M-L feels biased when her friends arrive with such blank faces. She hears footsteps on the tiles outside her door and already she can tell that these footsteps are expecting something from her.
The sound they make is rapid, even though it is summer and there is no real reason to be rushing toward the doorbell. The footsteps want to be seated, inside, where M-L will entertain them with her fine nose, and her partner B will prepare cooking smells that will go home with them in their dresses, ties and cardigans.
M-L has a concealed forehead. Her streaked hair is bracken that forms a blind spot where other people might just frown. You can see the faint undergrowth of her scalp through the sticks of hair. She has a mouth that says modest things that are pitched by her voice so that they glint a little like new coins. Her nose is delicate, with freckles that look like abandoned loose change. As her most endearing feature she secures and maintains her friendships with her nose and its active curves.
On a Tuesday, which is today, near the start of summer, M-L opens her door five times to let her friends in. She emailed 8 invitations, and she is a little pleased that she only has to open the door five times, rather than 8 times. B has a spinach parcel in the oven already. She calls it a parcel because she likes the thought of putting a gift in the oven and getting an even crispier, extra golden gift back.
Really its proper name is Spanakopita, which translates as Spinach Pie, and it is a recipe that B picked up off an ex-partner who was also a chef. M-L told me once in confidence that if not in the company of others, B and her find it overly easy to fight about Spanikopita and its origins. Thought M-L finds Spanakopita delicious she will only eat it when she is secure and confident in the company of her friends. Spinach Pie is a special treat for both B and M-L for very different reasons.
At about 8pm the friends take their seats at the long table in a room separate from the kitchen. At the table B has already placed her chin into the intimate bracken of M-L’s hair in a way that takes for granted the familiar smell she finds there; she no longer makes a lingering request. It is the place where B goes to centre herself in the company of M-L’s friends. M-L’s voice squeaks a little more than usual, as if she is experiencing a rush of goose bumps and is trying to hide them. Her friends pay particular attention to her nose, and I can see that it is a rock that they are all trying to stand on.
M-L toys with her blind spot. She has developed habits that her friends have come to rely on and being a rock is one of them. Her nose is a small island on which the people she loves congregate. They can throw stones off into the outer zones of her features and see them ripple, amused and almost hoping that the pebbles will some how bounce back and smack them lightly on their foreheads, an intimate ellipse like baptism.
This never happens, and they are all relieved and made awkward by disappointment.
I am attracted to M-L’s right elbow, and in the past this has been a problem in our friendship. I do not take much interest in her nose, and do not get much satisfaction from watching B hide a little in the thicket of M-L’s hair above the assembly of her friends. I rarely join the congregation in the middle of her face and in spite of myself start to ask B about where she found the delicious recipe for Spanakopita.
I do this even though I can see the party on M-L’s nose squirm and pick up wine glasses and take sips at great speed without comfortable breath in between and grip the glasses with both hands like bulky stones that can’t be thrown.
I resort to buttering the bread on my plate. I ask M-L how the life drawing class is going, all the while buttering the bread that flattens under the knife and is sucked down and breaks open and shows the flat-bone plate.
M-L uses sentences that have been practiced on others at different times earlier in the day, and she adds warmth to the details that bring her drawing class to life by making the words travel the full length of her tongue; the story pumps with quiet stamina.
I excuse myself from the table and go to the bathroom. B follows me and asks me if I’m all right, and I say that I have perhaps enjoyed too much rich food. The greasy marks on my wine glass are there when I get back.
The friends have left the safety of the island and are in different places of the flat, talking or stroking an object or helping tidy up the kitchen now that the plates have been cleared and dessert needs to come out. B begins to talk about the origins of her name, and the origins are admirable and have a deep root to them, and slink under the growth of time to a point made intelligible by darkness.
M-L leans over my shoulder, beside me but a little behind with her elbow almost touching my back. She wants to know what my name means. I tell her ‘a living spring’ and she says she never thought that a spring that is coiled and metallic and that hovers between the earth and the sky could be living. I do not say nor had I, but nudge the bend of her arm onto the launch of my back.
Under energy saving light bulbs, B gifts us Sorbet.