Anthrow Circus



Looking at the wren hopping surprisingly close to her shoe, the girl had the same thought she often had when thinking about birds:

My goal in life is to have the confidence of a Manhattan pigeon.

Except that this was not Manhattan, and this was not a pigeon. Alex (that was the girl’s name) remembered reading London travel articles the week before and finding an article about above-ground train stations using trained hawks to ward off pigeons.

When the woman sat down, she did so silently. Silently enough that it did not scare off the wren who had been pecking around the feet of the younger girl already sitting on the bench. The woman watched the girl roll pieces of sandwich crust between her forefinger and thumb before dropping them to the ground. The motion was slow, as Alex waited for the bird to hesitantly pluck each piece from the ground before dropping another.

It went on like this for what felt to the girl like a very long time. It wasn’t that Alex hadn’t noticed the woman who sat next to her; it was that she wasn’t quite sure what to do about her. Seating spaces were not limited on a Tuesday at 10 a.m., and she had no idea what to do with an unknown person sitting so close. She asked herself if that was terribly American of her.

Reaching into a bag she had placed between them, the woman pulled out a series of paisley-printed Pyrex containers, with dates written on the sides in Sharpie. The most recent date read 23/06/03, another 13/09/89. Alex thought of her own Tupperware containers, still decades younger than these, but lined with orange grease marks, probably still sitting in a bottom drawer of her suburban Ohio home. She wondered if the word Tupperware was grossly American too.

Holding the remnants of her plastic-packaged sandwich, Alex peripherally observed the woman and her meal: homemade, with multiple courses. She ate each slowly, closing her eyes sometimes, savoring it.

They sat silently, the girl, the woman, and the wren. Alex watched as the woman picked at a piece of cake with her fingers. Not the American kind, but the English kind Alex would call bread. Instinctually, she watched the woman’s fingers and emulated them as she picked from the leftover bread in her hands.

Alex wanted to say something. It was that feeling she sometimes had that lodged itself in the crook underneath the left side of her ribs. All that she managed was a flat and toothless smile. She asked herself if maybe the woman had the same feeling she did. Alex thought that, if she did, she would have acted on it by now. It was clear from the moment she sat down, this woman was bolder than Alex ever could be.

Alex recognized two distinct things between herself and the woman on the bench. First was the unspoken invitation to conversation. Second was some unnameable thing that made Alex want to know her and love her and see the kitchen where she had made her lunch. She wasn’t sure if it was the way the woman’s hands looked like her mother’s: slightly cracked with age but with long and carefully filed fingernails. She wondered if, when she was this woman’s age, she would have finally kicked the habit of biting hers. Alex liked the woman’s hair too, gray coils sprouting in every direction, resistant to the claw-clip trying to hold them back.

All Alex knew was that she wanted to know her. Alex wanted to know her favorite color. She wanted to know her favorite meal after long days. She wanted to know whether the baking pans she had used still sat soaking in her kitchen sink. Did she have a favorite mug? Was its handle thick enough to wrap her hands into for warmth in between sips? Alex wanted to see if this woman had a bottom drawer like hers: always overflowing with the plastic containers they could never find the lids to. 

She imagined her own kitchen—her favorite mug, and her yellowed Tupperware—and she felt sick. Her stomach churned at the idea of being home in her Ohio suburb, not knowing this woman’s name, not having even asked.

So she did.

It was a quick thing, almost like a spasm.

The woman turned to Alex and smiled. If she didn’t know better, Alex would have said the smile was a proud one.


She removed the bag from between them.

Alex told the woman—Rosemary—her name and was suddenly aware of the flatness of it. Alex. The way it sat at the back of her mouth. Her name sounded rounder, fuller in this woman’s mouth. Rosemary was a librarian at a local primary school. She said her husband used to cook lunch for them, every Saturday. They would take it to this spot and watch the ducks on St. James Lake. Her husband’s name was Arthur, and Alex liked how Rosemary’s mouth formed his name too. “Every Saturday since the week we were married.”

Alex remembered the most recent date and the oldest date on the containers and tried to do the math. Rosemary didn’t have to say that this Saturday lunch wasn’t made by Arthur. They both knew. It was another one of those unspoken things between them.

She asked Alex’s favorite part of London so far, and she told her that it was probably Poet’s Corner.

Rosemary smiled at that. “Ah, so you’re a writer?”

Alex didn’t hesitate before saying no. “But if I were, I would write about you.”

She smiled at that too.

“Can I ask…” The girl paused, unsure of whether she should continue. “Why did you sit next to me? There were plenty of open benches you could have had all to yourself.”

The woman’s eyebrows furrowed, and she gave a small shake of her head, smiling as if it was a silly question to ask in the first place.

“Because…” She looked at Alex, and her eyes were the same gray as the hairs breaking free from her clip. “No one should have to eat lunch alone.” She pulled out one of those paisley containers, setting it beside Alex’s leg. “I always bring extra,” Rosemary told her, opening the lid and revealing a second piece of cake. “Just in case.”

They sat, eating together, silent again. Alex plucked pieces of the cake with her fingers, periodically closing her eyes, savoring it. A crumb dropped from Alex’s chin to the ground, and she covered her mouth. Her eyes traveled down toward her feet where it fell. Alex hadn’t noticed when the wren had hopped away.

Kaitlyn McCracken is a writer and photographer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is currently working on her undergrad degree in both English and Sociology, meaning that she lives in a perpetual state of existential crisis. Recently, Kaitlyn was featured in Kentucky Monthly as one of the winners of their annual Penned Literary Contest. You can find her photography at and you can see snippets of her life on instagram @kaitymccracken.

Hailey Small is a poet, editor, and recent college graduate. Her writing is always grounded in place; she explores and depicts how people and their environments reflect one another. To read more of her work, find her elsewhere on Anthrow Circus, or in The Asbury ReviewKentucky Monthly, or The Linden Review.

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