Piles by Vanessa Horn

Archie lurched out of sleep, groaning as he realised his worries were still with him. Relentless. Remorseless. He stumbled out of bed, making his way through the piles and over to the window where he tugged back the curtains. Bright sunshine and a pale blue sky. Insensitive, for surely the weather should be dark and brooding, with an occasional clap of thunder? That’s how it would be in films, anyhow. Weather to match your mood. But, of course, this wasn’t a film - this was real life. There were no sighing violins or solitary oboes to backdrop the start of his day. No, it had to be faced without special effects, stark and unadorned. Bluntly, his piles needed to be faced.

So. Sitting back on the bed, he looked around the room - at the piles and beyond the piles – trying to see it as someone else might. Fresh eyes. There were the bookshelves, stretching up to the coving and circling the entire room. Crammed full of colour-coordinated editions, like a regulated rainbow. A year-to-year progression of automobile manufacture, from past to present day. Not that he had read any of them recently... So why keep them? He frowned, his mind flickering with ready excuses. Lots of people own books; it’s totally normal. But most people read the books. And, besides, what’s the use of displaying them when you’re the only one who sees them?

He shook his head, trying to ignore the inner voice which had been so persistent recently. He turned his attention instead to the boxed-up magazines which skirted the floor. Past editions of Autocar from the twentieth century. You haven’t looked at any of those for years, have you? And some you’ve not even read at all...

Oh, for God’s sake! Archie jumped out of bed, wincing as he caught his toe on the edge of the filing cabinet which served as a bedside table. Served more than that, of course, also housing his surplus model cars. Hundreds of them, altogether, all needing regular dusting. It must be at least two weeks since he’d last taken them out to clean - they were due a going over again. He sighed, thinking of the wiping and re-organising. For the first time, it felt like an unrewarding task.

Strange. Now he had Holly in his life, all the time spent organising and categorising didn’t seem so important. Though it still had to be done, of course – it wouldn’t do to let things get out of hand. He’d once watched a TV documentary about an old lady who’d amassed so many belongings that it was like an obstacle course just for her to get to the front door. And as for the dirt, well... He shook his head in disbelief; to think that someone could let their possessions get so out of hand that they needed professionals in to declutter. That would never happen to him...

But, as he walked through the hall to the kitchen, weaving his way through the stacks of books caused waves of dread to wash over him once more. Was it possible that he could become one of those people buried alive in their own belongings? Unable to get out, to go to work... unable to see Holly. He paused as he filled up the kettle. Holly. His first proper relationship. Though it had taken him a while to fully process it for what it was.

Holly had smiled when Archie had tried to classify their association, smiled at his need to neatly categorise what they had between them.

“We’re kindred spirits, of course – that’s what this is,” she’d said, simply.

And Archie had nodded, satisfied and, unexpectedly, experiencing a sensation of belonging. He wanted to stay forever with Holly’s arms wrapped around him, just being. At that moment, he didn’t once think about his flat, about his collections, about the piles – he just enjoyed the here.

When he got home, he realised, with some surprise, that his belongings didn’t provide the comfort they used to. And that’s when the apprehensive, foreboding sensations had started, almost as if something was stating that things had to change. That he couldn’t have both Holly and his... his... hoarding.

Now, he shuddered as the word evoked a return of his nightmares: the feeling of helplessness as his belongings closed in on him; claustrophobic smothering as objects grew larger and larger while he rapidly decreased in size... Why had this started just when he’d found love? Surely it should be a joyful time?

Archie grimaced, stomping from the room and into the bathroom, neatly skirting the waist-high piles of tinned food arranged around the edge of the room. Who needs that many baked beans? Peas? Potatoes? But buying in bulk was so much cheaper. And, that way, you’d never run out of anything. Not like... Archie paused mid-teeth-cleaning, instantly recollecting the gnawing, never-satisfied feeling in his stomach from when he was a child. The apologetic expression on Dad’s face as he tried to make them a decent meal with the minimum of ingredients. The indignity and stigma of being in the ‘free school dinner’ line.

Archie had vowed that he’d never experience that sort of hunger again: he’d be in control of his own destiny as soon as he was able to. But that was years ago. Now you’ve gone the other way... it’s all too much, this hoarding... It’s collecting, not hoarding. Lots of people collect things: it’s normal. If it’s that normal, then why don’t you ever bring Holly round here? It’s not as if she hasn’t asked to come round; she’s always saying how she hasn’t seen where you live...

Holly laughed. “Hey hon, what’s the big secret? You got another woman already installed at your place?”

He blushed, muttered something about how the flat was too untidy for visitors, but she saw through his excuses straight away. “Yeah right – you’re the one who’s always straightening up the chairs and pictures at my place. I’m not buying that, Arch!”

For a while, it’d been something to joke about – Archie’s other woman – but more recently things had changed. The banter had changed.

Holly had sighed. “It’s like you don’t want to let me in on a part of your life, Archie. Surely we’re close enough now not to have any secrets?”

He winced at the thought of his deception. “It’s not that... I – I can’t explain it exactly. But believe me; there’s no other woman – I’m not like that.”

Holly nodded. “Yes, I know that much, that’s just our joke. But there is something, isn’t there?

Something troubling you. And... well, it upsets me that you feel you can’t talk to me about it.”

But he couldn’t. And the issue was steadily coming between them: the pile which had initially

been a small hillock was now on its way to becoming a mountain - steep and unsurpassable. He

knew that something had to be done. And soon.

Concentrate, Archie, concentrate. Think about Holly, right here, right now, hugging you, kissing you. He smiled as her image became clearer and a warmth spread through him, finally settling over his heart. The memories of seeing Holly for the first time materialised again... waiting at the train station, spotting her and knowing – just knowing – that he wanted to talk to her. To get to know her. The effort of overcoming his natural reticence was formidable, exhausting, but the relief when she responded to him was all-consuming. Totally worth the effort.

It had been a slow-burn relationship, he reflected now, Holly emotionally bruised by a previous boyfriend and himself... well, he was practically a novice to the dating game. Not that she’d minded that. In fact, she liked the fact he wasn’t the most confident of people; she enjoyed helping him build up his self-assurance. Supported him in facing everyday situations and occurrences that most people seemed to find easy. Effortless, even.

But he’d been good for her too – she’d said so. He’d made her realise that all men weren’t the same – that he didn’t pertain to that old clich├ęd maxim. She’d told him that she knew he wouldn’t do anything to hurt her. She trusted him...

Okay. Leaving the bathroom, Archie picked up his phone and, hands trembling, typed out a text: Come round to mine tonight? XX Then he paused as he thought about Holly being in his flat, about her seeing the... the piles. What would her reaction be? Confusion? Repulsion?

He bit his lip, considering. No - don’t think about it. It won’t be like that. He pictured Holly’s easy smile again, remembering her habit of telling him “It’ll be fine,” whenever he felt stressed or worried. It was hard to conceive her being anything other than her usual loving self, whatever the situation. She was loyal. Dependable. It was time to trust her completely.

His indecisiveness finally gone, Archie smiled to himself and firmly pressed send.

Published in Issue #20

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