It was late afternoon again. Mabel was snoring peacefully beside me. There were some perks to having an old dog, including being able to work almost uninterrupted whilst enjoying their company. The dusk was settling on the diagonal panes of glass in the living room windows. It was cold outside, so condensation was clinging in half-moons to the frames. I had decided to switch things up a little by putting my feet up in the living room to work instead of in the draughty office upstairs. We had a wood stove in the living room, and my feet were comfortably close to the glowing embers. The problem with wood stoves, however, was that you had to keep getting up every so often to pile more wood into them. I also had another problem. There wasn’t enough space in my lap for both my laptop and the book I was translating. I made a mental note to add both a lap desk to my Christmas list and to request an electronic copy of my next project.
My phone rang upstairs, upsetting the thick silence, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. Why wasn’t it on silent? I weighed up the options in my head over the next few seconds. Go upstairs into the chilly bedroom, disturb my sofa nest, and what if it was a cold call, someone asking if I’d had a road accident in the last six months? What if it was a friend? What if it was my mother-in-law?
Having hesitated a moment too long, I leapt up the stairs two at a time and picked up on what must have been the final ring.
“Hey, stranger!” it was Lucille.
“Oh hey, Lucille”, I tried and failed to conceal my panting, “I’m so glad you’re not my mother-in-law.”
“Me too. So are you coming this weekend or not? I need to know whether to take the kids to my own mother-in-law. She looks at me every time like I’ve failed in that department, but if this was a job, I’d already have earned two week’s overtime.”
Her voice did sound exhausted, but it was still flavoured with her slight French accent. Even after twenty years in London, she still hadn’t lost it.
“Yes! Of course, why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well, I don’t know, we’ve barely spoken for a week. Since you moved en provence it’s like you fell off the face of the Earth.”
I sighed. She was right. Anytime I was having a stressed-out period, I withdrew. Some people loved to talk things through, I always felt like a burden.
“I know, I’m sorry. I’ve just had a lot on my plate here, settling in, mothering Freya whether she likes it or not, taking on extra projects to cover the moving costs and mortgage while James digs holes all day…”
Lucille giggles “Don’t be too hard on him. One of you has to enjoy their job!”
I smile down the phone, as if Lucille can hear it. “You know I love my job, just not fifty hours a week.”
“Who would?” Lucille had always worked part-time as a French tutor. Her husband was a lawyer, so her work was basically window-dressing when it came to the family finances.
“So I’ll drive down for Saturday afternoon? What are you cooking?” That was another joke. Lucille could burn water.
“Tea. And then we’ll go somewhere nice.”
“Yes, sure. See you then. I miss you” that was only the tip of the iceberg really.
“You too. Are you doing okay up there?” she was perceptive, always.
“Not really. I’m worried I’m not normal. Something put my glasses in the fridge and James thinks it’s a bad joke. I’ll tell you all about it when I get there”
Lucille never missed a beat with my weirdness. She had her own eccentricities, whereas James had always preferred to put my problems in the same category as the sleeping pills in my bedside drawer and pretend they didn’t exist. “Well that’s certainly not normal. Colour me intrigued.”
“Thank you for your warm and comforting words, Lucille”, I couldn’t help laughing down the phone.
“I’ll have a bottle of wine waiting for you when you get here. He’s my therapist too”, I didn’t know if she was joking. As with all good female friendships, the conversation meandered long after the first goodbye, but I finally hung up when I heard James stomping through the front door.
“Shoes off!” I yelled for the hundredth time.
“Sorry, I forgot they were on my feet!” he lied. “Speaking of which- why were my work boots outside the front door this morning? Is this another one of your silly little jokes?”
“What?” I was genuinely baffled.
“I couldn’t find them this morning before heading off. I had to put my walking boots on instead. Then, when I open the front door, lo and behold, there they are. It had been raining all night and they were soaked.” he fixed me with a wounded glare, like a schoolboy who’s just had his sweets confiscated mid-lesson.
“Why do you think it must have been me?” I asked, equally wounded.
“I don’t know. It seems to be your thing lately, playing little jokes and putting things where they shouldn’t be. Maybe out of boredom, maybe out of spite, I don’t know” he narrowed his eyes at me. This was all a bit much.
“Don’t you think you could have just left them there and forgotten about them, as a mistake? Maybe Freya thought it would be funny? Don’t jump down my throat about it” I bit back. Inside, I was shaken. Was I now putting boots out in my sleep? What was the next step, milk in the kettle? Spaghetti hoops in the bath? It felt like this house was playing tricks on me.
I must have been broadcasting bewildered innocence, because he visibly mellowed. “Look, I don’t want to argue about this. There was no harm done, I suppose. Nothing fell on my toe today, and they should be dry by now, because I put them upside down on the radiator this morning,” he pointed to them- I hadn’t actually noticed them until now “so we can we kiss and make up?”
“Charming and refined, as ever” I joked, kissing him on the cold cheek.
“How was your day?”
“Cold. Can you look at the radiator in the study? I had to migrate to the living room” I pouted.
He rolled his eyes. “There’s probably just some air trapped in it.”
“Well if it’s so easy, you’ll get it done in no time!” I breezed.