89. Sunset

I’ve had chance to think about it and it wasn’t the infidelity that upset me more. I am from an bohemian family after all. It was the secrecy and deceit. The lying. No one can ever know. There was absolutely no need for it. I think I handled it quite well really.

“That’s a nice mug.” Alison had said, as I carefully washed my cup in the sink. “I saw one of those in that craft shop in The Lanes. Don’t you work there on weekends?” The way she had said it sounded weird, like this was her best shot from 100 Instagram rehearsals. We both knew where she’d seen a mug like this one before because there was only one other of them in existence.

I instantly felt as if I’d been injected with some drug that made my body speed up but my mind slow down at the same time, like something in ‘The Matrix.’ My soupy fog brain felt completely separate and was lagging behind the electric energy racing through my body. I was upside-down. Not wanting to unravel in front of this person who had so calmly attempted to manipulate a reaction, I carefully unpicked what I knew to be true.

Monday night was Michael’s gig. A few people went from the office, including Alison. I could only stay for a quick drink, to say hello, show support. He never needed me when he was surrounded by his people.

Was this her way of letting me know that she didn’t actually “miss the last bus home so stayed on a friend’s sofa?”

Just how do adults navigate relationships in the real world? I barely knew. My experiences with men had been so unsatisfactory. I have no idea how I managed to get through the rest of the afternoon. I suppose, once you’ve decided, or rather, the decision has been made for you, the hard work is done.

When I said I needed to see him after work, he didn’t make an excuse. My patience had worn thin. I had already decided that if he was going to try to continue to ignore and avoid me, then I would just let him. I too would pretend he no longer existed. But, there would never be a good time for “the talk” so we might as well do the decent thing and get it over and done with. Although he refused to come clean and admit it, he knew that I knew what he’d done. Yeah he might very well have had “a hangover from hell” but that shouldn’t stop someone from sending a text to their girlfriend for almost a day after their gig, so was this behaviour sulky revenge? I had believed him when he said he was watching the Tour de France, the World Cup, Wimbledon, having a band practice or whatever it was, every night this week.

No. I knew I was being gently and politely pushed away in favour of the shiny new toy, but of course, he was far too cowardly to do it himself. I had to be the one who officially ended it, although he actually finished us on Monday night. He just never told me. Even someone else had to do that for him.

There wasn’t enough time to do the things I wanted to do, let alone waste it on stuff I didn’t. I’d barely sipped my coke and was playing with one of the few plastic bendy straws still in existence, when the conversation was over.

I had no idea how to break up with someone, because I’d never done it before, so I just said “This isn’t fun for me any more and it’s not really working out, so I think we should call it quits.” It was the second time in a week that I’d left him with a full pint but I didn’t care. He might play guitar hero in a local band but he was nothing to me. The pub was slowly filling up with the Friday night after-work crowd, so it would appear like he was just waiting for someone and they were running late. He looked genuinely shocked when I stood up, shook his hand, and said “There we are then. Good luck mate” then left.

My parents consoled and spoiled me all weekend. My father reminded me that “as an emerging artist” I should “use this experience as an opportunity to not resist what I’m feeling and to channel those emotions into my work”, and “that if we just stayed in our studios, where would we get our inspiration from?” He was right though. I had 72 bowls and mugs to glaze and fire this weekend, and I was already bursting with new ideas for the next batch.

A massive binge of ‘The XX’, ‘The Twilight Sad’ and ‘Arab Strap’ got me through the night, along with a whole family bag of Doritos, a jar of hot salsa, almost a whole sharing pack of Maltesers, and a bottle of Pinot Noir all to myself. I wallowed and grieved for what could have been until I realised I felt relief for getting out at the beginning of something before it got messy. My new sketches slowly got sloppier that night. By 2am Saturday morning , I was jumping up and down, swinging my arms, hair flailing, punching the air, cheerfully singing “I don’t want to be around you any more. I can’t stand to be around you any more.” Music therapy indeed. I still felt humiliated, but without shame.

On Monday, I went out for coffee with June, the receptionist from the office, purely, so by the end of the week, everyone would pretty much know I was single again, and why. It was a good deal. June got a juicy story straight from the horse’s mouth, and, with my blessing, everyone got to know some true office gossip. I got sympathy. Alison got, well, whatever.

