She sat at the kitchen table and all the what ifs, what weres and what could’ve beens floated around her head as the bread began to rise in the oven. She thought about the summer they’d met. But actually what was there to think about? A collection of soft images, feelings and snatches of conversations. The warmth of his touch in that distant past, the sunlight, the shadow on the water as it rose and fell below them on the West Pier; that slow accumulation of thought and experience slowly kneaded together, blending with the tears, the wine, the present. It was all memory now. She thought about the missing boy, the hole in their family and she wondered if Tim ever allowed himself to think about that particular past. It was something that never rose to the surface in conversation. How could it? There was no time. This caused her to suddenly say the word out loud. Time.
She listened to the silence and was aware of herself in the glass, held there only as a cold reflection, a soft focus study, a representation of a woman in a kitchen. She slipped into that space and withdrew to another time, returning slowly to the present, brought back by the sound of the unseen waves bringing the shingle. She listened to the sea, the tide would be on the turn. She wondered if she might go outside and walk at its shore. But she didn’t. There was the loaf to think about, the arrival of Tim (she glanced at the clock and found it, for some moments, not to be moving). Anyway, she realised at last that her boots were in the car, so that settled that.
One Saturday, she had taken the bus over to the mainland, to the arts and craft market in Axminster. The 301 stopped in the bus station at Bridport and anyone getting off there got off, anyone getting on got on. The driver started the engine, then stopped it again. He got off, smoked a cigarette. A gull was walking around between the shelters. She watched it from where she was sat on the bus. It walked over to a discarded cup of coffee that was stood by the kerb and began to drink from it with stabbing motions.
She saw all at once that the clock hands had moved quite quickly this time around the face. She poured the last of the wine and worked her way out of the cold glass reflection of the window. She peered into the warm, square of orange of the oven, the life within.
But, before too long, she was crying again. She quietly sobbed and said to herself, stupid, stupid, stupid and laughed at the same time, the way that you can do when you find yourself suddenly overcome with sadness. The bread in the oven brought her back again to the little boy, the has-been, the what-if, the could’ve-been. He had risen in her belly. He would have been almost four by now. She thought again of the seagull and she laughed a proper belly laugh.
The Volvo pulled up in the drive. She went upstairs in her socks, two at a time and put some water on her face, pushing her hair this way and that. She blew her nose on some toilet paper that she gathered hand over hand from the roll. As she did so she heard his voice downstairs, but missed what he said. She stuffed the soft paper up her sleeve. He was in the kitchen, arranging two large fish and chip dinners across two dinner plates. “Over generous with the chips,” he was saying, but more so to himself, or, somehow, as if he were talking to the fish and chip man. He looked up as she came into the room, placed a chip into his mouth and said that the smell of baking bread reminded him of when he was a boy.