6:00am: An insistent buzzing woke her from her slumber, and she jumped out of bed to stop the alarm clock—where the bright red eyes watched her from across the room. It was doubtful that she needed the alarm, but she’d never take that chance. Getting up in time was important to her.
6:05am: She pressed the start button on her watch. The timer began counting the seconds as she darted off. The route was always the same, and looped twice to make it exactly 5km. She came to a halt, and stopped the timer, the moment she got to the street light, 100m away from her front door. It loomed higher than the others in the road—the perfect place to end her run. As she walked home, her breathing began to slow. She checked her time. 25 minutes. Not bad, she mused.
6:35am: She adjusted the water to the perfect temperature and stepped into the shower. The lukewarm water rushed over her, as she methodically scrubbed her left foot and then her right foot, before making her way up her body. She always finished on her right hand, and spent the next few minutes washing her face, and sometimes her hair. But today was not hair wash day—which only occurred every third day. She used the extra time to brush her hair back into a tight ponytail, after which she dressed in the clothes she had laid out the day before: blue jeans—regular, not skinny—and a loose aqua t-shirt. Sensible clothes.
7:00am: Her favourite time of day—tea time. She carefully took out a box from the cupboard, and gently lifted out the kettle. A contented sigh escaped her the moment it was in her hands. The kettle had once belonged to her mother, who’d recounted fantastical stories about its enchantment. “There’s something special about it,” her mother would say. “Not only does it always ensure we have the perfect cup of tea every single time, but it also gives us magical powers for the day. It was made just for us.” The innocence of youth and ensured she believed every word, and was still engrained in her today. The kettle was old. It had been manufactured in the mid 1920’s by Bulpitt & Sons and created by an engineer called Arthur Leslie Large. She knew this because the name Arthur Large was etched into the side of the kettle. It was a copper kettle with a brass top, and remained relatively shiny. The only difference between Arthur (which she’d taken to calling it) and a regular kettle was that it didn’t include a thermostat to tell it when to stop boiling. But that was all part of the process she enjoyed so much. She switched it on and immediately set her watch timer for 4 minutes. After the time lapsed, she poured the boiling water into her cup, where her teabag was lying in wait. She stirred, waited 2 minutes, and then stirred and waited a further 1 minute. She always took the teabag out without straining it, and added a drop of milk and half a teaspoon of sugar. She took the cup over to her desk and opened up her laptop. She went straight to her latest manuscript file, where she spent a few minutes reading through the previous paragraphs while slowly sipping her perfectly made tea. While the liquid gently made its way into her system, she began to write. Writing came easily to her after that first sip. The words dripped out her fingertips with ease and she didn’t stop until the hands of the clock reached exactly 9:00am. She needed her breakfast, and by then the magic of the tea had started to wane.
9:00am: She didn’t consider herself a good cook, but it didn’t stop her from enjoying the process. Breakfast was a glass of orange juice, a big bowl of oats topped with honey, half a slice of toast with grated cheese, and a cup of coffee. But she never used Arthur for her coffee. Arthur was only for her morning cup of tea. She had another, more modern, kettle for that. She sat for an hour eating and reading the newspaper. Then she washed the dishes, and walked the 1.8km to the shops to buy food for lunch and dinner. She always walked there no matter how miserable the weather. Her first stop, before shopping for food, was always the bookstore. She very rarely bought anything, but there was something about the smell of a bookstore that always drew her in.
The manager waved, “Hello! Let me know if you need anything.”
“Thanks, I will,” she said as she began her usual route between the shelves. She liked the manager. He didn’t seem to mind that she didn’t buy anything.
1:30pm: She had three different lunch plans. One was a chicken and avocado salad. The second was a butternut and chicken wrap. The third was a tomato and cheese sandwich. One followed the next each day. That day it was the butternut and chicken wrap. She was glad for this. The salad was always the day she dreaded most. But a salad, she had told herself, was a necessary part of her dietary needs. Lunch took approximately half an hour to make after which she sat for an hour eating and reflecting on her meal.
2:00pm: She changed back into her workout clothes and pulled the cleaning gear out of the cupboard at the bottom of the stairs. Cleaning the house was a long process, but a necessary one. Just leaving the house untouched for one day would mean far too much work the next. She’d discovered this the hard way. But she didn’t mind. There was something strangely satisfying about cleaning the house, which she looked forward to every day. Not that she had anyone to keep secrets from. She’d move through the rooms one by one, methodically cleaning, scrubbing and shining. The entire process took two and a half hours and she was always left both exhausted and content.
