Listen to Your… Chest (Part 2)

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(Continued from Listen to Your… Chest (Part 1))

Around 8pm on Christmas Eve I got a call from a private number.

I picked up. ‘Hello?’

The briefest pause. ‘Hello.’

Another pause, while I let the accent sink in.

‘Hello,’ I said again, heading through to the sitting room.

‘Happy Christmas.’

‘Happy Christmas. I didn’t realise it was you – it showed as a private number.’

‘Oh.’ Another pause. ‘How are you?’

‘Yeah, good.’ My tone was flat. ‘I, er, I’m just with family, so it’s a bit of a tricky moment.’

‘OK.’ He sounded sad. ‘I just wanted to say Happy Christmas.’

I hesitated. ‘Oh, er, well, thank you.’

Pause.

‘Well, I’ll let you get back to your family.’

‘Thanks and… Happy Christmas.’

 

Channels of communication re-opened with my new zero expectations in place. I went on the odd Tinder date; he filled in the gaps. We never chatted for long – he rang too late for that – but I didn’t much mind.

Work got busy and I missed a couple of calls from him. Things were still busy and I had a bad cough to boot when, one Saturday evening, a year after we matched, I dropped him a text. He rang the next morning and we chatted about our plans for the day. He was meeting family; I had a book to read for work. He was clever and successful in his own field but the only literature books he’d read were those that his school had forced on him.

I’d seen my ex the previous weekend and, in the wake of it, had suffered some kind of existential crisis. He was a Harvard, MIT and Cambridge-educated theoretical physicist who dabbled in etching and filmmaking – your definitive Renaissance man. Since our last meeting he’d got a great new job, bought his second London flat and bought a yacht. I was interning, unpaid, at production companies in the hope of securing a badly paid entry-level position. The contrast made me feel shit on many levels.

Neuro didn’t care about my job. Admittedly, I sometimes got the feeling he didn’t care to know much about me at all. But when he started to fulfil the surgeon stereotype and hold forth about every aspect of his life, I could at least call him on it. Two and a half years on, I still analysed most of what I said to my ex, either before or after it came out of my mouth. Neuro got the unedited version and it felt good.

My cough was bad by the time I hit the hay on Sunday evening. That morning, Neuro had said we’d ‘speak later’, but I hadn’t heard from him. That was fine: I had work to do and he would be in touch, eventually. I was doing my best impression of a consumptive when I heard my phone vibrate.

‘Hey, I’ve got a cough so I can’t stay on–.’ I broke off, coughing.

Neuro asked about the cough. It sounded worse than this morning? Was I taking medication?

‘I think – am I right in saying – you can’t medicate a productive cough?’

I descended into another coughing fit.

‘What colour is the stuff you’re bringing up?’ he said. ‘Is it white, yellow, green, red… grey?’

I’d spoken to my mum that afternoon and said I’d ask my doctor friends what I should do about the cough. I’d meant Rachel, or Stephanie.

I laughed. ‘This is amazing.’ Then: ‘Yellow.’

He explained what it could be and the different treatments. If I couldn’t get to my GP in the next couple of days, he’d email me a prescription for antibiotics. I thanked him and said I’d book an appointment the next day.

‘Let me know what happens.’

‘I will.’

The coughing had stopped.

‘I should probably sleep,’ I said.

‘Yep.’ A pause. ‘I’m looking forward to finally meeting you.’

‘Me too.’ I laughed. ‘Was it the cough that did it?’

‘No. It’s just… I’m looking forward to putting a face to the voice.’

‘Yeah.’

‘And the moan.’

‘I’m hanging up now.’

He laughed. ‘Night Anna.’

‘Night.’

(TO BE CONTINUED)

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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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10 Feb

Viable Prospect: I’m not sure how we left things. Do you fancy another pint or… not?

Me: Another pint could work. When were you thinking?

VP: Anytime

 

11 Feb

Me: Could do Sunday after church, or next Fri/Sat?

VP: Sunday after church I do penance. Next w/e in Paris. Arghh

Me: Arghh indeed. Might be easier if you say when you can do.

 

15 Feb

VP: Am obnoxiously chokka. Sorry. Could do late on the 1st.

A Wednesday.

Me: The following week (beginning 6th) would be better if you’re around then.

 

16 Feb

VP: Yup. Sortid.

 

Sporadic messages exchanged about Paris, mattresses and Noel Coward.

 

11 Mar

Me: I feel we’ve strayed into pen pal territory here. Are you around at all in the next couple of weeks for face time (not the app)?

VP: Yes. Like on late weds or the following weds?

What is it with fucking Wednesdays?!

Me: How late is late?

VP: 10

For the record, no one can do 10 on a Wednesday. No one.

Me: Can’t do that. Could do the following weds (22nd) at a normal time. Say 7/8.

VP: I like your use of normal.

Me: It is normal for mid-week

 

18 Mar

VP: I can’t do normal times this week. Up for something normal ish the following…

Lengthy consultation with my new flatmate as to whether this is getting a bit silly.

Me: I feel this is getting a bit silly. Let’s just leave it.

 

19 Mar

VP: Normal! Silly! Goodness…

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There are so many things you want to say. Like…

Does this mean you want to get back together?

I’m available on 6, 7, 8, 14 and 15 January pretty much anytime between 9am and midnight.

How has your year/life been?

Did you watch To Walk Invisible and, if so, what did you think?

What did you eat for breakfast/lunch/dinner today?

What are you thinking?

Does this mean you love me after all?

What does this mean?

But instead you go with…

Sounds good. I’m back in London from early Jan.

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Déjà Vu

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CC Image courtesy of Larry He's So Fine on Flickr A few weeks back, Tom appeared on my Tinder. Seeing his picture was like how I imagine it would feel passing your rapist in the street. For a moment, I stared. Then, with the care of a lab technician handling corrosive acid, I adjusted the app settings and the screen refreshed.

By the second encounter, something in me had hardened – or softened – and I tried to convince myself he was redeemable, dateable even. Perky came to the rescue.

‘He sounded like a douche to put it nicely!’ she says.

Beatrice echoes the sentiment. Tom, we agree, is a straightforward case.

‘But,’ I say, ‘Jack didn’t mess me around like that.’

This is Exhibit A in the case for swiping right on Viable Prospect: compared with Tom, he behaved pretty damn well. He made me miserable, sure, but I got over it. And it only took, like, 18 months.

Beatrice doesn’t say anything.

‘And, well, I’m desperate! And there’s just… nothing going on!’

She starts clearing the plates. We both know that swiping right on the man who broke your heart is plain daft.

 

A week later, I learn I’ve got my dream internship. That evening, Viable Prospect crops up again. I do what I always do – change my settings and a new set of potential matches swims into view. But I know, as I head for bed, that VP’s not what I want. I could handle the Monday night dates when I had a 9 to 5. I could even handle the sleepless nights – my permanently frenzied state, like a cat on hot coals.

I remove my contact lenses, cleaning them in the palm of my hand. I don’t want the drama, the not knowing, the games. For the first time, I can see clearly.

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