Potato-Bread and Elephants – Christine Collinson

I’m making potato-bread again by the pale light from the kitchen window. The wheat supply’s gone down with the ships. Sunk by u-boats, so the papers tell us. At least we’ve got potatoes, loads of ‘em. As much potato-bread as any family round here could need.

With all the practice, I’m getting better. Always leave the skin on to keep the goodness, like the booklet says. No peeling. I boil them up, then mash ‘em to a pulp like creamy clouds. The muscles in my forearm pull and pinch, but never tire. I focus on nothing, just working those clumps and the soft squidgy sound beneath my masher.

The clatter of cart-wheels passes by out front. It could be the elephant hauling munitions to the dockside again. So many horses taken away to France that we’ve none left to work for us. Such a sight, like you’ve never seen. The lady next door said she’s called Lizzie, said she put her trunk through a window and pinched someone’s supper. A circus elephant, I ask you. Lord knows what’s coming next.

I close the oven door with a satisfactory ‘clang’ and wipe down the table-top as the heat begins to warm the room. The day’s brightening and promises something more than the endless rain of late. Perhaps I’ll walk into town later, before teatime, when my Gregory finishes his shift. The young lads might be going, but if it wasn’t for the older chaps, the place would’ve closed its gates. We might not have horses, but we’ve still got steelworkers, thanks be given.

It’s only been seven weeks since our David left, but I need to fill time. He looked so young in his uniform and it seemed too bulky for him. And I need to fill spaces; the physical ones around me and more so, the shadowy ones in my mind. They lurk insidiously. I don’t want to see what fills them, when it’s quiet and dark. In the night hours I can reach out and curl my arm around Gregory, but in the days I find nothing.

Savoury and comforting, I smell the fresh potato-bread. I peep at it, but it’s not quite ready. The kitchen’s clean and neat, so I could go out when it’s done. I should buy more potatoes. I might even see Lizzie, I think, with a rare wry smile. The strangeness of these times feels as usual now as anything ever has. I don’t mind most of it, not really. Only his absence, his distance, and the anguished need for it to end with his safe return.

Christine Collinson writes historical fiction. Her Flash Collection’s been shortlisted by Ellipsis and she’s a Best Microfiction nominee.
She’s also been longlisted by Bath Flash Fiction. She tweets @collinson26.

Image via Pixabay

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