Wedding Night

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CC Image courtesy of RMH40 on FlickrI look at the screen and frown. It’s late, I’m still recovering from drinking my body weight in wine and the prospect of reading an industry report on processed cheese isn’t all that appealing.

*

One of the bridesmaids points him out to me as the only straight, single man there. I look him over, the guy from Dubai, and decide I’m not in the mood for rejection.

Then dinner happens. Pierre to my left is a familiar face from university. He’s charming, French and so not interested. At one point I look over at Catherine.

‘Anything?’ I mouth, nodding in Pierre’s direction.

‘No.’

‘No?’

She could at least pretend.

‘No Anna.’

CC Image courtesy of N@ncyN@nce on Flickr

Catherine and I head in the direction of the bar with a view to asking about taxis.

‘Or,’ I say, putting a hand on her arm, ‘I could try talking to the guy from Dubai?’

‘No Anna.’

‘Why not?!’

‘Because….’ She sighs. ‘Will it make you happy?’

‘Probably not.’

 

‘Oh! Thank you!’ I take one of the G&Ts winging its way to the table via Dubai. ‘You’re Erik, right?’

He confirms his name, asks mine.

‘I’ll rise,’ I say, getting up, ‘in the words of Maya Angelou.’

It’s not my first gin of the night.

‘What?’

‘Oh nothing.’

You’re tall,’ he says.

‘So are you.’

We talk. I discover he loves oysters, Futurist sculpture and Egon Schiele and that he works for his family’s processed cheese business. By the time we’re dancing Viennese waltz in the driveway I’m pretty much a lost woman.

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Catherine comes over. ‘Our taxi’s here.’

I rise from the hay bale, say my goodbyes to Pierre and the other guests. Finally I come to Erik.

‘It was nice to meet you.’

‘You’re leaving?’

We walk a little way from the bonfire.

‘Goodbye.’

‘Goodbye.’

His lips touch mine.

 

‘Why didn’t I stay?!’ I say to the ceiling.

Catherine in the neighbouring bed laughs. This has been my reprise pretty much since we left the bonfire.

 

A week later I’m showing Erik’s LinkedIn photo to close friends with an entirely unfounded sense of pride and ownership. I’ve added him on Facebook, which he doesn’t appear to use, and have heard nothing. I haven’t read the processed cheese report.

 

I decide to shelve all further explorations until the happy couple return from honeymoon and are ready to be reminded that they have friends who are still single and sufficiently unhinged to believe that a distance of 3000 miles is no obstacle to a relationship.

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Say It With Clip Art

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I’d never told a guy ‘I love you’. I came close with my sixth form boyfriend.

‘I love… your hair.’

Close shave.

 

VP asked me, was I in love?

‘What – with you?’

It was a pertinent question since at that precise moment I was in love with several different people: Tristan, Max (always), Tobias Menzies (the real life version and probably the blog version a little bit), not to mention several people who have never existed but been dreamt up by various novelists.

I ummed and ahhed a bit, thanked God that we’d opted to Skype without cameras, recalled my mother‘s advice never to tell a man you love him (‘What, never? What about Daddy?’ ‘Oh yes, well, I might’ve, in a moment of weakness…’) and wound up:

‘I’m not not in love with you enough to keep doing what we’re doing.’

Which made sense in context, sort of.

 

Four minutes until the next train.

‘Damn.’

I’m getting later everyday.

In the lift I mentally rehearse an excuse which I know I won’t use, rather I’ll slip into my seat hoping my arrival has gone unnoticed. As long as I get my work done, I tell myself, it really doesn’t matter when I start the day.

I power up the computer, deposit my lunch in the fridge, get a glass of water. Back at my desk I find a new email waiting. In the subject line, ’09:53′. The body of it is blank. I do a quick Google, copy, paste and send. And there it goes: ‘I love you’, courtesy of Clip Art. That wasn’t so hard.

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Fuck-A-Duck

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‘Oh fuck-a-duck.’  I start to laugh.  ‘That’s fast looking like my only option!’

 

It began with a fairly typical exchange off the back of an email I wrote to my mother, with the slightly melodramatic subject line ‘Suicide Watch’.

‘Did you see it?’ I say.

‘N-o.’

I laugh.  She joins in.

