Authors: Adele Parks
I opt to listen to one of Scottie Taylor’s CDs. Scottie Taylor is, in my opinion, the greatest entertainer Britain has produced ever, and the biggest pop phenomenon we’ve had since the Beatles. I’d never dare make huge sweeping statements about anything to do with the pop industry in front of Adam but I’m on fairly solid ground with this one. For one, Adam is not here (which is why I’ve been driven to drink and the imaginary arms of Scottie Taylor), and for two, this opinion is pretty much accepted as fact. You could ask any woman in Britain, aged between fifteen and fifty, and she’d agree.
Scottie is the man every woman wants to fix and fuck. He shot to fame fifteen years ago when he was just seventeen years old. Women my age have grown up with him; he’s an institution. He was recruited by a pop mogul to join a girl band, X-treme, an obvious publicity stunt when X-treme were battling for chart supremacy against the Spice Girls. Despite the gimmick of introducing Scottie to the band, X-treme died a death and no one can even name any of the other band members now. I think one of them (the redhead) is a presenter on a Sky shopping channel, I spotted her when I was mindlessly flicking once; she’s put on a lot of weight. The other three are occasionally papped coming out of the Priory or Primark. But none of them have even dared threaten a comeback tour. It’s generally accepted there wasn’t a platform to come back from. It was different for Scottie. As X-treme became more ex-dream, Scottie became bigger and bigger. After just two pop hits with the band he was approached by a new manager and went solo. As Scottie climbed to number one, you could hear the nails being hammered into X-treme’s coffin.
He’s an incredibly talented songwriter and vocalist but besides that he’s needy, sexy, beautiful and has the most filthy grin in history. Despite sleeping with pretty much every gorgeous woman in the pop world, plus a fair number of models and film stars, he is resolutely single and as such the perfect fantasy man. Just what I need right now to ease the tedium of being ignored by Adam.
I put on his latest CD and turn the volume up high.
The thing is, it can go either way with music. Sometimes it’s life-affirming and uplifting; other times it can plunge you into the deepest, darkest doldrums. By the time I’ve downed two-thirds of the bottle of Chardonnay I’m beginning to feel horny and hurt; a lethal combination. Scottie is crooning some love ballad, or more accurately some hate ballad. Something about knowing when love has made a dash for the door and love not living here any more. I start to swirl the lyric around my mind with the same seriousness I would if I was grappling with the monumental questions like: Why are we here? Why don’t you ever see a baby pigeon? Why are yawns contagious?
The hardest thing to bear about my live-in relationship with Adam is not the mess he makes, or the unsociable hours he works, or his lack of focus on his career. The hardest thing is I love him and I have to wonder, does he still love me? That’s why I’m often grumpy and bored. I don’t feel special. I think there’s a serious danger that our love has made a dash for the door. I sometimes think Adam and I are more used to each other than mad about each other. How depressing. The orange glow of an August sunset fills the room with a pale amber hue and yet I feel distinct shivers scuttle up and down my spine.
I can’t help thinking that if Adam loved me as much as I love him, or as much as he used to, or as much as I want him to, or whatever, then things would be different. Things would feel more exquisitely special, distinctly not ordinary. Plus he’d follow basic instructions. I mean he’d stay in on the one night of the week that I ask him to, wouldn’t he? He’d occasionally squirt a bit of Fairy liquid over the dishes in the sink or put his smelly trainers in the wardrobe, wouldn’t he? He’d ask me to marry him.
There, I’ve said it. It’s out there. I am that pathetic, that old-fashioned, that un-liberated. I want the man I love, who I’ve been with for four years, to ask me to marry him. Tell me, ladies and gentlemen, am I so unreasonable?
Part of me is ashamed that after everything the bra-burning brigade did on behalf of my sex, I still can’t shift the secret belief that if Adam proposed my life would be somehow more luminous, glorious and triumphant than it currently is. I know, I know, it’s an illogical thought. Since his inadequacies are stacking up like the interest on a credit card in January, it does not make sense that I want to shackle myself to him on a permanent basis. The fact that I am irritated he no longer looks me in the eye when he’s talking to me (what am I on about? He rarely talks to me!). The fact that the very sight of his favourite old baggy sweatshirt now brings me out in a rash (and yet I’d previously considered it to be cuddly and snuggly – right up there with my baby blanket in terms of offering comfort). The fact that the way he chews his food, cuts his nails in bed and leaves the seat up in the loo makes me want to hold his head under water and wait for the bubbles to stop surfacing ought to add up to something other than my desire for a huge, floaty meringue number. But it doesn’t.
No matter how annoying Adam can be I find I am irrationally besieged by a belief (which grips me with the same severity as religious doctrine grabs some folk) that marrying him will somehow change things for the better between us.
I know, I know. Once again the facts would point in another direction. I’ve never met a woman who can, hand on heart, say this is the case. The vast majority of women insinuate (or openly state depending on their level of inebriation) that marriage only leads to a deepening of cracks in a relationship. Where there was a hairline fracture, throw in a dozen years of matrimony and you find an enormous chasm, a veritable gulf. Even the very happily married tend to look back fondly at the days gone by, the days of dating, when the most monumental decision a couple ever have to make is which movie to see – as opposed to endlessly debating domestic dross. Can we afford a new mattress? Is it worth insuring the house contents? Is it stupidly irresponsible to go with the quote from the first plumber who turned up to look at the leaky radiator – after all, it’s taken six weeks to get a plumber to show, can we really wait for two more?
