You pass the woman everyday. She is all pressed hard against brick and mortar. A bear of a dog, some kind of Newfoundland, is draped across her lap; his umber coat brushed out and clean in contrast to her own matted burnt sienna hair. You try for a while to avoid them, but the woman and the dog are always there. At 7 a.m. on your way to university, at 2:30 pm on your way to Cafe Retro, at 12 a.m. on your way home from The Raven, on Saturday on your way to the farmer’s market at Green Park Station, on Sunday when you set out for a walk in Parade Gardens, a desperate attempt to ignore the chiming from Bath Abbey. Maybe she and the dog are some kind of sign. Maybe something is meant by them. One Wednesday afternoon, you don’t put the change from Waitrose in your wallet. Instead, you clutch it awkwardly in the palm of your hand and you let the weight of the shopping bags cut into your shoulder blades. I deserve this after all, you mutter under your breath. The woman and the dog are still there, and this time you drop a few two pound coins into her little glass mason jar. The woman thanks you, and something about her warm black eyes and her slanted smile makes you stay. You stay for a long time, the weight of grocery bags cutting into your back, your feet melted into the sidewalk as her pretty mouth forms words you’ll never be able to recall. Later, when you are home, you put the groceries away. The fresh vegetables in the half fridge, bread and beans and vegetable stock in the cupboard, fresh eggs on the countertop. You strip your clothes off in the hallway in front of the bathroom. You turn the shower tap on all the way, you get in before it’s warm. You let the water run as you scrape skin cells off with a soap lathered loofa. You repeat the process until the hot water burns and your skin is red raw. You sit down, arms wrapped tight against legs, head folded onto knees.
It is evening, the sun is setting over the River Avon in the kitchen window. You put a tablespoon of yeast into a blue plastic bowl. You heat water in the kettle, you shovel a few spoons of sugar into the bowl. You pour the warm water into the bowl. You watch the bowl a for a long time, until the sand liquid begins to bubble and fizz. You measure out two cups of flour, a ¼ cup of oil, another cup of warm water. You fold the mixture with your hands, until nothing sticks to your skin. You wet a dish towel in the sink and cover the bowl. You stand in the dining room and watch the street lamps come on, each orb reflecting yellow beams into black water. Shadows stretch from buildings and under the bridge. You hear the door to the flat open. When she finds you in the dark room, she wraps her arms around your shoulders, asks, what’s for dinner.
In the morning there are dishes. You stand in front of the sink and watch the people walk along the river. She is the dining room with a cup of cardamom tea and a plate of toast buttered with soy protein. From the other room she asks, Do you want to go to the Green Rocket for lunch? Let’s have stir fry for dinner. Do you want to go to Cardiff or Bristol this weekend? The train is really cheap. There’s a vegan Indian restaurant I really want to try. She finds you again, wraps her arms around your waist as your scrub off flecks of tomato sauce and corn meal. In the window over the sink you can see her reflection. Her carob brown hair, forming little wisps around her face, her coffee eyes following your body. You watch the way her pretty little mouth forms words like, Wales, canal, castle, her breath in your ear.
Ela Thompson is a current MFA poetry student at George Mason University, and is the assistant editor of poetry at the feminist literary journal, So to Speak. Their honors include; finalist of the 2016 Jane Lumley Prize, winner 2015 Marion Zulaf Poetry Prize, and winner of a short fiction prize in the 2011 Missouri Literary Festival. Their work has been featured or is forthcoming in The Mercury, Hermeneutic Chaos, Voicemail Poems, and The Heavy Feather Review.