I just kept my head down, and stayed busy, planning the window display and imagining how I’d feel if/when someone bought something I’d made. After my craft stall I was taking the rest of the stock to the shop on Sunday. Things I’d made! In an actual shop! Not my online etsy shop. A proper shop with a bell on the door. A till and real people browsing. If they sold well, then who knew what would happen?

I brought half a dozen pieces into work the next day and left them on the reception desk with a few flyers, business cards and a bowl of Werther’s Originals to encourage people to get closer. June, told me later that they’d caused quite a talking point, and that Alison had taken a special interest, probably to try to talk to her, the resident sage. June then told me that she’d said to Alison, that yes they were “beautifully made, so quite expensive, but that I would probably have some seconds on my stall if she was interested.” I nearly spat out my coffee with glee when she told me that she’d said, “Seconds are cheaper because they are imperfect.” The icing on the cake was that she advised Alison to get tested for an STD because I was going to.  “These things happen” when you get together drunk with a cheater who thinks he’s a rock star.

That disgusting, greasy kitchen in his shared house. Bicycles and amps in the hallway. Piles of post for previous residents. Pizza boxes and PS4. Record covers used as skinning-up boards. Torn rizla packets and magazines about guitars. Tacit agreements to never mention the (less often than they’d like) sight of a strange girl wandering round the kitchen at 4am in her knickers and a sweaty band t-shirt. Mismatched charity shop hand-me-down plates, chipped mugs with their fading logos. Those cloned vessels reminding the user of one-off, unmemorable events. Temporary items of no value with the expectation of being discarded after use. I only brought one of my own porcelain mugs round so I’d have something decent to drink out of. Well, he can keep it. I don’t want it back.

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81. Not My Story To Tell

“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“I thought you already knew. I thought you didn’t want to talk about it, or that it didn’t matter.”

“How can something like this not matter?”

“What difference does it make now? You finding out after all this time. It doesn’t mean anything. It was years ago.”

“What the fuck planet are you on? Of course it fucking matters. If it didn’t mean anything then why have you never mentioned it before to me? Anyway, that’s for me to decide, not you. What else have you kept from me?”

“Nothing. I wasn’t keeping it from you. I’ve never kept anything from you. You know that. You know everything about me.”

“Well apparently I don’t.”

“Oh, don’t be like that.”

“Like what exactly? You better not be telling me how I should be fucking feeling. And just how am I expected to behave when I find out something like this after all these years. Does everyone else know?”

“Some people know. But I don’t talk about it with anyone.”

“I bet they’ve all had a good laugh at me for being such a mug.”

“No-one is laughing at you.”

“Well they better not feel fucking sorry for me. That’s for fucking sure. Do you know what? I think you’d better go before I lose my temper. I need to be on my own right now. You’re doing my head in.”

“I don’t want to leave you like this.”

“I can’t help how I feel, can I? I’m not going to pretend everything is ok just to make you feel better.”

“No you’re right. Ok then. I’m gonna go now. Give you some space. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. I didn’t know how. Ring me later?”

“I’ll ring you tomorrow.”

70. Hitch

“I don’t know how they had the nerve. I really don’t.” Louise takes a big sip of her wine, almost a gulp. “And to think of all that effort we went to. It cost us nearly £800. What a fucking cheek.”

I take the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from the metal bucket, wipe the drips from the bottom of it with the white cloth that’s loosely tied around the neck, and top up our glasses.

Our waitress arrives with a small bowl of fat, bright green olives, a basket of sourdough, and a shallow saucer of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

“Thank you.” I say to the waitress, smiling at her. I offer Louise a briny olive, and she prods at one with a little wooden toothpick then pops it into her mouth.

“And they never said anything?

Louise shakes her head, chewing in that peculiar way people do when they’re negotiating a fruit stone with their tongue.

“We wouldn’t have even known until the actual day if Pete’s brother hadn’t phoned us. He thought we were invited to the actual wedding. Apparently there was about 50 people there. It was a proper sit-down meal with wedding cake and champagne toasts and everything. I mean, I know people have a rehearsal dinner with close family the night before, but it’s not on is it? To actually get married and then have another wedding the day after but not tell the second wedding people? It’s like they had a fake wedding just for the photos and presents.”

