It was when the leaves started falling and the hair began drooping that her heart started fluttering. It was a gentle fluttering at first, barely more than a drop of rain on a silent lake but slowly it grew; the drop becoming two then three, the lake becoming a river then a waterfall. Softly she slipped through this, gradually letting herself be taken by the waves then the torrents until at last, so softly not even a falling tree in an empty forest makes so little noise, she arrived.
Perhaps inside there was no waterfall for no answer came and she was left dripping and sodden on the doorstep.
She knocked again.
"You don't need to keep knocking there missy."
At the sound of a voice the rain drops began to cascade but when she turned and saw an old man leaning against the gate that parted the two houses it fell to a patter.
"Is he not in?"
"Not today, not tomorrow, not any day." The old man began to shuffle back to his open door, leaning heavily on his cane.
"Where is he?"
He hobbled back to face her.
"Could be Africa, could be just down the road for all anyone knows. But you just turn around missy, forget about the codger, he'll have forgotten about you."
"What do you mean?" She moved closer to the fence, close enough to let her hand rest upon it.
"What I mean," he said, coming so close she could feel his breath upon her neck. "Is that your good friend there has at least three girls every month coming enquiring as to his whereabouts. If you think you're the only pretty girl he's had his sights on let me tell you to check the weather."
But for some reason the rain continued to patter.
"I'll come back." She knew her heart would not stop pattering until she saw him again, no matter what the old man told her about his habits.
"That's what all the other girlies say, but not one of them keeps that. But right you do that then young miss." He turned and hobbled away into his house.
She looked again at the door and thought about knocking once more. But she didn't want the old man to see how desperate she was for an answer. So she turned, with the rain pattering, sometimes falling into ripples, and headed down the road.
The next day she came again and with three solid knocks stood back to wait.
"He's not there today."
She saw the old man standing by his door.
"Not there tomorrow, not any day."
When she came again the day after she only gave one knock and then stood back.
"You're ringing into an empty house."
"I'll leave when it's full."
For two weeks she did this, and for two weeks the drops fell and the old man reminded her solemnly of her fate. She didn't have the money to stay there any longer.
On her last day, with the rain only giving small drops every now and then, she knocked.
"Ah missy, that was a sad knock that was."
She didn't even care how she let herself slip down onto the step and the tears flood from her eyes. Then there was a warm hand on her shoulder, and he was picking her up and handing her his handkerchief and leading her into his house with tea already on the table.
"Come now missy, the weather man isn't always right."
She took the tea.
"Will he ever come back?" She asked.
"After today, after tomorrow, after any day, aye he'll come back on forever."
"Will that be soon?"
"Forever is a long time, you never know when it'll start."
She cried some more and drank the tea.
"Come now," he said. "Let me show you something."
He led her through the kitchen and to what he called the rain room.
"For when things wash in on rainy days."
"But," she said. "I have no money, I can't give you anything for this."
He shook his head. "All I ask is that after you've done your knocking you make me a cup of tea."
One week passed in the old mans house and she learnt his wife had died four years ago and he had never lived in a different house since his marriage.
"That man," he once said. "Has been there for seven years. I remember when he moved in, there was a girl knocking within two days."
"Was he there?"
"Nope, he'd already chuffed off. Hasn't spent more than two days straight in that house since."
She got into her routine. She'd put the kettle on before going round and knocking. She'd wait, long enough til she'd hear the kettle just starting to boil and then she'd go and make the old man tea.
Then one day, when there was no more than the usual patter of rain, she left the kettle to boil. He had answered.
He didn't seem surprised to see her, as if he had been expecting her but she was helpless, the waterfall becoming a raging mass, unsure of anything.
Then she spoke. "The kettles boiling, I must go make tea." And she turned, and went down past the gate and up the other side into the old man's home where he was waiting with the hot kettle in his hand.
"Let me," she said, taking it from him.
"You should be next door."
She poured the water into the cups, following the habit and barely thinking about what she was doing.
"No. I did my knocking, now I'm making you tea."
"You don't need to do it today."
She was getting the milk from the fridge.
"I promised, I'm keeping it." She was somehow, with the raging mass still swirling, about to fall into tears. "I promised I'd come and see him and I did, every day, but he couldn't do the same. He promised that on forever he'd be there and-"
Too much milk spilled into the cup.
The old man took the bottle from her.
"Missy, why don't you go back next door and start that forever."
She went past the gate and round the other side and through the door that was open. He was waiting there.
"You don't ever need to knock again," he said.
The rage had subsided, the rain even had stopped. There was no fluttering anymore, there needn't be, she knew what awaited her. "Not today, not tomorrow, not any day. Not even forever."