Reality Check

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CC Image courtesy of reuvenim on FlickrNovember 2014

‘So I’ve got one silly man-related question.’

My mother looks up from her iPad, wearing a patient, slightly pitying smile.

‘Your email the other day made me smile,’ I begin. She removes her glasses, prepares herself for what is clearly going to be the ‘round the houses’ approach. ‘The one where you said you hoped Gus wasn’t going to get my hopes up.’

We laugh.

‘Yes,’ she says, ‘he sounds dangerous.’

‘No, it’s fine, really.’

[insert long rambling explanation of why it’s fine]

‘But,’ I wind up, ‘well, what I wondered is, if Germany does come back to London – and I know I’m asking you to predict the future here – but if he does come back to London, what are the chances he’ll get in touch?’

There’s a pause.

‘He might get in touch,’ my mother says, slowly. ‘And he might suggest meeting up, but then you’d have to decide if you were happy with things on his terms.’

‘I wouldn’t be. I mean, I don’t know to what extent his ‘terms’ were because we were in different countries, but, if we were in the same city then he’d have to want to make it work or I wouldn’t go there.’

‘Right.’

‘And… if he did get in touch and suggest meeting up, then you’d say, what, go for it?’

‘Well, if he gets in touch and you end up… going out, well, then that’s fine… until he meets someone else.’

‘Because,’ I hesitate a moment, ‘I guess the bottom line is, being in the same city wouldn’t make him fancy me more.’

‘Correct.’

‘Hmm. And… if he did get in touch and we went out or whatever, it would probably end in tears?’

‘Yup.’

‘Because if he doesn’t fancy me enough to make it work when we’re in different countries, then it wouldn’t work when we’re in the same country.’

‘Correct.’

There’s another pause.

‘Is there any chance it wouldn’t end in tears?’

‘Nope.’

‘None?’

‘Mmm nope.’

‘Hmm. You don’t know that!’

My mother doesn’t say anything.

‘So really,’ I go on, ‘if he did get in touch, then I’d be better off not going there at all, because it would only end in misery.’

‘Yup.’

‘And heartache.’

‘Yup.’

Another pause.

‘So you’re saying it would be best not to go there, knowing it would all end in tears?’

‘No, well, I’d go there.’ She looks thoughtful. ‘But I think perhaps you wouldn’t.’

CC Image courtesy of Sheep"R"Us on Flickr

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The Fall

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‘He told me to move,’ Ryan says. ‘He said, ‘I want to talk to Anna’.’

‘Oh!’

I look over at the man who supposedly wants to talk to me. This is surely what my mother and flatmate would call a clear sign of… not interest – that wouldn’t fit in the circumstances – but something. I pick up my things and go over to him.

Once seated I become the sole focus of his attention. It’s wonderful. We talk about everything: pets, smoking, Woody Allen films, Cate Blanchett, online dating

‘You’re on Tinder?’ he says, surprised.

‘Yes, well, everyone is – aren’t they?’

‘Well, I’m not, but I’m married…’

 

The previous autumn there was a leaving drinks for one of our colleagues. Cheesecake was served.

‘Who made it?’ I say, taking a slice.

Tobias‘s wife.’

 

‘What?!’

Colleague looks disbelieving when I tell her. Her funky dairy-free diet doesn’t permit cheesecake, but even harder to digest is the news that Tobias – elegant, stylish Tobias – has a wife.

 

For six months or so after finding this out I was invincible. No matter that his gaze made me weak at the knees or that we crossed paths in the kitchen too often for it to be a coincidence. The guy had a wife, and one who baked decent cheesecake at that.

I was invincible when he told Ryan to move in the pub so he could talk to me; when he brought in a DVD of one of the films we’d talked about for me to borrow; when he told me about his family’s history of divorce, about his father’s second marriage to a much younger woman. I was even invincible when he offered to relieve me of some of my workload.

Then, one day, he came over to talk to Gus at the neighbouring desk.

He has a strange way of walking: hurried, impatient, not quite graceful. His hair sticks up a bit at the back and his eyes have this intense, brooding expression.

I look up from what I’m doing and meet his gaze. And that’s when it happens. I fall. Fuck, do I fall.

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Pain Quotidien


Pain Quotidien

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CC Image courtesy of Steven Leonti on Flickr‘Hi Anna!’

I look round, searching for the speaker. ‘Hi Tristan.’ He probably has a question about work. ‘How are you?’

‘Good,’ he says. ‘What’s in the box?’

‘Oh, just lunch.’ I hesitate then go over to where he’s sitting. ‘Look!’ I hold out my paint-spattered hands. ‘I did legal graffiti last night! It does come off – but I didn’t try very hard!’

He laughs. ‘Illegal graffiti?’

‘No no, legal graffiti.’

Tobias is listening now.

