My friend is wringing her hands, fiddling with her ring and pacing.
Those strong hands, with her battle scars. You can always tell if someone is a cook by the burns on their inner wrists. It took six months for the black bruise under her nail to grow out, when she broke her finger. It still aches in Winter. She swears she knows it’s going to rain when it twinges. The stigmata on her palm as a reminder to put knives blade downwards in the dishwasher. A mosquito bite that got infected and left a shiny red mark. A moment of carelessness when trimming the fat from a fillet of beef, left an expensive, bloody treat for the dog, and a white line reminder in the crease of her index finger. The backs of her hands, so rough and tanned, with visibly protuding veins and the start of a few liver spots. I remember her reaching for my hand at her mother’s funeral and not letting me go.
I bring her tea, scalding hot, two Assam, just how she likes it. We sit at right angles to each other at the scrubbed kitchen table, where we have sat hundreds of times before, and I await the tale that’s clearly causing her so much anguish.
“Well you know I’ve been seeing that bloke, Jimi?”
I nod and “mmm”, not wanting to interrupt her.
“It was going great. We’d been seeing each other for about six months, every other weekend and a couple of lunches every week. You know I can’t get much time off at night, with the restaurant, and he has his kids the other weekends. Well, he told me he was going on holiday to Portugal with his daughters for half-term so today was the first time I’d seen him for two weeks. Well we met for lunch today and he looked really nervous. Twitchy. He wouldn’t look at me. I thought he was going to tell me he’d been unfaithful or something. He…”
She stops and puts her head in her hands. She’s trying to stop herself crying. After a few seconds, she looks up, smoothes her hair and breathes out deeply.
I reach for her hands and clasp them on the table, looking her straight in the eyes. She has the same expression as she did when her mother died. Hopeless. Despair. Beyond hurt. I begin to well up even before she speaks.
She blurts it out in one long stream, not pausing. “He told me he hadn’t been on holiday with his kids. He was on his honeymoon. He said he only married her because she was pregnant and he feels gutted because he thought that we had something. He says he knew straight away that he shouldn’t have gone through with it, but he didn’t know what else to do. It was that waitress, Diana, who left last month. They met at the restaurant when he was picking me up from work. He drove me home because I was so upset and there was a bit of wedding ribbon still on his car!”
We simultaneously unfurl and I smack one hand over my mouth and place the other hand more gently onto my torso as a reflex, for protection. I scrape back my chair, stand, walk the couple of steps over to her; I’m trembling. I hug her so tightly, her head resting on my chest. We both sob, loudly and I kiss and stroke her hair. I want to take this pain away so badly.
After a minute, we release. I wipe my nose on the back of my hand and say,
“Fuck this, I’m opening a bottle.”
I clumsily pour two glasses of red wine into two short water glasses. I’m not using wine glasses tonight. We need the stability of tumblers. A dribble splashes onto the table, joining the numerous other coffee rings, wine stains, pen marks and drips of fat from over the years. I tear off two pieces of kitchen roll, hand one to her and half-heartedly mop at the spill.
It might be a long night.