Like Shedding Skin

by Elou Carroll

The teapot is smashed and its pieces litter the ground like matrimonial confetti. No matter how much I stare, they stay separate, divided at all angles by steaming brown rivers.

The tea seeps beneath my slippers.

“You’ll want to mop that up, nice hard-wood floors like those.”

The front door is open and the postman is looking at me with his eyebrows raised, like I am an intruder in his home and not the other way around. He holds out the letters, I stay put.

“On the table, please.”

He puts them down and eyes the keys—two sets—when he looks back up his mouth is a thin line and he inclines his head; ah, I imagine him thinking, I see. He pats the strap on his satchel, rocks back and forth on his heels.

“I’m fine,” I say and I am watching the cooling liquid soak into the gaps between the slats. “You can go.”

He dithers.

“I’m fine. You can shut the door.”

When the door clicks, I allow myself to move. Step out of my sodden slippers, peel off the spattered dressing gown like shedding skin.

Now, I am the cliché housewife in her underwear, cleaning up the mess. The woman in the advert wouldn’t mop up a spillage with her slippers, wouldn’t lean her hand on shattered porcelain and stop to watch the blood. She would have 24 carat hair, still in rollers and her bra would match her knickers. She’d have manicured hands and a full face of make-up at eight in the morning.

She wouldn’t have rat-scrabble hair with a pull in the shape of a fist.

The blood clouds in the tea like red milk and I mix it with my little finger, still warm, press it to my tongue. It tastes like early morning mistakes and spent arguments. But the tea was brewed well enough.

There’s nothing sadder than a wasted cup of tea, my grandmother used to say, and I want to bend down and lap it up; at the same time, I want to leave it there forever and let the stain darken and mold and grow. I want to step in the sticky patch and remember that once there was a porcelain teapot covered in blue flowers and it was full and hot and fragrant.

I collect the pieces and lay them out on the floor as if they’re a jigsaw but too many shards have slipped between the floorboards and the pot refuses to be whole. For a moment, I try to pry the nearest board from the floor. I stop only when my nail breaks and pain shoots up my finger.

Sitting on the floor, the kitchen looks bigger than it’s ever been. The rest of the house stretches out like a decade—it holds me in its palm, waiting to crush or caress and I’m not sure I mind which.

Someone knocks on the door and idly I wonder if it’s the postman, back again to see the show.

“I’m fine!” I call and I sweep the broken pieces into my hand as if they might see it through the frosted window.

The knocking continues.

“I said, I’m fine!” I fling the largest piece of the pot at the cupboards and listen. They don’t knock again. I look at the porcelain, and its blue flowers whisper you did this. And I know that I did. My hands are scrunched into fists on my thighs, my knuckles whiten like bone.  We did this, you and I.

I glance sideward at the door, through my tangled hair it looks like an old film still with its lines and grains, and I wonder when you’re coming home. But your keys are here and I know that you’re won’t and I think if I could fix it, glue back the pieces and scoop up the blood-infused tea and pour it out like normal, you might just have forgotten them on your way to work. Silly me, you might say if you were that kind of man—but you’re not—and you’d shrug your shoulders and grin. We’d laugh about it over dinner.

Over tea.

Elou Carroll is a graphic designer and freelance photographer who writes. She has a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing with English Literature from the University of Chester and a Master’s in Publishing from Oxford Brookes. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Aloe and perhappened mag. She tweets from @keychild.



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