“I bet Pete wasn’t best pleased.” I say.

“No he fucking wasn’t. When he found out he was livid. Two days we booked off work for that, plus hotel, and a new suit. I didn’t get a new dress, but I got some new shoes and a bag. This one actually. ”

She hold up a baby blue, butter-soft Coach hobo bag.

“That’s gorgeous.” I say, reaching for it to feel the leather.

“The actual wedding had a free bar. The fake wedding had one glass of prosecco each and the buffet ran out of food. Pete says he went over to the table where the glasses of prosecco were to get us one, and there was a bloke already there, who…”  she raises and pushes her palm into a stop signal for emphasis, “get this, Pete says he saw this bloke neck two glasses down then carry off another four with him.”

“Classy.” I say, disdainfully. “What is it with free booze that makes people so bloody greedy and selfish?”

“Dunno” she says. “Cos it’s free I s’pose.”

“Did they give a reason why they did it?”

“Well, apparently, the person from their church who they wanted to do the ceremony wasn’t ordained, so they decided to have the registry office one the day before, then their friend could still “marry them” the day after. That’s their excuse anyway.” She does air quotes when she says “marry them.”

“That’s fair enough I guess.” I say, “But it still doesn’t explain why they weren’t upfront about it. Why not just tell people? They could have made up their own minds then about whether they wanted to go or not.”

Louise sighs. “It just made us feel like we were worse than second-best. Like leftovers. If they had just told us that they were getting married, and only having a dinner for close friends and family, then it might have been ok. But I don’t get their logic of not telling us at all though. It’s not like were weren’t gonna find out.”

I dabble a piece of bread into the oil and vinegar mixture and chew it.

“I’m not gonna say anything to them though. No point.” She says. ” It’s done now. Bloody annoying though. I wouldn’t dare. Cheeky bastards.”

Louise glances at her phone for a second, taps the screen and swipes it. “They didn’t have a wedding list. It was one of those ‘your presence is present enough, but we really want you to give us some money so we can go travelling’ invitations. So, we were going to give them £100 and a bottle of champagne, but when Pete found out, he took £50 out of the envelope and put the champagne in our fridge.”

“Good for him.” I said emphatically. “What was the cake like?”

The atmosphere immediately changes, like it does just before a thunderstorm. I feel like I’ve said the wrong thing and started a chain reaction.

“No cake. Just one of those stupid ‘candy buffets’ with the jars of sweets and little scoops with the stripy paper bags. So, all we’d had all day was crisps, some sausage rolls and haribos. So not only was there not enough food, we didn’t even get a cup of tea or any wedding cake. You know what I’m like when I don’t have any food. Especially when I’ve had a drink. Well, we didn’t hang around for long. We left at about three and told Pete’s brother that we were going to check into the hotel and get some food, and that we would be back later. So we went to the hotel, got changed, had a burger and chips and a couple of beers. I had a nap, Pete had a shower and we watched a bit of telly, but we didn’t actually go back to the wedding do until about eight o’clock, in our jeans, just to show our faces and have a bit of a dance.”

“I can’t fault you.” I said.

“Oh did I tell you, we’re going to Copenhagen next weekend.” She says, excitedly.

“No I didn’t know. It’s Letitia’s wedding next Saturday. You’re not going then? To be honest, I’d rather be in Copenhagen. I love it there.” I reply.

“Oh yeah, I remember you saying. We got an invite but I think it was just out of politeness really. We can’t go because Pete’s brother used to go out with Letitia and what with them looking so similar, he thought it might be awkward. Some of the old dears might get them muddled up and you don’t want to see the face of your ex on your wedding day. So we said we were on holiday. I’ll send them a card with a twenty quid Markses voucher inside.”

“Yeah, we won’t stay long at the evening do. It’s my 5k on Sunday.”

“Oh, that breast cancer run for your auntie. I miss her I do, she was so nice.”

We raise our glasses in a silent toast to absent friends and the conversation takes a natural pause whilst we process.