It is truly dark outside now, and the trees behind the window are swaying violently. It has not started to rain yet, but it will very soon. Alice watches the streetlight, waiting for the drops that will fall past it, whisked sideways by the rain. She loves the rain. Rain means comfort, and anonymity. Nobody looks in the rain. People only run, heads down and hands fending, to their next destination. Nobody stares, nobody watches. She knows because she has seen it, many times. Things get forgotten in bad weather. She remembers a time when Miss Edwards, her English teacher had forgotten a test that the entire class had been studying for. She had blamed it on the rain, that the information had gotten lost somewhere between running between the house and the car, the bakery and the staffroom, in the wet locks of hair that just one outstretched hand could not keep dry. Alice learnt how others were affected by it, how the rain could change the landscape of an otherwise normal day.
Around her the house creaked, and the shadows grew darker as the thick clouds blotted out the night sky. As the red digits of her alarm clock flicked to 10.33pm, the first drops began to fall. They began with a light patter on the black street outside, and then moved closer to the house, the drops thwacking onto the large leaves of the walnut tree. It changed in tempo, the soft taps becoming a thrumming beat, the sound of the wind swishing the drops against the window pane.
Alice closed her eyes, smiling. As she exhaled her body was flooded with relief, and she began to relax, into the soft crisp sheet of the bed. It had been too long since the rain.
Out in the kitchen Annette was putting the cake into the oven. It was a dark sticky mess, the brown mixture was lapping at the sides of the tin, just as the cookbook said it should. She frowned as she turned the dial to 180, rechecking the recipe as she did so. It was strange, how much work it was. She had been told that motherhood would come, that the instinct would take over, as soon as you have that baby in your hands. She had been told that the overwhelming love you feel obliterates everything else, that you care for nothing in the world the way you care for this baby in your arms.
And it was true, to a limit. Annette had cared. She had loved Alice intensely, so deeply that it felt almost painful. She remembered the yellow of that room, exuding calm and sure motherhood, as she watched Alice sleep in her crib. For hours she would sit there, a book lying untouched in her lap, just to validate her being there. But she would only watch. Alice’s tiny fingers lay curled against the smooth blanket, her shock of dark hair flat along her tiny head.
But Alice grew older, she stopped being a baby. She learned to think for herself, to draw, to use the bathroom by herself and to lace her shoes. And Annette found that there was nothing in her instinct arsenal that showed her how to get grass stains out of a uniform. She didn’t discover a sudden ability to bake perfect birthday cakes, like all of the other warm, laughing mothers in the P.T.A. could. She didn’t know the fastest routes to the school during peak hour, or the exact dates that the term began each year.
So she learnt. She bought cookbooks, aprons, baking dishes and crock pots. She bought each new object that a recipe required her to have, paring knifes, lemon squeezers, egg slicers. She bought laundry detergent, and Wondersoap. She listened zealously when the other mothers spoke about their problems, tips and advice, conversations that in a previous life might have sent her to sleep. All so that one day, she might be right. She might fit properly into this cookie cutter slot that she had been given.
Annette sat on the couch and listened to the rain as she waited for the cake. There was a bake sale tomorrow, she had read it on the school newsletter, so even though Alice had not told her, she would be prepared. The house was warm around her, the exposed wooden beams comfortable, not forcedly rustic. Simon was upstairs, she thought, although she couldn’t be sure. They rarely spoke anymore, only about Alice. But he was busy with work and she was busy with her things, so it didn’t worry her.
But right now it does. She feels a sudden anxiety, a dread at having to sleep beside him, in the same bed as this man who she does not speak to. He is so different, but yet just the same, and she cannot figure out which quality annoys her more. The things that she used to love about him she hates. His cautious worry, his glasses, his aloof distance. She tries to remember falling in love, but she can’t. Not with him. She remembers her love with Gary, a fifteen year old passionate affair, full of the back seats of cars and running in the grassy fields outside their town, shouting excitedly at each other, only to fall, intoxicated with this giddy infatuation, to the ground.
But she doesn’t remember Simon. She knows that he was there, knows it was him. But she doesn’t feel it. Just a tall character, a faceless, handsome stranger on the outskirts of the group, never involved, just there. She was intrigued by his solidity, his mystery, but never infatuated. There grew from that a solid, dependable love, which she had always been told was better, more long lasting, truer. But she wasn’t sure. If there were no memories of a windswept obsession, what could she dwell on in the evenings? Solid dependable love was perhaps the makings of great companionship, but not of great romance.
And as that love slipped away more and more, Annette wondered how she could grab it back, if she could not remember it. His constant worry irritates her immensely. Always Alice. Always where is she, who is she with, does she have enough clothes.
The wind howls and the wet trees are slapped against the window, startling Annette from her thoughts. The recipe book lies open on the floured countertop. It states that the cake must be baked at 180 Celsius for fifty minutes. Annette glances at the metal clock that hangs above the door. It is only eleven. She sighs and pulls a blanket over herself, gazing out of the window.