The English Teacher, 11.12.2013

She gets up each morning before the sun has risen. It is winter. The cat purrs and pads on her cloudy white duvet, making it even harder to leave its soft body smells and warm creped edges. She dresses in bed, allowing her torso to be exposed to the cold air.  Her breasts goose-pimple as they wait for the familiar hold of her brassier. 

She clips it into place and puts on one of the shirts she has left out on the other side of the bed, ready for the morning. Her tights are still on from the night before. She pushes the cat to one side and gets out of bed. She climbs into her skirt. She pushes her untidy mane of hair into place before a vanity mirror. She pouts and puts on some mascara.

She switches the light off and moves up the boat. Another skylight flicks on and another bar of light shoots across the galley. She gives the cat her breakfast first, spooning out congealed lumps of trout and god-awful-looking processed fish into a small white ceramic bowl. Then she moves towards the boiler, cooker and control board. ‘Water pump’: On. Boiler: pilot light then puff! Nudge the ‘hot’ tap, after one minute a stream of piping hot water charges through the faucet. She washes her hands with the old bar of soap her mother gave her. Eventually the smears of coal fall from her hands. Fill up the kettle. Put it on the boil. ‘Water pump’: Off. Large frying pan, out, gas ring, on. The dented old pan warms itself up for toast. 

After breakfast, she swiftly puts on her coat and scarf. That whole preparation has only taken fifteen minutes. It is as familiar to her now as her body itself; that rehearsed feel of the morning, and her snowy, woollen mind. Her hands search for the wet hatch-roof. Cold wet metal stings her finger tips. She pushes and lifts it back. Suddenly her head emerges into the outside world. It is still dark and spools of white mist cover the river. The towpath is empty. 

Sometimes her bicycle is frozen. Then the seat feels like a hard lump of wood. The metal bars are sugar-coated with frost. The wheels have become ice-lollipops. When she tries to take off, away from the towpath and up the hill, she glides like a skater. The brakes are locked; the gear shifter has frozen. She is riding a frozen contraption like a jilted mechanical toy, on her way to work in the acute frost of early winter. She has become an English teacher. 

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