Kim lost her virginity, aged twenty-six, in a vegetarian B & B. Afterwards, as she lay there, Rob with his back to her, she concluded it hadn’t been worth missing breakfast for.
Kim had been ill with ME for several years and attended university when she was strong enough. She met Rob during Fresher’s Week. He was a mature student too, and also a virgin.
They both lived in shared houses. Whenever they were alone in either of their rooms, she’d start to kiss him, but he’d stop her whenever he heard a noise from the stairs, or landing. There were always noises.
‘Let’s go away,’ Kim said.
‘Why do you think?’
While he wavered, she booked a room with a North Sea view. When they checked in, the November rain was torrential. The night was a washout. In the morning, she woke up hungry and so did he – only he didn’t want a fry up. Her pleasant surprise was short-lived. There was to be no seconds.
After that, things went back to how they were. Soon, Rob was making excuses why he couldn’t see her. With Christmas only a week away, Rob, red-faced and stammering, said it was best they ended things. He couldn’t say why. She couldn’t stop crying.
That New Year’s Eve, Kim went alone to the same B&B. She put on her party frock, got drunk on fizzy wine, jived with pensioner guests, and in the morning devoured the Linda McCartney Full English.
Into The Blue
Dawn’s consulting room was in the garret of a Georgian building on a street of private practices. She was retiring in the spring – the figures added up – and she was ready.
That December morning she had her first appointment with somebody whose company had referred him. His marriage had broken down and he wasn’t hitting targets.
She sat facing him, the coffee table with its box of tissues between them. He was late-thirties, pale, dark circles beneath his eyes, his suit too big. She prompted him, but he answered in monosyllables and twitched.
In session two, he demanded Dawn give him answers. His voice thickened. What had he done wrong? Why wouldn’t his wife have him back? Dawn cocked her head to one side, then the other, as was her way. She summarised what he said, asked him what he thought, and passed him the tissues.
In session three, his head down, his tears forming a damp patch on the carpet between his brogues, he spoke about things he said he’d never told anybody; about that Christmas Day when he’d slapped his wife in front of the kids. How afterwards he’d begged her, said he wouldn’t do it again. And he hadn’t! There’d been the affair at work, of course, but that was two years ago and she’d forgiven him. Then, without warning, she ended it. Fifteen years married for nothing! Dawn looked out at the bare crab apple treetops, at the cloudless sky.
In session four, he was red-cheeked and ranting, selfish … heartless … bitch. Dawn squinted as the early winter sun shone in her face. She stood up and walked across the room. Instead of rolling down the blind, she pulled up the sash window, climbed out onto the ledge, and flew away.
A Woman Like You
‘What would it take,’ I said, as we swayed on The Haunch of Venison’s sticky carpet, ‘for a woman like you to love a man like me?’ The music playing on the jukebox was the B-side of a B-side, but holding her made it the sweetest sound.
She smelled of snide perfume and sweet perspiration. Her eyes were green and bloodshot, her auburn hair lacquered up into the beehive of her youth. She winked slowly as she pulled away and held up her forefinger to show she wouldn’t be long. She eased between tables where drinkers gawped at the muted TV showing the three-fifteen from Kempton. If anybody in the pub was winning, they weren’t celebrating. The heavy curtains were drawn, the clock above the bar stopped, and only the live horseracing said it was daytime.
She stood between two drunks on bar stools. One tried to paw her, but she swatted away his hand. She shouted up three sambucas and plonked one in front of the other drunk, who was wearing a dogtooth cap. He didn’t acknowledge her.
She returned with two shot glasses holding them pincer-like without spilling a drop. She necked them both, licked her lips and kissed me. She tasted of liquorice and desire.
‘Come home with me,’ I said.
‘Baby, I’m yours, but …’ she turned her head towards the bar, ‘… we need to bring him, the one with the cap.’
‘He’s not good for much, but once he saved me.’
‘It’s nowt kinky– he can kip on yer sofa.’
‘I can’t leave him.’
‘Shush,’ she put her finger to my lips and smiled, pink lipstick on her front teeth.
I slipped my arms around her waist. She put her head on my chest as we danced to a different song, even though somebody had unplugged the jukebox.