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Kathleen Preston – The Old Cupboard

From Bohemian Bouquet, published 1980 by The Bohemians.


The Old Cupboard

One wet, dismal day, when I had nothing better to do, I decided to turn out the old cupboard. As far back as I could remember, no-one had ever looked in it, let alone turned it out.

It was in the corner of the study, a low-ceilinged room, the walls of which supported rows of bookshelves. A Constable picture hung on one wall – the glass of this was cracked. The carpet was threadbare – it had once held a bold floral design matching that of the faded lampshade. The thick oak doors of the cupboard bore patterns and pictures of long ago. Finely carved animals paced the frame, unaware of the close-by hunters. I stared at the door in awe; it amazed me to think someone had actually had such skill as to be able to carve such as this. There was a small handle with minute indentations on it, a butterfly, perfect to the tips of its feelers, a kitten, bright eyed and whiskered. This alone was a work of art.

The door was a little stiff to open; but after a few tugs, books, papers and relics of the past flew at me. I took the rest of the things out of the cupboard and piled them around me on the floor.

There were some old text books: Simmond’s Grammar Analysis; Barrett’s First Aid in English. I Laughed as I flicked through them, filled with ‘old fashioned’ grammar. Latin exercises were neatly written out in an old style hand. The name on the top line of the paper, matching that in the books, was Agnes White.

Then I looked through a pile of old photographs, brown and white. Names were penciled on the back: my Granny being pushed in a bath chair; my Great-Aunt Mary, paddling in the sea with a man called Arthur. Agnes White, of the text books, was in some of the pictures too. I looked through the snaps, one by one, seeing my family of the past.

I next picked up some dusty diaries, written by my Great Aunt Mary. The top one fell open at a page where the name Arthur appeared. I turned back and read from the beginning.

It seemed that Mary and Arthur first met properly at a Church picnic in the country. They had seen each other in church, but had never spoken as they had not been introduced. As this was an informal gathering, Arthur (who had admired Mary from a distance) felt free to make himself know to her.

In the months that followed their friendship grew. He became Mary’s regular partner at Church socials. Her mother encouraged Arthur’s visits, and was filling Mary’s bottom drawer in a hopeful way.

During this time the war began and Arthur volunteered to fight for his country. He was soon sent to the front. Mary had no news of him for some time and was upset – not knowing whether Arthur was unable to get a letter to her, or whether he had forgotten her. Then she became very worried as news came of the deaths of friends and relations.

It wasn’t until several months later that she heard that Arthur and some other soldiers had been killed when their trench caved in on them. So Mary never found out how deep his feelings were for her. Even though she eventually married, Mary never forgot her first love.

All these diaries were concerned with life around the First World War Period and for the first time it came alive to me.

Suddenly the doorbell rang. I jumped back to the present day. But it was only the boy from next door saying his ball had come over into our garden and could he fetch it. I gave him permission and went back to the study; but I couldn’t concentrate on the past any more. Reality had come to me. So I piled the things back into the old cupboard and shut the door firmly, wondering who’d be the next person to delve into the long forgotten memories of 1914.

Kathleen Preston

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