The Dish Soap

By Bikem Pastine (16), St Andrew’s College, Blackrock, Dublin

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I was about to walk when you stopped by. One foot was out the door. I was going to buy eggs, milk and maybe something sweet just for me. The kids were inside and I was in my pyjama bottoms with my hair in a bun. My breath was white as the snow on the ground. So, when you stopped by, I only had one foot outside but I swear if you hadn’t come I would have walked.

I didn’t want to invite you in for tea. You probably knew that. You must have remembered how my mother always used to roll the consonants and vowels of simple hospitality off her tongue. I wonder if you felt me morph into her for a second.

And so, you were in my house. The TV was on in the back room and the sink was filled with dirty dishes. I saw you look at them when you thought I was absorbed in boiling the kettle. I remember you never used to hesitate to get out the dish soap. I imagined what you would say if you couldn’t find it under the sink where it used to be. But you didn’t look for it.

I stirred three sugars and a drop of milk into your cup and forced the question about where you were living. You didn’t answer. Instead, you made a comment about how I knew just the way you liked your tea. I asked why you had come.

My hands were shaking on my cup as I brought them to my lips. I spilled drops over my numb hands.

You handed over a note. It was an address. There was going to be a potluck next weekend and that I was welcome to attend.

I noticed your nails were bitten down, so I took the paper. That’s the only reason I took it. I wanted you out of my kitchen too. That was another reason.

The paper was crumpled. Your ‘i’s were dotted with ‘X’s. It used to be circles.

I took it and said I’d think about it. You knew I wasn’t coming. Or maybe you didn’t know. You looked hopeful and smiled that tiny smile. I closed my eyes.

When I was done with the tea you were just starting. You were drawing it out or maybe I was the one drinking too fast. We were dancers that had gone off beat. I asked you if that was all. I didn’t mean for it to come off that rude but I couldn’t bring myself to talk to you about how the snow had cancelled the schools or how I had to put on special tyres to drive or how much a pain it was to stop the pipes from freezing in these old houses. I knew you wouldn’t care. I still knew you that well.

You said that was all and I felt the ice in your voice smack me. I couldn’t look away from the ground all the way to the door to show you out.

Your boots crunched and your car door slammed and I missed back when your ‘i’s had circles on them and when the dish soap was under the sink. I missed the time when I was going to walk. I had forgotten about you then. I had forgotten that maybe you didn’t take your tea the same way. I guess it slipped my mind.

I want you to know that when you left I sat behind my front door. I sat there missing you and letting the sound of some cartoon on the TV flow over me with your note in my hand. I want you to know. But you didn’t know where the dish soap was.

When I finished sitting there, I put the mugs into the sink and washed the dishes. I dried my hands and grabbed my wallet. I went out the door in my pyjama bottoms and walked.