eglantine_br (eglantine_br) wrote,
eglantine_br
eglantine_br

The great bell began, not far, a deep baw baw, it was more than a sound, but something that came up through the soles of her feet. And now half a heartbeat behind, as always, the fainter smaller bell in the east. Enough. Nobody had come to the stall in the last hour anyway. Sideways rain was best for catching fish, but very poor for selling them. Marcella felt her mouth quirk into a smile that ached. Her father used to say that. Oh dad, I do miss thee...

And that achy thought made real the other aches. Marcella became aware of the hard bench beneath her. Maybe tomorrow she should bring a pillow. The bones where she sat seemed looser now. And there was a vicious pain in her back too that never seemed to stop.

Red Kate, her gossip had advice as always. “That boy is getting bigger every day. Best put him in the basket, let him fuss, he'll learn to like it there.” And Marcella had smiled. Kate had three, but John was Marcella's first, she was not going to do that. John was tiny and curled as perfectly as Tom Kyd's fancy lettering. He fit into her arms as if he had always been there, should always have been there. He smelled so good. She found herself lowering her nose, throughout the day to press it to the top of his silky head, his face. John's eyes had been vague and puzzled at first, but he knew her now. Marcella could tell, his eyes sought hers.

So she had the basket there. But she mostly kept him closer than that tucked against her. Oh she put him in the basket when she needed two hands free-- when she had barrels to heave, or when she had to use the knife.

Every day began the same, as a far as fish went. She still had to get the fish from the docks, and prepare them for sale. She ran a cord through the sharp pink gills without slicing her own hands to the bone. This so she could hang them in enticing display. The smaller fishes were laid out below, silver and shining and fresh, fresh. All of this, every morning, in the grey light of dawn. Well. Not Sunday obviously. Sunday found her at the Dutch Church with the other strangers. Her church, her place. A place for strangers,

Today was Friday. And mostly over, and raining. And he nearly finished suckling now. His eyes were closed, she could feel him heavy damp and replete. Time to go. Marcella reached down with a clean hooked finger to dislodge him.

He had been fishy,himself, blue and pink, uncertain; uncertain of color, but never uncertain of life. He had struggled from the first to be near her-- an upraised fist her first sight of him, as her gossips cleaned and swaddled, as they admired him, gave him the first praises and caresses of his new life.

He was a real color now, a sort of dark acorn.
Time to go. She locked the shutter down and stepped into her pattens. She snugged him close in his sling against her chest. He slept on, safe and warm. She could see that he was content. His mouth pursed, dreaming of her breast. She kept her left arm under, to warm him, now. Her right held her basket. She had herring for herself today.

“Ay-- Macella”

“How art thou Kate?”

“He's grown.”

“Mmmh. He smiles now. He knows me.”

“Well, aye-- of course he does. Oh the darling-- “ She leaned close, her voice low, careful not to wake him. Kate had worked her own stall all day, Marcella knew she had been up in the dark, gathering eggs, and spent the day frying waffles. Still, she smelled delicious and her coif was fresh and her apron even looked clean.

“Headed home?” Kate shifted her own basket to her hip.

“To my mother,” Marcella said. “But first I wanted to buy some--” She gestured to a larger shop, the wares there had never meant much to her, before, but now they seemed enticing, like tumble of green jewels. Her mouth had watered as she worked, dreaming of salad.

“I seen him this morning pissing on the lettuce.”

“What!”

“Keeps it green longer-- he does the cabbage too. You didn't know?”

Marcella shook her head.

“Learn something new every day--” Kate gave a gappy toothed grin. “Still want 'em?'

“No.”

“Come then, honey. I'll buy thee an orange. You can peel that, at least.”

Kate picked a big one, and put her money down. She put the orange into Marcella's palm, it was as bright as a piece of captured sun. It smelled delicious, and all hers. “I got mine this morning,” Kate said.

John was curled tight asleep, warm against her, and her body swayed back the way it had for the last year. He was happy there. And she was happy too, to walk in the free air, and laugh about small things. It made the big things sting less.

Here was her father's house now. Two floors, and at the very top a window that Marcella had learned the world from. Her room. Her mother had hung herbs from the roof beam to dry. Her room had smelled of rosemary and cresses. Marcella had slept among the shadowed leaves.

She was done with those times. She took a strong breath, stepped over the broken stone at the door, and went in.

And this at least was the same as ever; the strength of her mother's embrace and the smell of clean linen and cooking spices.

“Oh, the little man-- how does he today? Yes, yes, I see thee. How dost thou?” This in a high squeak, for little John. And Marcella could feel him squirm and kick in delight.

The embrace for Marcella came second but was no less for that.

“Mamma,” The sound came out with the squeeze, the word lost against her mother's kerchief.

“I did not think to see thee today, Come sit.”

