An unpublished love story….
Sunday morning, nearly half ten. Five hours before she leaves me for good and I’m in the kitchen frying up a couple of eggs. Never been able to do that properly. As a kid I splashed hot fat on my face, wanting to see if the fish fingers were ready. I can still hear the screaming and feel the sticky burn on my face. Thirty years on and I grit my teeth when the oil starts spitting.
The yolks burst when I flip them over. I try to fold the little yellow trails on to the exposed side, but can’t. If only I’d the patience to scramble the cunts.
I leave the eggs to idle on a plate, stood by a shallow puddle of milk that missed my teacup. Using my index finger, I keep dabbing away at the brown smears of solidifying grease on the work top while I hunt for the rolls I’d just brought back from the 24 hour deli. That and the takeaways (great when you’re bladdered) are what attracted me to this place. She went big on the station and being only 8 minutes from town, as well as the big line of trees at the far end of the park. Fuck knows how I’ll afford to live here now.
We’d found the flat out celebrating six months together. She was sick of sharing with her cousin and the kids and didn’t fancy lashing out seven hundred a month for shithole shoebox out West, while my house share was like Glastonbury after the festival most of the time. Pizzas boxes. Ashtrays. Bottles.
Full of moussaka and Metaxa, I took a deep breath and suggested we shack up; she smiled, threw her arms about me and said she’d love to. Fucking hell man; amazing!! All those months keeping my lip buttoned about what I was really thinking about, hoping came next and she wrongfoots me with that one. Some girl. An advert in the newsagents next to the Greek place where we’d eaten, sealed it. It shut down three weeks later. The flat had only the bare essentials, but a proper balcony. Somewhere you can give speeches from, I’d told her. Got a good laugh that one.
The breakfast rolls were huge and soft; came across them for the first time in this guest house we’d used in Glasgow one time. Byres Road way. I can still picture her plate of croissants and pain au chocolat. Our first weekend away and I remembered the breakfast most of all.
The kettle boiled and I split the rolls, butter and red sauce for me. Nothing for her. I necked the dregs of a carton of Tropicana (no bits). Hungover from our last night on the drink and sweating from a farewell fuck. Her train left at four. We both knew I’d not be following any time soon. This job was shite, but steady and it was my excuse. Anyway, this was her call. Her career. All that study. She’d been around. Lived places. I’d been nowhere. Done nothing. The weekend at her parents showed me that.
Six months back, she got an invite to a friend from school’s engagement. Valentine’s Day. Fucking pathetic. She begged me to come. Apparently her folks were dying to meet me as well. The mother had been up for a weekend once. Shopping. I’d kept out the way. Overtime and the bookies. No chance of that on her patch. On the train I’d started getting the fear; holding my breath and that. By the time we got off, I was panicking big style as the rain bleached down. Her old man picked us up, regulation stiff handshake and long stare. We drove in silence.
At the house she’s off in the kitchen with her mother, home cooking and that, while me and the old fella watched some rugby shite. Weak tea in china cups. Ginger snaps. Unsmiling, iced diplomacy. I hadn’t smoked since I tried them in Joey’s tree house at the bottom of his nanna’s garden when I was 14, but I ached for nicotine. Could have killed for one.
I take the egg rolls and drinks, coffee for her, tea for me, into the bedroom. She’s asleep. We always joked how she could fall asleep in seconds, sometimes in mid-sentence. First night here, I’d got some Prosecco in the fridge, for once we’d christened the bed. By the time I got back with the glasses, she’d curled up and drifted off. I drank the fucker alone. Opened the bottle carefully, trying not to wake her. Gripped the cork tight like strangling the end of your dick to spin out a quality wank.
No fizzy wine that morning. Just the papers spread out across the bed. She’d got the arts and lifestyle, while I’d the news and sport. The jobs and money bits already in the recycling. I settled down with the headlines and chewed breakfast. She was almost purring as my crumbs scratched her thighs.