4:30pm: She climbed into a hot bath filled to the brim with bubbles.
“You bath at 4.30? Seriously? That’s so early!” someone had exclaimed once. But she saw nothing wrong with this, and she felt no reason to justify her behaviours to others. She didn’t believe in wasting money, but there were a few things in life that she didn’t mind indulging in. Bubbles were one of them. She loved this time of day, where she could sit back and reflect on how much she’d accomplished. She would go through all the items and tick them off. She knew that other people saw her as unusual. They didn’t understand why she liked routine so much, but she was almost certain that they didn’t fall into a bath at the end of the day with the knowledge that it was a day well spent.
5:00pm: As with lunch, she rotated three dinners, and today was a good one. Spaghetti and meatballs. She knew how to make the perfect amount for just one person—the next day was not spaghetti and meatballs day, so there was simply no place for leftovers in her house. She poured herself half a glass of red wine—her one indulgence for the day—and took a grateful sip. She had to buy small bottles so that they didn’t go bad too quickly, because she never went over her half a glass limit a night. She’d tried it once before and had woken up too late for her run. It had thrown her entire day out and she’d sworn never to do it again.
6:30pm: She settled herself on her sofa, with her dinner plate balanced on her lap, as she watched Groundhog Day, a movie she had seen countless time. The irony was not lost on her, but she didn’t mind—if she enjoyed a movie once, then she’d probably enjoy it a second or third time. The moment she was finished with her meal she paused the movie to do the dishes. She couldn’t concentrate knowing she still had to clean.
8:30pm: She climbed into bed with her notebook and pen, and jotted down a few ideas for the following day’s writing session. She never got too far without her magical tea. But she liked to have a few ideas just in case, no matter how awful they might seem in the morning. Then she reached for her novel and started to read.
And in the forest she sat, busying herself with her book and her wild imagination, without a worry in the world. She smiled and closed the book—it was a good place to stop.
9:30pm: She got up to brush her teeth, counting to thirty on the top left, thirty on the top right, twenty in the middle and repeating for the bottom. Then she climbed back into bed, switched off her lamp and fell into a happy and fulfilled sleep.
6:00am: Her phone buzzed and she climbed out of bed to stop it.
6:05am: She pressed the start button on her watch. The timer began counting the seconds as she darted off. At the end she checked her time and then walked to catch her breath. 26 minutes. Damn, not as good as yesterday, she thought and made a mental note to push harder the following day.
6.35am: She adjusted the water to the perfect temperature and then stepped into the shower.
7:00am: Her favourite time of day. Tea time. She carefully took the kettle out from its box and filled it with water. Then she set her timer for 4 minutes and switched it on. It didn’t take long for her to notice something was wrong. The kettle wasn’t boiling. She checked everything, from the cord, to the switch, to making sure that there was enough water. Everything seemed to be in order, so she tried again. Nothing. In all the years she’d used Arthur she’d never once had a problem with it. She’d never even toyed with the idea. She’d discovered Arthur in her mom’s storage after she’d passed away and had used it ever since. Arthur had never given her any trouble, even though in the same length of time she’d gone through two newer kettles. She felt panic rise up inside her as she tried and tried again to get it to work. She couldn’t seem to stop her hands from shaking. She looked at her watch. It was already 7:08am. By now she should’ve been a few minutes into her work. She took a deep breath, walked out the kitchen and paced the living room. Then she walked back in and tried again. Of course, it still didn’t work. She needed to phone someone that could help her. The yellow pages? No, she hadn’t had one of those in years. She rushed to her laptop and searched the internet for electricians in her area.
“Hello, I’m looking for someone who can repair my kettle,” she said breathlessly into the phone.
“Your kettle? Have you checked if you’re still under warranty with the shop you bought it from? They’re usually quite good with things like that. Then you can just get a brand new one. I swear, these things are just not built to last anymore.”
“No, you don’t understand. It’s not a new kettle. It’s an old version. It was made in the 1920’s by Bulpitt & Sons—I’m sure you’ve heard of them—and I need it fixed, not replaced.”
The man whistled, “In the 1920’s? You still have a working kettle from the 1920’s? Are you sure someone didn’t just tell you that as a joke?”
She didn’t like this man one bit. “I’m sure. Please, it means a lot to me. Can you at least come and have a look at it?”
