Guards of the Underworld


These were obviously the things of the recently dead, laid out in boxes, full of crockery wrapped in newspaper. Among the gravel crunching underfoot were pieces of broken glass and plates, I’d put my foot down and a piece of glass would pop underneath it, as my hands were busy pushing aside newspaper and opening notebooks and photograph albums, to see what was inside. I felt ghoulish: they were exactly like the boxes that we’d sort through at the op shop, with their framed photographs of grandchildren and spice jars with the spices still in them.

How did the Turkish men sitting smoking in the backs of their trucks, come to be the ones to disperse these objects? They stand there smoking, and blowing steam of the tops of their coffees, bestowing prices. They negotiate between the dead and the living and this gives them special powers, they can stand there comfortably in the chill morning. The cold does not creep through the soles of their shoes. The dead are protecting them, they want their things to go to good homes.
At first I’d felt too shy to look through these boxes, I could only stand back and watch other people. They had the focussed, driven expressions of people about to find something very important.
A woman finds the lid of the baking dish she has been looking for and her lips tighten with satisfaction.
A arty boy with big thick black glasses unwinds film from a reel and holds it up to the light, to see what is on it.
An old man looks through every camera in the box of Instamatics and does not welcome people getting too close.
I decide that I must join these people. Why be squeamish? Most of my belongings are from dead people. Although when they are for sale in op shops, it is like buying meat from the supermarket; you can ignore where it comes from. I think about it: if I were dead, would I want my things to have a new life? Yes.
I spend the next two hours looking through boxes of the recently dead, the newspaper grime building up on my fingers, wishing I lived here because it meant I could buy things like handsome hot water bottles and strange contraptions designed to heat glasses of milk. Many of the items are souvenirs and postcards from long-ago travels. There are an awful lot of donkey toys, which I guess might be from holidays to Greece. These objects look uncomfortably similar to my own collections of travel ephemera, there are the same bundles of postcards from art galleries, the same collections of pamphlets.
I have always liked to take my own souvenirs from the souvenirs of others, but it makes me experience the present in past tense: I can feel how it will be to remember this moment in ten, or twenty or more years time. Then one day I will be dead and my things will be in boxes.

If I lived here, I would be here every week, keeping my eye on the flow of objects from the dead to the living. I’d have many moments of beauty and sadness, where I do something like open a red purse to find a collection of keys and an engraved dog tag for “Mohnchen”, with an address on the other side and feel something in my throat, almost a sob. But then I’d look up and watch an old lady pull out a big, earthenware vase with a satisfied grunt from the box across from mine, and listen to the rustle of newspaper, all those scrunched up words, being pushed to the side, and think of people finding little things all around me, breaking apart the individual wills that bound these objects together, scattering them.


One Response to “Guards of the Underworld”

  1. Cole Porter Says:

    Beautiful. Just perfect Vanessa.

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