This piece originally appeared in The Apple Valley Review
The Job Centre
I remember once being sat on the sofa at home.
It was early-ish in the morning in summer, maybe 8 or 9am, and the sun was streaming in through the south-facing window onto the big mahogany table we had in the living room. Must have been 200 years old that table. Joined in so many many meals with so many generations of people. Imagine.
Anyway, we had had a party around that very same table about four days before. Someone’s birthday, and there was this big glass cake stand with a glass lid on it. Really nice way to present cakes and stuff you know, makes any crap old two-pound cake from the shop look grand and ornate.
We had long understood the power of presentation, of context I suppose. Meals can look so depressing when you’re poor, especially celebration meals you know? Some damp biscuits and a sad deflated cake on a paper plate. Happy birthday.
Anyway, there was a slice or two of this cake left over, and it had been left in the glass cake stand in the sun for four days. The inside of the glass lid was drenched, dripping with condensation.
All the water from inside that cheap cake, drawn out by the heat of the sun coming through the window. The slices were all melted inside though you could barely see them because, like I say, the whole lid was covered with droplets.
We kept those slices there for weeks. Couldn’t bear to throw them away. It was like a terrarium or something in there, every day we would gather around to observe how the landscape was changing inside.
To see what would grow there and which tribes of green and red fluff would take over and spread, making bets about how long it would take for the two different camps of mould on opposite sides of the slice to meet in the middle.
After a few weeks it really was getting quite extreme I guess, in terms of what most people would care to have as a centrepiece for their dining table, and someone put it in the bin.
I never found out who, I just came in one day and it was gone and the cake stand was sparkling clean back in the cupboard. I was surprised by the force of my anger and feelings of loss.
It reminded me that other people get to decide what we can find beautiful or fascinating, and how long we can enjoy our fringe pleasures for.
I thought about going straight back out the door to buy another rubbish cake to restart the whole process again but it wouldn’t be the same would it. Like when you break up with someone and get back together, or you lose your phone and try to recreate all of your favourite photos that you lost:
“No look a bit more over your shoulder, yeah like that, now give me a carefree laugh whilst you raise your glass. No, you’re not relaxed enough. Your hair is too short now it’s not going to work.”
So I convinced myself that there was dignity in loss, told myself that there was something poetic about resigning myself to it, not fighting back or recreating or resisting in any way.
That tells you a lot doesn’t it. So, I guess that’s why I’m here really. In a way.
“Right,” said the job centre representative. “So, redundancy then was it?”
“Yeah.” She said, and shifted uncomfortably in her seat.