Before The Napkin, Time, Echoes, Embers and Keys, there is the basement in the suburbs.
Single mattress on the floor. Toilet, sink, linoleum. Carpet thinning like hair loss. An old wooden desk in the corner.
On the other side of the wall, through the door, the clothes dryer is used mostly late at night. Maybe this is the only time the home owners can do laundry or maybe it is to prove they can do laundry any damn time they please and there is nothing you can do about it. The answer to this remains a question.
It is not, however, in vain. The smell of hot cotton spinning and falling inside the drum, the steady thump, thump, thump of some heavy garment tumbles you to sleep. In dreams there are broad landscapes, white cottages on high cliffs, sky as fathomless as the ocean.
You have been dumped here by a boy. Driven up from the south. It had been arranged. You would have died back there; soul, heart, the deepest places of you, had you not made the decision.
It is stale and winter in the basement. You listen to The Smiths on cassette. Cook macaroni and cheese on a hotplate in the only pot you own. Collect lint from the dryer and wonder if the people upstairs notice. With a roll of window screen and this lint, you make baskets and title them.
The Mommy Basket. Gracie. Suburban Nightmare. It is the first time you title anything and it feels as uncomfortable as the wrong size shoes. Your fingers bleed from the screen’s rough edges and this makes you wonder, does one need to suffer for their art? No. You do not believe so and dismiss the question as ‘just more pretentious artist with a big A propaganda’.
Someone you meet tells someone he knows who happens to own a small gallery in a prestigious part of the city, about the baskets. You are offered a show which feels a little like the lottery and a little like fear. The leftover part feels like you should say no but you have always had a problem saying that word.
After that, the runaway yes and the show and the sales, a man moves into the house. He seems to be a million years old and asks you to dinner. And just like that, as if you have grown some better sense, a stronger will, you say no. He asks again a few days later. You say no. You start saying no to strangers. To the woman you work for when she asks you to come in on your day off. No becomes your buoy. Something to cling to in an unfamiliar sea.
The only shower in the house is upstairs. The man must have been waiting because as you close the bathroom door, there he is behind it. He corners you. Calls you beautiful.
You push him aside, take the stairs down two at a time a wave of no’s cresting behind you.
You pack your boxes, the remaining baskets and hotplate into the car you bought for cheap and drive. You drive down streets you do not know, down to the watery heart of the city, the narrows with its closed shops and empty lots, its late night scandal and blinding hope. And there, you begin.
How hard it is to learn to say ‘No’. We are taught to say yes, to agree, it is expected of us and seen as negative to say No. You are uncooperative. Difficult. Not doing what others want you to.
It took me a very long time to use No consistently. As required in my life.
In honour of this tiny but potent and life-affirming word, here is a pendant with the word ‘No’ in Ogham writing.
The pendant measures 1″ by 3/4″ and hangs from a sterling silver hoop attached to an 18″ black cotton cord. The cord contains found hardware from the the time of this story and small, hammered hoops. It closes with a gunmetal lobster claw.
Creatively packaged with a small handmade card. Next day shipping with complimentary postage.