• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 12
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Putting the Tin Lid on it

The tin is full. It's heavy when I lift it to dust. This time, I properly look at it. I can't even remember where it came from in the first place. I guess it must have had some childhood gift in it once, maybe sweets – probably jellies. I hate jellies. The pine green paint is bright but the small beige teddies, with their red bows, look ancient – not in a Steiff-bear-expensive-ancient way. Just from another time, another life.

The tin has followed me from house to house, becoming heavier each time. It lived on the sloping kitchen shelf in that damp basement in Forest Hill. That's where it acquired the first specks of rust on its bottom. It moved to France and Russia – jet-setting tin. Well, hardly – it lived in a tiny room at the top of the lycée and in an even tinier room on the fifth floor of the Soviet apartment block with mosquitoes like helicopters buzzing around it. In those days, it was only half full. And rattled more.

The tin lid has become harder to move. Lids usually ease with time. But it's many years since I opened it. It could do with a squirt of oil. I open the drawer. That just-in-case kitchen drawer with batteries, plastic hooks which couldn't take the weight of a paper towel, rawlplugs, an old bone-handled palette knife, long since relegated to the role of paint-stirrer. I'm not a hoarder. The drawer, and the tin, are my two concessions to hoarding.

The tin lid releases itself. I empty its contents onto the kitchen table. Too late, I realise that I should have put paper down first. Rust dances down into the crack between the table's leaves. And there it is laid out before me. My nomadic life.


Putting the Tin Lid on it

Keys to the doors of every place I've ever lived, every locker I've had in every school, college, factory, shop. I start to go through them but my lungs tighten. It must be the rust. I gather the keys and put them back in the tin one by one, each clanking a memory shut as they drop. I push the lid back on and replace the tin on the shelf next to the spice cabinet, where it's sat for ten years now.

The tin is full. There's no room for another key. I look around my tiny, bright kitchen. I am happy here.