Stand-up Comedy

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When the surgeon stands me up, several thoughts go through my mind:

1. Have I really got to the grand old age of 29 without being able to spot the timewasters?

2. Maybe he’s been caught up in a really long surgery…

3. Really long surgeries are like kidnap, sudden death and being trapped under something heavy.

4. This time I’m going to block him using an app that doesn’t tell me when he’s tried calling.

The next day, I’m holed up in the office til late. As I approach the station, a busker strikes up a soulful rendition of Let It Be. I stop to listen, rooting around in my bag for my phone. The new all-singing, selectively-blocking messaging app came highly recommended by Which. I open it to see, in the corner of the screen, a shield symbol, and beside it a small number ‘2’. Disbelieving – and perhaps a little relieved – that yet another developer has misread the brief and interpreted ‘blocking’ as ‘putting the offending messages into a separate inbox so they’re impossible to miss’, I tap the symbol.

The first text expresses outrage at being blocked on WhatsApp.

The second informs me he’s just got out of a 14-hour operation.

I tell Beatrice.

‘That’s hot,’ she sends back, reading my mind.

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10 Signs You’re Nearly 30

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  1. You’re 29.
  2. You go on a date with a guy you met in a club. He’s 25 and, when you reveal your age, he says, ‘Well done.’
  3. You start wondering about felt tip pen as a viable, affordable fix for prominent grey hairs.
  4. You decide it’s now or never with giving the dream career a shot. Hell, there has to be an upside to not having a joint mortgage!
  5. You go to parties and are the token single person there, fielding questions like, ‘What do you think of Tinder?
  6. So you embrace it, cast aside your inner Charlotte, and sleep around.
  7. When that doesn’t prove to be fun (bad sex and, oh, bad sex), you go back to focusing on that dream career.
  8. Which proves to be a nightmare, so you get to wondering if children are really that bad.
  9. And decide they are.
  10. Maybe New Zealand is calling. There’s Tinder in New Zealand, right?

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‘Four big things have happened to me. I started working at UCL. I had a long-term relationship.’

A pause.

‘Who was she?’ I say. ‘I mean, how did you meet?’

‘Oh… through friends. It ended – I ended it – before Christmas.’

‘Why… did you end it?’

‘It had been going on for two years and it was at that point where, if it wasn’t going to be forever, then…’

‘You had to end it.’

‘Yeah. It was a nice relationship but… I didn’t feel we were on the same wavelength and I need that.’

‘Mmm.’

‘But it was very hard, ending it.’

‘It is very hard. It’s like a bereavement.’

‘It is.’

A pause.

‘What were the other two things?’

‘I bought a flat.’

‘And sold the other one?’

‘No. I’ve still got that.’

‘So another one.’

‘Yes. And I bought a yacht.’

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Slowly you move on. Little things help, like hearing him say he’s contributing to her mortgage.

No, that’s a big thing. The big thing. The thing you take away from the evening, that makes you glad you drank that second glass of wine so you don’t go home and cry into soup but instead drunk-message men with trouble written all over them.

But you still think about him. And, the following night, at 2am, with sleep feeling too far off, you draft an email.

***

Not for a moment do I consider declining Ryan’s invitation. Even though I’m tired and have lots of work on but no make-up. I toy with the idea of asking my too-cool-for-school colleague if I can borrow some eyeliner but think better of it.

I’m running late and fire off a quick message to Ryan, checking they’re still there.

It’s a shorter walk than I thought to the pub. He’s sitting in the window and my face breaks into a smile as I head for the door, push it open.

He’s exactly the same. The same jumper, the same trousers and shoes, the same hesitant smile.

And I want to ask him everything. I want to know every wretched detail of his life. I just want to look at him.

So I go to the bar with Ryan and we chat about his new job, the overpriced wine, our love lives. Glasses in hand, we go back to the table. Tristan’s talking to a girl – a stranger. I hate her for being there. It crosses my mind that the evening might come to an end and I won’t have spoken to him.

I’m telling Ryan about my recent spate of self-destructive dating behaviour when Tristan cuts in.

‘Shall we…’ He motions to suggest more of a group conversation.

I’m across from him. Bitch to my right, Ryan on my left. Bitch tells me she used to work with Tristan – she takes credit for talent spotting him. Once I’d have remarked on how brilliant he is. Now I just nod and say, ‘Ah’.

Bitch and Ryan are at the bar. I’m trying to crack open the more resilient pistachios with a metal knife. I press down on the nut and hear the shell crack. Our laughter turns to confusion when I hold up the intact shell.

It’s almost how it was before.

Our eyes meeting occasionally.

Him telling me about things that matter to him.

Like the mortgage. I need to hear it. It makes me check my phone, prepare my line about needing to leave.

***

At 2am I draft an email. Something about elephants in the room and wanting to acknowledge what happened, just to clear the air.

I don’t send it.

Slowly you move on.

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Tristan’s back soon.’

I turn. ‘Sorry?’

Kate rinses her cloth in the sink. ‘Tristan’s back soon.’

‘Oh… yes!’

She screws up her face. ‘On the… 18th, I think?’

‘Oh! Right! I knew it was something like that. An old colleague told me he was back later this month.’

She smiles fondly. ‘He’s so shy.’

‘Shine?’

‘Shy.’

‘I’m sorry… shine?’

‘Shy. Shy.’

‘Oh, shy! Oh… really?’

‘Yes. When I go there, he just says hello then goes straight back into his room.’

‘Oh.’ I think for a moment. ‘I guess he can be shy at first. But… he can be the exact opposite!’

We laugh.

He’s a good person,’ she says, wringing out the cloth.

‘Yes.’

‘Really nice.’

‘Yes.’ I frown. ‘But… but you know that even though he doesn’t speak?!’

‘Yes, he’s just, you can tell, a good person.’

‘Yes, he’s… he’s…’

I want to say ‘special’. The word is on the tip of my tongue. But I can’t. For one, it would sound odd. For another, I’d be lying. His behaviour last summer – it was the opposite of special. It was so fucking ordinary. And it broke my heart a little. So I go with:

‘… he’s really lovely.’

Part of me wants to tell her I still ache for him. That, since Ryan mentioned his return date, I’ve found solace in the thought of it.

She goes on. ‘But mostly I speak to Holly.’

‘Yes. I know her a bit.’

‘She’s good, I think.’

Her enthusiasm is more moderate, and it comforts me.

‘Yes, I think so.’ A pause. ‘Well, it’ll be nice to see Tristan again!’

‘Yes,’ she says.

Will it?

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