The kettle is about to boil, and I am elbow deep in bread dough. Gazing out the window at trees lashed by storm force winds, at the drifts of diagonally slanted rain, at sodden sheep huddled under a jutting outcrop of rock, I resign myself, with a sigh, to another day at home. Sprawled at my feet, two boys puck and bat each other like baby goats. They are not my boys. They are boys I look after whilst their mother works and my teenagers are at school.
“Mind his glasses,” I caution, as Small Boy wrests Big Boy to the floor, and the new glasses slip precariously. Ignoring me, the battle over who owns the green dinky pickup truck continues to rage.
Boiling water is a very physical process. As the molecules heat, the jolts and splutters intensify, and steam will force itself through the small round hole on the spout in a piercing crescendo of noise. Less a whistle than a shriek. It is a shrieking, wailing kettle. I scrape dough off my fingers, turning off the gas before the urge to throw back my head and join in its lonesome cry overwhelms me.
The kettle issues an urgent plea,
Turn me off and make the tea.
Unquestionably, Small Boy is a man’s man. Last week, we stood together at the shed gate. Standing on the second bar, waving frantically, his solid four-year-old body trembled with excitement as my husband trundled across the field at a snail’s pace in an ancient digger. Later this morning, I will whip the tea towel off my mixing bowl. “Ta- da,” I will say, pointing at the airy mass of risen dough. “The magic has happened!” Compared to digger driving, it’s a poor show; but it’s the best I can manage.
Abandoning the contested pickup truck, the boys have now joined forces to work on a jigsaw. Feigning surprised delight, I wonder out loud what the completed picture will reveal. Feigning delight, enthusiasm, and positivity is something I’m good at. It’s a skill I honed at team meetings, when I lived in a city and had the sort of job that took me out of my kitchen.
Then we moved our little family back to the remote valley my father had grown up in, embarking on our very own version of living the dream, replete with home grown vegetables, crochet blankets and free-range hens. It is the type of lifestyle that Karl Marx, extolling the relative freedom of a communist society, speaks of in the German Ideology. A lifestyle in which it’s possible to, “do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening.”
In my mind’s eye, I see Karl sitting at his desk, sipping strong black coffee as he writes, whilst Mrs Marx is in the kitchen cooking his dinner. I wonder, being married to a communist, if she felt as free as he did?
There’s something hypnotic about driving rain. My eyes are drawn to it as I peel potatoes for our own dinner. Carving out black bits with my vegetable knife, lines from the Wasteland float into my head. “My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad.”
I picture the anatomical chart on the wall of our science room at school. The body, sliced open, crammed with masses of thread-like lines running from the brain, connecting everything up. A neural superhighway of super-charged activity. When I was learning to play the fiddle, I once made the mistake of twisting the tuning knob too hard. The sound of the taut steel string exploding with force was terrifying. I wonder if it’s the same with nerves. Wind them too tight and they’ll snap. I hope not.
“Marie, what are you doing?”
Small Boy has had enough jigsaw time and requires active diversion.
“I’m thinking,” I say, drawing the drooping edges of my mouth up into a smile.
“Thinking what about me?” he says, scowling.
“About how lucky I am to have you boys keeping me company, and about how wonderful and clever you are!”
When I finish, Big Boy stands up, clears his throat and says in a choked voice, “What you say to us, Marie. We say back one million times!”
We turn to Small Boy, who has scrambled on top of his chair.
“I love you so much,” he declaims, looking at the ceiling, making a gun of his middle and index fingers and pointing them at his temple. “My head is going to explode.” Making loud banging noises, he falls to the floor in a parody of death.
As we join together for a big, jubilant, whooping hug, my heart swells and my spirits soar, free as a bird high above the confines of my kitchen, the howling winds and the leaden sky.