THE RAFFIA CLOSET

by Ken Jones

Houses, roads, avenues are as fleeting, alas, as the years
-- Proust In Search of Past Time

In broken bricks
and names of streets
a childhood

Names cast in iron and bolted onto walls. Blocked neatly on the 1927 map. This tumble of remembered names. But the black cinder track in the walled garden is still there, among the rubbish. Miss Grundy’s Preparatory School, now a wreck of peeling stucco . But where is the raffia closet, where I used to hide in that dangling forest of bright colours ?
 
Surely no. 6C was a substantial pebble-dashed semi, and not this mean place ?

Childhood home
shrunk by time
a dolls’ house

Is that really the bay window in which the Big Table stood ? Big enough for a seven year old to conduct a furtive love affair beneath its skirts. She was the five year old daughter of the caretaker of the synagogue across the road, and very willing.

His Mickey Mouse watch
in its leather fob. Golden hair
and a bright future

It was at that table, much too big for the present house, that I was forced endlessly to copy The Song of Hiawatha. in copperplate. I can still smell the thick ink on my fingers and see the owl on the nib of the Waverley pen.

By the shores of Gitchee Gumee
ink and tear stains
blotch the blotter

Older, and leaning against the heavy repro sideboard, I listen to the wireless. “Early this morning German forces crossed the Polish frontier.” I trace WAR in the film of dust.

Abandoned swing
swaying gently
in the still air

At the corner, the bank is now a bookie’s; there are sun beds in my sweetshop; and torn chintz curtains blow through the broken windows of my father’s local, the Lord Falkland. Good Beer & a Warm Welcome. The church still stands, where I remember having to colour a map of Palestine in Sunday School, and wondering why.
 
And the family ? My mother excised most of them from my childhood record. “Not our class”. The rest were erased by early death. My would-have-been-uncles all died together on the same day --Kitchener’s Pals on the Somme. My father escaped with a bullet through the wrist, but fell to a speeding motor cycle forty years later. My sister did indeed marry into gentry, but died soon after. Mother outlived two more husbands, and only her guilty son was left to follow her coffin on that drab December day ten years later
 
Bricks and mortar, flesh and blood, all are gone. My childhood floats free, no more than a disturbing idea, hanging thick with feeling in the raffia closet. An official identikit of papers, forms and photos still remains. A lonely dream, liable for tax.
 
I shrug, and join the shabby bus queue. “Not our class”. Coffin maker and french polisher, my great-grandfather Joseph fled here from the poverty of his native Amlwch and disappeared into a slum street whose name has vanished .

Clutching our plastic bags
at windy bus stops
we wait and joke

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