Mrs. Johnstone and The Cupboard of Lost Things

When she was still young, Mrs. Johnstone had a cupboard, which, when opened, revealed All The Lost Things belonging to her neighbours. She kept The Things upon rows and rows of neat little shelves, which lined her pantry.  Not everyone was the equal to the task of hoarding them, but she was no slouch, and over the years Mrs. Johnstone had become an expert at labeling, and assembling, and finding a home for Lost Things.

Of course there were Lost Socks: lots of socks, in every colour, shape and size and variety. Some were short little things with pompoms on the heel, and some had no heel at all. Some were just a long white knit tube with obnoxious stripes near the hole where a foot would go. Some had their elastic all sprung out like a saggy elephant trunk, while some socks bore the same tidy resemblance of Mrs. Johstone’s more fastidious neighbours. Some socks had holes in the heels and toes, but most of her neighbours were wise enough to simply throw those socks away, rather than bother to lose them in the first place.

She had thousands of Keys. She kept them in a half-emptied Coffee Can, which somebody had lost. “How on earth does a person lose a can of coffee?” thought Mrs. Johnstone. But she always a practical woman, so it was not long before she re-purposed the can and filled it with her neighbours’ Keys. Some were undoubtedly for Cars, and some were for suitcases and safe deposit boxes. Some were for Front Doors, and some were for Their Lover’s Hearts.  But they were kept together in the coffee can jumble because a key is a key, and after all, she had but the one container.

There were dolls and blocks and games, once belonging to children. Thousands upon thousands Legos sat in enormous, colourful brick icebergs, all locked together and out from underfoot. Marbles, green plastic army men, playing cards, dominoes and dice, buckets of Play-Doh. Nobody but a child is capable of losing dough. It takes a special kind of talent for losing Certain Things, and the Talent for Losing Dough is disappears around the time you turn twelve.

Yet, only a Parent is capable of losing an entire Child, and Mrs. Johnstone had collected one of those as well. He was a good natured round-faced lad, dressed in shorts and a white shirt with a collar. He had been at the county fair and chased a balloon a bit too far. The balloon had arrived in the cupboard just before the lad himself. And so he was content to sit on the shelf and swing his legs while he stared at the lovely red balloon. Sometimes he hummed to himself, because he had lost The Words at some point, as most people will eventually do.

There was a special corner on a shelf for a Child’s Innocence. The lass had probably walked in on a parent’s dalliance, Mrs. Johnstone sniffed. Scarred forever, just like that. Also, when she opened the cupboard one day, it revealed a young lady’s virginity. It glowed pink and healthy. Mrs. Johnstone perched it next to the Child’s Innocence, where they seemed to get on quite well. A Virginity is one of the the few things that, once lost, can never be returned again, so she was content to keep it. On occasion it took to ridiculous flights of fancy about True Love and Passion and other nonsense. The Innocence would just roll its eyes at it, and continue playing with its green plastic army men.

There were cats and dogs of every size, but thankfully fewer than one would expect, because they tore into the socks, and generally created enormous mess and havoc in her room, until Mrs. Johnstone was forced to become stern. She corralled them all in a wire Fence that was lost in a storm. The reason there were so few animals is simple: because everyone knows that running away is not the same of becoming lost. Most stray animals are simply on a ramble about town. No matter where an animal goes, they know exactly where they are. So she saw no reason to return the pets to their owners. People should not have been silly enough to lose them in the first place.

Several times, she had opened the cupboard to discover Lost Souls. Since they took up very little space, she dropped them into an old glass jar that had been half-filled with lost Buttons. The souls seemed fascinated by them, and were continually turning them over in their heads, because a soul loves Useful Things, and few things are more useful than a Button.

One shelf prominently featured the Big One That Got Away. She heard this story from the sweaty balding man in a white apron, who ran the corner market. His wife, lips pursed, confided to Mrs. Johnson that she didn’t believe his story. She thought her husband was not fishing that afternoon, but seeing another woman. Yet, when she got home, her pantry clattered with the sounds of The Big One flopping and gasping on the cupboard floor, right next to the puddle that was the grocer’s Dignity.

