Sunday, April 25, 1999

`We agree that we would one day end up sharing breakfasts of hate'

I've split up with my girlfriend. I'm in a bar talking fast to a woman I've never met before. She's listening intently though I've no idea why. The attention is attractive. I'm betting myself I'll soon be telling her why my girlfriend and I broke up. I win the bet.

It started like this. My weekend mail had included a letter addressed to her at my house. Her name on the envelope - at my house. It was from her bank. A letter from her bank, to her at my house. Now that would have been fine if she'd been homeless, but she's not. I gave up doing that months ago, though I still like to clock them alfresco for fantasy reference when I'm with someone dull but clean.

My girlfriend's letter turned up after two months of her quite happily sleeping at my place but keeping the mail at hers. So I redirected it to her place. And two days later we had the row.

`But why did you send it on to my flat when you knew I'd be at your house anyway?' she said.

`It was your mail.'

`But I'm here all the time!'

Surely she knew the game was up right then. But like all babes whose time has come, she just had to plot every detail of our split, like a plane-crash junkie scouring the wreck for kids' shoes. I tried short cuts. 'Because I was annoyed about my door.'

`The door that I had mended?' She had mended the door.


`But it needed mending.'

`I know.'

`So why were you annoyed?'

`Because it's my door.'


`I don't know.'

Why is splitting up so often conducted on the stairs or halfway between two rooms?

Of course it wasn't just the letter. Or the door. Or the fact that she was getting more messages than me on my Ansaphone (half of them didn't even say hello to me). There was also the terrifying dinner we'd been to the night before.

Two friends who are still married are living apart, together; separately in the same house. They set up this arrangement a year ago. It seems to suit them. And last week they invited us to dine in it.

The house is divided horizontally so that she has the basement and ground floor and he has the first and second. He has since converted the loft, so it's 3-2 to him and she is cross, but he says she has more of the garden because, although they share it, she's closer to it and uses it more. They shared the cost of one extra bathroom and an extra kitchen but now every additional narthex is paid for separately.

Since they'd been moronic enough to have a kid, there is a solitary fugitive trudging back and forth like an Albanian. You sometimes see him being transferred at weekends. Papers, satchels and interparental bollockings are exchanged on the stairs and then he takes up skulking residence in whichever half for whatever time. At school his parents are separated and he has to list the same address twice. He's an ugly little sod.

When they throw a party they have to decide whose half it's going to be in, too. On Tuesday, it was in her half. She is a non-smoker. He isn't. Those of us who wanted to smoke had to do so in his half until she complained that she could smell it anyway.

Since she had done the cooking, he had to do the washing-up. In his half. She was getting up early the next day so, straight after the meal, we all went up to his half carrying the dishes (saying goodnight and kissing her at the interconnecting door that has a bell on it). We sat around drinking and not smoking until she phoned upstairs and asked him to keep the noise down. Then we left.

We had seen an ending. Two people trapped in a frozen scream. In a house an estate agent would have to sell as `ideal for a couple of co-habiting divorcees'. And the next day we had the row and agreed to finish.

The girl in the bar laughs and sympathises in all the right places. Her face is becoming an increasingly mesmerising gavotte of charcoal-lashed bluejohn, raven wisps, and freshly slapped black cherry. She sees what I am saying. She knows that when Agrestes said to the judge: `It is the future not the past that haunts our present,' he was not just going to die, he was right.

Can you see where this is going? I am staring straight at her. I am buying her another drink. We agree we agree we agree…

But we don't leave late and we don't leave in each other's arms. We agree that we find each other attractive. We agree that if we took it further we would one day end up sharing breakfasts of hate. And that the cost and pain would be unavoidable and senseless. And that we will meet again next Tuesday…


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