Willow and Poplar
by Rosie Hughes
He cuts a couple of young willow branches and breaks them into roughly equal lengths. His pocket knife splits the wood down their middles. He used to do this as a child, whittle a host of raw wood and form them into pegs, all while his father tapered oak staves and trussed them into barrels. He learnt how to hedge-lay, how to craft decent besom brooms and even cricket bats.
Yes, when he was a child, but now it’s with a briefcase squashing the grass and a suit jacket hung on a poplar branch. A flimsy scarecrow. The wind shushes the long grasses and ripples the stream that gushes past his feet. Fingers catch on splinters, still better than any smooth keyboard. He’s much better off without that desk job anyway, he tells himself.
A twist of a metal band to fix the end. Leaving offcuts to rot down, he picks up his things and heads home. To make sure he returns at the usual five thirty.
“The wind shushes the long grasses and ripples the stream that gushes past his feet.”
She stands by the kitchen window tea-towelling a glass that’s already dry. She discovered his pegs a few days ago, his coat pockets like stuffed cheeks. She spotted the mud on his shoes, smelt the bouquet of fresh air in his hair. She’d asked him about his day, received averted eyes and something about a meeting, blue sky thinking. Her lips scrabbled to find a smile.
She forwent the cross-examination, instead hunkered down to wait for his truth. Their silence a satellite over the dining table, the sofa, the bed. While he’s out all day, she makes sure she uses vinegar and lemon to mop the floor. Turns off the heating and wears more layers. Reuses tea bags.
Today, he returns and empties his woodwork on the kitchen table. He sits and folds his hands, his thumbs dancing over each other. She sits opposite. She selects a peg and another, pinches her eyebrows in turn to help slide them on, and proceeds to wiggle her brow.
And he laughs. His belly shakes and his hands blossom open, her warmth thaws his frozen words. After each truth that falls from his lips, she pins on him peg after peg. His jacket, soon porcupined. With the last in his hand, he slides it into her hair, lifting her fringe away from her face and cups her cheeks. Her smile reaches the band round his finger.
Rosie Hughes | @RosebudHughes
Rosie is part of a creative writing group with multi-award winning poet Pat Borthwick in York. Rosie has recently come back from teaching English in Italy and is finding her way now she’s back home. She’s finally starting to take her writing more seriously but is still afraid of the Blank Page.