On her bus into town to meet a friend, the woman fumbles in her bag through softened tissues and the recurring loops of her keyring. Her fingers finally wrap around a cold mirror. Bringing it out, she looks into her reflection until her expectations are met.
She hasn’t seen her friend for nearly a year. She smiles at his news: he’s met someone, he’s happy, he thinks he may go overseas to visit his father, to learn more about his roots. The woman doesn’t say as much as she was planning to about her life. It seems less like news now than it had when she’d set it up on easels to be taken out for this meeting.
The friend must go. He is meeting his girlfriend to see a film. The woman understands. She says she has a lot to get on with as well. They promise each other that it won’t be so long next time. They hug and he kisses her on the cheek.
The woman decides to walk back through the park even though it’s now dark and the paths are covered with frost. She looks down at her feet to avoid slipping and almost steps on a snail. She thinks it’s a good thing that she was walking alone and looking down at her feet or she could’ve crushed it.
She feels the relief of going through her own front door, the dusty warm air from her hallway radiator, the yellow light of her living room lamp, the action of filling her kettle with water. She drinks her cup of tea. A slice of lemon dips in the current of her sips. She saved the snail’s life. The snail would be dead, crushed jelly and shards of shell, if it weren’t for her.
The woman jumps up. She puts on her coat and slips out of her apartment building in just her slippers. The poor snail must be frozen solid by now. She sees silver lines crossing and re-crossing the path. She gasps at the beauty of the intricate pattern of threads tying the park together across the path. There it is – her snail. She picks it up by the shell.
Back at home, she finds an old ice cream tub. She knew it would come in handy one of these days. She spoons a peach from a tin, allowing the syrup to pool in the bottom of the tub. Here you are, a little treat, she tells the snail.
She watches it explore its new tub home for a while, before going to brush her teeth, changing into her pyjamas and turning off the lights. She makes sure to put the lid on the ice cream tub. She leaves it open a crack so that the snail can breathe.
In the morning, she goes directly to the windowsill where she’d left the tub. Oh no, she says. The snail is gone. Lines of slime lace her kitchen counter, the floor, and ultimately under the front door of her ground floor flat.
Never mind, she tells herself. She takes the lid off the tub. The peach is disintegrated. The snail tried to eat it. She lets this thought cheer her up as she soaps up a rag. She is about to begin washing away the slime trails when morning sunlight turns them silver. She looks in grateful wonder at the silver threads decorating her flat, a gift from her guest.
ARIKE OKE is a writer, dance archivist and former rollergirl. Her fiction's been exhibited (Artlink Hull), performed (Liars' League, Are You Sitting Comfortably?), anthologised and published in magazines (Words With Jam, Holdfast). She’s writing her first novel, Outrigger, a literary drama of family secrets and hidden identities. Follow her twittering @arikeoke