Habits

by Peter Bunyan

 

    As his wife moved to the kettle Harry looked at his hand-held computer. "Make Tea" was blinking on its screen. He tapped the words lightly. She was three minutes late. There must have been something in the newspaper that held her attention. He wondered what.

    'Tea, would you like some Harry, some tea?'

    'Thank you. That would be nice.' He tapped again on the screen and it read "Get clothes from the drier". His wife walked to the utility room next to the kitchen and opened the door to the tumble drier. He tapped his screen again.

    Slowly, looking at the screen, Harry walked from the room, tapping commands onto the screen as he went. He walked to the foot of the stairs and began to climb to the second floor. There to the back of the house he entered a room filled with computer screens and a large white board. He took a seat and linked his hand-held to a cradle connected to his desktop computer. He pressed the synch button on the cradle and his desktop screen flashed. The computers talked in images and he sat back to watch them.

    In the corner of the room the electricity metre went round and round. Attached to the electric feed to the house was box with quartz display showing the amps used by the house. A wire left the box and ran to the desktop computer. On the desktop screen was a graph displaying the electricity usage of the house over time. Harry moved to the light switch and turned it on. The computer added a line to a read out, "Light on". He turned it off and another line appeared, "Light off".

    Harry stood up, put on his jacket, checked his pocket for his keys and walked from the room. Harry's hair was short on top and long at the back. It was uncombed and his clothes were layers of pockets and textures, but the colours were bland. He walked in shoes that were wide and comfortable and he had a pair of reading glasses that he seldom used. He walked back into the room and took the hand-held from its cradle and left once more.

    At the bottom of the stairs he met his wife waiting with a cup of tea in each hand. 'Are you going out?' she asked.

    'For a while. I thought I'd take a walk.' He smiled. They kissed lightly. He could smell her. Lingering. She looked hurt. They had had a dog.

    'I must go shopping soon. Could you pick up this parcel from the post office on your way back?' She handed him a card from the hall table.

    'Sure. See you later then.' He opened the front door and left quietly. She stood and watched him go. Harry turned from the path and walked north away from the walks he'd taken with their dog. He walked in the direction of the post office, in the direction of duties and daily life. The sun was breaking through rain clouds and London looked bright in the spring. But clouds could soon make it look grey. The wind whipped the trees and then stillness and the noises came back. Birds broke into the hums and created randoms, small eddies in what looked timeless.

    Harry walked into the computer shop. It had dusty boxes faded by the sun in the window. It had some anonymous beige boxes on the counter that ran the length of the shop. A set of metal shelves held varying shaped monitors and then there were the Midi keyboards staked in a display frame. Behind a desk and playing a game sat Mark. Mark gave a quick glance to the door as Harry stepped through and then returned to his game, 'Level 12' he said to Harry.

    Harry was not impressed; he was depressed. He sat on the bright green chair with it's stuffing leaking from the corners. Its stainless steel was peeling to reveal dull metal beneath. He helped the flaking. 'I think I need a drink. Would you join me?' Harry did not look at Mark.

    'Where's the pause on this game. Quick. Help...Damn it! I've just lost a life.'

    'Alt-P' Harry stood up and walked over to the keyboards. He touched a key. Nothing played. No sound.

    Mark walked around his desk and to within talking distance of Harry. 'I don't take lunch usually. But I suppose if you're buying. Come on.' He found his coat and dug into a draw for a notice to hang on the door. 'Gina used use this when I was a tycoon. Just to think I used to employ three people. Those were the days. Forty percent on everything and I... Are you OK?' Mark opened the door to the street.

    'I've found something I'd rather not have noticed.' Harry said as he took his hand-held from his pocket. He slid the switch on the side and it lit up. They walked from the shop and Mark turned to lock the door. 'I can predict my wife.'

    'You've been living together long enough. It's called middle age.' Mark chuckled his keys into his pocket and turned to join Harry in the direction of the pub.

    'She'll be reading the newspaper now and in about ten minutes she'll find the crisps in the cupboard and nibble on them with the salsa in the fridge. Then she'll go into the garden do some weeding or go and check her email' Harry tapped on his hand-held.

    'What's that you've got there? You sound like she's died. Are you OK?' Mark looked concerned. Harry looked miserable.

    'I downloaded an inference engine from the Internet and hooked it up to that ammeter I bought from you. It found some patterns to the electrical usage of the house. So I went in search of the events that caused the surges and dips in the graph. I wrote down the events in the house into my hand-held and matched the times to the graph and now I have some predictive titles to the event the engine found. They are chains of behaviour that last sometimes up to several hours now.'

    'What are you talking about?'

    'I can predict my wife's behaviour. I even know when she'll make a cup of tea. Look!' He handed over the hand-held.

    Mark read the list. 'This is rubbish. You can't predict people's behaviour.'

