Tell A Tale in 500 Words

The Legacy of the Inanimate By Tara Gould

‘Give it a good wash – with some fabric conditioner,’ the woman at the junk stall in the old market had said to him, while all around them dead peoples’ things made leaning towers against every wall. Kitsch ornaments, old clothes and ugly oddments poked out from carelessly packed boxes littering the concrete floor and he tried, and failed, to imagine how they might once have meant something to someone.

He found a beige envelope with 1937 written on it. The negatives he held up to the overcast sky revealed an unknown family grinning in antiquated outfits, flannel and serge, a clear sky behind them, blind to the war only two years in front, as he had been blind to the looming shadow of his own sudden catastrophe, redundancy, his house re-possessed, his girlfriend leaving him for his friend.

‘House clearances?’ he asked the woman.

‘Bit of a mix…donations too,’ the woman said shrewdly, avoiding eye contact, but everyone knew where this stuff came from. Re-possessions of houses with unpaid mortgages, belonging to the dead, or the living.

At home, in his small, new rental accommodation, carrying the jumper to the machine he pushed his nose into the cabled wool; damp, mildew, skin, his head jerked back: Death. But jumpers did not take on hate or fear or joy, but were dispassionate, like all objects, he thought. At first this comforted him, and then, acutely and for the first time he felt it was wrong to take others’ possessions and use them for his own ends. He felt it was so wrong that he sat on the sofa and a tear waxed and waned in his eye. He wondered what physical shape had given this jumper life, and where that life was now. Then for a moment, he saw him, the previous, shuffling along a hallway, the jumper hung comfortably and did not judge his humped back, his sour skin, his emptiness, his minor acts of kindness or wickedness.

He decided not to wash the jumper. Instead, he pinned it to a canvass and hung it on the wall to remind him of how his own possessions had, and might, continue to betray him. But the feeling eventually wore off and after some months he got a new job and had less time to think about such things and the jumper looked silly so he took it down.

He left it in a bag outside the nearest charity shop, with an inexplicable feeling of guilt and ill omen as he walked away. He only turned back once to look at the orange Sainsbury’s carrier, its crumpled plastic still settling, as a single sleeve of chunky cable knit flopped out of the top. He stood in the street for a moment, wondering whether he should go back and retrieve it. Instead, as an acceptable alternative, he convinced himself, he called a charity that helped lonely older people and donated one hundred pounds.


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