Don't Let the Bread Burn, Polly
Towards the end, they were leaving little scraps of paper behind.
John and Polly had been in the house maybe a year. John drove to the city each day for work and Polly stayed behind, baking bread, mending clothes and trying her best to make the old place into a home for them both. At first she’d talked about getting a job down in the village, but as the months wore on she told John there might only be time for a little part time work, and now she barely went beyond the walls of the property at all; always finding something important that needed her attention, often down at the bottom of the garden where the willows grew wild.
“Is this yours?” John called from the dining room one Friday morning as Polly ground coffee in the kitchen. “I didn’t know you could draw.” He left the little piece of paper propped against the honey pot in the middle of the table. “You should have made it bigger,” he said, pulling on his jacket, “could have framed that.”
The pencil sketch of clover was on the corner of a page that appeared to have been torn from a book. Polly picked it up and stared. “Where did you get it?” she asked.
John was standing on the other side of the table buttering bread to take with him in the car the way he always did. “It was there,” he said, gesturing with his head, “you left it on the table.” He was ready to leave and stood with his arms outstretched waiting for the kiss.
“But it’s not mine,” Polly said quietly, hesitating, looking at the perfect little drawing.
“Hon,” John sighed, still waiting, “gotta go…”
After he’d left for work Polly sat with coffee at the table and watched the bare winter branches sway in a jagged dance outside the window, the torn scrap of paper with the pencil drawn flowers at her elbow. Perhaps it had fallen from a book she’d been dusting the previous afternoon. She drained her cup and thought about a recipe with elderberries she’d read.
Who was she kidding? She knew where the little sketch had come from. It wasn’t the first thing she’d found.
Later, towards mid-morning with the breakfast things cleared and bread baking in the oven, Polly prepared to go down into the village, her basket and shawl left beside the back door.
Just five minutes until the bread would be done, she went into the dining room and took the sketch down from the shelf where she’d placed it. The image of the little plants looked real enough to be a photograph, but for the tiny pencil strokes visible only on the closest inspection. It was perfect.
Then Polly smelled the bread burning.
“Done any more drawing today?” John asked that evening at dinner. He didn’t look up, just kept eating.
“No.” Polly replied.
He didn’t mention it again.
“What’s this now?” Polly heard him say next morning from the dining room whilst she sliced bread at the kitchen counter. John stood in the doorway holding another piece of paper. Polly put down the knife.
“Why have you got your suit on?” she asked, not looking at the paper where he’d dropped it onto the worktop.
“Big job on,” he said, taking a noisy slurp from his coffee, “have to go in for a few hours.”
“But it’s Saturday” she said. He’d already gone back into the dining room and was buttering bread for the car.
“Call you when I’m leaving,” he said, stretching his arms ready for the kiss.
Polly noticed she had the scrap of paper in her hand when she heard the front door bang closed. She knew straight away that it wouldn’t be more clover, but was surprised to see the lines and dots of music neatly drawn on the ragged little scrap.
The house was silent, the wind of the previous day having died overnight. The lid of the upright piano had not been lifted since the removals men put the big black thing in the corner of the sitting room next to the window. There were just six notes. Polly played them over a few times before she sang along with the words she’d read on a little scrap of paper a few days earlier.
“Don’t let the bread burn, Polly.”
She didn’t close the back door on her way out and didn’t bother with shoes.
They were waiting for her out where the clover grew in a broad circle beneath the willow trees at the bottom of the garden. They were all there – the ones who’d shown her how to sew buttons, the ones who taught her to darn socks, the ones who gave her the recipe for the bread she baked and the little ones who sang the songs she heard while she worked.
“Don’t let the bread burn, Polly” they all sang together as she stepped into the fairy ring.
She didn’t go back to the house again.
Posted over on his site Dublin Writers
Listed as #95 over on Magpie Tales 48