Washing up a few minutes later, I notice the sun dazzling off the roof of the church by the station. Massive place. Really high steeple. Never been in of course. I went out on the balcony with some more tea as I heard her cough herself awake. The air was clean and sharp. The road outside was deserted as the church turned out. Half a dozen old women, two middle aged couple, a young family with three kids and four African fellas. Students maybe. The all shook hands with the minister bloke, who headed back inside to lock up. It made no sense to me. Normally we spent Sundays with her reading the papers or doing work, while I watched football or pissed around on the net. Sometimes we cooked. Sometimes we went on the lash. Generally, we fucked.
That Sunday morning at her parents I’d slept late, drowning in gargle. Woke to an empty house. She’d left a note saying she’d gone to see her Grandmother. Didn’t tell me until we were back on the train that it had involved a family outing to Church. I just laughed.
The wind got up and I came back indoors, shivering. She’d been in the shower and was stretched on the sofa, flicking through the channels. Half watching The Politics Show. Cases in the middle of the living room floor. Boxes of books and DVDs on the dining table. Parcelled up to go back to her parents. The printed labels confirming what we’d never actually said. The curtains billow against my legs and the breeze plays with her wet hair, while the sun falls across her face. “Nice breakfast. Any chance of seconds?” She giggles and it stings. I need her to stop flirting. I need more tea. A shower. Some reason to get out of this conversation. Being civil wasn’t right.
Parting on good terms was useless. I wanted us to argue, scream at each other, admit to secret infidelities, throw things, break stuff. I had to find something that would make this division permanent. Irreconcilable.
She laughs, in a nice way that didn’t hurt too much. “Let’s go in to town early and get something to eat, if the chef’s on his day off.” That hurt though. The chef was her pet name for me, because I couldn’t cook much. She was the one leaving, because three years is long enough in any job. Why should I lay on the catering like it’s a fucking last supper, but in the morning?
Her new gig had been advertised in the paper she read on the train back from her parents. Of course she didn’t tell me about applying for it. Pretended the interview was just a routine meeting with work. Sold the whole deal as a fait accompli, the offer to join her being a patronising afterthought. All I could do was shrug a sort of congratulations and for three months we hardly mentioned the future. To each other anyway.
Mute and helpless, I get a towel off the radiator and head to the bog. She reaches up and gives me a peck on the cheek. It stings. Same spot the fat burned me when I was a kid. I shut the door, amazed her gaze hasn’t pierced the wood, and fire up the shower. The noise and water can mask and rinse my tears. Almost two years months draining away. The future hurt more than the past.
The night I’d met her in town, dazzled by her accent and education, I was convinced she was from Edinburgh. Kept calling her Miss Jean Brodie. I thought she was here on holiday, but she’d been here a year and still found the poverty as exotic or glamorous as Accra or Mumbai. Less than 100 miles from home and always acting like she was on a gap year abroad. At first it didn’t matter. She might have been in love with the town, but by closing time I was in love with her.
We used to have such blinding nights. Laughing, happy drunk on my terms. Not like the night she persuaded me to go to her work Christmas do. I’d always had stuff on in the past; no excuse last time, so I spent the night staring at the floor, conversationally adrift and certain the blokes had all been with her in the past. I got loaded, surrounded by condescending educated sorts who kept asking me what aspect of the profession I specialised in. She was off with me, because I’d been rude to those cunts. As if that was my fault. She didn’t see why I’d felt out of place or nervous.
Late that night, drunk with whiskey as she slept, it hit me that night was ordinary for her. She didn’t see that. I could and I couldn’t change up the gears. Ah fuck it. It was the first time she’d turned me down. I’d put my arm on her shoulder and she’d shrugged me off. The end of the beginning was moving in and that was the beginning of the end.
She’s banging on the door, saying she needs the loo (hate that fucking word) and that I’ve been in here for ages. For the last time I start soaping off the come and cunt juice that has dried round my balls like Solvite. Clean, I shut off the water, open the door and tell her I’m finished, then walk to the bedroom and get dressed. I’m halfway down the stairs before she’s flushed the bog.
I need a few pints to sharpen my appetite. Pre prandials she calls them. I never called them that.