Chloe loves the ride home from work. Zooming down the Brooklyn Hill is a great way to blow the day away, and because she is on her bike, there are no traffic jams to wind her up again. She likes the way she feels.
Today is a scorcher, one of those ‘typical Wellington days’ people joke about, because, actually, they aren’t that typical. People are out in droves in Oriental Bay. She wonders where they all come from, how they manage their lives so they can be here.
She has to push her bike up Hay Street, because it’s very steep and because she is not a proper cyclist. Her bike has a basket on the front. Her cycling group is not a proper cycling group either. They are Frocks on Bikes and their mantra is ‘No lycra. No hurry.’ Martin tells people she’s a bikie. She just rolls her eyes.
She and Martin live in the ugliest house in Hay Street, which, luckily for them, is so ugly that no one else wanted to buy it. Martin can see its potential. He is an architect, so he should know. By the time they build another floor on the top, they will have the sea view that they are now missing, but in the meantime, they can still smell the sea, and if they stand in the middle of their street and look down, they can see it.
She can see Martin waving at her from his favourite spot in the house. To the untrained eye, it is a large piece of wood stuck off the side of the stairs, with a sheer drop below; a leftover from one of the butchered renovations. Martin considers it premium floor space. ‘It’s a viewing platform,’ he insists, and he’s put two green plastic Cape Cod chairs from The Warehouse up there to prove it. ‘Only thirty-nine dollars each,’ he told her, proudly, when he bought them. ‘Uber cool.’
Chloe refuses to join him on the platform. ‘I’ll be the one who falls off and breaks my neck,’ she says, ‘and besides, it’s just so public,’ but Martin sees that as a bonus too. ‘I can see everybody first,’ he says, ‘and I’ll be able to see you coming up the street.’
He’ll be pleased she’s feeling better. He worries about her and he’s happiest when she’s happy. He comes bounding down the stairs and he’s so excited, he’s doing that little jumpy wavy-hands thing that he does. He’s just a little boy really, she thinks, but when he grabs her to him and gives her a twirl and then a boisterous hug, she laughs, and they kiss; it’s all going well. ‘I’ve got something to show you,’ he says, barely able to contain his excitement. She wonders how long he’s been waiting for her in this state.
On the dining table is a small rectangular object, made of plastic and wood, a container of some sort. ‘Look!’ he says. ‘I finally got one.’
Chloe looks. ‘What is it?’ she asks.
‘It’s the Swiss-made self-chilling butter dish that I’ve been hunting for, for years!’ he says, triumphantly. ‘You remember.’
‘Oh,’ says Chloe.
‘I can’t believe it. Mrs Nef had one in her house all this time, right under my nose. We were just chatting about stuff and it came out that she had one in her cupboard. It’s never been used, Chloe! She insisted I have it, really she did.’
‘What do you mean how much? Chloe, you can’t put a price on something like this. It’s rare. It’s gorgeous. I’ve been dreaming of this day.’
‘Just a hundred dollars, Chloe, it’s a steal. Mrs Nef would have given it to me for nothing, seriously. I felt obliged to make some sort of gesture.’
‘Okay,’ she says. ‘What does it do?’ She gives an involuntary sigh, and that look crosses his face. ‘It wasn’t a sigh,’ she says, irritated. ‘I’m just breathing. Stop taking it so personally all the time.’
She’s not in the mood for his little-boy quivering-lip look. She tries again. ‘I’m sorry, Martin, I know you’ve probably told me about it before, but I’ve forgotten. I’m sorry. Really. What does it do?’
He’s happy again. ‘It keeps butter cool for up to three hours on the table! It’s super rare. I can’t believe I got one.’
‘Why can’t we keep our butter cool in the butter-cooler compartment in the fridge?’
‘No, listen, Chloe, it’s wonderful, listen to what it says. “Good sense for parties, or perfectionists who demand every part of the meal served flawlessly.” It’s genius. It’s gorgeous.’
She can’t keep it up. ‘We are not perfectionists, and I cannot recall a single time we ever had a party that required us to keep our butter sitting on the table for three hours,’ she says. She resists the temptation to throw it in the cupboard with all his other genius gadgets, and goes into the office, to unpack her day into the corner that has been allocated to her.
‘Look, Chloe,’ he’d said, when they were buying the house. ‘The second bedroom is a decent size, we can share it as an office for now,’ even though he already has an office in town. ‘I can work at home sometimes when you’re there. It will be great to spend more time together.’ He’d said it with a big grin, but architects take up a lot of room and while he can manage to work and talk at the same time, she really can’t. She longs for peace and quiet as much as she longs for a desk the length of the room, and some decent shelving. ‘Let’s not waste money on that’ he said. ‘We need to save every cent for the extension.’
He doesn’t follow her into the office, and she knows he’s disappointed, but she doesn’t care. ‘Hey, I’ll start dinner,’ he calls out cheerfully. ‘Take your time in there if you’ve got things to do.’
She comes out. ‘I’ve actually made a date to join the Frocks,’ she says. ‘There’s a ride around the coast to celebrate the gorgeous night. I’ll only be about an hour.’
It’s not a complete lie, the ride is true but she hadn’t planned on going, she really has too much to do. She changes into a dress, does a twirl for him and kisses him goodbye. He’s whistling. She thinks they’ll be okay.
When she gets home, Martin is using his self-stirring saucepan to make a curry. ‘Hey,’ she says. ‘I always thought that was just for show. It’s pretty cool.’
He appreciates the gesture. ‘Look, the plates are warming up too.’ He grins. ‘I’m all ready for you.’ She rolls her eyes at him, and at the electric plate-blanket, and they both laugh.