It was the broken-resolution end of January already, and Sandy was
sitting in the kitchen drinking decaffeinated coffee with her ovens
green, digital-clock display panel flashing, if you could believe it,
HELP HELP HELP instead of the time. Last night, full of the beadyeyed
purpose a late-night joint always gave her, shed stood there
trying to reprogram it to bring the clock back without making
the bloody oven alarm go off, pressing and fiddling and relighting
the stub of her roach, until finally shed sworn at it and given up.
So now it was signalling her for help. Her oven, for crying out
loud. An appliance.
And even though she couldnt fix the timer, the clock still ran
with a snickering whirr, a nasty little calibrated sound of time
mouse-wheeling itself determinedly away, even if she was sitting
here marooned in the long slack middle of the afternoon, picking
hard candle wax off the tablecloth and waiting for the caffeine
rush that would never come.
Sandy raised the mug awkwardly in her left hand and took
another sip. She was right-handed but her friend Alison had
made these mugs on her new pottery wheel a few years back and
Sandy had loyally bought them, and there were fragments of grit
embedded in a dribble of glaze on the other side, just at the point
where you sipped. Just one little gravelly flake of grit, but enough
to drive you nuts. It was hard enough picking the things up with
the lumpy handles Alison had stuck on. Proletariat cups, Sandy
would think as she washed them roughly in the sink, hoping
to break one so that she could justifiably throw it out. Nothing
would kill them. They were made to withstand a revolution.
Shed recognised the handwriting as soon as shed fished the
envelope out of the mailbox, felt that little twisting jump of
tension. No return address, of course. And inside, just a postcard,
one of those free ones you get in coffee shops, with his message
scribbled on the back.
Would like to ring Sophie for her fifteenth birthday. Please let her
know. Ill call around 6.30 your time. Hope life is treating you well. And
a mobile number. That was all. As if he was paying by the bloody
Was life treating her well? Sandy frowned, lifted a splatter of
candle wax with her fingernail from the batik cloth. Everybody
seemed finally to have accepted resignedly that this was the state
of play, she thought: you let life happen to you. In it came like a
party-crasher, ignoring any plans you might have had for yourself,
and treated you to whatever it had in mind.
And you just sat there and took it. Nobody ever said, for
example, how have you been treating your life? which made you
sound a bit less passive, at least. Maybe that could be the start of
an article, something she could write for the community-centre
newsletter, or even the local paper.
Did he really have to be so terse, even in a postcard? Not
that his brusqueness surprised her that was Richard all over,
exactly as she remembered. Hope life is treating you well would be
just what she would have expected one of a couple of careless,
studiously distant sentences as if hed spoken to her last month
instead of about five years ago.
Sandy, in uncharitable moments and OK, these surfaced
occasionally, she was the first to admit believed that Rich did
this on purpose. Whatever he was doing now, and God knows
he was evasive enough about that, he made a point of being
somewhere exotic around Christmas and Sophies birthday, just
so he could write things like Greetings from Dharamsala! or Not sure
if this will get to you, boats not docking in Borneo till next week.
Like this one: 6.30 your time. Please. As if he had to calculate
time zones. Like he was going to call from bloody Bhutan.
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