The throes of packing clothes and books and toys and miscellaneous knick-knacks subsided for the evening. Packing boxes formed walls against walls and a labyrinth in the hallway. The kids converted empty boxes into excellent cubby houses complete with soft toys and tea parties. Darren kept shooing them out of the way for the millionth time that week and Josie extracted the random soft toys stuffed into hiding holes.
After wrestling the kids into bed, Josie sat at the table with a glass of red wine planning the evening’s packing schedule.
“Why can’t we have one of those teams you see on those TV makeover shows? You know, where they all come in and pack and fold and move everything for you. It would be so much easier,” she said.
“Could you imagine them packing up your bedroom and coming across The Unmentionables?”
Josie spluttered into her wine glass. From the kitchen, Darren threw a damp cloth at her to wipe the table. He opened the fridge door and reached for the last beer in the crisper. As he closed the door, the fridge moulted a flurry of papers, skittering across the kitchen floor like an old chicken’s feathers. With a groan he bent down, picking up alphabet magnets and an assortment of tradesman’s advertising magnets replacing them randomly on the fridge.
The magnetic whiteboard shopping list had also taken a tumble. Josie eyed Darren reassembling the layers of the fridge.
“Could you add garbage bags to the list, please. And Domestos for the bathroom.”
The kids had taken to writing “lollies” or “chips” at the bottom of the shopping list for a laugh. Darren added the requisite items before adding “beer.” Replacing the pen in the clip he caught a glimpse of a photograph beneath layers of paper detritus. Careful to not cause another paper cascade he pulled the photograph free.
“Check this out.”
Josie pushed herself up from the table and joined Darren. A woman smiled triumphantly, her eyes tired and puffy under a bedraggled, sweaty tangle of a fringe. In her arms rested a tiny head in a hospital blanket. Josie sighed and leant against Darren’s shoulder. His arm came up and embraced her. She gently plucked the photo from Darren’s hand.
“Remember her nickname: The Expansion Pack. What a labour that was,” said Darren.
Josie giggled at their third child’s alternative moniker. “You’re telling me. Thirty hours of pain and agony.”
“Five years later and it’s still pain and agony. Geez she was a terrible sleeper.”
“It was her reflux that made it awful. If she had been our first we may not have made it to three.”
“When was the last time we cleaned the front of the fridge?” Darren asked.
Josie shrugged. “At least five years if this photo is anything to go by.”
She untangled from Darren’s embrace, snapping into efficiency mode, dragging the kitchen bin out of the cupboard. “Come on. While we’re here, let’s sort it out.”
The archaeological survey began with preparation. New garbage bag for the bin. Zip lock plastic bag for magnets. Pile A for Things To Keep and Pile B for Don’t Throw It Just Yet.
Council notices about rubbish collection and recycling were dutifully committed to the recycling bin as were takeaway fliers.
“Hope there’s a good Chinese takeaway near our new house. The pressure test is honey chicken,” said Darren.
“And short soup,” said Josie dumping a smorgasbord of menus onto the recycling pile.
A veritable art gallery of children’s painted hands, stick figure families and shapes that best resembled a Rorschach pattern.
“It’s a giraffe,” the owner would proudly exclaim as it was hung with due care and reverence on the fridge door. Or it was a dog or a car or a rabbit or a house or a hippopopopopotamus.
“Keep or throw these masterpieces?” asked Darren.
“Put them to one side for now and we’ll pick some to keep.”
The excavation continued. Papers scrunched and scattered, folded and flattened, lending their own voices to the conversation. Events, times, places layered like a bowl of spaghetti.
“That’s where that note went,” said Josie with notes of exasperation and triumph. “Aidan was in such a tizz when we couldn’t find that permission note. He said he had given it to me. I swore blind I hadn’t seen it. We turned his bag inside out. Found a sandwich way passed its use-by date. I had to write a note on the back of the pizzeria flyer.”
“Bet the teacher got a laugh out of that. Wonder if they’ll send home the next permission slip via registered mail with a return envelope?”
“Here’s the invitation to Deborah’s party that we couldn’t get to.”
“It was the same weekend as your cousin’s wedding.”
“I haven’t spoken to her in months. Just been so busy. I feel so bad for not contacting her. I’ll call her tomorrow.” She put the note in Pile B.
“That reminds me. I bumped in Stuart down the shops the other week. Had a quick chat. Haven’t seen him for ages either.”
Layer by layer they sifted and sorted. History replayed in comic strip bursts with each newsletter, painting, invitation, shopping list and scribbled note.
With the last paper consigned to its rightful place and all the magnets collected, the fridge was back to almost showroom condition. The addition of sticky hand marks indicated the relative height and age of the perpetrator. Josie scrounged a cloth from the cleaning bucket and some spray cleaner.
“All clean. Heaven help the cherub who puts their dirty fingers all over it.”
“I reckon fridges on display in stores should have pictures and stuff. To give it that ‘lived in’ look,” said Darren.
“We get a blank canvas at our new place. A whole new history to write,” she said, reaching for her husband’s hand. “Come on. Time for bed.”