Read A Thousand Small Explosions Online
Authors: John Marrs
‘Oh you guys should totally do it,’ Sumaira urged with a wide grin and a devilish twinkle in her eye.
‘Why? I’ve found my soul mate,’ Sally replied, and entwined her fingers around Nick’s. Nick leaned across the dining table and reached for the Prosecco with his other hand, pouring the last few drops into his glass. ‘Anyone want a top up?’ he asked and received a hearty yes from the other three.
‘But you want to be sure, don’t you?’ Sumaira pushed. ‘I mean you guys are so good together, but you never know who else is out there…’
Nick returned from the kitchen with the fifth bottle of the evening, unscrewed the top and moved it towards Sumaira.
Deepak placed his hand over his wife’s glass. ‘She’s fine mate, Mrs Loose Lips here has had enough for one night.’
‘Spoilsport,’ Sumaira sniped. ‘All I’m saying is that you want to make sure you’ve found
before you walk down the aisle and promise all that “Til death do you part” crap.’
‘You make it sound so romantic,’ said Deepak as he rolled his eyes. ‘But it’s not really up to you to make that decision for them, is it? If they ain’t broke, don’t try and fix them.’
‘The test worked for us, didn’t it? I mean we knew anyway, but it just gave us that added bit of security that we’d always been destined to be with each other.’
‘Can we not turn into one of those smug, sanctimonious couples, please?’
Now it was Sumaira’s turn to roll her eyes and she swigged the remainder of the contents of her glass.
Nick rested his head on his fiancée’s shoulder and glanced out of the floor to ceiling window of their converted factory apartment and at the cars’ headlights and the figures milling about on the pavement outside the pub. Not so long ago, his perfect evening would’ve been made up of bar crawls around Birmingham’s hip or up-and-coming areas, before falling asleep on a night bus and waking up many stops away from where he was supposed to have been.
But his priorities changed almost overnight when he met Sally. She was in her early thirties and five years his senior and he knew from their first conversation about old Hitchcock films that there was something a little bit special about her. In their early days together, she got a kick from opening his mind to new travel destinations, new foods, new artists and new music and Nick began to see the world from a fresh perspective. Now when he glanced at her impossibly sharp cheekbones, chestnut brown pixie cropped hair and grey eyes, he hoped their children would acquire their mother’s good looks and open-mindedness.
Quite what Nick offered Sally in return he couldn’t be sure, but when he proposed to her on their two-year anniversary in a restaurant in Santorini, she cried so hard for close to ten minutes that he couldn’t be sure if she’d accepted or declined.
‘You are a smug, sanctimonious couple but honestly, it’s fine,’ teased Nick and slipped his glasses down his nose to rub his tired eyes. He reached for his e-cigarette and took several puffs. ‘We’ve been together for two and a half years now and with another seven months before she promises to love, honour and obey me, I’m one hundred per cent sure that we’re made for each other.’
‘Hold on, “obey”?’ Sumaira interrupted, raising her eyebrow. ‘You should be so lucky.’
‘What if we’re not though?’ asked Sally suddenly. Until then, she’d listened with amusement as Sumaira attempted to talk them into Match Your DNA testing. It hadn’t been the first time she’d raised the subject and Sally was sure it wouldn’t be the last. Her best friend could be both belligerent and persuasive at the same time.
‘Excuse me?’ replied Nick, lifting his head from her shoulder.
‘You know that I love you with all my heart and that I want to spend the rest of my life with you, but what if we aren’t actually soul mates?’
Nick frowned. ‘Where’s this coming from?’
‘Oh nowhere, don’t worry, I’m not having second thoughts or anything,’ she reassured and patted his arm. ‘It’s just that I was thinking, do we want to
we’re right for each other or do we want to know for sure?’
‘Babe, you’re drunk,’ Nick dismissed and scratched at his stubble. ‘I’m perfectly happy knowing what I know and I don’t need some test telling me if we are suited or not.’
‘I read something online that said Match Your DNA is going to destroy around three million marriages but within a generation, divorce will barely be a thing any more,’ said Sumaira.
‘That’s because marriage won’t be “a thing” either,’ Deepak replied. ‘It’ll become an outdated institution, you mark my words. You won’t need to prove anything to God or to a congregation, because everyone will be partnered with who they’re destined to be with.’
‘You’re really not helping,’ added Nick, and dug his fork into the crumbly remains of Sally’s raspberry cheesecake.
‘Sorry mate, you’re right. Let’s have a toast. To the certainty of chance.’
‘To the certainty of chance,’ the others replied and clinked their glasses against Nick’s.
All but Sally’s glass reached his.
Ellie swiped the screen of her tablet from bottom to top and begrudged the extensive list of tasks she needed to complete before her working day was over.
