‘Waste of Space’ by Barbara Jaques

The moment a mind is full of interest, insecurity lessens.

There is no room for worry since the brain is so jam packed that even remembering to put out the recycling won’t fit in. And this, I suppose, is a good thing, excluding the build up of bottles and cardboard.

But if those grey cells are first packed with worry and not interest, what then? Where is the sliver of space to fit something nice, the thing that once inserted will jimmy and shift and enlarge the area for thought?

I came across exactly such mental space while leaning on my kitchen table wondering what I was doing just sitting there. There had been a reason, of course, but that reason had fled without leaving so much as a shadow. As the little space appeared it seemed to nudge me, not needing to do more because in that single moment its presence was known. There it was, an unexpected foothold for thoughts that were not work or family or house or husband, offering traction for things other than pressure, relentless chores and commitment.

But what thoughts might fill that space? Here was the dilemma.

The space at first seemed to contain only one question: what to fill it with? But this in itself was a wriggling thought, so with every push and shove the space grew.

One moment more witnessed another question slip into the newly expanded opening: when was the last time I was able to do nothing but sit and think? I found this a little annoying, because as a thought it was a waste, no more than an extension to the original question of what it was I should think about.

I leaned on my hands and smelled hand cream I couldn’t recall applying. The vague question of why I was sitting there at all returned, but was lightly batted away as my eyes fell upon a half empty bottle of wine. Half empty was the only way to view it, for when is a bottle of wine ever half full? Why it was there I couldn’t say, since in this house our bottles are always finished. Was it a second that I hadn’t realised we’d opened?

I should cut back. We should cut back. But why? Just because someone else says we should? Surely, soothing our tired bones with a glass or two after a long thankless day is therapeutic? And it’s good for the heart, I’ve heard.

But a bottle or two?

The doorbell cut through my thoughts though did not stir my legs. Ordinarily I would have instantly jumped up while hurriedly considering my scheduling, thinking through what jobs might now become a rush as a result of the unplanned interruption.

That is not entirely true, for ordinarily I would not have been sitting down.

The ding-dong sounded again, and again I did not move. When the light in the kitchen altered as someone peered through the window by the sink, I didn’t care. They chose not to tap on the glass, and when the room brightened I supposed they had gone, leaving me sitting there alone with my back turned.

Near the wine bottle was the kettle and next to the kettle a mug, from which a small dark brown ear of a teabag poked out of the top. I remembered that I made this drink earlier, but obviously had forgotten about it. I would have liked a fresh one but there was not enough time to make it. This seems to happen a lot. I know people talk about their drinks going cold, half cups of tea found here and there, skin of milk forming on top. I have no idea what they are talking about. Mine are either left as this one, or drunk in entirety. One day, I drank ten just because I could. Another, I had none except the very last of the day. Today I have had one; the stewed brew would have been my second.

The room for thought grew amply, and I wondered whom it was that called. Normally I would be gone, off to do a day’s work telling people things they want to hear or hiding things they would rather not. At times, it feels to be the polar opposite of home. Perhaps it was a delivery, though of what I do not know. I cast the dull thought aside because I wasn’t expecting anything in any case.

The question of why I was sitting there and what I should think about returned. I was dog-tired, I knew that much.

The night before I stayed up too late watching the news, and after the weather finished I decided to let a comedy show play on in the background while I tidied. But the humour drew me in. I allowed myself to be spontaneous, to give the impulsive me an evening out of the box and so watched the whole programme.

Once in bed I felt very cheerful and satisfied with my break from routine, though by morning much less so. A half memory stirred when I thought about this, a vague feeling to do with the bottle. Then a better-formed recollection confirmed for me that I had indeed unscrewed a second red after Himself had gone to bed; the memory of sleeping deeply until woken at five by an uncomfortably racing heart. An excess of only one thing sends my usual steady beat into overdrive.

Yet again, this is something not entirely true. On the day of ten cups of tea I finally recognised the cause of my bouts of arrhythmia, so I suppose there are two reasons my heart might choose to dance to a discordant tune.

After a much-needed drink of water I’d gone back to sleep, which meant that when my alarm went off at six o’clock, I was as unconscious as I could be without being dead.

I may not be so spontaneous on a work night again.

I got up, put the kettle on for that first cup of tea, one for me and one for Himself, put in a load of washing and roused the kids before making breakfast. While they all ate, I organised packed lunches and after that showered and dressed. I confirmed each person leaving the house had everything they needed for the day, before once again threatening to stop helping them all so much. I am not sure at what point I started making the second cup of tea.

Always last out the door, I stood in our silenced home and thought about eating, because as so often happens I had forgotten my own breakfast. But other thoughts took over, and this is when I found myself sitting at the kitchen table.

I was already running late when I sat down and so were they, because although I had woken them in good time it was in fact ten minutes later than usual. Ten minutes. The difference between sitting in a small queue and a long traffic jam. The reason for this was my own distraction. I’d noticed when I loaded the washing machine that the tumble dryer was still full. I took everything out and folded and stacked as fast as I could, because it seemed wrong to leave it there. More usually I would have done it before bed, but I spontaneously forgot.

A beeping sound invaded my thoughts while I was sitting at the kitchen table, and instead of ignoring it as I had the door, I stood up and started off like a dog to a whistle to the utility room. Unthinking and unquestioning, I moved with speed because I remembered why I was there. In the moments after everyone left I realised the washing had only a short time to run.

The space for thinking was wasted.

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