The house seemed unchanged; the rush chair, the broom by the fire. There were subtle changes too, since father's death. Marcella felt them with her skin, with some core of herself. The chair was nearer to the fire than before, her mother was always cold now.

“Herring,” Marcella gestured to the basket. The place by the fire was dim, warm. Looking from there she could see the rest of the house. Light from the high little windows picked it out in fractured light.

“Ooh, I will make a pie of these tonight.” her mother was smiling down at the basket as she stepped into the golden square, the lifted spinning dust of the little chamber.


“ Mamma,” this time the word was different. It came from a cold place somewhere in Marcella's gut, an icy, oily, rolling there.

“Let me see thy arm,” Marcella hated to see the wide smile go out like a snuffed candle.

The scrape to the elbow was neatly dressed, hidden under her sleeve, but all along the arm bone it was hot and tight and swollen, bruised.

“What happened?” she stroked the arm, felt her mother wince.

“I fell.”

“Aye?”

“There was a man hanging a paper up, outside the church. I went to speak to him, to invite him within. I had a basket of waffles, for the congregation, you know?”

“Yes,” Marcella did know. The Dutch church was big and drafty. As a child, a day of services had been long, the voice from the alter had been loud, she had felt small as a mouse, sitting in the pew with her legs dangling. Her mother's Leiden waffles had been something good to eat at the end. The big basket was for everyone, but mother always made sure that Marcella got a hot one right off the top.

“Worth the walk from Great Zimbabwe, Best thing about our years in Holland,” Her father had always said. And his face had had little lines that bloomed when he laughed. Little Marcella had laughed. It was a joke, of course. She was the best thing.

Now Father was gone. Her mother was alone; Far from the African city where she had started, far too from Holland, which she had loved. Alone in London, with her timid smile, her kindness, her waffles.

“He was nailing up a paper. When he saw me looking, he ran at me. He knocked me down. My basket spilled. I hurt my arm falling. But I took his paper. He looked a wicked man and I did not want him putting it up.

Would you like me to read it, Mama?

“Yes,”

The letter was heavy, costly paper, It was writ big, to be seen from a distance. It was stained with mud.

Marcella began reading. She could feel the sour fear rising in her.

“I really don't want to read this. It just goes on the same way to the end.” No she didn't want to read it, but she already had. Her mother should not hear it though.

“Well, does it say who wrote it. I can see a name at the bottom, I think.”

“It says 'Tamborlaine.'” I don't know who that is, but I think I can find out. She tucked the letter in her pocket. She would go to see Tom Kyd.






great bell began, not far, a deep baw baw, more than sound, but something that came up through the soles of her feet. And now half a heartbeat behind, as always, the fainter smaller bell in the east. Enough. Nobody had come to the stall in the last hour anyway. Sideways rain was best for catching fish, but very poor for selling them. Marcella felt her mouth quirk into a smile that ached. Her father used to say that. Oh dad, I do miss thee...

And that achy thought made real the other aches. Marcella became aware of the hard bench beneath her. Maybe tomorrow she should bring a pillow. The bones where she sat seemed looser now. And there was a vicious pain in her back too that never seemed to stop.

Red Kate, her friend had advice as always. “That boy is getting bigger every day. Best put him in the basket, let him fuss, he'll learn to like it there.” And Marcella had smiled. Kate had 3, but John was Marcella's first, she was not going to do that. John was tiny and curled as perfectly as Tom Kyd's fancy lettering. He fit into her arms as if he had always been there, should always have been there. He smelled so good. She found herself lowering her nose, throughout the day to press it to the top of his silky head, his face. John's eyes had been vague and puzzled at first, but he knew her now. Marcella could tell, his eyes sought hers.

So she had the basket there. But she mostly kept him closer than that tucked against her. Oh she put him in the basket when she needed two hands free-- when she had barrels to heave, or when she had to use the knife. Every day began the same, as a far as fish went. She still had to get the fish from the docks, and prepare them for sale. She ran a cord through the sharp pink gills without slicing her own hands to the bone. This so she could hang them in enticing display. The smaller fishes were laid out below, silver and shining and fresh, fresh. All of this, every morning, in the grey light of dawn. Well. Not Sunday obviously. Sunday found her at the Dutch church with the other strangers. Her church, her place. A place for strangers,

Today was Friday. And mostly over, and raining. And he nearly finished suckling now. His eyes were closed, she could feel him heavy damp and replete. Time to go. Marcella reached down with a clean hooked finger to dislodge him.

He had been no human color at birth, himself fishy, blue and pink, uncertain; uncertain of color, but never uncertain of life. He had struggled from the first to be near her-- an upraised fist her first sight of him, as her gossips cleaned and swaddled, as they admired him, gave him the first praises and caresses of his new life.

He was a real color now, a sort of dark acorn.
Time to go. She locked the shutter down and stepped into her pattens. She snugged him close in his sling against her chest. He slept on, safe and warm. She could see that he was content. His mouth pursed, dreaming of her breast. She kept her left arm under, to warm him, now. Her right held her basket. She had herring for herself today.

