Bread

by | Mar 10, 2022 | Creative Nonfiction

BREAD by Mari Gabol

I plop the grainy mixture into a loaf tin, carefully smooth it, count the flecks, marvel at my domesticity. I have made bread. A simple, wholesome, loaf of bread. The rusticity of my experience makes me happy.

*

Her name was Ann. She lived a life of crippling domesticity and familial servitude. Pressed into carrying more and more children her womb hung low, her udders permanently weeping. She wiped noses and backsides, dug into the fertile earth and pulled potatoes from the garden and carried them back into the cottage in a bucket. She sat on a stool and took a knife to them, potato skins curling at her feet, resident dogs snatching at them. She watered down the stew in a desperate attempt to feed the hungry mouths. Unable to magic out fish to feed the five thousand, she could, at least, magic out bread. She stirred, shook in bicarb, sloppily plopped the mixture out and into the cast iron bastible and pushed it into the fireplace. At least there was bread. There was always bread.

She read. Voraciously. Her favorite author was Pearl S. Buck. She soaked it in in snatched moments, imagining lives, a land a million miles from the sloping fields of Tipperary. Her quick mind darted and calculated as she swept out the cold deadened ashes, starting the day over again. The mind that found shelter for rebel fighters, that dreamed of faraway places, of a different life, was muted. Dulled by the daily plopping of the flecked dough, patting down the top, piling coals around the bastible.

*

In the evenings, I squeeze myself into floaty dresses that are forgiving. I always wear boots, boots with tassels that hang low. I dine out at restaurants and murmur ‘I shouldn’t’ as I stab my finger at the menu, rapidly calculating calories. I drink wine, I laugh. I take the long route back home idling along in the summer heat.

*

She had hefty bones, a towering frame, childbearing hips and thick thighs. They had a pig once, in the village, a beast of an animal. Eighteen stone (252 lb) they marveled, eyeing up the pink flesh, licking their lips.

‘C’mon Ann, let’s weigh ya. See if you’re heavier than the pig.’ They laughed uproariously, took bets.

Her heart sank, the pig was squealing on the other side of the scale, tethered down, struggling desperately. Ann sat, heat rising up to her face as the pig rose rapidly, its squeals increasingly frantic. She sat in a heap, sank to the ground, her face burning.

*

I have a word of the day app on my phone. I pride myself on nodding knowingly every morning, a competition with myself to beat the app. This morning was different. Winterbourne. I had always assumed it was a quaint English name, borne by residents in the bucolic landscapes of the Cotswolds. It’s a stream that flows after wet weather, typically in the winter. Who knew?

*

She tried to take her own life once. In the middle of the day, downing her tools, she briskly walked to the small stream at the bottom of the garden. She lay in the shallow water ineffectually making rapid water angels. Eventually she rose and walked back to the cottage, dripping water as she went. She took a towel, patted herself down over her clothes, and pushed the coals around the bastible.

*

I fetishize domesticity because I can. Domestic tools, instruments of hard labor, are lifted out of servitude and monotony. Now they inhabit glossy magazines and my imagination as symbols of a better life. I gently swirl the dough into the cast iron loaf tin and wish that, rather than the fairy lights breathing miniature sparks into the room, I had an open fire. I, too, would use a bastible. I comb the top, smoothing it over in a satisfying, meditative act.

*

We never met. A year after I was born, she died in a small cottage in Tipperary, a million miles from the chaotic metropolis I called home. A land not a million miles from her snatched conversations with Pearl S Buck. I wish she had held my chubby baby fist, even though I would have no memory of it. But, no matter, she reaches her hand down through the two women that came after her and before me, and I bake her bread.


Photo by WordRidden, used and adapted under CC.

About The Author

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Mari Gabol lives in London, and works in education. This is her first publication. She is currently working on her first novel.