Back in the 1960s, the Righteous Brothers had lost That Lovin’ Feeling. It sat on the shelf, dreamy, blue-eyed, and soulful. Sometimes, she thought she should bring it back, but that would just ruin the song. She had also discovered the Nation’s Innocence, all colourful and hairy, and smelling of a sweet, blue smoke. It chanted absurdities like “Hey, Hey, LBJ! How many kids will you kill today?”

From the 1970s, there was an 8-track Tape, featuring a Peter Frampton who had been laquered with little sparkly pink hearts made from nail polish. There was a silk-screened Tee Shirt that said Have a Nice Day, at least one pair of Bellbottom Jeans, and a few sheets of algebra homework. More than once, a Lost Dog had escaped the fence just to sniff at the bellbottom jeans, do its business there, and eat the homework.

In the mid 1980s, people had lost about a thousand fat Plastic Combs and twice as many of those Little Rubber Rings for keeping your hair hair tied back. She kept the hair ties on a wooden spindle that once held paper towels. The combs were inside an old ceramic bowl that somebody had lost at a church potluck. It was an unutterably dull decade, the 1980s, with people losing nothing but hair care tools.

Mrs. Johnstone counted herself lucky. Because with her cupboard, things that are lost, aren’t, not really; and this can be quite a comfort, especially when she couldn’t believe she just lost That Parking Spot in the shade. If, on those days could not find the pencil and pad while she was on the phone, she knew right where to look.  And it helped her to locate That Wedding Ring she took off when she did the dishes because it fit a little too loosely after all those years, and would probably fall down the drain. Which it did anyhow. But that did not matter. She knew right where it would be. And she always got it back.

Eventually she lost her husband. Always living in the past, Mr. Johnstone complained. He couldn’t take it anymore. And then he shot himself in the head with a revolver. A bit later, she opened the cupboard and of course, there he sat, crouched on the floor with his arms wrapped around his knees. She gave him a good scolding, put him on the pantry floor and left him there, except for the times he cut the grass on alternating Thursdays. Mrs. Johnstone had had little use for ephemeral things like love and husbands and “taking it anymore”, as long as her lawn is clipped, of course.

Her shelves were full to bursting. Lost Memories hung from nails on the old shelves. Lost Art was stacked neatly, folded next to the lost minds, all droopy like wrung-out dishcloths. John Lennon’s Lost Weekend (all 18 months of it) took up very little space in a dark spiderwebbed corner. An old video tape of the Land of the Lost had also been lost, next to a thousand other lost video tapes. And, of course, Lost Old Passwords, an untidy heap of asterisks, were piled right next to an equally untidy heap of jacks.

Years ago, she used to tell her neighbours when she collected their Lost Things. But after a time, her doorbell wouldn’t stop ringing. Every day, from dawn until well after dusk, people would bother her for lost Wallets, and missing Purses and Cell Phones that were simply nowhere to be found. They would form queues on her sidewalk. Tramp on her lawn. Then one day she lost Her Cool, and she stopped answering the phone. She told people she had lost the cupboard, which was not only quite a metaphysical trick, if you think about it, but also a blatant lie. But eventually, people left her alone, which both Mrs. Johnstone and her neighbours thought she wanted. She put Her Cool on a shelf next to Her Hotness, which she had lost decades earlier.

There came a day, of course, when Mrs. Johnstone lost Her Life. It was a very sad time indeed, because Her Life was right there, just a few feet away. But, having nobody, and yet no-body, to open the cupboard, it was all over. She had already lost and shelved every friend she ever had. And she was never able to learn a very important lesson in life: there is only small pleasure grasping the Stuff That Was Lost, but a far greater joy in returning it and just possibly, Gaining a Friend.


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