'Not Sleeping' by Fiona Ritchie Walker


In my own room I’d have picked up the clock, squinted at the luminous dial, the chameleon hands. But I’m six thousand miles away in a new time zone night, which is why there’s a hotel phone close to my face. I’m looking for hours and minutes, find buttoned numbers, hash tag, asterisk.
My body clock’s gone off. Even my stomach’s growling. Somehow last night’s three courses have been digested by my old time zone body leaving my stomach, taste buds, brain all crying out for food.
There’s nothing to eat in this room. No kettle, coffee or tea. No sugar sachets to rip open, pour onto my waiting tongue. Only clothes in my suitcase, documents in the carry bag, not even a stick of gum. So I sit in the darkness, holding the phone. It keeps my hands busy.
I lie. It’s not completely dark. I can see shapes rising up. Here is the chair with yesterday’s shirt snowdrifting across it. This could be a crouching dog, though I know it’s my case, top half open. And here in my hand, curved like driftwood, warm like a stranger’s shoulder, is the phone. It wants me to dial that familiar number, so I do. I cut off the buzz of the live line with my thumb. The buttons click into silence. Nothing rings.
In the house, in her time zone, it’s just getting dark. The heating’s on too high because as soon as the sun goes she says she starts to feel the chill. The fridge is filled with too much milk. She says she forgets I’m not there but we both know she hates to break her routine. Two cartons on the way home from the office, never a large one, she says it won’t stay fresh.
She’ll have to make hot chocolate, use it up. She’s thinking about it now, how it will taste. She pours the milk high above the pan, watches it fall, white chiffon, watches it splash, spilt emulsion. Watches it bubble, agitate, make heat flowers.
She leans her head against the door, not because she’s tired, but to watch it roll and boil. She sprinkles the dark powder over, makes islands, picks up the whisk and beats a figure of eight with a little twist at the end. I love watching her wrist, it’s like it’s dancing.
She should switch off the gas but she doesn’t. She drops the whisk against the side of the pan, waits. Everything’s circling up. Soon it will froth and foam.
She rubs her eye, yawns, daring the hot, the wet to erupt on her clean stove. It looks like she’s forgotten but when the milk blows high she snaps off the gas, jerks the handle like it’s a naughty kid, pours the frothing river into the white mug with the sailboat on the side and flips the pan into the sink.
A whole mug of sweet steaminess and I will drink none of it.

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