i flick and swish the scarf as i do every time before i put it on. there is still a thin puff of dust that wafts gently into the air even after the vigorous shaking and swotting of the night before. i sweep back my hair and tie it tightly.
a little while ago i was doing some painting and decorating work. when i started on the ceilings i got fed up with paint falling into my hair so i rushed into a charity shop one morning and grabbed a red scarf. it has white dots on it and is a bit piratey.
last night as i lay in bed exhausted after pulling the last and most awkward section of the ceiling down, it occurred to me that maybe i won't have to wear it anymore. i've got so used to it that i haven't really given it much thought. and then i had a little flashback to when i found it in the charity shop. i was in a hurry and i had a split second thought that i couldn't buy it because it was exactly the same as the one my mum used to wear. there were few other choices. i decided it was the best. and i've been wearing it for building work ever since.
i used to come out of primary school and scan the rows of waiting mothers for the red scarf. i think my mum used to wear the scarf because the rain would make her curly hair frizzy. also we lived on a farm, there was a lot of dirt and she was outside much of the time. often she arrived at the school in wellies, a big muddy anorak with straw and baler twine-filled pockets. and sometimes in the old farm land rover with an open back. as children we loved this as you could lean out into the full force of the wind. one day, i kicked back a pile of fertiliser sacks and found a dead sheep. the downside to the land rover was that we could always get to school in the snow. thankfully most of the teachers couldn't.
but as i grew older i became self-conscious. i remember feeling so embarrassed by my mum's red scarf and i just wanted her to look like the other mums in the village. all these years later i've been wearing the same red scarf with as much carefree abandon, unconcerned by how it looks - just that it's a good practical solution to staying clean.
so after tying the red scarf i reach for the dust mask. my breathing sounds loud, laboured and heavy. i have mental associations of intensive care and diving. with the safety googles that instantly steam up, i feel that i'm about to go snorkelling. rather than waddling into the sea i climb up the ladder and squeeze through a gap into a tunnel of dust sheets. i'm above the alleyway and it's suddenly very silent. a thin film of dust obscures the outside of the googles and i feel that i'm swimming in deeper water. the sun shines through the orange sheet casting a strange burning glow. my head is pressed against a beam, an entire round tree trunk that looks incredibly old. it feels unnerving and unsafe to have so many of my senses obscured. i have partial vision through the right hand side of the goggles and as my hammer strikes the ceiling the dust thickens. i can't actually see the tools so i grope around feeling for them. the bits of dust covered lath look like the crowbar and when i think i've found it, i haven't. i wonder if this is what everyday life is like for a blind or partially sighted person. as the dust thickens i feel i am at the bottom of the ocean. i can only hear my breathing but i can't see a thing.
later, when i come to shovel the dust into bags i make out a strange object amongst the debris. it's a bone. i've found lots of bits of bone in the fireplace but they've all been small. this one is much larger. i'm wondering what it has come from and why it was in the ceiling.