I am polishing my old desk. She sits in our Edwardian hall. Fifty-five years ago she sat in a chilled bedroom next to the maroon-quilted double bed I shared with my mother. I was about to go up to ‘big school’ with expensive uniform, a two-bus journey, nuns and homework. I would need some privacy away from our common room- the kitchen- a postage stamp of cooking smells, Players cigarettes, Old Holborn roll-up, a two bar electric fire, black and white TV, Joey the green budgerigar and a younger brother.
The oak desk had a dark mahogany stain, a pull down top to write on, and inside small compartments for letters from pen pals, letters to be written and a tiny secret compartment for my diary. Three drawers below contained underwear, lambswool jumpers and mothballs. She had cost 5 shillings in a second-hand furniture shop in 1959. She was overlooked by a thin shelf of books that were my staple; What Katy Did? What Katy Did Next? Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, The Bunty Annual, The Schoolfriend Annual and some volumes of an Oldham encyclopaedia published at a time when Britain ruled the waves and we had colonies. I don’t remember my parents reading anything other than the Daily Mirror. The desk was their gift and imagined passport to my academic success. I left school at 16 with three O’ levels and a job in the local library so I could keep my mother company at lunch times.
After my father’s death we brought her here to our adult home and had her fashionably stripped. Each week I take my earth friendly furniture polish made from natural olive oil and buff up her good memories, see her oak grain deepen and shine. I am rubbing hard, harder, trying to erase her other memories.