‘I mean – really!’ I say.  ‘What – what does it take?!  Of all the subject lines!’

Eventually the laughter subsides.  I can picture my mother, sitting at the kitchen table, opening the email on the iPad she bought because she thought it was pretty.

‘O-K,’ she says, ‘I’ve read it.’

‘Yeah so… my question was… should I – no – am I entitled to any kind of… confirmation-?’

‘No.’

‘No.’  But my echo is more of a question.

‘Listen to me,’ she says. ‘You do not contact him.’

‘No.  No, I know.’  I laugh.  ‘Flatmate must be going soft in his dotage, cos he said different.’

‘What did he say?’

I start to tell her.  She cuts in. ‘You do nothing.  OK?’

‘Yep.  Incidentally, Redhead seems to have also forgotten I exist.  Oh fuck-a-duck.’  I start to laugh.  ‘That’s fast looking like my only option!  I’ve gotta say, my love life really is a fail!’

My mother doesn’t respond immediately.  I find the silence oddly soothing.

‘And,’ I go on, ‘I don’t think I did anything so very wrong with this last one!’

‘No, but… well, it does sound like you tend to go for guys who have got it all: funny, charming, good-looking. And… well, they’ve got jobs….’

Which makes me smile.  There’s no denying it’s part of the attraction.

‘… so what can you expect?

‘Yeah but – I think that’s just the way I paint them.  I mean, I don’t think they have got it all…’

‘Well, I don’t know, but from what you say…’

‘Hmm maybe, but I can’t help the fact they’re the guys I like!  I mean, I don’t want to spend time with guys who aren’t those things!  So, what, I’m going to be single forever?!’

‘You’re probably going to have to accept that for quite a lot of the time you’re going to be on your own.’

‘Hmm.’

I look up at the building which houses my office.  In there is Tristan, the only guy I really like who hasn’t blotted his copybook of late.  He has got it all, including a girlfriend, but that doesn’t alter the fact he’s a kind of standard.  Like Max, he has the ability to light up a room.  When he walks in, people relax and smile.  The effect is almost magical.

I climb the steps leading up to the entrance. ‘Yeah, well, I don’t think I’m gonna compromise.’

This muggle wants magic.

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The Final Act

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CC Image courtesy of Toxictea on FlickrAll I can think about is the scene in When Harry Met Sally.  Meg Ryan is sobbing onto Harry’s shoulder, wailing about the fact that when Joe said he didn’t want to get married, what he actually meant was ‘he didn’t want to marry me!’

FFS gives my hand a squeeze.  ‘What are you thinking?’

What to say?  That this is all bullshit?  That I’ve seen the films, hell, I’ve even experienced it in real life.  The last man to use this line was Max.  The circumstances might be different, but the bottom line’s the same.

FFS is looking at me steadily.  I shrug.  ‘Well, that’s that.’

He hugs my legs to him, rests his head against them.   I run my fingers through his hair.  Not big hair.  I want to kiss him, take him to my bed, but I know that come the morning it will feel so much worse.

He draws me towards him, cradles me.  We kiss.

I draw back.  ‘I’m just going to the bathroom.’

When I get back, I don’t rejoin him on the sofa, but remain standing.

He looks up at me.  ‘Do you want me to go?’

No.

‘Yes.’

I perch on the arm of the sofa, rest my chin on my hand, and stare ahead at the sea of used wine glasses.  Some are half-full, most are empty.  I can feel him looking at me, and turn to meet his gaze, force a smile.  He pulls me onto his lap, caresses my neck.

‘Don’t worry,’ I say, laughing.  ‘I’ve got an excellent track record of crying on my birthday, and I have no intention of breaking with tradition!’

He looks surprised and laughs, hugs me tighter.  It’s a strange thing, to be comforted by the one who is the cause of your distress.  I know I won’t let him stay, but still, I don’t want to be alone; because I know that, once he leaves, I’ll cry, and I don’t want that.

His hands are wandering.  I lie there, passive.  I want it to mean something, I always do.  This time last year, I was in Milonga’s bed.  I woke the next day and went on my way.  The hot spring sun beat down upon the pavement as I walked to the station in my ballgown.  I’d heard the term ‘the walk of shame’ but never for a moment thought that this was it.  I stopped at a supermarket for a bag of apples and a bottle of water.  On the train, children stared as I stared out of the window, feeling the first twinges of embarrassment.

