A wilderness of monkeys

In Family
June 5, 2006

Did you ever wonder what award-shortlisted authors do the night before the ceremony? Do you imagine some glamorous evening, perhaps, sipping champagne on a terrace? Or settling down between smooth white sheets on a lavender-filled pillow for an early night? Or, stoic and professional, working on the new book just like every other night? Well, perhaps Olga Grushin and Yiyun Li (both excellent writers, incidentally, whose books I can unreservedly recommend) are having evenings like that. As for me, I’ve spent my evening up to my rubber-glove-clad elbows in a black rubbish bag. Oh yes, my life is full of glamour.

It’s been a difficult day – many phonecalls trying to make last-minute arrangements for tomorrow, getting myself sorted out after a weekend away, work to get on with, novel to get on with, dash to Brent Cross to buy essential supplies. And in the middle of it all, I discovered that I wasn’t wearing the star-of-David necklace my grandmother gave me when I was five years old, and which I’ve been wearing constantly since she died in April.

So, trying not to panic I looked in the sensible places. Bedside table, desk, bathroom shelf. Then the slightly less sensible ones. Under the bed, between the sheets, under the bedside table, in amongst toiletries. Then the downright ridiculous ones. Between the pages of books, in the sweater drawer, amongst the cutlery. Nothing. And so, inexorably, I was drawn to one conclusion. I went to the outside bins and retrieved the rubbish bag I’d thrown out in the morning.

I shied away from going through it – after all, thinking you’ve thrown something out by mistake is usually just a panicked reaction. I went through all the sensible places, and the less sensible ones, and the ridiculous ones, one after the other. And then I tackled it. I sat in the middle of my living room, pulled on my rubber gloves and went through my bag of rubbish, carefully tearing open every envelope and plastic bag, poking through the mouldy food and the unspeakable squishiness, thinking all the time what an amazingly foolish thing this was to do.

But, I found it. Covered in mushed salmon and mouldy avocado, there was my necklace. I can honestly say I have rarely accomplished anything so satisfying. I might win this prize tomorrow, or I might not, but, most importantly, whatever happens I won’t have inadvertently thrown out my grandmother’s necklace. As Shylock says of his dead wife’s ring which Jessica swapped for a monkey: “I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.” It was worth the fishing around in disgusting squelch.

(Oh, and, in case you were wondering, no none of us will have been spending this evening toasting our success in advance. We don’t find out until the ceremony tomorrow night.)

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