‘Ok’ she says as soon as I come in the door. ‘Let's cut to the chase.’
I wait to see what she will say next but she indicates my seat and I obediently go and sit down.
‘I’d have had you’ she says. ‘I’m not going to, in case you were wondering, but you’re a good looking bloke, funny and intelligent, or can be when the mood takes you, when you’re not being a pompous ass, and I for one, would have been only too happy, in life, to give you a damn good seeing to, probably.’
This is very odd, and I have to smile. Up until what seems like a few months ago I was a dodgy old geezer with a paunch, in a shed, taking pride in his parsnips.
‘The trouble is’ she continues, ‘you don’t ever seem to have realised this. You went through your life treating sex as if it was charity – like some caring soul might give you a shag if they felt sorry enough for you, and as I’m sure you realise, it ain’t like that, so...’ She sits heavily down in her arm chair. ‘What are we going to do about it?’
I love this woman. She is truly magnificent.
‘We could do it now’ I suggest. ‘That might help.’
‘No. That would be cheating.’
‘All’s fair and so forth...’
‘Whatever. I was thinking about what you said the other day and it seems to me that the moral of the story is not that you have to have the biggest cock, but that you have to be prepared to get it out and use it.’
‘But not in the middle of the road.’
‘No, but you know what I mean.’ I nod. I can see she means business now, so I settle down and pay attention.
‘So I’m over by the buffet as you will recall. You’re eyeing me up...’
‘You probably wouldn’t have noticed – I was very surreptitious.’
‘I’d have noticed. Trust me. But you, for your part, do nothing because A. you’re afraid of making a twat of yourself and B. I’m too good for you anyway. Yes?’
‘Guilty as charged.’
‘Ok, let’s tackle point B first’ and she gets up, comes over and shouts in my face ‘I am not too good for you! Ok?’
‘Maybe you know that, but I don’t’ I mumble.
‘You don’t know that.’ She’s still shouting a little, exasperatedly pacing around the room again, gesticulating. ‘You don’t know anything about me. You just assumed I would not be interested because of what you assumed I was like.’
‘But I know what I’m like, and I know how people tend to see me...’
‘I don’t think you do. It’s like those rants you entertained me with early on. Why did you do that?’ I start to reply but she cuts me off. ‘I know why. It was because you thought I was talking down to you, treating you like you were some naïve fool and so you had to go on the offensive and prove you did know what you were talking about, even if it meant hurting me, because (you reasoned) I hadn’t minded putting you down therefore it was ok for you to put me down. What you didn’t get, from the start, was that you were the one in charge, from the start. You were the one pointing out all this stuff I hadn’t really thought about, because you aren’t stupid, and you do have something to say, and it was me on the defensive, trying not to look stupid.’ She sits down heavily, out of breath. ‘Don’t you get that?’
‘But you went to Africa...’
‘And you were on the streets for years. So what? We all have our experiences Gabriel. One guy I knew, doing a sabbatical from Harley Street would you believe. Spent three years in Rwanda, right through the genocide and still went home at the end as big an upper class twit as he went in. It’s not what you do, Gabriel – it’s what you learn from it that counts.’ And she stops. We look at each other quietly for a while. She takes a sip of water.
‘I’m sorry about all that... ranting’ I say quietly after a while.
‘Nothing to apologise for’ she says. ‘What we’re here for.’
‘But you nearly swapped...’
We sit for a bit longer
‘I was still wearing my old school shirts until I was twenty one.’
‘Ah, ok. You’re right then. I wouldn’t have fancied you.’
She looks at me and shakes her head. ‘You really do think it would have mattered though, don’t you, the shirts and all that?’
‘Well what would you have been wearing. Honestly?’
‘Designer gear’ she admits. ‘Not all the time. I wore a lot of ethnic frocks later on, hippy stuff.’
‘Just my type.’
She smiles. ‘Ok, if I’m honest I probably wouldn’t have noticed you when I was twenty-two. You’d have been somewhat older than me anyhow I think. When were you born?’
‘I was born in ‘72. Oh well. I used to go in for older guys though, so there’s something. The point is, you don’t know what people are going to be attracted to. You can’t assume anything. I was all over the place when I was in my early twenties, I mean – who wasn’t? But later on I could have done with a bit of rough. What about that guy Vince somebody – used to be on that Dickhead show spinoff?’
‘Aha! So you weren’t completely cut off from civilisation.’
‘Radio 4. They probably reviewed ‘Dickhead – The Movie’ at some point.’
‘Right. Anyway – did you see what he looked like?’
‘Not on the radio, no.’
‘Ok, well anyway – he’s a bloody mess. Really. Grubby shirts, bad teeth. Horrible toes...’
‘But women love him Gabriel. Think he’s fantastic, and you know why?’ I shake my head. ‘Because he doesn’t give a toss. That’s why. He’s overweight, hairy, short.’
‘Yeah, but they all have money over there – it’s Hollywood. But nobody picked the short straw – “Oh, Jennifer, your turn to go out with the short fat film star this week”. They love him. Honestly.’
‘Money is an issue though, you have to admit.’
‘Not now so much. I earned loads more than Graham. I didn’t care. I loved my work.’
‘What did he do?’
‘Very little, but to be honest that was more of a problem for him than for me. Depression, booze, computer games. You know the kind of thing.’
I can’t see her with someone like that. She deserves better. She deserves me. I’m better than that. Hey, that’s a revelation.
