Fleshy Exteriors of a Muted Dwelling

In MMU’s Special Collections there is small book by Anna Fox called My Mother’s Cupboard and My Father’s Words (2000). I chose to write about this book, and the experience of reading this book for one of the Writing Matters sessions. The writing had to reveal nothing about the title or author, as when read aloud to the group had to signify what artist book was being spoken about and who had written the text through the description and ‘voice’. Images of the book can be found here. It revealed an opportunity to freely write about the experience of reading outside of a perceived theoretical framework.

Cupboards are those spaces within the house that lock away all the clutter, and keep back those objects that must remain unseen. Those objects are the working elements of the household, that extra strong bleach, those ironed tablecloths, the Lemsip max and finest crockery. They are what makes the house tick, breathe and operate. They are the tools that uphold and maintain the domestic image, yet remain absent from the representation of the home to outside eyes.

Sometimes words like objects should remain shut away from the prying eyes and ears of visitors. Appearances of harmony and composure upheld. There is no better place to contain words than in the pages of a book. Like doors that open and close, pages can enclose secrets, sometimes violent, of the happenings in the household.

This dinky, pink book appears to belong in a dolls house, rather than the ‘real’ space of the home. The slick, pretty paper, which adorns the cover, is stereotypically feminine, sweet and innocent. As I open the book, the image forces my view into the back of the cupboard. I can imagine peering into this space, my face against the cold, smooth surface of glass. There is something familiar about this interior. Her mother’s best crockery kept safe, a sense of Rococo flamboyance in that light pink, floral patterning.

Then out or through the cupboard, to the next page. A dedication for her parents, from the author, their daughter. Later I wonder what parents would want such a dedication, for a bitter, muted representation of their relationship? Perhaps they do not know.

There is always silence before the storm, the tense absence of building anger in the blank space of two pages. Nevertheless, yelling does not follow. Just her father’s quiet bitterness, all beautifully scripted in curls and flicks. So small is the text, I wonder how his daughter heard his words? A murmur under his breath. His words inflict trauma on the body of his wife, carving her bottom into slices of ham, grilling her with lashes of grease. The pink cover starts to change to fresh meat, raw and vulnerable.

But, where is his wife? Is she amongst the cupboards, in their muted dwelling? Amongst those claustrophobic stacks of plates and printed cups, which throw ominous silhouettes at the back of the cupboard? Is her mother, his wife, another cog in the clockwork of objects that keep the household ticking? Perhaps she is simply hiding from her husband’s wrath.

As I flick the pages quickly, the images blur into a deep, dark cupboard. An endless tunnel. The book becomes the container. The images black box silhouette trapping her father’s words, as the image outline becomes visible through the back of the paper. The feminised font dissipates the authority of her father’s words as he vies for control of her mother’s body, the utensils, the space of the cupboard and in turn the household. “Your mother’s in control now, I’ve got no control.”

As the back page closes, the door shuts, and I wonder what the family portrait may have looked like.

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