Young Woman Washing Plates

Up a long exposed outdoor corridor lined in thirsty late summer grass, she walked. Hands still sheened from the olive oil she kept by the wash basin in her room. She can not keep them from cracking. The fire-hot water, barely not boiling, the lye in the soap, the constancy of filthy clay plates and white ceramic that came to her every color but white. Dust rose behind the fine gravel crunch beneath tight tied, unheeled leather shoes. A branch overhung the path snatched a pinch of dress around her backside, and she scoffed the plant as if it were the gardener. A smile fleeting from her face. At her basin. Her station. In more ways than maybe three. She would be standing in this spot for what seemed eternity.

The clarity, sharp outline of those working hands. Definition, in places it was not desired. Looking tired, only when no one else was watching. Smiling through the doorway at the woman baking bread. She dreamed of lining her hands in dough. More olive oil. Each time they dried, just long enough from the water, the air would touch the tiny pink crevice at the base of each cracked callus and close her eyes. She’d grip her wrist, twist in place, grind the balls of her feet and make an ungodly face. Then turn back to her smooth wooden washbowl like nothing happened. Nothing had. She had absolutely no one in the world to turn to. To even complain to. Like the path that leads from her empty room, she felt walled in and vine-wrapped and forgotten. The opposite of a bridge. The antithesis of a road. The wall. She could hear gulls on the other side. Ever so often, the voices of young children. Scraps leftover from lunches. Which led to the gulls, and children. Her assumption. She didn’t know. But how she could donate hours to wondering. Dreaming. Such earthwhile things.

A clink and a slosh as her table shifts under the weight of a new tower of meat greased plates. The hefty, top heavy man who set them there, oil stained up and down his front, like it had been pouring from his mouth down his chest, lingered. She kept her eyes downturned and reached for a dented pewter bowl she had been working on. The man dipped two fingers in the wash water, held them up in front of his face as if he had never seen fingers before, and tasted them both in his big dry mouth.

“Tastes more like day-old soup than dishwater.”

“Taste a lot of dishwater, do you?”

“Luce, you are a funny one. I’ll fetch you more hot water.”

“Thanks, darling.”