Boiling Water

– J. A. Larkin

Anna turned the kettle on and waited for the water to boil. Ed stood there with his empty mug: stained black from repeated coffee use and sighed, emphatically, a sound that echoed in the small, work kitchen.

‘You tired?’ he asked, moving his fingers up and down the handle, watching the kettle with an intense look.

‘No, not really.’

‘Then why are you drinking coffee?’ he asked.

The sentence was a familiar one, his stance was a familiar one. Everything about him screamed at her with some form of forgotten familiarity. Anna was unsure how to behave around him, whether he was a stranger or a friend? Perhaps both, simultaneously.

‘Habit.’

‘Ah.’

He replied with such a sense of omnipotence that Anna laughed. He had always been over-confident, a trait she both loved and hated, and not for the first time that day, she felt torn between the two extremities of emotions.

His expression quickly turned sour and Anna paused.

‘Don’t get annoyed. I didn’t mean to laugh.’

‘No, it’s okay,’ he breathed, sucking in his cheeks, staring past her, past the kettle, and into some distant, unforeseen dimension. ‘I guess everything I do around here, day in, day out, I guess it’s all one big habit.’

Anna was silent as she contemplated this. She thought about the work she’d done these past seven years, about the routine. She woke up at the same time every morning, went to work in the same office, received the same pay fortnightly, into her account, and went to the same yoga class on Saturday mornings even though she hated it. Every week, in some awkward pose distantly resembling a downward facing dog, she would curse the week before and the week ahead.

‘This week’s a bit different.’

‘Yeah?’ He raised an eyebrow, almost comically, in some attempt to engage once again.

‘I’m here.’

‘Yeah, it’s nice to see you,’ he said, resting his mug down on the bench. ‘Thanks for helping out.’

‘No problem. You guys need office chairs, I sell office chairs…’ She shrugged her shoulders in a huge gesture, swinging her coffee mug until it nearly hit his face. He took a step back.

‘Thanks anyway.’

‘No problem.’

There was something between them once, but that was many years ago. She couldn’t quite remember what his lips felt like, or the exact temperature of his skin. All that remained was a feeling, and one, sweet memory.

She turned her attention back to the kettle and regarded its intricacies with fascination. The water had started to disperse small, slowly rising bubbles that were clearly visible through the glass.  Stainless steel framed the kettle’s edges and its handle and spout boasted black covers. Anna noticed the brand: something she had never seen before. With surprise she noticed it was the same one her office used, and smiled at the monotony of the workplace.

‘You know,’ he said, shuffling from one foot to the other, eyes downcast to the tiles, ‘you know, I miss that year.’

‘Me too.’

They didn’t need to specify what year. It was obvious.

‘Sometimes I wish I could just,’ he paused and looked up at her. She was older now and so was he. He smiled. ‘I just wish it could always be like that.’

She nodded and went to hug him, to feel that embrace that was so often given away in her single days. She hesitated, thinking of Mel, his girlfriend. She had always respected her, respected all relationships. Not for the first time, she wondered what was acceptable and what was not. He felt her hesitation and drew back.

‘How many coffees have you had?’ Anna asked, wondering if this was an awkward silence or a comfortable one.

‘Four?’

‘Jesus, it’s only lunch time.’

‘Yeah.’

‘You drink too much.’

‘I know. I bet you’re the same.’

It was true. They were both socially approved drug addicts. And, as with any drug, the long exposure had left both the inhabitants dull and lifeless in their early morning wake-ups. Both performed their morning duties in a zombie-like state until the coffee slowly unfurled their wakefulness. Anna recalled a lesson from her university days; a vivid image of a flower closing its petals at nightfall. Nyctinasty. That’s what it was called. In the cool, darkness of night, the plants had evolved, sleeping and waking with the sun, a better habit than most people. Better equipped at handling life than she was.

Both were silent as they contemplated memories from a better time. The future was happening, time had already past them by and there was nothing they could do about it. With a sickening feeling, Anna realised her next seven years would be as similar as her last seven. She wanted to change, she wanted to choose a different future, but even as the thought entered her mind, she realised nothing would advance. Her options felt limited. After all, she had bills to pay, and a never ending invoice to write. She trembled with hopelessness, with a sudden smack of realisation and waited for the water to boil. The water was making noise now, like an invisible kraken that had unleashed its long, writhing tentacles from somewhere at the base of the kettle. She looked at Ed and saw his gaze shift, momentarily, down to her soft, blue eyes. They smiled. They didn’t have long now, and the water would be boiled. And just for a moment, they stopped worrying and made time to think. They thought about the expression lines that had stretched into the beginnings of wrinkles, like an old tree’s root across a grassy floor. They thought about broken hearts and old friends, their emotions broken like shards and pieces of some fragile material. They thought about the hallucinogenics they took in their early twenties and how time had erased all proof of their existence. Their hair had grown, their blood had been replenished. In actual fact, not one cell remained from the days when they were twenty-two. They were new people with old memories, thoughts and dreams that faded with each passing year like an old photograph left in the sun. The water was boiling and they had time for one last thought. Wordlessly, they both thought about that last day of summer next to the pool. They stretched out long, tanned legs and spent the day in and out of the water; the smell of chlorine and sunscreen filling their noses with the endless possibilities of that season.

The light went off and broke their thoughts. Wordlessly, performing his task as slowly as was possible, extending the moment, stretching seconds into minutes, Ed picked up the kettle and slowly poured the water into her mug.

The water had boiled.

 

Jane Larkin

Jane Larkin is an Australian writer with a diverse interest in literature from Shakespeare to Stephen King. As a current doctoral student, with a Bachelor of Arts, a Graduate Diploma of Education, and a Masters of Communications in Creative Writing, Jane believes words have the power to transform realities.