Her ferociously efficient assistant Ula updated the list five times daily even though Ellie never asked her to, rearranging the menu into priority order to keep her employer on top of what she had yet to finish. Instead of finding it useful, Ellie thought of both Ula and the tablet as enemies and a constant reminder of her failure to reach the bottom of the list. Sometimes she felt an urge to take the device and shove it down Ula’s throat.
Ellie had hoped that by now, being this far into her career as her own boss, she’d have hired enough reliable staff to whom she could delegate a large proportion of her workload. But as time marched on, she gradually began to accept the label of “fucking control freak” that her ex-boyfriend had thrown at her.
At 10.10pm, Ellie realised she’d already missed the celebratory drinks in the restaurant two floors below her office with her Chairman Of Operations, to wet his newborn son’s head. She doubted anyone had believed her when she’d promised to attend because she rarely found the time to fraternise. She encouraged it amongst her staff and even subsidised the company’s social club, but when it came to her own participation, time had a habit of getting away from her, despite her best intentions.
Ellie let out a long yawn and glanced out from the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The panoramic view from her ostentatiously unostentatious office on the seventy-first floor of London’s The Shard building allowed her to see way beyond the Thames below and out towards the colourful lights illuminating the night sky as far as the eye could see.
She slipped out of her Miu Miu heels and walked barefoot across the thick white rugs to the drinks cabinet in the corner of the room. She ignored the stock of champagnes, wines, whiskys and vodkas and chose one of a dozen chilled cans of a caffeine-based energy drink instead. She poured it into a glass with a handful of ice cubes and took a few sips, then sat on the arm of a cream leather armchair, turning her head to take in her office décor. It was as sparse as her home, she realised, and said nothing about her. But it was far more convenient to pay interior designers to make decisions for you when you didn’t care enough about them yourself.
It was Ellie’s business that was her priority, not the thread count of the Egyptian cotton covering her bed, how many David Hockney paintings hung from her picture rails or how many Swarovski crystals were used in the making of her hallway chandelier.
She made her way back to her desk and reluctantly glanced at the next day’s to-do list that Ula had already compiled. She waited for her driver and head of security Andrei to take her home. There, she read her PR department’s suggestions on key messages to get across to customers about her new App and how it would further revolutionise her industry.
Then at 5.30am, a hair stylist and a make-up artist would meet her at her Belgravia home ahead of pre-recorded television interviews with CNN, BBC News 24, Fox News and Al Jazeera. Finally, she’d sit down with a journalist from The Economist magazine, pose for some photographs for the Press Association and hopefully be back home no later than 10am. It wasn’t the best way to begin her Saturday, she thought.
Ellie’s publicist had warned the news agencies in advance that she was only prepared to discuss her work with strictly no questions to be asked about her personal life. It was why she’d recently turned down a profile feature with Vogue complete with a shoot with legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz. The column inches could have been vast and picked up by agencies and publications across the globe but it wasn’t worth the expense of her privacy. That had already suffered enough erosion over the years.
Along with being notoriously aloof about her life outside of work, Ellie also didn’t want to publicly face the level of criticism her business received on a daily basis. She’d learned from mistakes the late Steve Jobs had made in his handling of the iPhone 4 antenna issue and how much damage it had caused to the reputation of both the brand and the figurehead. So she employed spokespeople to deal with any negativity on her behalf.
Her personal mobile phone vibrated on her desk. Few people had the privilege of that number or her private email address; in fact just a handful of her four thousand employees world-wide and family members who she barely had time to see. It wasn’t that she didn’t think about her relatives often and she’d thrown enough money at them over the years to compensate for her lack of presence, but it all came down to there not being enough hours in the day and a lack of mutual understanding. Ellie didn’t have children, they did. They didn’t have a multi-billion pound global company to run but Ellie did.
She lifted the phone and recognised the email address on the screen. Curious, she opened it. “Match Your DNA Match confirmed,” it revealed. She frowned, her immediate reaction being mistrust and that one of her staff was playing a joke on her.
“Ellie Ayling. Your designated Match is Timothy, Leighton Buzzard, England. Please see instructions below to discover how to access his complete profile”.’
She placed the phone upon the table and closed her eyes. “This is the last thing I need,” she muttered to herself and switched it off.
‘Have you heard from him yet?’
‘Did he text you or email?’
‘Where’s he from?’
‘What does he do for a living?’
‘What does his voice sound like? Deep and sexy or has he got an accent?’
‘No, no, Peterborough, he’s a personal trainer and no I don’t know what his voice sounds like,’ Amanda replied. Her family’s barrage of questions came thick and fast as her three sisters and mother crammed around the dining room table. They were hungry for information about her Match, Richard and equally hungry for the contents of the four boxes of take-out pizza and garlic bread in front of them.
