She watched television

17 Apr 2001

The kettle began to react, trembling a little, and then the water was boiling, wisps of steam padding out to become clouds and then a mist, which condensed onto the shelf of spices, opened and spilled and tired. Packets of biscuits, cereal, a few tins and caddies: they kept a respectful distance of worktop from the kettle, cowering like primitives before fire. The switch clicked off by magic as a figure in jeans reached the kitchen. She found a cup, closed a cupboard door, shook out some dead coffee into the cup, poured water onto it and stirred.

She brushed black hair away from sharp, Roman features, absorbed in making the drink, and started as the telephone began to ring a shrill bird call. Picking up the cup, she tripped out of the room into the hall, leaving the kettle to sigh and relax, and the condiments to shuffle a little closer in sympathy.

The living room faced south, and was bright and sunny. A blue felt sofa half-covered with the Independent was opposite a television, and a coffee table nestled into a thick-pile rug. The contents of a bookcase against one wall were sparse, and an occasional table with a green glass top carried a small lamp and the telephone. The telephone handset was singing brightly and loudly as she entered the room - barefooted on bare floorboards - and picked it up as she sat down on the sofa. The talk button was squashy to the touch. Ssh.

  • Hi. [slow, broadening smile]
  • Hi, you.
  • Yeah, just making a drink.
  • She called a few minutes ago. Something came up. At work.
  • Ah, I'll just watch TV. Chill [stretch, and sit back]. You?
  • Poor you. I'll send pizza round.
  • [grin, then laugh] OK, I'll get them to send a salad.
  • Yeah.
  • I think so, yeah. I mean, Jan' might want to go out some other time, but I can keep tomorrow night free.
  • That'd be great. Anywhere special?
  • Yeah. I'd like that. Okay. See you then.
  • Bye. [bip]

The phone was returned, more or less, to its cradle, and a green LED switched on as it homed in on the electrodes and slept. She reached for the television remote, an almost identical machine, felt the brushed plastic in her hand, sandstone that would not yield, and pressed randomly. The television made a melodramatic whirring hum for a half second, and warmed up to play the voice of someone inconsequential on the local BBC news, closely followed by a smooth, focussed picture. It was perfect, balanced colour, and somehow more real than the rest of the room, a painting of a disaster surrounded by the mundane.

She watched television. Outside, the sun set. Street lights came on. She didn't remember turning on the table lamp. Programmes came and went. The phone didn't ring again, but she wasn't expecting it to.

Long black lashes crept over moist eyes. She was staring at the television screen but showed no recognition of what was on. Her skin rumpled where her hand propped her head up at no small angle. The light of the television threw broad sweeps of colour onto her face. A cushion was in her lap, protecting her from stomach cramps, and her legs were tucked up under her.

The coffee cup sat on the table in front of her, long since cooled and sticky with three or four drops of liquid. Her eyes blinked slowly three times, then closed. Her head nodded forward; she pulled it backwards and took a deep breath, lips not wanting to part. She reached for the remote control, took it in a warm, sleep-fuzzy hand and switched off the television. She unfolded her legs to the floor, switched off the light. In the drips and splashes of street light, she fumbled her way to the door, closing it behind her.

inspired by PJ Harvey's "Beautiful Feeling"