Listening for the Kettle

The kettle in our house makes a sound when it’s done: an electronic rendition of steam whistling through a tight valve.

The first note strikes tinny, petulant, mood-curdling. Then comes a half-hearted crescendo, the pitch sliding up from the first note about two and a half tones, never quite enough to round out in the ear… not quite… and then back down, a pathetic deflation, as though the kettle were apologising for trying.

I can’t throw it out. My husband brought it home eighteen months ago. He unboxed it on the kitchen counter and held it up to show me the model name stamped on the base: Bilbao. The city in which we fell in love.

“Now every time we have coffee we’ll have that memory too,”he gushed.

We kissed. I forgave the kettle for being lime-green. His kiss teased from me a kiss with more intent, which kindled his intent, Bilbao on our lips, our recollected love gathering and lifting off like leaves in eddying wind. Our daughters were at a birthday party. We went to bed.

I half-napped afterward, happily and guiltily. Then I heard the kettle.

Once you hate a sound you can’t unhate it. I’ve tried, for 18 months, to condition myself to be struck by love at that whistle. But disgust is quicker than memory. I hate it. I hate its ambition to imitate nature. I hate that you can’t toggle the sound on and off, and that when you take it off the base before it boils it whistles anyway — such contempt for nature! I’ve pictured a thousand times the team at DeLonghi who designed the thing, slouching in a boardroom, limp-willed and tired and useless, nobody brave or exacting enough to say, No, no this cannot stand, it sounds really fucking annoying.

I’ve even resented my husband, sometimes, for the perfection of his gift. He imbued the most quotidian of objects with the seed of our love. I’ve envied his pleasure at starting each day with ‘a cup of Bilbao’.

But now he is gone. He said he loves someone else. I lie in bed each morning already awake and sensing it near to 6.20am, the time when his making coffee used to serve as my alarm, and resist a glance at the clock. I burrow into the duvet and pillows the way I’ve always done, hoping that by ritual I will summon the sound of the kettle.

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