The next morning he’s early into work but I have to get home anyway, because I’m shopping with Susan. Big Asda, not the high street. We like it in here because the wide aisles can contain our conversations, and the ceiling is high enough to cope if she gets the giggles.
We put the baskets over our arms, rest the handles in the crook of our elbow. This is not the best way to carry them but she makes it so sexy I have to copy her, to fake being gracefully awkward with the thoughtless space-taking and the —surely not deliberate—clack and connect with baskets of men who take her fancy, fancy her back. How can they not? She’s so cool in her small clothes, her loose-hipped flip-flop shuffle, peering at pomegranates, giving figs a friendly squeeze.
I’m a proper Susan-copier today. Just tactile and spacey enough to stroke a kiwi-fruit, even though I feel like a tit. But I always get like this, my debilitating, just-fucked character drowsiness. Invasion, Germaine calls it. Probably, but an invited one, to distract from all the blood and drudgery. The way I see it, I’ll still have to negotiate terms, clear up the tank-crushed flowers. Might as well enjoy the parade first.
Have you tried these, Susan says, picking up white bread rolls, all-butter shortbread biscuits, white-chocolate mice. They’re fabulous.
Why is it that pale things are always the worst for you?
You want Cad-burries? She runs her hand over the swell of my hip to his other office, the place we hold our meetings. You’re feeling different, huh? Set your sheet music on fire?
There might have been some smouldering. Too early to tell if it’ll catch.
Keep blowing and see what happens, she says. That’s the funnest way to find out.
We open a jar of gherkins and share them, with vinegar-fingered, loud-crunch laughter, then look for lube on the vitamin shelves. Take two bottles, one each.
The freezer section is cold, and our nipples stand proud beneath our thin cotton tops. She shifts her basket to the other arm, sticks a finger out and presses, hard, on my right tit. Ding-dong, she says, American voice resonating through this British version of a Walmart palace. Are you home? Boob inspector.
A bald man, trolley laden with paper towels, had caught the action out of the corner of his eye, and pauses, mid-step, to watch. The freezers are throwing out a low hum. I think it’s them, anyway, and then I’m pressing my lips to hers. She smiles into my kiss, knows what I am asking. We turn to stare him out—an invitation, a warning. I run my tongue over my lips to taste her tacky gloss, then choose Caramel Choo-Choo Ben and Jerry’s. We can open the carton as we drive home. We can lick each other’s fingers clean.
Come on, she says as we load the conveyor. What’s he really like?
Tricksy, in a good way, I say. Pretty playful. Big male body, slightly odd-eyed. Mad grin. Has a thing about religion.
Are we doing the same guy? Her hair is almost pink, moves over her shoulders, gets in her mouth.
We’re not. We check, comparing verified statistics, descriptions of cock-cast and coffee preference. I’m glad. If forced to choose between me and Susan, cello burner, ceiling toucher, I would choose her. She wears the basket in the crook of her arm. She eats gherkins she hasn’t paid for, and doesn’t give a fuck.
Frankie picks me up in her convertible. It’s a huge machine, leathered, finned and roaring, not the type of car ever seen on British roads. She is stunning, as always. Her dark glasses, floral headscarf, are some sort of fifties thing I don’t get, but it’s the Jackie-O dresses I really enjoy. I wore them all the time when I was younger.
Are we going to make it? I ask.
Honey, she replies. I’m never late. Relax.
The car is so large I slip around in my seat, despite the belt. Don my scarf, my leopard-print shades. I have to, because the LA sunshine has followed her here.
She pulls up at the traffic lights, reaches into her bag, pulls out a leg-shaver and buzzes it over her calves. She is driving in bare feet, red toenails on the pedals. It’ the most feminine thing I have ever seen. We flip the mirrors, apply lipstick. The cars behind us toot—the lights have been green for a while now—but she is unflustered, blots with a tissue before driving on. I decide not to worry about the time. I am a Frankie-copier today, and it feel good.
So what’s he like? She is picking at her eyelashes, the best that she can do under these circumstances still better than hours of effort from me.
A bit fake, I say. But gentle enough. On a mission. Loses his head when stressed. I think back over the last two weeks. Oh, he takes instruction when it suits him but wanders away a lot. Think he’s built for loneliness.
Are we doing the same guy? She asks, and pulls her scarf back to sit around her throat. Her hair is dark, fake red. It is sculpted into eighties glam. It doesn’t move, and I love that stiffness, because it is the only thing about her that is constrained.
We’re not. We check. The same statistics, the habits that won’t be faked. Come-faces and breakfast choice. The placing of hands when we’re kissed.
We pull into the car park and she presses a button, gets the hood to whirr over our heads, connect with a clunk. I unbuckle my belt, grab her legs and pull them over my lap. We have time for this.
So is he your Mister Right? she asks. My fingers can’t stop moving over her smooth calf, her tender knee, the softness at the back of her thigh. I’ll be putting my tongue there in a minute, if I can wriggle her out of her Jackie-O dress.
I don’t know how to answer that question. I look for analogies, for previous inputs, but there’s nothing with enough positive valence to activate my mouth.
Marla and I are sneaking into the only group that’s running at this hour. We have been down the pub for a swift one, of course, so gargle mouthwash, chew the bubble-gum flavoured sugar-free gum I keep in my bag. This shit is such a lie, she says, meaning the gum. I lurve it, baby. To me, her accent sounds false, but what do I know? I only spend time with pretend Americans.
There are about thirty people in the room. All of them turn to watch us come in, and smile, and nod. Marla is prettier than me. She gets the all the winks.
I like to let them try to thirteen step me, she whispers. Spreading the word by spreading my legs. Love thy neighbour, fuck her ass.
You only covet things you’re not allowed to fuck. But shh.
We listen to the prayers, to the shares. We nod along, agree to keep it simple, fill up on coffee and handshakes.
Later, when we are in her filthy bed, orange-juice stains and sticky-rib boxes, she rolls over onto her knees and tells me to pray with her. I don’t recognise the words. She might be making them up, I think, but there’s a fluidity suggests otherwise, especially the part about this numbersnake who counts the universe. Or something. I stumble, make mistakes. She says amen.
Those people kill me, she says, climbing back over my hips. Do you know what my higher power is?
Haven’t a clue.
Lying. I surrender myself to the making up of shit, based on shit that I’ve done, or want to do. It’s the only way to work out what you want.
I’m not sure if I believe her, but I suppose that’s the point. She is very good at lying, but has lines that she won’t cut. Is it a lie that her hair is dark, that it leaves greasy stains on our pillow? That she wants me? Her touch moves between false-clutching anger and the pilgrim-snail’s progress, a journey of redemption between spit-wet legs.
She talks about the man she is dating. Or not. She’s not sure. Called her a cunt. Sent her a text to say he’s sick of looking at her. Doesn’t sound all there.
Are we seeing the same guy? I ask, only half-playful, but we never get the chance to find out, because it’s time to dress, argue our way into that dark room, and get them to hit us, as hard as they can, for as long as we can take it. But I’m not supposed to talk about that.