Teacloths

by Florence Cox

My shorthand typing teacher,
a Henry Moore in crimplene,
asked me to stay one morning after class.
“I want to give you a present,” she said,
her gentle murmur framed by lips
of startling red, “but I want it to be
something you really want. Please tell me.”
She knew I lived in a bedsit with a man.
“Teacloths,” I said. She slipped the parcel to me
delicately, when the girls had gone.
They were fine, strong teacloths
with tramlines of primary colour.
Twenty years later, bedsit man long gone,
they are worn, faded, spattered with holes.
The memory of the look on her face
stops me demoting them to rags.
Another woman gave me teacloths too.
Her city is famous for textiles.
When she came to stay, she brought
teacloths with borders of cherries, red on white.
I did phone, when the last of her many letters said
PLEASE WRITE in capitals along the bottom line.
For my sake, not for hers, I’m glad I said,
“You know you’re welcome here at any time.”
When next I phoned and chattered on,
the daughter with her mother’s voice stopped me.
Four days earlier,
they’d fished her mother’s body, gross with grief,
from the dirty river flowing through the city.
Teacloths in turn
rise to the surface
of the heap in my kitchen drawer,
and just when I’m not expecting it,
those cherries leap out, far more bright
and definite
than all the unwritten words inside my head.

Copyright © 2020 Florence Cox


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