The Soya Latte

by George Pringle

Introduction from a London short story, “The Soya Latte” from “Steel & Industry.

She loved bars of soap. In fact, she could write an essay on the stuff.  Soap:  The kinds she liked and the kinds she didn’t.  Savon de Marseille came many ways: Rustic and fatty, dissolving in its dish, fine-milled and solid or brightly coloured. Then there was glycerin soap, which she loathed.  She noticed if it were placed the wrong way, without holes to ventilate, it would cloud up and become translucent.  Like a baby jellyfish.

Then of course there was olive soap.  She had felt so good when she bought it. It was Palestinian, from Islamic Relief.  But how soft and grey it became in her hands, it squelched between her fingers.  It smelt of play dough, her got rose.  She threw it straight in the bin.

There were many kinds of soap and she was always hunting. When aimless in town, she would wander around the specialist pharmacies.  In department stores…on the creaking boards of Liberty, she studied the rough, artisanal paper and pressed the soap to her nose.

She didn’t feel right unless she had 5 bars sitting calmly in her cabinet. She liked the number 5 and all multiples therein. It was a round and contented number. It was nice just to open the door and to take the bars out, to smell them and for a moment, to carry their scent on her lip.

She was fond of her bathroom cabinet and she was fond of her reflection in it. Yes, she remarked to herself, she was plain. She had always known this but all the same, she was pretty enough and she did have an excellent figure. Her face, though bland, had an edible mouth and her eyes were wide and blue.

It wasn’t just soap, though, it was body oil.  Creams too…Hair masks, shower gels, floss for teeth…She was often occupied, online, reading product reviews. She wondered frequently about these things, like Pure Retinol and was it true, could Collagen delay the inevitable?

Reading of reviews happened mostly at work, between phone calls from clients and post. Sometimes address labels would stick to her top coat, if, for some reason it were badly applied.  With not enough time between consecutive coats, they could pucker or snag the surface.  She hated this, when she was too busy or  she hadn’t time to visit the Thai.

This Thursday she happened to be tense. The massage chair prodded her spine. This was a very cheap place but it was all she could afford. In fact, she reflected, it leant her an edge, though she didn’t like it when they razored her heels. She wondered, for a minute if it were truly hygienic before stopping herself. It was rude to assume they were unsanitary, still it was alarming, lifting her calf to the padded stool to see the profusion of soggy flesh fall like confetti from her heel.

She was always going to weddings these days. It was an expensive business. Each one could set her back, for she hated to repeat an outfit. There were hen party activities too, like pony tracking or afternoon tea and little gifts to be bought. There were WhatsApp groups that throbbed, intermittently with arrangement times and flights.  It seemed unrelenting.  This pedicure was for Josh and Natalie.  For the long weekend in Cyprus.

The woman hacked away with the razor from behind her white mask. She found this  barrier soothing.  Impersonal.   She returned to more relaxing thoughts. Such a trance was this, with the whirling spa and the rhythmic working on the feet and the occasional firm tap on each ankle to indicate that it switch.