It started with a sponge. A scouring pad to be precise. Or, to be at once more precise and more broad, it started with a distracted mind. Constantly moving from one task and one job to another has seemingly eroded my ability to focus. I try to tell myself that I need the little distractions to let my brain process in the background and that people in offices don’t work every second of every day. They have coffee runs, casual chats in the communal kitchen, smoke breaks. What they probably don’t have is hour-long, sponge-related interludes. Because, although it began with a sponge, it sadly didn’t end with one.
Originally, I was doing nothing more than taking a brief, deliberate break to wash up when I remembered that, the day before, I had used the sponge that was by the sink to mop up some bleach I’d spilt while using the bottle as a dumbbell, which is a story in itself, but one that needs no expansion that I can bear. After cleaning up the bleach, I had been guided by the same instinct that leads people to carefully examine jars of festering mould before returning them to the fridge, and put the sponge back exactly where I’d found it. Now, coming to the sink, the harsh smell still pouring off it dimly triggered my sluggish instinct for self-preservation which, too lazy to wonder how much bleach would be bad for me, induced me to bin the sponge and thus avoid any potential effects on the healthiness or flavour of subsequent meals. Then, steeling myself, I opened the cupboard where the sponges live.
This is a more momentous statement if you know that our tiny kitchen possesses only two small drawers and everybody knows that there’s only one way such a limited space can possibly be allocated. One drawer for cutlery, one for clingfilm and tinfoil. This means that we lack the spare kitchen drawer which customarily features as the drain cover of the house, collecting all the things that you can’t find a home for and carry thoughtfully around with you as you clear up. The cupboard with the sponges, like a huge square hole hoovering up pegs of any shape, has stepped up into the role. I opened the cupboard door with an instinctive care borne of the many times that things had fallen out of its cramped, crammed interior. I could see the edge of the pack of sponges poking out from underneath some sandwich bags, a tangle of wire I had no memory of buying and an empty tub of washing powder which was half full of copper coins and batteries. Lying on top of that was a narrow baking tray that was never used but which the mess appeared to have adopted as a kind of hat. The whole pile was awkwardly balanced on a hammer.
At first I attempted only to extract the sponges themselves. I spread my hand wide and pressed it against the pile of junk, then put my other hand through the gaps in my fingers, grasped the edge of the pack and tried to drag it out while holding the rest of the sliding contents in place. After some initial, inching progress, the hammer made a threatening leap and I realised that this was simply not going to work. I had only one option. I set about burrowing down through the cupboard, extracting items one by one. I was nearly at the sponges when I came across not one, but three empty lightbulb boxes. Something inside me snapped. I knew that I had work to do, but it was no longer going to be the work that I was really supposed to be doing.
Forty minutes later I was squatting in the middle of the kitchen, surrounded by a sweep of strange objects and looking sharply but helplessly from one to another of them like a giant magpie. I picked up each in turn, as if wondering not just what to do with them, but what they even were. The only firm decision I felt able to make was to move the lightbulb boxes to the recycling. That much was obvious, but I was at a loss as to what to do with the tester pot of paint, the curiously uneven number of chopsticks or the flat piece of metal that I could only guess was some kind of scraping tool. Stupefied by confusion, I carried some of the items through to other rooms, holding them out in front of me and looking blankly around as if I would suddenly see something very small that I needed to paint, three and a half Chinese meals or an object that I had been meaning to scrape with a piece of metal for a long time. No matter what I took or where I took it, the pull of the gravity of uselessness drew me back to the kitchen and slowly the gripping futility of my wandering gave way to the nagging sensation that I wasn’t even meant to be doing this in the first place. I took a thoughtful look at the items fanned out across the floor and pondered what on earth I was going to do with them all. Fortunately, there was an empty, open cupboard just there in the corner. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. I shoved the pile over towards the cupboard and began to load it in bit by bit. It looked as if the objects weren’t going to fit but it was just possible, if I closed the door behind them as I did it, to get them all to into the narrow space.
The last thing to go in was a pack of scouring pads and, as I shoved them up into the corner above some tattered sheets of sandpaper, I took one out, without really knowing why. I straightened up and looked around the kitchen. There was some washing up to do, but I really didn’t have that kind of time to waste, so I put the sponge by the sink and marched determinedly back to the computer to get on with some work. The key with these things, after all, is focus.