    'Not entirely. But I have found little structures that float in the day and as soon as she enters one the rest will follow till something breaks the chain. But she soon returns. Like this morning. She read the paper and it was a Thursday so she had no interest in the Style section. But there was an article after the editorial that held her three minutes longer than usual and so she was late to make us tea.'

    'And you stand around all day watching her? Entering her every move into this? You're sick! Hasn't she noticed how you follow her?'

    'Not really. I pretend to be playing a game. She soon took no notice of me. I became part of the furniture. And she kisses me between events. We kiss like punctuation. We make love like clockwork. Not in time but in these structures I've been telling you about.'

    'You still make love. That can be one good thing about being married. I flirt and drink myself silly to get laid. You know I even dance. You should think yourself lucky. I suppose.'

    Mark and Harry walked on towards the pub. A collection of red double deckers passed noisily stopping conversation. They waited at the lights and Harry continued to look at his hand-held.



    Harry's hand-held read: "Making the bed". He stood before their front door his keys in one hand and the hand-held in the other. He raised his key to open the door, but his index finger raised up to the doorbell and pressed it. He stood before the door waiting. The sound of a hoover stops. A bird made a sound. Then came the sound of his wife's footfalls on the stairs.

    'Harry? I was just making the bed.' His wife's face was concerned. The door was ajar and she had noticed his key in his hands. She began to look annoyed. 'Your key doesn't work?'

    'Sorry. I just wanted to see you.' He put his keys in his pocket. She walked from the door and left it for him to open fully. The door closed itself behind him. He took his coat off and this time hung it where there was a hook for it by the door. He put his keys in a dish on the hall table.

    'Did you get the package?' Her head pops around a doorway down the hall.

    'Oh. No. I went the other way. Do you want me to go out...'

    'Don't bother. I'll get it when I go out later. Are you OK? You look lost. How about getting the washing from the dryer?' She went back into the room down the hall.

    Harry followed her. He walked up behind her and put his arms round her, one moving to under her breast and the other moving to where her hip raised in one direction to her stomach and in the other towards her thigh. It was a small slide that his second finger sat in making a fold into her grey woollen dress. She stood up straighter and lent against him slightly with her shoulders. He could smell her breath as she turned to him. It was sweet. He could smell her straight hair. It was soft, almost red. She didn't say anything. She was waiting and Harry knew he was out of synch with her. This was not expected. But she didn't say anything. This was not necessary. He kissed her gently - comma - and letting go slowly, he walked from the room.

    'I must go up to the shops in a moment. Do you want anything special?' she asked from the room as he walked to the bottom of the stairs.

    'Not for me, thank you. I'll return to my computer.' Her shoes were beside his beside the hall table and ready to go out.



    Harry lay in the bath. The bight morning light danced from the water's surface to the tiles, where it played among its shadows. Harry relaxed and watched, watched and thought. Each time the drops fell from the hot tap the shadows of the taps on the wall would disappear and the light jump, slowly they came back only to disappear once more beneath another drop.

    Harry's wife was in the kitchen reading the newspaper beside the kettle. The doorbell rang and his wife stood up. 'Who can that be?' she said in an annoyed voice.

    'I'm in the bath.' said Harry. He too wondered who would call at this time. The post was not due for hours. The rubbish was to be collected tomorrow. Recycling was Friday. His wife had a coffee morning yesterday. Today was shopping and reading for book group.

    His wife wiped her hands on a dishcloth and straightened the belt around her bathrobe, put a plate in the sink and walked to the front door. She looked once in the mirror by the hall table and ran her fingers through her hair, before opening the door. Mark stood the other side.

    'Good morning. Is Harry up? I thought he might like to help me this morning. I'm a bit early.'

    'No. No. Do come in. I'm afraid we're not dressed yet.' Harry's wife said.

    'Are you sure? I'm taking delivery of ten old systems today and I thought Harry might like to strip them with me.' Mark smiled as he walked behind Harry's wife to the kitchen.

    'It's Mark. Are you going to get out of the bath?'

    'I hate to break your routine. Is that coffee?' asked Mark.

    Harry raced through soaping and drying and forgot to pull the plug as he dashed through his towel to clothes in the bedroom. Mark and Harry's wife were sitting on kitchen stools looking at the newspaper together when he made his way into the kitchen. 'Good morning.' raised two distracted faces from the newspaper.

    'Would you like to help me tear down these systems. I have no idea what we'll find in them.' Mark's face grew in mischief.

    'Sure. Shall we go?' Harry said, worried that Mark would begin to talk. Harry left the room and found his coat ready to open the front door. Mark followed him rushing the last of his coffee. Mark was between Harry and his wife. If he had turned he would have been in the perfect position to kiss her good-bye. They shuffled in the small space of the corridor. Mark tried to move round Harry's wife, but she was trying to move round Mark and so they embraced to stop each other falling. Mark swivelled and was now the one saying good-bye as if Harry and his wife were leaving the house. Harry opened the door and stepped out. His wife stepped aside and took the door lock in her hand. Mark walked passed and smiled, 'Thanks for the coffee. The Guardian's not bad.'

