Packing up the shit by Lucy Goldring

Whip the plastic net off the counter, your other hand snatching small blunt scissors from the drawer. Chew the bright orange mesh into wildlife-friendly pieces and lob them into the kitchen bin as you flip the lid with a perfectly timed toe-pump. Attack task after task like a TV ninja fending off waves of frenzied assailants.

From the fridge – that meekly-lit synthetic void – rescue a tub of vegan spread, half a mature cheddar and some ripped open ham that won’t survive five hours of stuffy car. Sprint up to the campsite at the other end of the grounds. Think about this being the final leg of the pig’s miserable journey as you palm off the sweaty goods on nonplussed relatives. Sprint back. Strip the bed according to the property’s ‘Covid-safe’ instructions: mattress protectors in the red bag, sheets and duvet covers in the green, towels made into a damp pyramid in the bathtub. Tackle the washing up mound for the third time in as many hours. Sweep the floor and return the dustpan to the musty cupboard. Discover tumbleweeds of dog hair and dead leaves amongst the jumble of your shoes. Silently weep. Clap each pair together, sending allergens whirling, and bundle in the IKEA carrier you never wanted. Sweep again.

Consider that, as well as all the leftover packets and tins, you have, once again, accrued a miscellany of ecologically disastrous items on your travels: a string of plastic flower bunting gifted to your daughter by a well-meaning relative; an overpriced neoprene wetsuit (worn once by your indifferent teenage son); seventeen more plastic bags; twelve tennis balls; and assorted made in China gift shop tat. Shit, shit and more shit. Shit that will take up space in your actual home – the one already brimming with shit. Shit to repair. Shit to store. Shit to repatriate. Shit to pass on. Shit to take to the charity shop. Shit for the clothing bank. Shit that is just, y’know, your shit. Shit to guiltily slip into the bin. Shit that will sink into the ground and contaminate the earth. Shit that will somehow float its way to The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Berate yourself for being the world’s worst bouncer, presiding over the planet’s sloppiest one-in, one-out ‘Stuff Policy’. Reflect that you have too much stuff for your children to make sense of, should you die too soon – too soon to guide them through to adulthood in the mushrooming chaos of the Anthropocene. Recognise that your home is just another faulty unit in the unsustainable global system of shitty shitty stuff.

Intermittently run out to the car with assorted luggage items – largest and least fragile first. Thrust these at your husband as energy ebbs from your body. Marvel as he tessellates luggage like he’s against the clock, desperate to win just one crystal in the series of irksome challenges otherwise known as his life. Think back fondly to The Grand Unpack, the pleasant satisfaction of putting suitcases in rooms – unzipping lids to display carefully curated contents, as if you were cheerful market vendor, rather than a lockdown-surviving husk. Smile at the thought of start-of-holiday you placing a strong-handled bag of eco-certified outdoor wooden toys conveniently, hopefully, by the back door. Audibly swear as you remember the all-important under bed check. Perform this at breakneck speed incorporating, due to a perverse flush of masochism, a push-up-into-burpee action.

Note that on the holiday you have been content: exhausted and longing – always longing – for parenting to be less painful, for your family to slot together more easily. But, in some deep and fundamental way, content. Realise, as you drive away, that this is largely down to the proximity of your extended tribe, no matter the annoying foibles of its members. Reflect, during the first minutes of those winding country lanes, that it’s likely also due to the lush and abundant beauty of your surroundings. Concede, an hour later – as you feel the bite of tyre on wide straight road – that it’s equally due to the £3.99 plastic cricket set, chucked in the boot as you locked the door on that tainted oasis. Assume, for the next two hours, a back-breaking stress position to console your wailing child. Tell her ‘it’s okay, we’ll be home soon’ – and know that the house has a mouth that will swallow it all. 

Lucy Goldring is a Northerner hiding in Bristol. She’s been shortlisted by the National Flash Fiction Day (NFFD) three times and won Lunate Fiction’s monthly flash competition in July 2020. Lucy was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2020 by both NFFD and 100 Word Story and has a story forthcoming in Best Microfiction 2022. She distracts herself from climate angsting by watching an unhealthy volume of North American sitcom.

Twitter: @livingallover