And yet I want a proposal.
I think I need to make it clear at this point that I am not one of those women who always wanted to get married. As a child I owned Airhostess Barbie, not Bridal Barbie. I had no ambitions to endlessly re-enact a marriage between said doll and her eunuch boyfriend, Ken. Nor did I dance around the kitchen with a tea towel tied to my head and a sheet around my waist singing ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’ (although my older sister Fiona did this until she was about fifteen). In fact I spent most of my late teens and early twenties avoiding any sort of proper relationship. I thought a guy was being unreasonably controlling and presumptuous if he insisted on knowing my surname before making a dishonest woman of me. I was a good-time girl rather than a good girl. I never bought into the nonsense that sex was in any way tied up with responsibility, disgrace, doubt, guilt or even love. As far as I was concerned sex was all about hedonistic pleasure and fun – lots and lots of fun. I suppose sexist propaganda would have it that I ought to hang my head in shame, wear sackcloth and frequently beat myself rather than own up to the fact that in my past I’ve rarely dignified any relationship with longevity. But I won’t. I can’t be that much of a hypocrite.
Then there was Adam.
I met Adam in the same way I usually met guys back then (he was the mate of a bloke I was shagging at the time). It wasn’t love at first sight or anything really corny like that – it was laugh at first sight. Not that I was laughing at him, I wasn’t; I laughed right along with him, everyone did. He was a riot. He’s one of those walking bag of gags lads. He’s full of witty one-liners, bizarre facts and decent jokes. No one delivers a punch line like Adam. We flirted from the word go but Adam kept me at arm’s length until my fling with his mate drew its last breath. Then he asked me to go to Glastonbury music fest with him. And that was it – we were an item.
I never so much as looked at another man from that moment on. Seriously, he held me captive. I realized that I hadn’t simply been a slut (as I believed and my mum feared), I just hadn’t met the right guy. Simple as that. As nice and old-fashioned as that.
I’ve loved being faithful to Adam. It hasn’t been a struggle. Having sown my wild oats it was a joy to sink into a relationship where it really didn’t matter if I occasionally wore cotton M&S knickers rather than lacy thongs – he’d still want to rip them off me.
Adam and I laughed our way through the first couple of years and we laughed our way into this flat-share and for quite some months after that. But we haven’t been doing a great deal of laughing of late. In fact there hasn’t been so much as a chuckle, a guffaw or a weak giggle. Neither of us is the rowing sort, so silence and tension have become our staple.
I call Adam to find out what time he expects to be back so I can gauge whether it’s worth waiting up for him. Even before I press the dial button part of me knows this is likely to be a pointless exercise. Invariably, even if Adam is able to give an expected time of arrival, he’s about as reliable as a politician a week before elections; besides that, he often doesn’t answer his phone anyway. He’s either up a ladder rigging lights or down a cellar listening to a band and so he can’t reach his phone or the signal can’t reach him. It’s an accurate metaphor for our relationship. I’m therefore pleasantly surprised when he picks up.
‘Hi, I was just wondering where you are and what you are up to,’ I say, trying to sound as friendly and non-naggy as I’m able.
‘Hey, Fern-girl. I’m coming right back to you.’
‘Are you?’ A rush of excitement floods into my stomach, pushing aside the irritation I’ve felt all evening.
The doorbell rings. ‘Hang on, someone is at the door, hold the line,’ I say.
I open the door and Adam is stood facing me, holding his phone to his ear and grinning.
‘Lost my key,’ he says as he snaps closed his mobile and then briefly kisses me on the forehead.
‘Lost or forgotten?’ I demand. The rush of excitement at seeing him is instantly drowned by a fresh flash of irritation. Living with him is a bit like sitting in a ducking chair. Oh, I can breathe; everything is going to be fine. No, I’m under water once more. I’m going to drown. If he’s lost his key again then we’ll have to pay for the locks to be changed for the second time in six months. It’s such an unnecessary expense, all that’s required is a little thought. But, if he’s simply forgotten to take it out with him I’ll be just as irritated. I mean, it’s not rocket science, is it? You go out, you come in again, to do that you need a key, put key in pocket.
Adam shrugs. ‘Think they are in my other jeans.’
‘I hope so,’ I mutter as I head for our bedroom to check in his jeans pocket. The jeans are on the floor in a crumpled heap. Luckily, I do find his keys, along with a stick of gum and his Oyster card. I walk back into the kitchen dangling the keys off my finger; half triumphant, half vexed. Nowadays I often rage with conflicting emotions when I’m around Adam. I wish it wasn’t so. I wish things were simpler.
I’m taken aback because I find Adam serving up a Chinese takeaway. From the smell of it I think I can guess that he’s brought me king prawn foo yung with egg fried rice – my favourite.
