Abigail Elizabeth Ottley

Ottley (formerly Wyatt) writes poetry – and some short fiction – from her home in Penzance in Cornwall. Since 2009, her work has appeared in more than 150 journals, magazines and anthologies including The Blue Nib, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Atrium Poetry and Words With Jam. She was also one of the poets featured in Wave Hub: new poetry from Cornwall (2014) edited by Dr Alan M Kent and published by Francis Boutle. In 2019, 12 of her poems were translated into Romanian for Pro Saeculum and Banchetul. For this, much gratitude to translator and bilingual poet, Mariana Gardner. In the same year, Abigail’s poem ‘Bull Male, Sleeping’ was chosen for ‘Poems on the Move’ at the Guernsey Literary Festival. (formerly Wyatt) writes poetry – and some short fiction – from her home in Penzance in Cornwall. Since 2009, her work has appeared in more than 150 journals, magazines and anthologies including The Blue Nib, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Atrium Poetry and Words With Jam. She was also one of the poets featured in Wave Hub: new poetry from Cornwall (2014) edited by Dr Alan M Kent and published by Francis Boutle. In 2019, 12 of her poems were translated into Romanian for Pro Saeculum and Banchetul. For this, much gratitude to translator and bilingual poet, Mariana Gardner. In the same year, Abigail’s poem ‘Bull Male, Sleeping’ was chosen for ‘Poems on the Move’ at the Guernsey Literary Festival.

WHAT LITTLE GIRLS LEARN

He is standing at the kitchen sink, his long, narrow back turned towards the trembling girl who is watching him from the doorway. He is twenty-two years old but tall and thin so he looks like he’s made up of angles. He hunches up his shoulders and lopes when he walks. She used to think this was cute.

        ‘Fucking thing!’

        He doesn’t turn around. This is how she knows he is angry. He plunges his hands into the yellow plastic bowl like a two-year old in a rage. Hot, soapy water splashes up the wall and swamps the wooden draining board. The packet of Tide he didn’t put away sucks up water like a sponge.

        ‘ Shit,’ he says. He kicks the cupboard. ’My fucking mother will fucking kill me.’

        The girl looks at the clock. His mother, who is working, will come home at five. The girl chews at her thumbnail which is already red raw and wishes he wouldn’t swear like that, that she hadn’t here come at all.

        She didn’t have to and to tell the truth she didn’t really want to. It was only the fact she’d been bunking off school and didn’t know how to go back. Bunking off school, she was beginning to realise, had been a stupid mistake. The chances of getting away with it were actually quite slim. Too late now. What had happened had happened. She will go in tomorrow. She racks her brains for who she can ask to write her a note.

        Technically, she supposes, he didn’t force her. She isn’t sure whether threatening her or scaring her counts. She was frightened, certainly. She still is frightened. She wants to get dressed and run away. He feels like a stranger, not someone she knows. He is not like the person he was yesterday. He has turned into someone else. She has never seen anyone that cross.

She studies him at the kitchen sink. The scene is an oddly domestic one. Even so it’s obvious he hasn’t done this before. His movements are aggressive so his shirt sleeves are wet and a puddle has formed on the lino. He is scrubbing at a bedsheet, erasing the stain he has just uncovered in his bed.

        ‘Fuck,’ he says again. ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck.’

        ‘Let me help you.’ She strokes his arm as if she were comforting a kitten. She is thirteen years old and nobody told her but somehow she knows what to do. Eventually his face relaxes a bit and she isn’t quite so frightened. He is still cross, she realises, but he knows very well he’s making a mess of things. He is desperate to tidy up and time is ticking away.

        ‘Have a cup of tea,’ she says. ‘It’ll make you feel better.’ Then she dries and irons the once-soiled sheet and goes upstairs to make up the bed.

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