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Marie Hodgkinson
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justso.jpg
Art by Lonni Lees

Just So

Marie Hodgkinson



          So. That really was the operative word, wasn't it? So. Hair, face, plates, glasses and the necessary cutlery just so. Such a peculiar word. Such a peculiar expression, too. Such words and expressions helped fill the time.

          Hair, face, plates, glasses and the necessary cutlery just so, so the meal could take place. Although that really should be "in order that the meal could take place" if one was to be perfectly dull about such things. And life would trundle on.

          Or should that be "might take place"? No. Of course not. It would be impossible for the meal to take place were everything not just so; therefore, "might" could not possibly be used. Not in this context. It hinted at the possibility of a perfect meal sans perfect preparation and was therefore inexcusable.

          Two chairs, two glasses- seven centimetres of wine from the third shelf, the bottle within easy reach, seven centimetres of chilled water, the jug in the kitchen—two plates of food breathing thin tendrils of mouth-watering flavour into the air. A beautiful meal, but not one that would last much longer. In four minutes the steam would be spent, the wine diluted and slippery with condensation, and the water lukewarm, although that was of lesser importance.

          Three and a half minutes.

          The coils of steam folded in on themselves, their tantalising loops and branches giving up their useless entreaties in the stony face of the passing seconds. The stony face, too, of the woman standing three paces behind her own chair, from whom the passing seconds were ripped like tears.

          Then the door opened. Even the cooling plates sighed out more steam as if they too were breathing thanks for their deliverance. The droplets of water on the two glasses caught the light charmingly, and the pall disappeared from the face that was still, as ever, just so. Perfect. Unfurrowed brow, bright eyes—but not too bright—creasing in welcome.

          They both sit down. It is quiet, now: earlier, the hiss and bubble of cooking food—edible chemistry— had filled her ears until she couldn't hear the yelling but now he is quiet and she is quiet and the only sound in her ears is the clink, clink of cutlery and glass and plate.

          All this noise is his, of course, apologetic chimes of the evening meal. She has not yet picked up her knife and fork, not yet put dry lips to cold glass.


          But it is wonderful, this peace. He doesn’t look up, doesn’t take his glowering eyes from the plate as he shovels forkfuls of untasted food into his mouth. She knows that he might still look up, just once, and keeps the smile safely on her face. She knows this smile inside-out: eyes creased, but not so much that she squinted or gave the impression of wincing away; mouth stretched, wide and long to display a glassy triangle of teeth and only the slightest hint of pink flesh, reddened gums behind reddened lips.

          He does not look up, not as he eats and not as he leaves. He had looked up, once, during such a meal as this, and ever since then the absence of his eyes on her face had cut worse than any blow from those heavy hands, and yet—

          It is so peaceful. She draws the smile back into herself, packs it away for another day and cleans away the dishes. Each spot is rubbed away until all that is left is gleaming white and silver and crystal, is whole and clean and perfect.

          Perfect. No, that is not the word at all. It is . . . so. Everything is just so, and so it will remain.

          She closes her eyes. So it will remain.

 

 

 

Marie Hodgkinson is a student at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and has been writing stories ever since she learned to put crayon to paper. Those early masterpieces may never see the light of day (there is, after all, little market for stories detailing the epic adventures of a gold-coloured, winged unicorn called Goldie and her kleptomaniac ways), but she is currently managing to polish up a few newer efforts and throw them at people. Sometimes, they even stick.

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