‘Ok’ I say, sitting up. ‘I’m up for it. You’re there, with the crudités, I’m across the room with my plastic cup of wine or whatever. What would you want me to say?’
‘Now you see that’s your trouble. What do you want to say to me? That’s the question.’
I think about it for a second. She’s absolutely right. What do I want to say? ‘Wanna fuck?’ I say, knowing how she’ll react but my mind genuinely has done a blank. Ok, I concentrate. ‘I want to say...errm...’ I sit and think, she waits, betraying no impatience. ‘Everything I can think of sounds so trite or ridiculous.’
‘You look beautiful...?’
She wobbles her head equivocally.
‘I saw an Irish guy walk up to a woman he’d pissed off at a party and say “You’re a fine looking woman you know...” and she was all over him after that.’
‘Better’ she agrees ‘but best with an Irish accent.’
I nod in agreement. ‘They can get away with such blandishments. Actually, that’s also true of the Spanish and French...’
‘And the Italians’ she says with appreciation.
‘Exactly. Being English is a not a good place to start.’
‘And yet here we are. You could do a Hugh Grant with it.’
‘True. But I’d rather not.’
‘No. Ok, go on, what else could you say? What do you want to say to me?’
I think for a while. ‘It all sounds so predictable – “What do you think of the music?” “Who do you know here?” “What do you do?” Oh God that sounds so feeble. I don’t know...’ and I slump back. I can’t think of anything worthwhile.
‘Or maybe “Hi, I’m Gabriel”‘ she suggests ‘or yes, questions are good. “How’s the buffet?” or “Where are you from?” et cetera et cetera. And listen. Don’t just be thinking what you want to say next. But the main thing is to walk up and say something for god’s sake. If she likes the look of you she’ll do the rest. If she doesn’t it won’t matter what you say. And if you thought those guys there chatting the women up were all being terribly witty and original I’m afraid you were sorely mistaken. Only in the movies Gabriel. Only in the movies.’
‘But everything I say comes out so weak...’ I whisper, hopeless again all of a sudden and as I’m saying it I’m eighteen again at that party, watching Gill. I can remember it all so bloody clearly. It’s true, I’m not an old man here, I’m thirteen at the school disco, watching the girls dance together, and I’m in my twenties on the streets of Brighton, watching the girls go by with their short skirts and their strappy tops and their high heels, and I’m in my thirties, at the festies, watching the women wooing fathers for their sticky kids and then I’m in my fifties having to avoid watching them with their children in case they get the wrong idea. And all the time it was the same – I’m there, watching them – not having a clue what I have to do to join in. How could this have happened? Andrea looks at me. I can see she doesn’t get it. I don’t get it. What did they know that I didn’t?
She sits up straight and looks at me closely. I brace myself for the judgement, the dismissal. But instead she says softly ‘It came out weakly because you thought that you were crap and that they were goddesses. You didn’t see yourself as worthy of them. Let me tell you Gabriel...’ she gets up and looks out the window. ‘I know a lot more shit-awful people than you that don’t die alone. I’m not saying I envy their relationships (but then I don’t envy a lot of people’s relationships), but still... Secondly...’ and I can suddenly see her as a doctor. She has a very cool authoritative presence once she gets going. ‘Chances are that somewhere out there, there are people who could love you, and who, just as importantly, you could love too, and you won’t have to impress them with your wit or the size of your knob. It’ll come more or less naturally. They’ll just want you more or less as you are and it’ll be easy – or relatively easy anyway. Thirdly... it’s a numbers game Gabriel. People come out with this “one true love” crap, like there’s just one ideal person in all the world for each of us and if you don’t find them, well, you’re stuffed... but actually I think there may be loads of people out there that you could love and be really happy with, in different ways, at different times. We generally consider ourselves lucky if we just meet one of them in a lifetime but I think that’s pessimistic. What you’ve got to do, Gabriel, is meet loads of people. It’s no good just meeting a few and trying to make them work. For instance, I know guys who just ask almost every woman they meet if she fancies going to bed, or some equivalent innuendo, and sooner or later, someone says “yes”. Which actually brings me to a subsidiary point...’
(Wow. “A subsidiary point” Crikey what a woman...)
‘Girls just wanna have fun Gabriel. Young girls especially just want to have a laugh, they want to look trendy, they want to go out and get pissed. Sometimes they want sex, but mostly they don’t want anything heavy, and they don’t want to have to dump someone who’ll be hurt by it, so nine times out of ten they choose a good looking moron they don’t care much about because it’s easier that way. Later on – late twenties, thirties – that’s when girls wanna have love and security and babies and candle-lit meals and flowers and all that, and actually, we want more sex too, and we’re better at it and we come easier. So go for a slightly older demographic Gabriel. Trust me on this.’
We sit quietly for a while. Part of me wants to argue. Why wasn’t I entitled to have a young woman like everyone else? But then again I never really was much fun was I? Oh hark at me – self-pitying old fool. I can’t really disagree with her on the main point.
‘It’s a bit sweeping though isn’t it?’ I observe, casually. ‘I imagine there’s a few young women might raise objections.’
‘Yes, but you have to remember Gabriel; men are much much worse. They won’t reach the love and security stage until well into their forties, if at all.’
She sits back, evidently finished. I grin at her. She is fabulous.
‘Come for a drink?’ I say.
‘No. But thanks’ she says, smiling warmly. ‘I would have done though, if you’d said it like that. You’re alright Gabriel. You just don’t know it yet.’