‘Show us his photo then!’ Kirstin asked. ‘I’m dying to see him.’
‘I don’t have one on me, but there’s a couple on my laptop I copied from his Facebook profile.’ In truth, there were at least fifty, but Amanda didn’t want them to know how keen she was.
‘Oh my God you don’t want to show us them because he sent you a picture of his willy, didn’t he?’ interrupted Fiona.
‘Mum!’ Amanda gasped. ‘I told you, we haven’t spoken yet and I haven’t seen a picture of his willy.’
‘Talking of willies, I’m breaking into the Meat Feast,’ said Paula, and passed the box to Amanda. She shook her head, sticking to her belief that while her coupled sisters could afford to rest on their laurels and eat to their hearts’ and stomachs’ content, she couldn’t do that yet. It didn’t matter that it was a cheat day when according to Grazia magazine, the difference between a size fourteen and a size sixteen can sometimes be just one mouthful.
‘So when are you going to meet him then?’ asked Kirstin.
‘I don’t know yet, we’ve got to start a conversation first.’
‘She’s waiting for another picture of his willy to make sure he measures up,’ Karen interrupted, to her sisters’ amusement.
‘You lot have filthy minds,’ Amanda continued, feigning disgust. ‘I wish I hadn’t said anything now.’ She scooped her shoulder-length hair behind her ears and tied it back with a scrunchie she’d been wearing around her wrist.
Quietly, she was pleased she had some good news to share with her family for once when it came to her love life. With three younger sisters who had settled down and married - all of them to their DNA Matches – she was riven by insecurities and began to feel like she’d been left on the shelf, especially since they’d started having children and she was a thirty-five year-old divorcee. But since Richard had come into her life – albeit not yet in person - all she could think about was how things were about to change for the better.
The confirmation email she’d received from Match Your DNA had informed her that Richard had ticked the box that said in the event of a Match, his contact details were to be sent out. He’d also have been informed that she’d paid to receive his details, yet he hadn’t been in touch and the suspense was killing her. However, Amanda was old fashioned at heart and reluctant to be the one to do the chasing.
‘Right, this is what you need to do,’ began Kirstin. ‘First off, get his phone number and start texting. Then be proactive and set a date when you’ll meet in person like at a restaurant or something… one of the posh ones like Prezzo or Pizza Express. Then make him wait a few dates before he can even kiss you let alone anything else.’
‘Oh to hell with that,’ interrupted Paula, and took a long drag from her e-cigarette. ‘The beauty of being Matched with someone is that you don’t have to faff around with all that dating bullshit and game playing. You know from the word go that you two are perfect for each other, so go and shag his brains out.’
Amanda felt her freckles vanishing as her face turned scarlet. Her mother shook her head and rolled her eyes.
‘Mandy’s not like you Paula,’ said Karen, ‘she’s always taken things slowly.’
‘What I’m saying is that she doesn’t need to be that slow any more,’ Paula continued. ‘Mum would give her right arm to be a grandmother again, and Karen and me have spent enough on designer vaginas not to want to push another kid out. And Kirstin, yes I know lesbians can have babies too but be honest, you don’t have a maternal bone in your body, do you? So Mandy, grandchild number four all rests on your shoulders. By this time next year, you could be married and pregnant.’
All eyes fell on Paula who immediately regretted her choice of words. ‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘I didn’t think.’
‘It’s okay,’ Amanda replied and looked down at the table.
During the many evenings she’d spent babysitting her nieces and nephew, Amanda had longed for a child of her own and there were times when with only silence to keep her company in her bedroom at night, she swore she could hear her biological clock ticking. She had probably less than a decade left to conceive a child naturally and if she left it much longer, would she really want to be the oldest mum on the school run?
‘I think maybe you’re getting a bit ahead of yourself,’ Amanda pointed out. ‘I’m going to let him make the first move and let’s see how we get on from there, okay?’
The others reluctantly nodded and Amanda recalled how not so long ago, she’d been wary of registering with Match Your DNA after it had broken up her marriage to Sean. She and her childhood sweetheart had married straight out of school, saved hard, bought a house together and were trying to start a family when he suddenly left her for another woman eleven years her senior. Sean had taken the test without Amanda’s knowledge. He had been Matched, then promptly ended their marriage. Once their house was sold, Sean had moved to a country chateau in Bordeaux with his French Match while Amanda was left to pick up the pieces in a tiny terraced house close to the centre of town.
Time had healed Amanda’s relationship with the principle of Match Your DNA and it was no longer the enemy. Now, after three years as a singleton she was ready to share her life with someone who’d been made for her rather than leaving it to chance.
Clearly her Match wasn’t thinking the same thing, she assumed, because he was taking his time getting in touch. She hoped that he wasn’t already married and that she wasn’t about to break up a happy home, like hers had been, just to get her man.