the ability to hold books, they seldom road test for a gallumphing hippo thrusting its forehead down and resting upon it simultaneously. If they had, they would have known that the bookcase would more than likely spill most of its titles in a tsunami of Penguin classics, therefore designing accordingly.

Instead, as the books tumbled about my feet I could only observe as I inhaled ready for spasm number two, my free hand searching in vain for a tissue.

My trouser pockets were found wanting and I tilted my head back in a vain attempt to gain some time before the nasal ejaculation.

Too late.

When the cupboard doors finally released and reluctantly opened, they revealed an Aladdin’s cave of memories.

This is what mum had wanted me to clear away.

How can one man ever need so many screwdrivers, with a spectrum of coloured handles, shafts of every conceivable length and ends of various designs? Should the need arise, I suppose he was ready for any task be it human or alien. There was a shoebox of old watches that recorded the time they stopped but not the year; an old album indicating a burst of philately that lasted maybe a few months; some coins of various denominations from a variety of countries; a tin of commemorative matchboxes; even his old war medals in a faded and almost bare red velvet, silk-lined box.

All came into the light to be stared at.

There were envelopes stuffed with long-faded receipts, unsorted stamps and a few photographs: including a black and white one with smiling people posing by a new car. That child on the bonnet - was I really so skinny at that age? I had forgotten about that car, though. It was his pride and joy. In the days before seat belts, when seats were fake, shiny leather, I recall sliding from side to side as we cornered. I laughed so much back then because of him.

I suppose I still do - because of him.

Most of that afternoon was spent moving the contents from shelving to packing boxes, each object offering a fresh perspective on his character.

Then, in the shadows, I found it.

A whatchamacallit. It was so different to everything else that when I left the house that night, it was proudly resting atop the small box of keepsakes I was taking with me.

I think of it as my inheritance.

Of the many objects I took, this little piece has proved to be the most meaningful and useful.

It is metal. That’s for sure. It’s even got a mark on it and the word ‘Sheffield’ can just be made out in one of the grooves in tiny letters. Sitting neatly in the palm of the hand, it possesses a weight that is both impressive and comforting in equal measure. The coolness of the metal, shiny when I have remembered to rub it clean or even, on the rare occasion, given it a polish, is refreshing to roll along the forehead on hot days. Like a plump, crooked finger it appears to be hollow, but it’s not. There are an array of interesting and apparently casual nobs and noses protruding from it. So many that over the years it has gained notoriety for its ability to find uses far beyond its humble appearance suggests. Paperweight, table stabiliser, bottle opener, toilet roll holder, squirrel scarer, measuring device. It resided in a hollow in a tree for ages, acting as the best coat hook/umbrella stand/tool rest that I’ve ever seen.

It is like a Swiss Army Knife, except that it’s from Yorkshire. And not used by the Army. Nor does it possess a blade. But you get my point, I hope. The uses for it far outweigh its humble appearance. I could probably get stones out of a horse’s hoof is I had the need.

I have no clue what it is, what it’s a part of, where my father got it from, how long he’d had it or what he did with it. All I know is that it’s mine now. I’ve been known to refer to it as ‘My Precious’ but I’m certainly never going to cast it into the fires of Mordor. It’s far too useful. A few have enquired about it - even venturing to suggest names for it. Recently, it was suggested I Google it, to answer some of the questions once and for all. But, like a magician’s trick, I don’t actually want to know. The facts are usually not as impressive as the hopes and delight and wonder. I’d rather continue in ignorance, whilst carry on finding new and bizarre uses for it.


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