    'Nice to see you. Harry, will you be back for lunch? I have to go shopping and I have book group reading to do.' Harry's wife was not seeing Harry but some far off list of endless events that needed chaining into days and hours and minutes, which needed knitting into the fabric of her days.

    Harry waved. He could have dipped back into the house and kissed his wife. She was expecting it. But before she could refocus from her list of to dos he was down the other end of the path from the front door leaving Mark to smile at her return.

    'I'll call you.' Harry stage whispered over his shoulder.

    'Good morning' said Mark standing still his arms down by his side. Again in a position to lean in and kiss Harry's wife au reviour, he smiled more brilliantly as Harry's wife looked at him, slightly confused. He turned eventually and walked after Harry, who was by this time out of sight.



    Harry sat at the bench with a computer box in front of him with its contents arrayed beside it. 'This one has lots of memory. Should I take it out?' He turned to Mark who was trying to make a modem work further down the bench.

    'Sure. It goes in the second drawer over there. Have you got another power lead? This one's gone.'

    Harry took the power lead from the computer in front of him and walked over to where Mark was working. 'It's probably the fuse.' He plugged in the power lead and looked at the plug of the dead lead. It had a door that flipped open and dropped out the fuse. 'Do you have any fuses?'

    'Drawer above memory.' replied Mark still typing.

    Harry walked over to the drawers and placed the memory in the second drawer and retrieved a fuse from the top drawer and returned to the dead lead on the bench. He replaced the fuse and walked back to his computer. He plugged in the lead and the lights of his computer came on as he powered up. 'It was the fuse.' He put the dead fuse in his pocket.

    'What are you going to do with that when the wastebasket would be a better place for it. Don't tell me you collect them.'

    'No. I thought it might be useful.'



    As the front door opened Harry had just place the plug of the kettle back into its socket. He placed another fuse in his pocket.

    'Hello?' his wife called from the hall.

    'In the kitchen. Do you need help with the shopping?' asked Harry as he walked into the hall. His wife was at the front door removing her shoes to be placed under the hall table.

    'That's OK, it was just small shop. How was you day with Mark. He's a strange fellow. Somehow he awkward.' She kissed Harry lightly on the lips a bag of shopping once more in each hand.

    Harry lent down to take one of the bags.

    'Now don't fuss. I have some reading to do and then I must make supper. Would you like a cup of tea?' She marched past him to the kitchen.

    'No thank you. I'll go back to my computer.'



    Harry's wife walked into his computer room with a cup of tea. She placed in on a coaster beside his keyboard.

    He quickly moused away the graph of their electrical usage and turned to her. 'Thank you. I thought you were reading.'

    'I don't know why I bring you tea since you never drink it' she said, picking up a half full cup from the other side of this keyboard. 'I must go and do my reading. People spend so little time reading these days. Isn't it strange that they use the Internet to buy books. Just when they were starting to put cafe's in bookshops too. Strange world. Will fish be all right for supper?' she turned and left the room without waiting for a reply.

    'That would be nice.' Harry looked at the cup of tea. Slowly, he got up from his chair and moved to the doorway, waiting for his wife to leave the landing for their bedroom. He then walked quietly downstairs to the kitchen. He opened the cupboard under the sink and saw two used tea bags and the fuse in the top of the wastebasket attached to the door of the cupboard. Taking the fuse and wiping in on his trouser leg he walked back to the kettle. He once more switched the fuses and put the other new one in his pocket. He then proceeded to search the kitchen for a packet of fuses. He could hear the sounds of radio 4 coming from their bedroom. In a jar he came across a fuse packet with one remaining fuse in it. He took the fuse and left the packet.



    'Harry. Have you noticed that you always leave your tea half drunk and that it's always cold when you start to drink it?' said his wife standing behind him. He turned and looked at her. She had another cup of tea for him in her hand.

    'I like it cold. Well, not cold so much as warm.'

    'It's a funny habit. There's something wrong with the kettle. It's blown two fuses in today. Do you think we need to buy another one. I had to boil water on the stove.' She picked up his undrunk tea from earlier and turned.

    'A habit?'

    Standing in the doorway his wife smiled at him. 'Yes like wearing different socks. I put them in your drawer paired and you always wear odd ones. Supper in a moment. Would you like to do the shopping tomorrow. I thought I might go to Paris for lunch.' She walked out and down the stairs.

    'Paris?! But that's in another country and... and, what about book group?'

    'I'm going to buy the next book group title at Shakespeare & Co.'



©1999 Harpslade Ltd