By Heidi Gallacher
The year is 1894. Her husband is dead. Her husband’s best friend has offered to marry her to keep her in the style to which she is accustomed. But, this isn’t what she wants. It isn’t, at all …
I think of my children and how they are missing their papa. Sometimes I hear them calling out for him in the night. I must consider them more. How can my waking thoughts be suffused by Reece when my own children are suffering…? I have to stop thinking about him.
I hear the slight crack of a twig outside and the sound of a cough. His cough. My body grows tense, for I know what will happen, as surely as a mother bird will care for its young or the waxing moon will pull on the tides. I must try to resist with every ounce of my being.
I stand up. As the handle of the door starts to turn, I gather my skirts around me.
He enters the little room, wrinkling his brow as he sees me. ‘Oh, er…Mrs. de Roussier… I have come to take the readings. I was unable to do so yesterday due to the inclement weather. I did not expect…’
‘Oh no, that’s quite all right, thank you for coming. I was just sitting here alone. I was thinking about my children, about how they are missing their father.’
‘It must be very difficult for them. He was taken away from them so suddenly.’ Reece’s green eyes mist as he remembers. ‘Geoffrey was my mentor. He taught me so much about all these.’ He gestures to the instruments standing and hanging around us.
I look along the wall to where he is pointing. ‘I do wish that I knew more about them. I come here to polish them…but I don’t really understand them at all. Geoffrey wouldn’t answer my questions. He would say that he didn’t have the time.’
Reece smiles and beckons me to follow. ‘Then let us begin now. We will start with this one, I think it is the most beautiful.’ He looks at me. He is standing by the barometer that I have just polished, its glass and wood gleaming.
I move over to him and peer at the instrument. There is still a scent of wax and lemon, but beneath it all I can discern his sweet aroma.
‘This is what I call a friendly instrument, since it shows you exactly what is happening.’ He moves his long, slim fingers across the dial.
‘Yes,’ I murmur. I want to kiss them, one by one. Instead, I read out loud, ‘Fair, stormy, mainly dry. Please, tell me how it works.’
He indicates the long, thin tube above the dial. ‘The liquid in here is mercury. More than two hundred years ago, scientists found that the height of mercury when in a tube like this changed slightly each day. They discovered that this was due to the changing pressure of the air.’
‘What do you mean, the pressure of the air?’
‘Right. Well, think for a moment of the sea. If you swim down deeply you would soon feel the weight of the water pressing upon you. Now, consider this. Think of the sky outside and try to imagine the weight of the atmosphere—’
‘That’s silly! Air doesn’t weigh anything!’
‘Ah, but it does!’ Reece looks at me, his eyes gleaming. ‘The sky might look like a vast emptiness, full of little else but wispy clouds – but it still has weight! The air is pressing on your body, all around it – even now as we speak.’
I take a step back and look down at my body, patting it here and there.
Reece smiles and his cheeks redden slightly. ‘You won’t feel it – but I assure you that it is happening.’
I look up. ‘So, that is what’s happening with the mercury? This pressure of the air forces it up the tube?’
Reece claps his hands. ‘Yes! And the higher the pressure, the more the mercury rises.’
I consider for a moment. ‘So we know if the air pressure is high or low.’
‘Yes. And due to this we can forecast changes to the weather. Or attempt to. If the pressure is low, that generally indicates stormy weather. High pressure is the opposite, indicating better weather. Like to-day.’ He looks across to the window. ‘Here, at Tredelerch, an average reading would be around thirty inches.’ He indicates the scale next to the tube. ‘To-day’s reading is thirty point two.’
I touch the dial beneath the tube, which is pointing to ‘Fair’. I say, ‘And the dial agrees! So how does the dial work?’
‘Yes, the dial shows the same thing. But a word, rather than a number. They add it to make it easier to read; not everyone is a scientist. Behind it there is a little spring attached to a box. When the pressure rises or falls, the box moves in and out in response. The spring expands or contracts and moves the pointer on the dial. As the pressure is high, it is pointing towards “Fair”.’
I nod. ‘I can see…thank you. I think I prefer the dial, it does make it easier to read the weather.’ I can feel the warm rays of the sun streaming through the little window, warming my back. ‘And it most certainly is sunnier to-day.’
‘Ha, I agree. Now, to finish our lesson, we are going to look at this old fellow, hanging over here.’
‘Oh, that’s the thermometer; I understand how that one works.’
Reece winks at me. ‘Are you sure? Come and look with me. I bet that you don’t know everything…’
I move to his side. His fragrance drifts to me again. I close my eyes, then force them open again. I try to focus on the thermometer.
‘What do you think the liquid is, inside?’
‘It’s mercury…like in the barometer.’
‘Mercury again. But why use mercury? Why not silver?’
‘Wouldn’t silver be too dear?’
‘It would; you are right. But there is a very important reason why mercury is used.’
‘Mercury is a rather special metal. It is liquid, not solid, at ordinary room temperatures. Silver is solid. When the mercury gets hotter, it expands and moves up the scale. And it expands a lot, so any changes are easy to detect and read.’
‘That is so interesting, Mr. Lyons,’ I murmur. I am fascinated by what he says, how he answers my questions, by what he knows. I know that it will mean so much more to me now, when I consult these beautiful instruments and take their readings.
‘Should I tell you some more?’ He looks at the thermometer again, running his fingers along the scales on either side of the mercury. As he draws his hand back, it brushes against my arm; once again I feel his warmth. He turns to look at me.
I say nothing, as I am unable. I turn to him and close my eyes. I can hear his breathing, the warm air gentle on my cheek. He moves to me, and I feel the softness of his skin as his lips caress my own. After a long, long while we pull apart. He moves a strand of hair gently away from my eyes. We regard each other.
‘I knew from the moment I saw you again, but I felt I had to wait…’
‘Yes. We had to wait. I felt ashamed to have these feelings about you so soon after…’ I hesitate and then trace the outline of his lips with my finger. ‘It has been an agony of longing.’
‘Shh…’ He strokes my face, and I close my eyes once more.
‘I am so glad that we have found one another.’
Pick up your copy of
Heidi Gallacher was born in London in the Sixties. She grew up in Cardiff and Swansea, South Wales. She jumped at the chance to move to Paris in her twenties to learn a new language and culture. Following the arrival of her first son she moved to sunny Switzerland where she has lived ever since. She completed her Masters in Creative Writing in 2018 and her first short story Changing Places was published in September of that year. Rebecca’s Choice is her first novel.
When not writing, Heidi writes and performs music, swims in Lake Zürich and fundraises for Africa.