Everybody knows about the chair and the porridge and the bed, but that’s not what lured Goldie back to the Bear’s cottage. Sure, there was a sign saying it was private property, and nobody around here seemed to be the type to appreciate surprises. But this place was easy pickings. She’d been watching for weeks and everybody knew they hiked the trails all day with their sturdy boots and their water-proof jackets and their impossible smiles. Who smiles at six in the morning? People with full stomachs, that’s who.
Goldie hadn’t meant to linger. She never should have gone inside. She’d been hungry, is all. She’d promised herself she’d take only enough for the baby inside her. She had to feed the baby. It couldn’t be stealing if it wasn’t for herself, right? Besides, it wasn’t just the hunger. It was the cold.
The minute she stepped over the threshold, warmth poured over her. Her skin tingled as blood worked its way to the tip of her nose, her chapped lips, and the fingers that had grown stiff in the chilly air. The warm air enveloped her, hugged her, squeezed so hard she lost her breath for a moment. Then two. Warmth is painful when you’ve been without for so long.
Warmth isn’t just a temperature. It’s a mood. She sat in the perfect chair and took deep, heavy breaths. The first time, that’s all she did. She grabbed a granola bar from the pantry, but the whole thing with the porridge really didn’t happen until the sixth time. The porridge was tasty enough, but her favorite was when there was potato leek soup in the slow cooker and the fancy China bowls waiting on the counter. She never used the bowls, although she wanted to. She just spooned a little soup into a red plastic cup.
She knew she was trespassing. She didn’t have to go inside. They’d even taken to leaving care packages at the gate with little notes saying “Have a nice day!” for delivery people and needy strangers. That’s what she was: a needy stranger. She should have just taken a packet and left. Everybody knows the worst thing about having your home broken into is that you feel invaded. Violated. Changed.
So Goldie did her best to change nothing. To leave no trace of herself. Later it was said that she slept in the bed and sat on all the chairs, but it wasn’t true. She was afraid her weight, slight as it was, would indent the seats, leave her scent on the cushions, or disturb the order of the pillows. After the first time, if she did sit at all, it was on the floor. She never did try the bed. She was afraid she’d never leave.
She told herself not to touch anything. Everybody knows you’re not supposed to touch other people’s things. But she hadn’t expected to be touched. The place reeked of kindness. The notes were the worst: the empty coffee mug with a “pot’s ready to go, just turn it on” scribbled on a post-it would have been bad enough, but there was a reply, in pencil. “Thanks. Love you too.”
Because that’s what love was supposed to be: a cup of coffee waiting for you when you wake up, a perfect mountain of cushions next to a face-down book, a smiley face drawn on the bathroom mirror, pictures with goofy smiles taped to the refrigerator, and a pile of mail with more than just bills. Love was supposed to be someone who cared whether you were hungry or cold or lonely or hurting. Who asked about your day. Who saw you.
But Goldie had spent a lifetime learning how to disappear. Everybody knew you wouldn’t get hurt if nobody noticed you. Or caught you. She knew how to hide in shadows and pick up only what wouldn’t be missed. What was left over. Left.
And it was better to leave than to remain unwanted. It was cold in the streets, but cold is numbing. If you do without for long enough, you stop missing what you don’t have. But now the heat of that home had worked its way into her. Thawing her. Filling the empty spaces with an absence that cut at her from the inside.
It would have been better to not have known. Never have gone in. Never have returned. To not have tasted the porridge, the soup, the coffee that had been made just so. Just the way somebody liked it. Somebody who wasn’t her.
Amy Marques grew up between cultures and learned, from an early age, the multiplicity of narratives. She penned barely read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to flash and visual poetry. Her work was nominated for BOTN by Streetcake Magazine and published in journals including Jellyfish Review, Gone Lawn, and MoonPark Review. You can find more of her words at https://amybookwhisperer.wordpress.com.