From above, the coffee spoon hit the wooden floorboards in the bedroom. It clattered, bounced, stopped. Brian closed his eyes and sighed. Every time Andrea dropped the coffee spoon it seemed louder than the last. He wasn’t sure how she did it, whether she simply let it fall from her fingers or if she launched it a little. The noise was so loud and so sudden it made him tense and angry. It happened three or four times a day.
Brian climbed the stairs, making a point of stepping on the creaky floorboard so Andrea would know he was coming. He walked into the bedroom and saw she had slipped down the pillows and her nightdress had become twisted on her shoulders. He picked the spoon up from the floor and put it on the bedside table next to her empty coffee cup.
“Do you want me to help you sit up a little?” he said.
Brian helped her up and pulled the pillows straight. She leaned back against them and squeezed his hand. Beside her on the bed were some magazines, a crossword puzzle book and the remote control for the television. The television was off. Brian had carried it up to the bedroom for her months ago. Sometimes he laid on the bed beside her, watching it in the evenings, but mostly he found he didn’t miss it.
“Is there anything else I can get for you?” he said.
She shook her head. “I was just missing you.”
Brian pulled the curtains open and leaned on the windowsill, looking out at the train station on the other side of the road. A fine rain was falling. People hurried to get inside. A car pulled up outside the station and from the passenger seat, a woman got out. She was wearing a long coat, which she quickly buttoned up. A man got out of the driver’s side and they walked around to the back of the car. The man opened the boot and hauled a suitcase onto the wet pavement. They talked briefly, kissed, and then she hurried into the station, wheeling the big suitcase behind her. The man watched her go, then got back in the car and drove away.
When he was young, Brian had wanted to be a train driver. He had felt relieved at seven years old, knowing what he was planning to do with the rest of his life. But somewhere along the way he had forgotten about this and never pursued it, only remembering the idea decades later when it was too late. He ended up working in a factory that made radios.
“What have you been up to down there?” Andrea said. Her voice soft and tired.
“Nothing much,” he said.
It was the softness of her voice that first led her to drop the spoon. The first time she had done it Brian had rushed up the stairs to see what had happened, his heart thumping. She had been calling, but he hadn’t heard so she dropped the spoon onto the floor to get his attention. Andrea apologised for scaring him, but he said it was an ingenious way of summoning him. She had been doing it ever since.
“Would you make some coffee?” she said. “And sit with me while we drink it?”
“It’s a bit late for coffee,” he said.
“Not for me,” she said.
He knew this about her, that she could and often did drink coffee at all hours without it affecting her. For decades she had slept an easy eight hours while he, avoiding coffee for the most part, struggled to fall asleep at night and then struggled to wake back up again in the morning. It didn’t seem fair.
“Coffee is good for you,” Andrea said. “It boosts your metabolism, reduces the risk of heart failure, and lowers the viscosity of your bile.”
Brian had heard the first two before, but this was the first he was hearing about bile viscosity.
“Does it?” he said.
“Kind of. Not by drinking it. You have to have it in an enema for that.”
Brian looked over his shoulder at her.
“I don’t want an enema,” she said. “Just a cuppa.”
Outside, the rain intensified. Down in the street, puddles formed in the curbs. The woman with the suitcase reappeared in the doorway of the station. She stood looking out, furtive, clandestine. It seemed to Brian like she was checking the car that had dropped her off was gone. Satisfied that it was, she pulled her hood up, stepped out into the rain, and hurried away, the suitcase clattering along behind her.
Brian leaned close to the window, watching her go until she was all the way gone.
“Have you seen something?” Andrea said.
“Yes,” he said. “Something.”
“What was it?”
“I’m not sure exactly.”
He came away from the window and closed the curtains. “I’ll make that coffee.”
“And then sit with me while we drink it?”
“Of course.” He kissed her lightly on the forehead.
In the kitchen he waited for the kettle to boil, watching the lines on the window as the rain gathered and broke. Somewhere in the distance was a rumble of thunder. The rain drummed against the window, a thousand little noises all happening at once. Brian closed his eyes, listened to the rain, and wondered where the woman with the suitcase was headed.
The kettle boiled and Brian made the coffee, stirring it thoroughly. Then he rinsed the spoon clean, set it down on the draining board so gently it hardly made a sound, and carried the coffee up the stairs to Andrea, making a point of planting his foot in such a way that the creaky step would let her know he was on his way.
Toby Wallis lives in Suffolk, UK. His writing has won Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers, and been shortlisted for The Bridport Prize, The Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and The Brick Lane Bookshop Short Story Prize. Website: tobywallis.net | Twitter: @tobyshmoby