It’s seven o’clock on a Saturday evening and I’m waiting for you at the kitchen window. It’s a few days after midsummer but it’s misty, and I can’t see much through the rain-bleared glass. I cut a slice of bread and eat it standing over the sink, not wanting to drop crumbs in the house I’ve just cleaned. Time passed easily while I was dusting and mopping. Now the floors shine with your absence, and still I don’t hear the familiar growl of your van coming two fast down the lane.
I’ve seen you do it a thousand times: come speeding down the lane and give the window a glance to see if you’ve been caught. I’ve seen it so often, I can imagine it quite clearly, the baseball cap, and your sleeves rolled up, the line of your arms on the wheel, but imagining it doesn’t make it happen, and I just have to wait.
I can hear the wind in the cooker’s extractor hood, going round and round, a whooshy messy noise, see the rhubarb plants across the way bouncing. There are things that move in the wind – grass, telegraph wires, the line you strung yesterday to mark where the new fence will go – and things that don’t, stoic things – houses, cars, wood piles, their colour and shape unflinching. The loose tendrils of clematis that have outgrown my neighbours trellis and now reach almost to the house’s gutters wave two and fro.
You left at three to go surfing. I wouldn’t consider this long if it was epic conditions – no wind, gently peeling waves. Craning my neck to the corner of the window, and the rhubarb leaves flapping over next door’s dyke, the ocean appears to me as a jagged jumble. Further back white crests merge with the mist.
It doesn’t matter anyway, because you aren’t down there, and I think of the dozen beaches and points between here and Thurso. It never seems important to ask where you’re going, not until you’ve been gone four hours and your phone is lying abandoned on our bed.
I could be peeling tatties, but I don’t like to make a start until you’re back. If I do, each newly peeled potato will add to your not being here. Eventually I would have to put the knife down and go to look for you, leaving an earthy pile of skin, and the potatoes going brown on kitchen towel. And at that point my mouth will be dry, the sacrifice of a few vegetables too little too late.
And so I stare out the window, trying to see past the salt spray and the wet streaks and the slanting raindrops, watch the wind blow silver shadows through the grass.
‘I parked myself deep in a tube, boy,’ is what you say on your return, the baseball cap pulled down on wet hair. ‘Oh man, it was sketchy.’ Your eyes shine with saltwater euphoria. I should be euphoric too, I guess, but it takes a lot of energy to worry about you, and for a while the kitchen will be split in two, like the wind commingling with silence in the extractor hood, and the rhubarb leaves clashing with the dyke.