“I can. The call out fee is R200 and then I can give you a quote thereafter on the rest.”
“R200? Just to come here?”
“Yes Ma’am, that’s the fee.”
She thought of complaining but didn’t have the energy. She sighed, “Okay, but please come right away.” She gave him her address and put the phone down.
Apparently right away meant 38 minutes. 38 minutes of pacing up and down the living room and glancing mournfully at Arthur. It felt like the longest 38 minutes of her life.
A knock sounded on her door.
“I asked you to come right away,” she barked at the man as she opened the door and ushered him in. Locking the door behind her, she made sure to secure the top and bottom lock. Just because she had company didn’t mean that intruders wouldn’t come in. The man raised his eyebrows at her but didn’t say anything about it.
“Sorry, things got busy, you know how it goes.” No, she didn’t know how it went. “So, show me this old kettle of yours.”
She took him to Arthur and the moment he picked it up she told him to be gentle. “Like I said, Arthur, I mean it, means a lot to me.”
“Of course, of course. Well, it’s beautiful. You don’t see kettles like this anymore. They sure knew how to make them in those days. I cannot believe that you were still using it. Look, I’ll do my best but I’m not sure if we can fix it.”
“You have to.”
“I’ll do my best. It’s more than likely something to do with the element. That’s what it usually is. We can fix the new ones relatively quickly but we don’t always have the parts for these older models.”
She took a deep breath. The man was simply not getting it. “Look, you have to fix it. I didn’t pay you R200 for you to tell me you can’t do anything. This kettle is important to me.”
“I understand that and I’ll do the best that I can. Do you have another kettle in the meantime?”
“Of course I do!” she snapped.
“Well . . . excuse my ignorance, but why do you need this one too? I mean, if it means so much, can’t you just keep it out as an ornament or something?”
It was all getting too much for her. She sat down and looked up at him in exasperation. “Because this one is special. I need this one. Okay, here’s the deal. I’m a writer. It’s what I do for a living. I write books. But I can’t write without my morning cup of tea made in this particular kettle. I know it sounds insane but that is simply the way it is. This kettle makes tea that gives me the inspiration to write. Without it I’m hopeless.”
The man was shifting uncomfortably. His feet were twitching. “Uh . . . are you sure you’re not just imagining it? I’m sure that you could make perfectly good tea with another kettle. And I’m sure you are a talented writer with or without it.”
“I need that kettle. Why don’t you understand?” she said. She was usually so composed, but even she could hear the desperation in her voice. “Please fix it for me, sir. Please.” She put the sir in for good measure. Politeness went a long way.
He nodded, “Okay. I’ll fix it. I’ll call you as soon as I’m finished. Don’t worry ma’am, it’s going to be okay.” He patted her awkwardly on the shoulder.
Unknown time: She finally fell asleep after a day spent pacing the house, counting all the books on her bookshelf (255), and eating toast for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not only could she not bring herself to write, but she couldn’t seem to clean or cook either. She also phoned the electrician 4 times, until he politely asked her to stop calling. On the fifth phone call he wasn’t so polite.
6:00am: She woke up to the sound of buzzing, got up and switched off her alarm. She’d forgotten to get her running gear ready the night before and she wasted three and a half minutes rummaging through the drawers. Her run took longer than normal. She couldn’t seem to pick up speed like she normally did and when she got to her front door, she realised she’d completely forgotten to stop her watch.
She showered in her usual routine fashion but forgot that it was hair washing day, so even though she was already out and changed she went back in. That took extra time too. She kept counting the minutes, making note of how much time she had lost in the past day. She felt the knot in her stomach twisting with every minute that fell away.
Without Arthur she decided to make a cup of coffee in the modern kettle and enjoy an early breakfast. Enjoy was not the right word. She ate standing up and glanced at her watch every few seconds. The electrician only started work at nine thirty—a ridiculous time, she thought. By that time, she was usually done with a run, a shower, and completed 2 hours of writing. 9:30am seemed so far away, so she decided to attempt a writing session. Maybe the man was right—perhaps she was a talented writer in her own right. She opened the laptop and stared at the page. Nothing came to her. She read through the words she had furiously typed the day before, but no matter how much she tried, she simply couldn’t continue with the story. So she hadn’t been imagining it. She needed Arthur. Without him she was useless.
9:32am: She picked up the phone and dialed the number that she now knew off by heart. It just rang.
