There they were, Mary and Jane, maybe not at exactly the same time, but they walked the same streets, sat in the same tea rooms. Mary, waif like, pale, tired, still so young. Jane, self-contained, twenty two years older, partial to a pastry. Mary is with the poet Shelley, heir to an estate, but short of cash. He’s found a place for them in Bath, but is always hurrying back to London to borrow money. Byron is there too, sniffing about.
Mary is there to fashion her demons into something more visible, to conjure them, like a magus, into being. Jane is more intent on cake. She finds herself in Sally Lunns, buying four Bath buns, a sponge, a raspberry tart. She tells the shop assistant she finds them ‘interesting’. She writes letters, keeps a journal, but no novel is written here. Too many cakes.
Mary arrives in Bath on the anniversary of her mother’s visit, forty years before. She is, perhaps, retracing her mother’s footsteps, trying to find her. Jane is laying a table, taking her time, positioning the cutlery, ensuring she gets the correct ratios, the right proportions. She arranges the assortment of cakes carefully, holding off that moment when she will have to choose which to eat first. She places her hand on her belly and sighs.
Mary places her hand on her belly and sighs. She fears she is pregnant again, and Shelley is away, maybe for a week or more. She is not alone, but she feels lonely. She works on her book, she is creating life, but life is fragile and she is frightened. She takes her work to a small tea room in a nearby street. She orders tea and a slice of bread and butter, then realises she doesn’t have enough money. The assistant shakes her head, raises an eyebrow. But then, from behind Mary, a woman speaks.
‘Let me buy you something,’ she says. ‘I recommend the Bath buns.’