I went to buy a new bath mat today, but they didn’t have any under £12.99 that weren’t all kinds of ugly, and I decided I’d rather not spend that much money on something I’m going to use to dry my feet off with after a lengthy soak. Too lazy to try anywhere else, instead I went down Broad Street and bought myself a few books–which came to a grand total of £13. But in retrospect, I’ll take books over bath mats any day.
We have other people’s mail coming through our letter box. Some of it I don’t know how to send on, so it just piles up on the second desk in the study. We don’t own either of the desks, but there they are, lit up by lamps that aren’t ours either. I think if you stripped the both of us down to our own true possessions we would have nothing but books and clothes, in that order. I can’t decide if that makes us free or just pathetic. But when you have somebody else’s furniture crowding up the house you’ve come to think of as yours, even when it isn’t, you start to feel tied down by things.
When I paid the tuition for my MA the other day, I swear my card looked weary when it came out of the machine. It looked up at me balefully as if to say: don’t ever make me do this again. I spent a full quarter of an hour marvelling at the fact that I had never ever spent that much money in one easy go before. And I wonder, in a way I’ve never really wondered before, how all those people with their fancy strings of degree initials actually manage to pay for that much education.
But I’m distracted by the necessity of buying new books, and pens, and stationary. Eighteen years in you would think this might get tiring but there is something eternally satisfying about the back-to-school season, and I don’t think that I could ever feel disappointed by the return to education.
It’s funny to think of the formative memories I have from my early schooling. Mixing raisins with my apple juice, with disastrous consequences (I was put off raisins for years). Being in the bathroom at preschool and wondering what it would be like to pee standing up, like the boys did. Mouthing the words to a song and having the teacher call me aside after. Her gentle, crushing admonition. Saying my favorite color was white, and not pink, just to be different from all the other little girls. Running across the tarmac at snack-time, falling, scraping my knee, crying, being helped by a boy whose name I have no recollection of. Making stories with felt cutouts. The teacher who limped and carried a cane and frightened me so much that I dreaded the days when my mother would tell me she couldn’t pick me up until after storytime. Children calling “na, na, na na na!” at each other on the playground for no good reason. Putting on a play I wrote in the second grade and later in the year coming home to my mother after discovering that King Arthur, our newest focus of study (we’d just finished a lesson on giants), hadn’t been a actual king and asking when we were going to learn about real things.
It almost almost smells like autumn outside. And it’s getting to be chilly. I wore a wool coat to a dinner the other night, and I wasn’t sorry. Inside we wrap ourselves in duvets (I’m wrapped in one now). We refuse to put the central heating on until October of course.
Mostly I am in the back-to-school daze, and everything I think to write has left my head by the time I make my busy way back home. The house has become a refuge. Which is funny really. A few weeks ago there was the house down the road which burst into flame; and the fight at the pub at the other end of the street which warrented what seemed to be an entire fleet of police vans. This weekend we were startled into wakefulness by a pair of voices–male, female–arguing in that way that only couples do, and just when we thought maybe they had had their last go we saw the ambulance coming down the road and the man got in with a book tucked under his arm. In the morning we saw the blood pooled outside the house directly next door, where the head wound he had inflicted on himself by hitting the door had spilt onto the concrete. And after all that was over there was an incessent rapping across the street, all morning long, it felt.
Sure, we stick our heads out of the door. We can see other heads poking out, too. But I feel like this is part of living here, and the truth is that I still think we have the most beautiful house in the neighborhood, just like I think I have the handsomest bicycle in Oxford; and we cosy up to the rush of September leaves together: he now only semi-bearded, me wearing thick jumpers. It’s winter in California, here: green, rain, cold sunshine, gentle light.