It is the middle of the summer vacation. The other day, I rang a friend, and she invited me and the three children for lunch. She has a house so grand it makes you think, I so married the wrong man.
It has a kitchen that would fit four of my kitchens, three larders (including one in the grounds for game), and the sort of book-lined drawing room you see in British period dramas. It has a dead tiger on the floor and an ironing room with a linen press, 13 bedrooms, and an atrium so large I did not immediately notice the grand piano. The last time I came, I brought roses, and my friend took me into her "Flower Room" with shelf after shelf of vases. Including the planters for the 78 pots of orchids she has in the hothouse and the bowls for roses, there were 114 vases to choose between. I counted them. I wished I had brought a bigger bunch. I said, "Wow," and she said, "Let me show you the box room."
I grew up in a box room; it had a narrow-mirrored wardrobe and a single bed. Hers was a room full of boxes; it smelled of dust, scented soap, and money well-spent. It had heavy cardboard boxes from 1950s Bond Street jewellers; boxes from Hermes, Tiffany's, and Saks Fifth Avenue; boxes for gardenia soap, glace fruit, macadamia nut shortbread, and Oriental cigarettes. When you opened them, you could think, This box is empty, or you could think, This box was full. My friend said, "You buy something and you think, This would be a nice box, rather than That's a nice soap." I thought, Why keep all these boxes? I was told it is handy to have a box if you wish to send a gift to a godchild.
This day, we settled in her enormous kitchen with my three children, her four children, and two other visiting children to mould clay pots, and, at a certain point, my two-year-old announced that she needed to visit the restroom. Their downstairs toilet is tucked into a large cloakroom with a smooth stone floor, where the family leave their boots and shoes.
My book. My best, first, and probably only book, was lying next to the toilet, on top of two gardening books and opposite a glossy celebrity magazine boasting the diet tips of the famous (which, presumably, includes the startling information that they do not eat very much). I was not entirely sure how I felt about my book ending up in the toilet. On one hand, it is well situated, as most guests are likely to use the restroom, may glance through the book, and decide to buy their own copy rather than miss the second course of dinner. On the other hand, My Book — which took me the best part of a year to write and in which I have laid bare my soul — is in the toilet. My seven-year-old and five-year-old sons were nonplussed when they went in later to wash their hands of grey clay gloves. My seven-year-old said protectively, "Mummy, your book is in the toilet. Why are they keeping it in the toilet?" I smiled brightly, pressing down the plunger on the rose-pink liquid soap. "So that everyone can see it before they leave, darling," I said, thinking wistfully of the splendour of the book-lined drawing room.