When the rain woke her at 4.13 she had been asleep for less than an hour. She lay still beneath the cover listening to the steady patter of raindrops. With her head turned this way her body felt curiously heavy, unresponsive.
She opened her eyes. The world would soon grow light; darkness would thin and night retreat with swags of sumptuous sky in tow. Why keep on doing this? she wondered. Why won’t you sleep? It’s been weeks.
The rain – such a beautiful sound – wrapped itself tightly around the house, blanketing the sounds of night. It fell straight, she could hear that, without a whisper of wind.
There! A subtle shift indicating a change in direction, a delicate lull, a discernible quickening. She hesitated, breathing as softly as she dared. Outside, the edges of the rain expanded into the stillness, crossing the gravel path that divided her tiny lawn, picking out rhythms on her Hostas.
She should twitch a finger to make sure she still could, perhaps one of the fingers on her left hand curled comfortably, as it was, somewhere next to her. That might be an idea. Perhaps she would in a while.
She had stared like a spellbound schoolgirl, embarrassed yet unable to stop. Nothing like this had ever happened before in all her adult life. His table had been a little way off to the right. She had noted the arcs his hands described, the shapes he left in the air. She would remember the way his shoulders carried the rest of him like a good coat hanger, the way he held and used his fork. She judged his dinner date – finer, possibly, yet eclipsed, certainly eclipsed – more than a little distant. After coffee the woman dabbed the corner of her mouth, stood fluidly and raised nothing more than a questioning eyebrow in Phillipa’s direction. She watched them go, hotly aware of her plainness, grinding urgent circles with her wine glass on the table. Her muscles of her jaw felt slack and tight at the same time. Later Phillipa left and hailed a taxi. She was half way home before she risked placing a hand beneath her ribs; a space had opened somewhere.
The house had been dark and cold when she arrived. She turned on a lamp and sat at her kitchen table with a mug of steaming tea and a desire to call someone, though she couldn’t think what she would say. On a whim, she ate a dish of rhubarb crumble then understood that the absence she felt wasn’t hunger at all. She washed her bowl and spoon and left them upturned on the wire rack next to her sink. She watched the bubbles as they swept idly downwards, switched off the light and climbed the stairs to bed. The sleeplessness had started then.
In the weeks since, she had become a spectator of sorts, disjointed, watching time shift away from her. She wondered what she looked like, curled on her side like this, hair spread out across her pillow. She should focus on moving something soon; the smallest part would do, if not a finger then definitely a toe. It would be her choice; it would be a victory.
At work she had begun to forget things, small things at first, like the way that her friends took coffee or the rituals of productivity. In meetings she realised that she could no longer understand the meaning of the more difficult words. She wrote notes frantically, hoping to make sense of them later. At lunchtimes she took walks through the park, taking care to avoid the restaurant. It was only when her fingers bled that Phillipa realised she had been chewing the skin from around her nails.
It made no sense, not to her at least. Was all this for him? A stranger? It couldn’t be. They hadn’t exchanged a word. She couldn’t even remember the way his face had looked. She called her father early one Saturday morning.
“I’m breaking,” she’d whispered into the phone. “I’m scared there’s only dust inside.”
“It’s Okay,” he whispered back. “That’s what they make bricks from.”
She watched herself lift the corner of her cover and sit on the edge of her bed. Padding downstairs, she crossed the kitchen floor and opened the door to the garden. Phillipa stood on the threshold and watched the rain fall in warm stripes. Away to the East, beneath the distant cloud base, Venus was rising.