Word Count 900
I suppose it was only that the place seemed a little empty without Christofer.
I had grown used to his company His habits suited me. He woke late, and spent the first half hour fussing with pen nibs and toast crumbs. He began his day in the middle, but he worked solidly for hours. He went far away when he was writing . I could see the scholar in him then. For all his brittle flash, he could settle to work. I have seen many poets of the other sort, who were useless once they left school and no longer feared a beating. Christofer left it to me to look out the window, to pat the dog, to feed the fire. He did none of these things-- when he decided to write he wrote. He was very still at his work, he muttered a little sometimes, or counted on his fingers. His body forgot itself, and he forgot it too.
So I was used to him now. And on the third day I had had enough of silence, and I had to walk the pup anyway. It made as much sense as anything to go by the fish shop.
It had been desolate last time, locked up. Today Marcella was there-- her fishes threaded on a pole above her window, gleaming pink and silver. She was deep in speech with some Good-wife, with a go-to-market basket, and pattens to lift her from the common mud. Marcella had her respectful face on. Selling is theater, after all. I stayed back out of the way. Basket and pattens gave over her pennies, took the fish with a poke and a sniff, and clattered away down the street.
Marcella saw me, and raised her hand to wave. She was back in an old gray gown that I knew. It was one that I had taken, warm from her skin, as she laughed up at me last year. Her face was thinner now, the softness under her eyes, from the pregnancy was gone. Now she just looked tired.
“How now, Tom.”
She rose and came to kiss me in greeting. She stood up on her toes to embrace me, closer now without the great belly between us. She smelled the same,
“Come and see the baby, Tom. Come and see.”
She had me by the hand, pulling me forward, into the little space that was her backstage, where she gutted the fish.
“My little boy.” Her voice was soft. She was talking more to him than to me. “His name is John.”
John-- a heavy thump of sound. Well, we name them for what they will become. He was a tiny mite though, to have a man's name. Swaddled, safe from damp and harm, in a basket at her feet, he looked quite a lot like a caterpillar. And as I watched, he raised one miniscule fist and his little face crumpled. He gave a tiny outraged squeak.
“There now, there. Shhh.”
She had him from his basket, already unbuttoning with her free hand. A woman giving suck to a baby need feel no shame, and anyway I had seen her breasts before. They were swollen now with milk, but the dark brown skin of them was as lovely as ever. Baby John seemed to think so too. He knocked with his head like a little lamb, and I saw her wince. But soon enough he began to draw. She reached with her free hand and pulled a shawl over him.
“Just hand me that ale there Tom--” she gestured with her elbow.
“Here you are.”
I handed over the cup and she drank long. When she lowered the cup she licked her lip, neat as a cat.
“Better. I get so thirsty.”
We had once been thee and thou. It stings to stepping back, but tiny baby John was not mine, and Marcella was not mine either, she was quite her own. She sat easy on the wooden bench, and her gaze was soft, her neck bent down, to meet his baffled gaze.
“You look well.” It was weaker than what I felt.
She looked up, and this smile was for me, and it was a good one. She tucked her mouth up, in that way she had, as if to repress a laugh. Usually the laugh burst from her anyway. But today it did not come.
“I am well. But I am tired.” Marcella said. “And it is a fearsome time to be a stranger here.”
“You were born here. You are as much from London as I am.”
“Aye. But I don't look it. You are are a pale thin Englishman, anyone can see that.”
“You are a member of the Dutch church.”
“Those who want to make trouble will not check the baptismal book. I look like a stranger. And my parents came from Africa, by way of Leiden. There are some who fear them. I have heard ugly talk. I fear for them, Tom. They are old.”
Tiny John had glutted himself as we spoke, now sleep took him, suddenly. She hooked a finger in his mouth, detached him, wiped his little face, and put him back in his basket.
We spoke a little, of other things, and I left her. I went home troubled.