The Burning of the Sausages was just the latest in a series of mistakes that Lottie had made that day. The first, the Forgetting to Set the Alarm, had technically been made the night before, but because it had only come to light at ten past seven when Tom happened to wake up, she counted it in that day’s tally.
When he heaved himself out of bed, grunting and swearing, she felt so guilty. Other men, she knew, would have shouted, become enraged, but Tom stayed practical, too immersed in his morning routine to criticise or blame her.
She was so sure she’d set the alarm.
Once Tom had flown down the stairs and out of the door, a slice of toast clamped between his teeth, Lottie left the bedroom; now there was no risk of getting in his way, of slowing him down even further.
She showered and dressed as quickly as she could, and forwent her breakfast, but it was not enough to prevent her next mistake: the Missing of the Train. She stood helplessly on the near-empty platform for the 15 minutes between services, in which time the platform filled up again. She had tried to remember where to stand, but when the train arrived she found herself at the join between two carriages, so by the time she crammed herself in there was barely room to stand, never mind sit, and it would have been impossible to read her book even if she had been able to extract it from her bag. As a result, she was frantic when it pulled in to Waterloo, and she pirouetted, accidentally, through the revolving door to the office, red-faced and with hair like a mushroom cloud.
“Lottie, gosh, are you okay?” asked Susan, who had worked there six weeks longer than Lottie and so spoke only with intense, patronising concern to her. Lottie looked up at Susan’s furrowed, pencilled eyebrows and said yes, yes fine, just a bit of a rush, that’s all, even though she felt like her brain was in a blender, stuck on high with the broccoli and garlic.
Her next mistake was the Muddling of the Appointments. Martin Davies was due to see Mr Pettigrew at 10am, and David Martin was expected for 11. Somehow – entirely understandably, soothed Susan afterwards over coffee – they had got mixed up, so Mr Pettigrew had David Martin’s folder first. He’d rung reception a few minutes after Martin Davies had been called through, sending Lottie scurrying up the stairs with the correct set of papers.
In spite of Susan’s and Mr Pettigrew’s assurances, and the fact that there were no further mishaps at work, Lottie was despondent on the journey home. When she got back she put the sausages in to cook, then turned on the news, although it never held much interest for her. She must have fallen asleep, because the harsh, incessant beeping of the smoke alarm roused her from her chair. She was caught between turning off the oven, which was issuing billowing black smoke, and turning off the hellish, piercing alarm, and so for several seconds she did neither.
In this paralysis she heard the scrape and clunk of a key in the lock. She waited, knowing her time was up, for Tom to investigate the horrendous sound and smell, and to find his ruined dinner and dismal wife, and whatever came next she knew would be well-deserved.
But still, she was so sure she had set the alarm.