Shards of pottery

by Katie Oliver

1. Eve has been informed by her mother of what is to happen: there can be no negotiation. She smooths her brown dress over her knees, focusing upon the weave of the linen; the pulled threads and the darned patches. She thinks about her mother wisping a stray hair away from her forehead: You’re turning out beautiful, Evie duck. She considers the rust-stained rags she must now use each month, signalling the terrifying and uncontrollable thing that blooms within her. She listens to the unfamiliar footsteps rustling along the passage and watches as the door handle turns.

2. Eve waits for a long time before getting up, each step toward the door a staccato creak as she staggers. She enters the kitchen where her father sits, jaw pulsing; fists clenched and trembling. He cannot look at her. Her mother looks enough for the both of them, eyes round as dinner plates and swimming with wet as she tries a smile that makes the corners of her mouth quiver. She speaks with a sharp intake of breath that makes her sound as if she’s dying.

Let’s get you some dinner, duck, she gasps, but what she really means is: please still love me. Eve concentrates on the oily stew placed in front of her and notices a deep crack in the bowl, smears of dark gravy seeping out like shit. A coil of steam winds its way upwards and she snaps her head back as if branded: the hot damp feels too much like breath on her face.

Be able to have some better dinners now, love, whispers her mother.

Her father’s chair scrapes back violently as he limps out, wooden staff clattering against the splintered door frame.

3. Eve sweeps ashes, scrubs floors, dusts crockery; cleans hard enough to scour herself away. Her fingers twitch as they hover over the largest pot, the rough-hewn lip of clay. She imagines the shock of the impact, a thousand broken pieces.

A slicing cramp in her guts bends her double and she leans on the pot for support, allowing her weight to tumble it onto the floor. It shatters, and she splits open.

Pain comes in jagged waves. She moves slow and heavy, selects the largest shard. With the pointed end she traces the ghost-blue veins that snake up her inner arm. They split and branch, constantly dividing, multiplying; flowing inexorably towards an unknowable sea.

4. Eve’s breasts prickle with the needle-sting of new milk as she listens to the fragment’s mewling cry. She smooths the shawl over its fluttering chest, focusing upon the texture of its skin; the butter-softness and the downy golden hairs. Sunlight spills into the room and she watches dust motes spin until her vision blurs.

She will salvage this remnant of herself from the wreckage, refuse to let it crumble into dust.

She will hold it up to the light and marvel at how it has survived.

Katie Oliver is a writer based on the west coast of Ireland, whose work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions and Best Microfiction. Her debut short story collection, I WANTED TO BE CLOSE TO YOU, will be published in December 2022 with Fly on the Wall Press, and she is a first reader for Tiny Molecules. She can be found on Twitter @katie_rose_o.

Detail of photograph from unsplash.