Things That are Given Away and Return

August, 2016

The gravy jug is the first thing he puts out on the street. He walks it out in the night when he thinks no one will see him. He puts it on the side of the road on the grass, on top of its cardboard box. There are little piles outsides his neighbour’s houses: broken bikes and an old fridge and bags of things. He looks around at them and walks back to his house in the dark. He didn’t put any lights on. It seems that everyone put something out, he should too.

He stands in the glowing window and he watches, wondering who will take the gravy jug. It’s in the shape of a fox and the gravy would pour from its mouth. He can see it like a small stone on the dark lawn. His Mother had been given it one Christmas and never used it, she didn’t like faces on things. It has been on the counter ever since. He stands there and watches the lit windows of the other houses, wondering who’s in there, what they might have put on the street. He has never wondered about his neighbours before, he realises.

In the morning the gravy jug is still there. He stands over it like a giant. The eyes of the fox are wet with dew and it looks up at him like it’s cross-eyed. He straightens it on the box and walks back to the house, looking back over his shoulder at everyone’s piles. Some of them have been rummaged through, the fridge is gone.

He eats dry cereal, he has no milk. He watches some morning TV and sleeps a bit. He wakes when the sun’s coming down, low enough to come under the blinds and onto his face. He doesn’t know what time it is, it doesn’t matter. His Mum has died months earlier and nothing has changed except that there’s no reference for anything anymore: there’s no breakfast at 10am and the bins out on Fridays. Someone has rubbed the lines out on the clock, but the hand keeps turning; slowly, maybe more slowly.

He shakes himself awake and tries to remember what he does. Nothing, really, he thinks. He should buy food at some point. He turns the TV off and hears kids playing outside. He remembers the gravy jug and starts outside to check.

He stands at the driveway, not wanting to walk onto the grass again – the driveway is his. His mum’s, but now it’s his. The fox jug is gone, and the box, too. Something skips in his stomach: some excitement, nervousness that he doesn’t recognise. It’s like waking up on his birthday as a kid. Maybe that’s what he remembers. He stands there a while thinking on it.

The kids are riding their bikes around in circles pretending they’re motorbikes, brring with their mouths and skidding their back tyres out. He wants to ask if they saw who took the jug, but they stop on the other side of the street, kicking a bit of fence around. One of them ties it to his seat with a piece of rope and starts dragging it behind his bike. ‘Gonna make a billy cart,’ one of the kids says to the man on the driveway.

He waits until they get to the corner and the shrieking of the fence nails on the tar quietens. He walks with quick short steps back to the house and tries to open the gate by the garage. It’s jammed and he shakes it. It’s locked, he realises. He’s never tried it before. He goes through the house instead, out through the kitchen and to the shed where his Father had kept tools and things when he was a boy. He pulls his track pants up to walk along the long grass to the shed. Just inside is a block of wood on the ground. He picks it up and pushes some boxes around with it. One shakes and it’s full of nails. He takes that and another longer bit of wood next to it. He drags them back through the house and out to the street. He puts them where the fox was, and flushes with a nervous curiosity. He hasn’t felt like this in a long time. He hasn’t been outside this much in longer.

The afternoon drags. He looks for the markings of his clock. He looks in the fridge, and in his mum’s quiet, dusty room. He opens the curtains there, there’s a good view of the street and he sees an old man looking in boxes on his neighbour’s lawn, flicking through some videos.
He looks for the rest of his life and the key to the sidegate in a big bowl of coins in the kitchen. He looks for the number of his kindergarten friend in the Yellow Pages. He speaks to Alex’s Mum and she says Alex has moved to Newcastle to fix Renaults and his girlfriend has red hair.
He looks for anything to do to stop himself from staring out the window at two pieces of wood and a pile of nails.

He finally sleeps. In the morning he goes out and he just stands there. He doesn’t know what day it is, if they’ll be at school, but he waits anyway. Finally he hears the laughter coming around the corner, and then the whir of their bike wheels. They ride around in circles in front of him a while, and finally he points to the bits of wood and the nails. They all stop and line up on their bikes in front of him.
‘For your billy cart,’ he says and takes a few steps back.
The kids grab the bits of wood and tie them behind the same kid’s bike again. Another kid with a backpack takes the nails. They ride back the way they’ve come and the kid with the nails does a wheelie.

He runs back to the house and he grabs the first thing he sees. It’s an umbrella resting against the wall by the shoes. He runs it back out and throws it on the lawn. He goes back in and starts picking up shoes and they fall out of his arms everywhere, so he drags out the hall stand now. Coins and old photos drop out of it all down the driveway. He looks at the two strange things there on the grass, so out of place, and chuckles. He hasn’t laughed in weeks. A Volvo wagon rolls up and asks if the hall stand is free. He just points at it and laughs again, and then the man’s laughing too. They get it in the back of the wagon together and he runs back to the house again.

He starts to take the lounge out but it gets stuck in the doorway and he has to drag it back to where it was. He packs up a box of CDs and videos, he wonders if the old man will come back and want them. There’s a home video of his Dad filming him going off bike jumps; a little chubby kid in his Dad’s leather jacket and motorbike helmet. They can have that, too. Someone will laugh at that one.
He takes out everything in the kitchen, he hands a box straight to a woman that’s there looking through the piles. He just smiles and hands it to her and she checks each mug for cracks and he stands watching her.
He screams with a success when he tears a clown painting off his bedroom wall that would frighten him as a child.
When he takes out the TV he laughs demonically. They’ll love this, he says to himself. He wonders what they’ll watch.

He remembers his Mum’s sewing room. He wasn’t allowed in there and she sat there coughing and smoking and dying and he would listen to her from his room. He drags everything out of there, piece by piece. The sewing machine is gone by the time he comes back for the next load. He smiles and claps his hands in the air.
He looks around at the bright white houses and wonders where the sewing machine is; what they will sew? His Mother never sewed anything. Would they give him something that they sew? No, he shouldn’t think like that; it is to give and give without want for return, he thinks. He remembers it vaguely from Christian school.
If they would think of him, that would be the gift. He thinks that they will and he is beaming, turning around slowly to look at all the houses and he believes that he has given something to each of them. Or if he hasn’t, he will. He has a whole house to give, yet.

With each piece he drags out there, or packs into a box for the sidewalk, he wakes a little more – each something from his house adding flames to the bonfire in his stomach. A box of his mother’s clothes sparks and hisses in the fire. A crate of magazines lights up the street like little flashing lanterns as each page is turned in each window of each house.

He takes everything out. He lays on his back on the floor of the empty house, exhausted and panting. Just him and odd bits of old toys and takeaway menus and all the things of your house that are stuffed in cracks and drawers and the gap between your bed and the wall. He isn’t sad; he has never felt more happiness. He couldn’t be happier if he could give any more, because he’s given everything now, there’s nothing left.

He falls asleep there looking at the ceiling and the dull light globe hanging from it. He’s already taken the light fitting out to the street. He wakes with the sunrise and eats cereal on the front step. It’s 6am. He starts to sweep up a bit at 7.40 with a broom he gets from his neighbour’s pile. At 9 he walks to the letterbox, it’s stuffed full of mail. He sits on the kerb there and starts opening them, letting the envelopes fly off in the wind. He starts ordering the bills, the mail for his Mother, and a stack of mail for him about some overdue book. He’s reading a catalogue about a sale at the grocery store and he doesn’t notice the kids go by on their billycart, making rrrrmmm car noises and laughing.

by Sparrokei