“Ay-- Macella”

“How art thou Kate?”

“He's grown.”

“Mmmh. He smiles now. He knows me.”

“Well, aye-- of course he does. Oh the darling-- “ She leaned close, her voice low, careful not to wake him. Kate had worked her own stall all day, Marcella knew she had been up in the dark, gathering eggs, and spent the day frying waffles. Still, she smelled delicious and her coif was fresh and her apron even looked clean.

“Headed home?” Kate shifted her own basket to her hip.

“ To my mother,” Marcella said. “But first I wanted to buy some--” She gestured to a larger shop, the wares there had never meant much to her, before, but now they seemed enticing, like tumble of green jewels. Her mouth had watered as she worked, dreaming of salad.

“I seen him this morning pissing on the lettuce.”

“What!”

“Keeps it green longer-- he does the cabbage too. You didn't know?”

Marcella shook her head.

“Learn something new every day--” Kate gave a gappy toothed grin. “Still want 'em?'

“No.”

“Come then, honey. I'll buy thee an orange. You can peel that, at least.”

Kate picked a big one, and put her money down. She put the orange into Marcella's palm, it was as bright as a piece of captured sun. It smelled delicious, and all hers. “I got mine this morning,” Kate said.

John was curled tight asleep, warm against her, and her body swayed back the way it had for the last year. He was happy there. And she was happy too, to walk in the free air, and laugh about small things. It made the big things sting less.

Here was her father's house now. Two floors, and at the very top a window that Marcella had learned the world from. Her room. Her mother had hung herbs from the roof beam to dry. Her room had smelled of rosemary and cresses. Marcella had slept among the shadowed leaves.

She was done with those times. She took a strong breath, stepped over the broken stone at the door, and went in.

And this at least was the same as ever; the strength of her mother's embrace and the smell of clean linen and cooking spices.

“Oh, the little man-- how does he today? Yes, yes, I see thee. How dost thou?” This in a high squeak, for little John. And Marcella could feel him squirm and kick in delight.

The embrace for Marcella came second but was no less for that.

“Mamma,” The sound came out with the squeeze, the word lost against her mother's kerchief.

“I did not think to see thee today, Come sit.”

The house seemed unchanged; the rush chair, the broom by the fire. There were subtle changes too, since father's death. Marcella felt them with her skin, with some core of herself. The chair was nearer to the fire than before, her mother was always cold now.

“Herring,” Marcella gestured to the basket. The place by the fire was dim, warm. Looking from there she could see the rest of the house. Light from the high little windows picked it out in fractured light.

“Ooh, I will make a pie of these tonight.” her mother was smiling down at the basket as she stepped into the golden square, the lifted spinning dust of the little chamber.


“ Mamma,” this time the word was different. It came from a cold place somewhere in Marcella's gut, an icy, oily, rolling there.

“Let me see thy arm,” Marcella hated to see the wide smile go out like a snuffed candle.

The scrape to the elbow was neatly dressed, hidden under her sleeve, but all along the arm bone it was hot and tight and swollen, bruised.

“What happened?” she stroked the arm, felt her mother wince.

“I fell.”

“Aye?”

“There was a man hanging a paper up, outside the church. I went to speak to him, to invite him within. I had a basket of waffles, for the congregation, you know?”

“Yes,” Marcella did know. The Dutch church was big and drafty. As a child, a day of services had been long, the voice from the alter had been loud, she had felt small as a mouse, sitting in the pew with her legs dangling. Her mother's Leiden waffles had been something good to eat at the end. The big basket was for everyone, but mother always made sure that Marcella got a hot one right off the top.

“Worth the walk from Great Zimbabwe, Best thing about our years in Holland,” Her father had always said. And his face had had little lines that bloomed when he laughed. Little Marcella had laughed. It was a joke, of course. She was the best thing.

Now Father was gone. Her mother was alone; Far from the African city where she had started, far too from Holland, which she had loved. Alone in London, with her timid smile, her kindness, her waffles.

“He was nailing up a paper. When he saw me looking, he ran at me. He knocked me down. My basket spilled. I hurt my arm falling. But I took his paper. He looked a wicked man and I did not want him putting it up.

Would you like me to read it, Mama?

“Yes,”

The letter was heavy, costly paper, It was writ big, to be seen from a distance. It was stained with mud.

Marcella began reading. She could feel the sour fear rising in her.

“I really don't want to read this. It just goes on the same way to the end.” No she didn't want to read it, but she already had. Her mother should not hear it though.

“Well, does it say who wrote it. I can see a name at the bottom, I think.”

“It says 'Tamborlaine.'” I don't know who that is, but I think I can find out. She tucked the letter in her pocket. She would go to see Tom Kyd.
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