Monica kept catching sight of the tea towel where it hung on a cup hook by the sink. It was clean, its colours still bright. She had never used it. ‘Garden Birds’ the text along the bottom read and above, set out in a diagrammatic fashion were a Wood Pigeon, a Robin, a Crow, a Coal Tit, a Blue Tit, a Song Thrush, a Magpie, a House Martin, a Starling, a Blackbird, a Sparrow and a Wren. Except that, hanging from a loop and falling in loose folds, the words and images were fragmented and meaningless.
She had bought it with a view to making the room homely; herself domesticated and useful. A woman should be so, she thought, even if she had a career. A woman should be nature loving, knowledgeable; able to name things.
Monica lived in one room. In one corner was ‘the kitchenette’ as it had been described in the classified advertisement in the newspaper. It consisted of a stove, a sink and a freestanding cupboard with sliding glass doors and a Formica work surface.
Monica felt the life draining out of her whenever she woke to this one room, whenever she came in. There had been attempts – the tea towel was just one – to brighten the place with the addition of a new shade for the standard lamp from BHS, a new cushion cover, a half moon rug with a radiating ‘sunset’ design. But set against the dark brown ‘Utility’ furniture they just looked garish.
Realising this, seeing it very clearly, when the light caught the purple and green Liberty print tablecloth draped over a chipped table, she felt the folly of everything worldly and saw herself as a mere puppet.
Yes, a puppet jerked here and there, her actions seemingly meaningful, led by an intelligence with clear aims. Or so she had thought.
The tea towel was not soft to the touch, but still starched and stiff.
Yes, the tea towel.
She had read somewhere, that ‘her girl’ as that was how she thought of Sylvia Plath, had folded a tea towel to rest her head on when she put it in the oven. Comfort for the dying was such a nonsense. Really it was.
Her response to nonsense was always action. Brisk, unthinking action.
She crossed the room, snatched the tea towel, shook it out so that it snapped loudly, then folded it edge to edge, until it was tidy rectangle. She opened the oven door, knelt at its terrible mouth as if making a sacrifice and laid the cloth inside. The smoothness, the lovely giddiness of this ancient rite was spoiled somewhat when she found she had to wrestle with the oven shelf to remove it, clanking and clattering it in a jarring manner.
But that done, she adjusted her position on the floor, then with great dignity laid her head on the cloth and gratefully, as if receiving the sacrament, closed her eyes.
The stove was electric.
Image © Jo Mazelis. You can follow Jo on twitter @JoMazelis