I wrote recently that I was rendered wordless as I waited, somewhat impatiently, for my new narrative to land. New narrative. That is the term I have given to what I choose to say about who I am and what I think and feel. Therein lies the rub, for I have only fleeting, fledgling ideas as to what that is, for certain. I should mention that for years I liked the way I was, by and large. That was before death came and ripped me all to shreds all of a sudden and systematically by degrees too.
So far, then, the new narrative is very brief. And the new narrator has not written much. That is not entirely true: The new narrator has written quite a lot, but is waiting for the stampede following the period of wordlessness to abate. Only then will the time be right to divulge what this mountain of crap in paper and ink format littering her office is all about. Sentences shall have to be shortened, and so on, before they sniff at the new dawn. Something is bound to emerge soon, at any rate, probably as a poor substitute for a letter to my dear mother, whom I have kept waiting.
There was good news in my secondary e-mail box announcing the start of the University of Iowa’s latest writing course: “The Power of the Pen”. I had made it part of the way through a fiction writing course held two years ago, and have participated minimally in a couple of courses since.
I see that there were two short pieces I wrote in 2015 as part of the exercises at the beginning of the course. Given the above sad story about my being wordless recently, etc., I was happy to realise that I still feel capable of writing a work of fiction in much the same style as the pieces below.
What I would really like is for you to tell me that I should write more in the same vein, and produce a longer work at the end of it all. Please say so in the Comments if you think that this is the case!
Here are the two pieces, separated by a short dividing line, yet forming a single ‘story”, as it were:
The brass pan
“No. Absolutely not!” Theodora clenched her jaw, and picked at the skin around her thumbnail with her middle finger. She turned away from Cathy, and leaned against the kitchen sink. She stared out the kitchen window in silent prayer that she would not lose her temper again.
“My sister just wants to borrow the brass pan for when she has those people over for dinner on Saturday,” Cathy said, hoping to make light of the issue. “We’ll get it back.”
“Your sister has just had her whole kitchen redecorated, and can’t cook to save her life! She has plenty of pans; using ours is not going to make the slightest difference! I am surprised she hasn’t already got you slaving over the hot stove for her.” There. Theodora had opened her big mouth.
“Oh, Theo! There can’t be any harm in it. You know what she is like.” Cathy drew closer and put her arm lightly around Theo’s waist. Theo moved away almost immediately, as she took the pan down from its hook on the wall. Tonight they were having that Sicilian eggplant dish. The sauce was ready. It was time to fry the eggplant slowly in the pan and put the pasta on to boil.
“It’s a question of principle, Cath. We’ve already taken her to the shops to buy all the groceries for this bloody dinner, and let’s face it, we’ve got better things to do with our time.” She turned to smile at Cath only to see that this half-hearted attempt at flirting had not found its mark. Cath had hunched her shoulders as she carried the board holding the paper-thin slices of eggplant to the counter closest to the stove. Theo put the pan on the stove, lit the gas burner and adjusted the flame. Cath poured the oil into the pan.
They both lit cigarettes from the same pack, inhaled and exhaled in unison, by way of a mini-break in the task at hand.
“I just wanted to keep the peace…”, Cath started.
“Keep the peace! What’s the argument? What’s wrong with saying no for a change? Your sister walks all over you! You spend hours crying about how she always gets her way, how bossy and domineering she is, and then the next minute, you’re bending over backwards to please her. You complain all the time about how she says ‘Jump’ and expects you to say ‘How high?’ – I don’t get it. No. She is being unreasonable even asking to borrow the pan. She knows very well we use it every day. Just say no.”
“There’s no need to rant about it and be so stubborn, Theo”. Cath took the fork and transferred the eggplant slices one by one into into the pan.
“Oh, so now suddenly it’s about me being stubborn?”
Theo was aware she was raising her voice. She couldn’t help it. Oh God, she thought, if only I could just calm down. But she couldn’t. It was too late.
“Did you notice – once again – that she didn’t even bother saying thank you for the lift to the shops today? No. This has got stuff-all to do with me being stubborn or any other bloody thing. It’s got everything to do with her always trying to take over our lives. Materialistic to the core. We’ve hardly got two coins to rub together. We finally manage to buy one decent thing, and the jealous bitch wants it. F—!”
Theo took a sip of tea from her mug. Cath was silent, as she removed the cooked eggplant from the brass pan, placed it in the colander to drain and put the second load in to fry.
“I know. The thing is,” she said, “I have already said she could.”
Dammit!” Theo shouted, and as she did so she threw the mug down hard on to the floor. She slid down against the kitchen cupboard, and sat there, amid the shattered pieces of her favourite mug, and sobbed. And then, finally, a modicum of composure returned. “It’s so frustrating. I’m sorry, love.”
Cath turned off the gas. She layered the eggplant and the sauce in a dish, covered it, and put it in the fridge.
“I’m not hungry anymore. Let’s go to bed.” She held out her hand to Theo. Theo took it.
Early the next morning, Theo drained the oil from the pan into a jug, and then again through muslin into another jug and poured it into the bottle reserved for used cooking oil. It felt like penance for her outburst the night before. She knew she was not selfish by nature; so did Cath. She pondered the significance of lending their precious pan to that manipulating Ana, Cath’s older sister, and how the two were so very different in nature. As extra penance, she did not flinch as the scalding hot water ran over her winter hands. Scouring the brass pan was always a strange act of love. It carried a life force, she was convinced. A force stretching back millennia, to which she imagined she and Cath were somehow bound. This pan belongs to us! It has found its home and should not be moved! As she set it down on the table, ready for its journey to a strange home, she said “Sorry” again to the sober, icy air. She scribbled a note, and left for work.
When Cath awoke, she saw it all, of course. She ran her hands over the contours of the pan, as a private thank you to Theo, and marvelled at its vibrant shine. Ana’s sense of victory was obvious when Cath appeared at her door with the brass pan in her hands. Why did it always have to be about winning and losing? Cath could never figure that one out.
Remember to say in the Comments whether you think I should write the rest of this story!
©2015 & ©2017 Allison Wright
Post script: The brass pan is not fictional.