A year on, I see more clearly.  I know that, come the morning, he will have everything he wants, and I will have nothing.  I will feel empty and alone and used.  His hand strays to my thigh.  I think back to how he was earlier in the evening, so cold, so uncaring, and twist myself out of his embrace.

‘Shall I look up night buses?’ I say, rising from the sofa.

There’s a pause.

‘If you don’t mind.’

I retrieve my computer from where it’s lying on the floor, and run the necessary search.

 

In the hallway, he dons his coat.  We hug.  His arms are still around me, his face set in a frown.  I want him to un-say everything, to change his mind.

‘I really like spending time with you,’ he says, ‘and I’d like to stay…’

I smile.  ‘I like spending time with you too.  Like you said, we have a good laugh…’

What he’d actually said was ‘we do laugh a lot’, which made me feel really sad.  We’re always laughing, and it’s what I’ll miss most about him.

‘… but,’ I go on, ‘you’ve said you only want something light and ‘detached’, something on your terms…’

He shrugs and doesn’t deny it.

‘… and, well, it’s not that I want something serious…’

Would it be such a crime if I did?

‘… it’s just that – I’d like – a bit more contact!  I don’t want to have to act ‘detached’!’

‘Fair.’

‘And so, at the moment it’s a good thing that we have a laugh together, but eventually it will become a problem…’

He nods.  ‘Yeah.’

‘So,’ I say, sighing, ‘for the above reasons…’

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Tourist Attraction

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I leave work in the direction of Waitrose.  This takes me past a cashpoint, the queue for which spans the pavement.  Last in line – I notice him at once, impossible not to – is a tall, dark, beautiful man, probably mid-twenties.  Spanish perhaps, or Italian?  German maybe, like Max: they have the same dark hair and tanned complexion, but the stranger’s eyes are dark brown where Max’s were a clear blue.  As I pass, our eyes meet for a second.  I look away, and back – our eyes meet again.  Laughing to, or at, myself, I keep walking.  Obviously.

On the threshold of the shop I glance back in the direction from which I’ve come.  He’s still queuing; even at this distance I can make out the furrowed brow and slightly anxious stance.  A tourist, probably.  It tends to be the case round here; and in long shorts and navy polo shirt, he’s not dressed like a local.  For a moment I wonder if I really need to go to Waitrose.  If I do, when I retrace my steps, as I must in order to get to the station, he might not be there.  I hit myself over the head, metaphorically speaking, and cross the threshold.

Inside I make for the coffee machine.  As the milk froths and the coffee drips, I start thinking about something else, food probably.  Gently, I place the lid on the cup and head to the tills.  No queue.  Headphones unhooked, I hand over my card.

‘What have you got?’

‘Cappuccino.’

Quick scan, card back.

‘Thank you.’

‘Have a good night.’

It’s only as I emerge onto the pavement that I remember the man at the cashpoint.  I look down the street.  His height, and the dark navy of his shirt, gives him away at once.  He hasn’t moved from his position on the pavement, except that now he is facing away from the cashpoint.  As I walk towards him, headphones in hand, he turns to look in my direction.  I’m still some distance away.  I glance down, and back up.  He’s still there, still looking.

The distance between us shortens too quickly.  I don’t have a plan; of course I don’t, this whole thing is ridiculous.  The man is gorgeous, and I’m wearing running shoes.  The rest of the outfit is OK I guess, and my mascara is freshly applied, but still, what planet am I on?

Yards shorten to feet.  He is still looking, and as I approach, our eyes meet once again.  In his face, impossibly beautiful, I can see the beginnings of a smile.  It startles me, and before I know it I too start to smile.  We are two strangers on the sidewalk, smiling at each other.  And then I look down.

 

For the next hour or so, I walk, through Green Park, along Piccadilly, up Shaftesbury Avenue.  I walk at first in a bubble of joy, detached from reality.  But later, as I pass from the quiet of the park to the bustling life of theatre land, I start to look at my fellow pedestrians, examine their faces: tired, vacant, anxious, strained.  Occasionally there is eye contact, but not once, in the sea of faces, a flicker of recognition or warmth.  And none, none are so beautiful.

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