I started putting things away in the spare room chest of drawers after earthquake #1, way back in September. The things at first consisted mainly of objects that had been standing on various surfaces and had fallen down or over but not broken. The only valuable and irreplaceable thing was “the heirloom” – a Satsuma vase, a wedding present to my parents. It once stood on the brick mantelpiece and had fallen onto the brick hearth into a thousand tiny pieces.
The things that I then began looking at with a steely glint in my eye had been around for rather a long time being decorative, or amusing, or a little bit useful, or carrying sentimental value. Since earthquake #2 (Boxing Day), #3 (22 February) and especially #4 (13 June) and all the thousands of after-shocks in between, I have felt an urge to reduce, sort out, discard, tidy up.
I dislike clutter, but clutter sometimes has connotations. And clutter can be found lying around connotating* for far longer than is sensible, like the Christmas tree-shaped candle that a very small child had given me one year. It was never lit – the wick was not at the top as would be logical and even cute, but in the middle, so the tree had to lie down if anyone wanted to light it, which no one did particularly – because, you see, it had connotations. The child has grown up and would be amazed to hear that the candle was still a treasure. Into the drawer it went, with the papier mache cat, the chopstick holders and the pretty but leaking pottery vase from the two dollar shop.
The stones now – they have connotations of a different kind. They were acquired on a trip to Birdling’s Flat with my brother and his wife on their last trip to New Zealand. Some were tiny but interestingly marked, others were smooth with delicate colours, and we pounced on each with happy cries on a happy day. My brother took a small selection back home and I kept the rest to connotate in a platter or piled into a glass bowl. A few of the large stones were placed in the garden beside baby shrubs to anchor them against fitful breezes. Others, in kitschy fits, I painted.
The spare room chest of drawers is now full. The contents are ready to go into the rubbish bin because I have discovered that connotations fade quite rapidly when the objects of our devotion are out of sight. But the stones … they can’t go into the chest, they are merely stones.
* Yes, I know there’s no such word.