Four brooms in a line, hanging from hooks on the wall. New brooms, with blue nylon bristles and yellow metal handles. It’s not what I had expected to see in my new friend’s kitchen. Perhaps it’s art. The whole house has a nice middle-class minimalism about it. A bit of art would be fitting. Although, a broom in a gallery might be art, but a broom in a kitchen is just a broom. Isn’t it?
‘Tea?’ Gwen asks. I nod. That’s how we met – sipping scalding tea from polystyrene cups at the local playground. Our kids are the same age, but it was the distrust of hot liquids in friable plastic that was our common ground. ‘One degree hotter and the tea would just melt right through it.’ Gwen had said.
She swirls hot water in a china teapot, tips it out and spoons in loose tea. I haven’t seen tea made properly for years, not since Mum died. Mum used to talk a lot about new brooms, metaphorically, but the broom she actually used was old, the bristles worn to a nub, the wooden handle smooth and moulded to her vigorous grip over the years. The brush head was replaced from time-to-time, but that handle was like an extension of her arm.
Gwen sets a timer for the tea and warms two fine china cups. Our kids are playing on the spotless floor. If this was my house, they would be covered in cat hairs and cornflakes by now, playing an improvised game of billiards with dried-out peas and discarded French-fries (the microwave kind). I need to buy a broom myself, clearly.
Four dish sponges in a line, on the windowsill behind the sink. New sponges, pale blue with candyfloss pink scrubbing surfaces. I can’t see washing-up liquid or a proper dish scrub. Gwen must keep them under the sink. I used to do that. No, scrub that, I did it for about two days, then I gave up. Maybe I’ll start again.
Gwen pours the tea and puts a cup in front of me, along with a small plate. From a polka-dot-spotted tin she produces some cupcakes, clearly homemade, each frosted with lemon-scented butter-cream and topped with a white rice-paper flower. She puts four on a serving plate, hesitates and adds one more. I feel a little fizz of panic run through me and quickly take the extra cupcake and put it on my plate. Gwen smiles and arranges the remaining cupcakes on the plate, north, south, east and west.
‘Delicious,’ I say, through mouthfuls of feather-light sponge. ‘You must tell me your secret.’