‘Ahh.’ Tristan smiles. ‘You can call it reeling, y’know?’

I give him a look. ‘Yeah, that’s what we do in the church. It’s funny, they never notice afterwards. They’re too busy–.’

‘Church?’

‘That’s where we reel.’

‘Were you reeling or praying?’ Tobias says.

‘Neither!’

Tristan looks surprised. ‘You were actually doing graffiti?’

‘Yes!’

‘Where?’

‘There’s a tunnel, near Waterloo, where it’s legal.’

‘What did you draw? I imagine with your painting and drawing…’

I don’t remember having ever told Tristan I paint and draw.

‘… you’d be good at it.’

‘Hmm it’s difficult…’

My companion kept telling me to hold the nozzle close to the wall and the spray can vertical, neither of which I succeeded in doing.

‘… and, well, most of the spray cans didn’t work.’

Tristan grins. ‘It sounds like an artisan date.’

I laugh. ‘I think that would happen at Pain Quotidien.’

Our audience has expanded to include the rest of Tristan’s team. I can feel myself growing red.

‘Yeah well… I better go,’ I say, starting to move away. The next question will probably relate to who I was with. Adrien, Gus and Ryan know all the grisly details about my dating life and Tobias knows some of them but I’ve always been silent on the subject with Tristan. Perhaps because the others can be relied upon to keep him informed of any developments (he often greets me with, ‘How was your date? Adrien/Ryan said…’). Or perhaps because I don’t want him thinking there’s anyone but him. And I’m not sure there is.

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5pm, Friday, I’m undressing for a man.CC Image courtesy of heipei on Flickr

 

I make the call at lunchtime. ‘No bookable appointments for two weeks’, they say. I’m about to hang up.

‘We’ve just had a cancellation. 4:40.’

‘Today?’

‘Yes.’

I vacillate. Work is quiet. Pub drinks are in the pipeline. I should go, alleviate my concerns. My health is more important than a gin and tonic with Tobias and Co.

‘Hmm today’s a bit tricky.’

 

‘Are you busy this afternoon?’ Gus says, when I’m back at my desk.

‘Errr… why?’

I should be going to the doctor. I shouldn’t be taking on a ton of Gus’ work so that he can leave early for a wedding.

I start Googling symptoms. Ten minutes later I’m convinced I have a solitary mastocytoma. I grab my phone and go out into the stairwell.

‘Is the 4:40 appointment still available?’

 

‘Come in.’

‘Hi.’

‘What can I do for you?’

I tell him about The Rash.

‘Did you start doing anything differently when it first appeared?’

That’s a vague question. I mean I wasn’t having sex if that’s what he means, though that sure as Hell would have been different.

‘No… no.’

‘Have you been away anywhere recently?’ he says, examining my back.

‘Err… Berlin in February? Other than that, I’m probably the most stationary person you’ve ever met…’

It’s like a date, this, only I can be way more candid. It’s also 5pm on a gloriously sunny Friday so I should probably stop with the glib remarks.

‘And… Yorkshire, last October…’

I think he’s trying to establish if I’ve visited anywhere where I might have been exposed to tropical diseases. Yorkshire is probably not top of the list.

‘And, what do you do?’ he says, resuming his seat.

This really is like a date. Date slash Tinder conversation, which is about as close to a date as I’ve got recently.

‘Copywriting,’ I say.

‘So you’re not exposed to any toxic chemicals…’

Lots of things about my job are toxic but…

‘No. Most of my office is permanently ill but I think that’s because we’re overworked.’

He manages a faint smile. ‘You want to try and avoid stressful situations.’

I take the prescription for anti-fungal cream – this bit is less like a date – and thank him as I leave.

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Numbers Game

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CC Image courtesy of ansik on FlickrI number off:

‘I, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 – hello!’

We embrace like old friends, the way you do in this kind of crowd though we’ve only met once before. I don’t think of him again until the last dance.

‘I like the colour of your t-shirt!’

‘Thank you!’ he says, turning me. ‘I like…’

I don’t catch what it is that he likes.

 

Later, in the pub, I’m part-way through a bucket of sauvignon blanc. You’d have to be in order to say to the immediate company, ‘I just need to go and speak to that person’, point, and then walk in the direction you’re pointing.

 

The taxi comes to a stop.

‘Tell me your number,’ he says. ‘I’ll remember it.’

I recite the digits, then reach for my purse. ‘Are you sure I can’t–?’

‘No no, we’ll go for drinks sometime.’

‘OK. Can you remember the number?!’

 

‘And he repeated it back to me,’ I tell Gus the next day. ‘That’s weird, right?’

‘That is weird.’ He chuckles. ‘That’s pretty cool.’

‘Yeah. I was, like, a lost woman. But, well, I don’t know if he’ll remember it. And,’ I shrug, ‘if he does, he might not use it.’

‘Yeah… but he might.’

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