9:34am: She tried again.
9:36am: Finally, the familiar voice answered.
“Any luck with the kettle?” she said, not even bothering to add in any niceties. Hello and how are you would just be a waste of words.
“Oh, hello. I was going to phone you this morning. You beat me to it,” he said brightly.
“And?” She couldn’t hide her annoyance. Why was he taking so long to answer her?
“You’ll be pleased to know it was just the element that needed sorting out and I have managed to source one for you. It’s going to cost quite a fair bit though, so I needed to check with you first –”
“I’ll pay. How long will it take?” she cut him off.
“Don’t you want to hear the price first?”
“No, I want you to tell me when I will get Arthur . . . uh, the kettle, back.”
“I can have it for you by this afternoon.”
“Before 2:00pm?” She wasn’t sure why she said that. She just wanted him to commit to a time that wasn’t just before closing time. She didn’t trust his time management.
“Let’s say 2:30pm.”
“Okay, perfect,” she said and then quickly added. “Oh, and thank you.” She didn’t mind him so much anymore.
Knowing she was going to be reunited with Arthur soon, she found she was able to clean the house again. It took longer than normal because of the neglect the day before, but at least it helped get her mind off everything. Afterwards, she climbed into a bath filled to the brim with bubbles. This time it really was an early time to bath. But she had no sense of control over time anymore. She lay back and closed her eyes, without any thought to how much she’d accomplished. She just told herself that tomorrow she’d start all over.
2:34pm: She was surprised when the doorbell rang only 4 minutes after the electrician had promised. She’d expected him to take much longer. Again, she ushered him in and locked the door behind him. Then, she eagerly went to the kitchen to look at Arthur again. She was delighted to have him back.
“You’re a miracle worker. Have you tested him?” This time she didn’t even bother correcting him to it.
The man looked incredibly uncomfortable again. Even more so than the last time. He could barely look at her in the eyes. “Uh . . . yes, of course. All is in working order. Tried and tested.”
“That’s wonderful. Now, how much do I owe you?”
The man handed her a piece of paper, and she tried not to flinch at the amount. She got out her wallet and counted out the notes.
“Oh, wow, I wasn’t expecting cash,” he said.
She arched her eyebrows at him, “Oh, let me guess, you expected me to pay by card? Well, I’m not easily fooled. I only trust things that are tangible. I don’t own a card and I never will.” She handed the man the wad of cash, and was surprised when he didn’t count it. When he left, she put Arthur back into his box and enjoyed the feeling of relief that came over her. She spent the rest of the day getting on with things as she normally did—only slightly out of her usual time frames. It was okay, tomorrow was a brand new day.
Thursday – at the electrician’s workplace
“Hey Marty, did you have any luck with that old kettle? The phone hasn’t rung a million times today, so I assume you fixed it.”
Marty smiled, “Not quite.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, when I took it back to the workshop I knew there was no ways I was going to be able to fix that old thing. The element was buggered. But I did some digging around and managed to find the exact same kettle. It wasn’t cheap. But I knew that woman would pay anything for it. And I was right. She just handed over the money. I spent all day yesterday trying to make sure it looked the same. Thankfully, back in the day most of the kettles looked the same.”
The man smiled approvingly at Marty, “You’re a brave man!”
“Well, she was one crazy woman!”
“Do you think she fell for it?”
“I think so. Like you said, I’m sure she would’ve phoned.”
“Didn’t you say she could only write if she had tea from that particular kettle?”
Marty laughed, “That’s what she said!”
“Uh oh. I wouldn’t hold my breath then. We might see one very angry lady rushing through those doors soon.”
6:00am: Bzzzz. Bzzzz. She hopped out of bed with excitement for the day ahead and stopped her alarm.
6:05am: She started her run faster than usual—the thought of all her lost time propelling her. 23 minutes. My best yet, she thought with excitement.
6:35am: She adjusted the water to the perfect temperature, and then stepped into the shower.
7:00am: Her favourite time of day. Tea time. She walked to the kitchen and took Arthur out from the box. She hadn’t looked at him properly the day before and now noticed how much shinier he was. How sweet that the electrician had gone to the trouble of cleaning him for her. And there she was thinking how useless he had been. Once her tea was made she opened up her laptop and started to type. The words rushed out of her again and she found herself typing at extra speed just to keep up.
9:00am. She closed the laptop and looked lovingly at her now empty cup of tea. Life was back to normal.