Marie woke and caught her breath. She felt like she’d been shaken awake, and she stayed still for a moment, listening and waiting for it to happen again. The room remained dark and quiet though, so she sat up and reached across to the window and twitched the curtain aside slightly. The greyish light that came in showed her that it was morning and that it was raining outside. The room was blessedly empty, but she realised with a start that she was on the other side of the bed. Looking at the rumpled covers and the pillows on the floor she wondered how much she’d been tossing and turning to create such disarray. She understood why she’d woken up the way she had now; clearly she’d shaken herself awake without intending to.
She checked her alarm clock, it’s dull red digits pointing up to the ceiling where she’d knocked it over in her sleep, wondering why it hadn’t gone off. It read 5:58, an hour before she needed to get up. She righted the clock, twitched the curtain back into place, and lay down, pulling the covers over her. There was a pillow left on the bed, and she knew that if she got up to get the others she’d only feel obliged to straighten the covers, and then she’d be making the bed before she knew it… she made herself stop thinking that before the urge to get up and do it became any stronger.
She wasn’t sure that she’d get back to sleep, but the room seemed to just drift away from her and she jumped when the alarm clock started beeping. She hit it with the flat of her hand, muting it, and wondered if she could stay in bed for ten minutes longer. Then she blinked, and the clock read 7:15 and she wondered where the fifteen minutes had gone.
The room was cold when she got out of bed, and she hurried to the door where her dressing gown hung to put it on and hug it around her. Surely May mornings weren’t supposed to be this cold? Her breath condensed in the air in front of her, and when she drew the curtains back, to ensure that she wouldn’t just lie down on the bed, telling herself it was just for five minutes, and fall asleep again, she saw a pattern of frost on the glass.
The bathroom was just as cold, and the hot water in the shower was a real relief. She showered for as long as she dared and then got out feeling awake and cheerful. Wrapped in a bath sheet she wandered into the kitchen to put the kettle on for tea and noticed that the windows were frosted there as well. She turned the tap on to fill the kettle from a little nervously, wondering the pipes would have frozen, but the water flowed freely and felt warm in comparison with the air.
With the kettle quietly heating the water she went back into the bedroom to get dressed, and opened the sliding glass doors of the Ikea wardrobe. They seemed to stick slightly when she tugged on them, and it took another try to get them to slide open. Inside, all of her blouses and dresses were covered in a fine filigree of ice like spiderwebs, and she stood there, staring at them with her mouth open in disbelief.
Janet nodded, checking all the bits and pieces that she needed for the front desk, listening to Marie describe the strange icy state of her flat that morning. When she reached the bit about the clothes all covered in ice she stopped what she was doing and sat down.
“Really?” she asked, her voice deep and resonant. “The wardrobe had iced up as well?”
“Yes!” said Marie. “Everything in it. The blouses clinked and crackled when I took one out. I had to take it into the bathroom and shake the ice off it.”
“Is the wardrobe against a wall that’s at the outside of the flat?”
“No. The only wall in my bedroom that’s an outside wall like that is the one the windows in. The wardrobe’s on the opposite side of the room.”
“Then how could things inside it ice up?” Janet looked quizzically at Marie, not questioning that it had happened but genuinely confused as to how it had happened.
“I don’t know! I thought maybe I should call the landlord and tell him.”
“You could,” said Janet slowly. “I guess he might care.”
“You don’t think he will, do you?”
“Well, it doesn’t sound like it’s his fault, really,” said Janet. “He might think that you’re leaving all the windows open, or–“
“Morning girls!” said Jimmy, opening the main doors wide and marching in. “You been putting any more exhibits in the fridge, darling?” He flashed a quick smile at Marie, an even quicker one at Janet, and disappeared through to his office. Marie grimaced, and closed and locked the main doors.
“Or ask you if you’ve been keeping your clothes in the fridge,” said Janet, her lips twisting.
“Very funny!” Marie hadn’t meant to snap, but something about the way Jimmy had come in had upset her again.
“I’m sorry, sorry,” said Janet. “It just seemed appropriate, you know?”
“No, I don’t know,” said Marie. “I should get rid of the fridge since you’re both so obsessed with it, then see how you cope.”
“I’m sorry,” said Janet again. “Look, it was a silly thing to say and I won’t mention it again. I’m just saying that I don’t think you’ve got enough there to go to the landlord with. Maybe you just had some freak weather in your road. Can you ask your neighbours if they had anything like that happen to them?”
“I don’t really know any of them,” said Marie. She twisted the key in the lock of the doors until it wouldn’t turn any further. “I suppose if I saw them in the stairwell though, maybe I could say something about it being cold for the time of year.”
“That’s a good idea.” Janet sounded genuinely enthusiastic. “If it’s happening to all of you then it definitely is something you can pick up with the landlord. It’s probably a health and safety issue then.”
“Do you think so?” Marie looked a little scared at the idea, her teeth worrying her lower lip. “I don’t want to get anyone into trouble, I just don’t want to have to defrost my clothes in the morning.”
Janet laughed and quickly stopped. “No,” she agreed, “that would be ridiculous.”