Just the One

Aïcha Martine Thiam






The spoon has been on the table for a week.

GIRL knows LADY is tired of picking up after her,
and HUSBAND is tired of
telling LADY to pick up after GIRL, and OTHER LADY asks GIRL
if she isn’t tired of people picking up after her —
and what can GIRL say but that she is:
But she is answering a question
they have not quite asked. Tired, she is.
And GIRL asks them (more often than not, in her own head,
because her tongue, it weighs a ton),
why they can’t just leave it, it is just a spoon.
But they all parrot that it is not the point,
not the point.
HUSBAND addendums with an additional remark:
it doesn’t look good, it doesn’t appear good, for him,
for them, for what they symbolize.
For instance: when his Theatre troupe dropped in,
impromptu, the other day, they pointed out
the orphaned slipper castaway on the shearling rug
and they raucously laughed, and LADY simpered
and even GIRL managed a smile
(though her eyes were searching HUSBAND’s eyes
for the retribution that was to later come).
It didn’t matter then, as he parted her puny limbs
with rough hands to make good on his promise,
that it all felt so inconsequential:
a thing is not a thing,
it is evidence of yet another thing out of place.
The shoe feels as heavy as the boathouse in which they live,
her earring is like an oar that bends her neck,
the satin slip she tries to pull on drags her like an anchor,
to her knees.
But the spoon has been on the table for a week,
and the parenthesis of time where this explanation
would have been relevant, and even welcome,
has come, and it has gone.


In her dreams, she rides sea winds.
She is a feather the color of her cotton-like hair,
and from above, the colossal boathouses lining the shore
look like leaves dotting the grassbed.
The grandest of buildings
is merely a carstack of rubble anything, even she,
could topple.
HUSBAND is unspottable from this lightfooted vantage point.
But GIRL wakes from under weighty covers
like a suffocating beached whale.
The swirling, teal-colored walls,
joining hands overhead
like a wave collecting itself before it ravages.
These days she drags herself straight down to the carpeted floor
and waits a moment for the wall-wave feeling to pass
before she begins her slithering progress
toward the rest of the world.


One day, LANDLADY walked in
to find her lolling near the leg of the rocking chair.
GIRL had forgotten she would invite herself over
every other month,
although the invitation wasn’t in truth needed,
as LANDLADY owned the boathouse
in which they were allowed to live.
LANDLADY’s confusion was such that she volte-faced at once,
presumably to tell HUSBAND.
Even the apprehension of familiar reprisal
did nothing to alarm GIRL this time.
When he returned,
smelling of greasepaint, powder, and some other one’s perfume,
he found her in the bed
LADY had helped her back into,
and to her dispassionate surprise,
it was not with the usual vitriol about gratitude and obligations.
No, his eyes were brilliant with a pitying fervor.
This despondency, you must help it along, my dove,
it has been over a year.
Even at its worse, surely,
it can’t be worse than what awaits you.
Than what it was like Before.
She already knows HUSBAND will return from
the theatre room tomorrow with yet another nacre dress
neatly pleated in its silken box,
to append to a depthless wardrobe she has barely touched.
It is so she can be reminded:
that this barely-there woman sinking in her sheets,
this wasn’t always the case, this best not always be the case.
GIRL already knows LADY will flutter about
for the following days,
towing her out earlier from her slumber,
dabbing at her face with colors that adorn a facsimile of life.


To think: this was her own trade,
something she perfected on her own.
To think she would swagger on stage every night,
her small self tucked away under the rouge
and the lipstick and the feathers and costumes:
it makes GIRL near dizzy with the weight of the remembrance.
Even then, when HUSBAND — then, MAN — one of many,
would grasp her covetously, she knew she was steady,
knew she could still beat him off with a dance
and the strength of her conviction.
To think there was a time when it was HUSBAND
(when he did not yet own her) buckling
under her formidable force as he returned
night after night to watch her.
To think — no: who was that woman?


He says: haven’t I promised to give you more
than you would otherwise have in this hopeless world?
But what did she not have, soaring above the ballhall,
seabird songstress in full might?
He says: the world doesn’t like the likes of you and me.
can you conceive anything worse than what you would have
outside there?
But did they not hail for her and her fellow Black sisters
every night,
and did they not line and line and line the blocks
until posts were erected?
He says: this despondency, you must help it along,
but he doesn’t understand: she was always turned
in its direction, it was always coming for her.


The heaviness, it came for her mother too.
it claimed MOTHER little by little, then without warning,
one stifling day in Senegal, while they took the ferry boat
to the Mauritanian shores to elude her father.
MOTHER drifted from her seat,
leaned over the railings to have a look,
and kept leaning until they pulled her back,
everyone screaming.


When LADY swirls her morning drink,
sugar pot in the other hand,
GIRL manages just the one,
because anything more would send her spoon careening
for the burnished floor.


There will be more talk of things cast aside and asunder
and there will be more explanations
and more trying to prop herself up into idea of a woman,
when all GIRL wants to say to others is
this despondency is all I have,
and all she wants to ask herself:
who, who was that woman?





AïCHA MARTINE is a trilingual/multicultural writer, musician and artist, and might have been a kraken in a past life. She’s been nominated for Best of the Net, The Best Small Fictions and The Pushcart Prize. She’s the author of two poetry collections: AT SEA (CLASH BOOKS), which was shortlisted for the 2019 Kingdoms in the Wild Poetry Prize, and BURN THE WITCH (Finishing Line Press). Follow her work: www.amartine.com.


The art published alongside this story is by Anna Buckley.