It is surreal being in the flat where I used to live. I feel like a ghost haunting a life that might have been. The kitchen is new and the shower works properly now but my trainers are still in the closet, along with make-up, duty-free perfume, my nephew’s school pictures. My wedding dress is still swathed in the drycleaner’s plastic and hangs next to a striped Benetton button-down I wore to my last job interview. The dress I danced in at my wedding party is bundled into a bag, its gold, red, blue and green metallic threads still glint; it still fits. Memories so faded as to be half-dream suddenly come into focus: parties, dinners, nights that rolled into gritty-eyed mornings. Wisps of old emotion drift past like wisps of fog.
Dumping the trainers is easy, even the family snapshots. The grey suede boots in which I sashayed into a hundred clubs are busted open at the heels – they can go. I dump old diaries, mix CDs, a dress I wore to a funeral, prescription medication and out-dated copies of my CV. It is only the books that break my heart. The Complete Poems of WB Yeats – source of the lines I emailed my first love: “Wine comes in at the mouth/And love comes in at the eye;/That’s all we shall know for truth/Before we grow old and die./I lift the glass to my mouth,/I look at you, and I sigh.” The Sea, The Sea which I bought in a drunken Border’s binge after a Q Christmas lunch. What Maisie Knew, The House of Mirth, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, As I Lay Dying – a relic of my favourite university lit course. The clothbound Chekhov short story collection I bought in Mallorca, Andy’s Christmas present The Third Policeman, Kat’s: The Misfits. My childhood favourite A Summer in the South. The copy of Fear and Loathing in America I was reading when I moved to Ibiza. The offbeat Salinger editions I bought in a Dumbarton Road charity shop for £1 each. Confucius, Lao-Tse, Joan Didion, Homage to Catalonia, The Fight, The Moonstone, Songs of the Doomed. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Last Tycoon and A Diamond as Big as the Ritz – one of his worst short stories. Books I haven’t read yet: Cheri, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, The Social Construction of Reality, The Doors of Perception. Research tomes: Last Train to Memphis, Childhood and Society, Mystery Train and The Hidden Injuries of Class.
I want these books but I can’t keep them. These aren’t my bookshelves. It isn’t my flat. Even though the sequin top I wore to a long-ago DC10 closing is lying in the bottom of the wash-basket and my Van Gogh mug is in the kitchen cupboard. This could be my life. It just isn’t.