Broken Things

Emma’s gift for Emily The trinkets contained in this jewellery box show that I was a child intent on self-memorialising: christening bracelets; gymnastics medals; my annual bus passes; the label from my first bra.

But the object that I’ve removed from the jewellery box to pass on to you, Emily, is a memento of Bam-bam – my grandma. After she died, when I was just nine, I took this bar of Pears soap as a keepsake and its scent of thyme still reminds me of her.

Bam-bam wore fur coats and visited the hairdresser every week; she fed me milk loaf and strawberry splits; people gathered around the piano when she played; the local librarians all knew her by name. After she died, we found exercise books stacked in her bedside cabinet all of them filled with her own handwritten poems.

For me, the search for literary ancestresses stems back to the discovery that my own grandma was a closet writer. My dad kept her exercise books and I have treasured her bar of Pears soap.

So now, Em, you have a little more insight into the importance of Pears soap in The Waifs and Strays of Sea View Lodge. Or, I should say, the significance it used to have. The soap is now only mentioned here and there, no longer carrying the symbolic weight it had in earlier drafts – drafts that you read and critiqued. Only you, who have accompanied me on every step of this long writing journey, would detect in the final version the lingering scent of Pears soap.

In a way, then, may this memento stand for everything that’s written out, for our shared dedication to voicing stories that have previously been silenced. After all, with its focus on female friendship – a neglected aspect of literary lore – this is what Something Rhymed is all about.

Sadly, this trinket must also stand for broken things. Although I’d kept the bar of soap intact for decades, packing and unpacking it every time I moved house, I dropped it when I reached into a high cupboard to fetch it for you.

After my initial dismay, I realised that there’s perhaps something appropriate about this. I’ve always been drawn to broken things: derelict funfairs; threadbare cardigans; people whose surface resilience hides their distress.

My grandma was broken by the death of her eldest son and the disintegration of her marriage. In writing this message to you, Em, it strikes me that in my novel I offer an elderly woman a last chance to be healed – a chance my grandma never seized.

But there’s beauty in the broken, isn’t there, Em? I know that you too will appreciate the brighter amber that was revealed when the bar of Pears soap splintered, its headier scent of thyme.

8 thoughts on “Broken Things

  1. A gorgeously written and compelling post. Really enjoyed it. It’s amazing how ordinary inanimate objects such as a bar of soap can take on so much meaning. And soap is so sensual isn’t it? You communicated that beautifully. It reminded me of ‘things’ in my own keepsake drawer and what memories they contain. Wonderful. Thanks for sharing this.

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