Sunday, 22 July 2012

22. In a cloud of baking and Cath Kidston print

"So what did you talk about?" Gin asks.

"Yes," said Amanda, "now you've finally had a conversation with this man, what's he actually like?"

This is a good question.

I drink my Cosmopolitan and stare at them. Gin's brown eyes and Amanda's blue are fixed on my face. Gin looks excited, Amanda faintly amused. They've both heard me talk about men before. They both know it's unlikely to come to anything.

Gin is a romantic. She is still hopeful that one day I'll meet the right man and we'll fall in love at first sight and live happily ever after in a cloud of baking and Cath Kidston print.

Amanda understands me too well for that.

"I don't like this cocktail," I say, eventually. "It tastes like not much."

"I don't really like it either," says Gin.

There is still half a litre jug of Cosmopolitan left. Amanda acquires the jug, and a long straw to stick in it. Gin and I order margaritas.

"You haven't answered the question," says Amanda, in between hoovering up rejected Cosmopolitan.

"He was just a guy," I say.

"What did you talk about?" asks Gin. She's wearing dominoes as earrings, the white spots replaced by sparkling red crystals. They swing as she talks.

"The usual stuff."

Amanda lifts her straw out of the jug and blows through it at me. I am covered in a fine mist, which smells of cranberry juice.

"Alice?" she says. "You're starting to irritate me."

Later, I'm alone in my flat. I am watching Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China for approximately the 40th time, eating chilli Doritos, and thinking about the long conversation I had with Chris. On the screen Jack Burton is freaking out after nearly running over Lo Pan. I was nine or ten the first time I saw this film, and I thought I had never in my life seen anything so cool.

What had we talked about?

Everything. Nothing. It was the first time I had ever had a conversation with him, so it didn't move much beyond small talk.

I found out where he had moved from (Cambridge) where he was living (in a shared house in the east city, with two computer programmers and a nurse) what he thought of Martin Scorsese remaking Infernal Affairs as The Departed (he thinks Infernal Affairs was a much better film and Martin Scorsese should stick to making his own films. I think they are both superb films but so different it's nearly impossible to compare them; all they have in common is a few plot points. We have agreed to disagree)

What's impossible to describe, and the bit I left out of my description to Gin and Amanda, was the way he smiled at me during our conversation. It was a smile that somehow implied a shared secret, a conspirator's smile, infusing everything he said with a significance beyond the words.

He only stayed a couple of hours because he was meeting friends. He said "See you at work on Monday."

The doorbell rings. It's 8pm at night. I'm not expecting anyone. I'm suddenly, unreasonably terrified. I sit still, unable even to move in case whoever it is hears me. I hear feet moving outside, a rustle, and then footsteps move away.

I wait five minutes, 10, 15. I'm afraid to move. The spell is broken when Rammstein comes running into the room, jumps on to the highly polished table and skids into a turn. This is one of his favourite games and one of my major annoyances, since he marks the table and I don't like him walking all over where I eat with his dirty paws, so I throw a cushion at him and he leaps off on to one of the chairs and stares at me crossly with his ears flattened.

I stand up. I walk to the door and open it. Outside there's nothing; the white and black tiled corridor stretching off in both directions, the blank white doors of the other flats. Something falls over at my feet and I look down to see a dozen long-stemmed red roses, water seeping out of the paper. There's a card in a tiny white envelope. It's blank on both sides. Why would you include a card and then not write anything on it? For a moment this thought reactivates the fear I felt when the doorbell rang. It seems somehow weird.

Red roses; the romantic shorthand of someone without any flair, the flowers that you give to a woman because red roses are what you give to a woman. I like irises, daffodils, orchids, tulips. Primroses and snowdrops. I remember Sally's flat in springtime, a single crocus in a tiny Victorian sherry glass.

But this lack of imagination is not the fault of the roses, and I feel sorry for them. I pick them up and then think for a second. Someone has left these here. Someone who has romantic intentions, or thinks they do. Someone who has maybe got the wrong flat? I don't have a boyfriend, or anyone who would buy me roses. But I have no idea which flat would be the right one, and the roses will die in the corridor.

I take them in and arrange them in a glass jug. 

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