‘Have you eaten? I figured not, as there’s no food in the flat, so I thought we’d go wild, Fern-girl. I’ve even bought a side of prawn crackers.’
Adam doesn’t often demonstrate this level of planning so I don’t grumble about the keys; I simply slip them down on to the counter next to his wallet.
Sometimes we eat in front of the TV off a tray, but today Adam has put the plates, knives and forks on the tiny Formica table in the kitchen. An action which indicates that he’s aware I’ve requested a level of formality and seriousness tonight.
There’s the usual kerfuffle of sitting down, then getting up again to get a bottle of beer, sitting down for a second time and getting up again to find the soy sauce and sitting down and then getting up again to get a jug of tap water.
When we finally settle, Adam asks, ‘So what is it that you wanted to talk about?’ There’s a hint of nervousness in his voice.
I’m grateful that I’m fortified with the best part of a bottle of Chardonnay. I decide to dive right in.
‘You know that I’m thirty next week –’
Adam drops his fork dramatically. ‘Oh, Fern-girl, is this about your birthday gig? Don’t worry, girlie, that’s all cool.’ Adam looks relaxed now; in an instant all signs of tension have sloshed from his face. ‘Jesus, Fern, I thought you wanted the big talk. I thought I was going to be kicked into touch, or that you were up the duff or you’d found the perfume bottle I broke.’ He starts eating again. Are all these things on a par? How does this man’s mind work? Before I get to ask him he adds, ‘The birthday thing is in hand.’
I’m torn. I’m delighted to hear that Adam has given my birthday celebrations any thought at all and I’m dying to ask him details but, on the other hand, I need to keep on track and I’d never planned to talk about the festivities – more the significance of the date.
‘Yeah, girl, Jess and Lisa are all over this birthday gig. I’m not sure exactly what’s going down but they tell me it’s going to be one hell of a night. One to remember.’
My blood pressure zooms sky-high again. So, Adam hasn’t put any thought into my birthday, my brilliant friends have bailed him out. God, the man is hopeless. I can’t deal with that right now, I need to stick to the point.
‘I don’t want to talk about the celebrations. I want to ask you what being thirty means. You know, what it means to you.’
Adam looks a bit startled. ‘Buggered if I can remember, girl. I’m thirty-two already. Too many drugs and too much drink have been imbibed for me to have clear memories of my thirtieth.’
‘Stop being an arse, Adam. We both know you don’t do drugs. I’m not one of your rock and roll buddies – you don’t have to pretend to be zanier than you are when you are with me. And will you please stop calling me girl, girlie or Fern-girl! Fern will do nicely; it is my name, after all!’
Adam always talks like this. He likes to pretend he’s much more hard-core than is actually the case.
‘But Fern-girl is what I call you. It’s like our thing,’ says Adam; he looks injured.
‘I’m not a girl. That’s my point.’
‘Oh fuck, this is about you getting old, isn’t it?’
‘I am not old,’ I insist indignantly and then a nanosecond later I add, ‘Yes. It is about that. In a way.’
‘Fern-gir – Fern, don’t worry, you don’t look your age.’
Even though I’m cross with Adam I can hear that he’s being sincere and trying to comfort me. He’s wide of the goal though. He reaches for my hand but I sulkily pull away. My point is he doesn’t act his age, that’s what’s annoying me.
‘You are beautiful, Fern. Really hot. All my mates want a piece of you. Mick was just saying what a great pair of tits you’ve got and he didn’t qualify it with “for her age” the way he does when he’s talking about Sharon Stone.’
I give myself whiplash snapping my face up to meet Adam’s so I can glare at him. He blushes, realizing that at this moment in time I’m not going to think it’s a compliment that all of Adam’s boozy, lazy mates want to shag me and have obviously discussed the matter at length. Plus, Sharon Stone has twenty years on me. A lifetime ago I might have thought that his comments were funny. Not now. A lack of judgement and an effort to clarify makes Adam stumble on, despite my glares.
‘What I mean, Fern, is that you could pass for twenty-six or even twenty-five in a dark room. You haven’t got flabby bits like other women your age. I think it’s all that hauling around buckets of flowers. And your height works for you because tall, athletic-looking women never look hunched and old and stuff. Plus you should be happy you’re not a kid any more. Young girls have gross skins, really spotty. You’ve got pearly skin; what’s the word? Sort of opaque, that’s it!’
Adam stops yakking and grins at me as though he’s just wooed me with an arrangement of beautiful and thoughtful words, the like of which haven’t been heard since Shakespeare put down his quill. He must be confused, then, when I glower back at him with all the resentment of Lady Macbeth.
‘I was not asking you for a critique on how well I’m ageing,’ I say.
‘No. That’s not what this is about.’
‘Isn’t it?’ Adam pauses; his fork is stranded between his plate and his lips. A grain of rice falls on to his lap. He doesn’t brush it away. ‘But you said you wanted to talk about turning thirty.’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘But you don’t want to talk about your party?’
‘Nor about how hot you are?’
‘Well, what then?’
‘Us? What have we got to do with you turning thirty?’ Adam can no longer resist his pork chow mein with rainbow fried rice; he shovels the forkful of food into his mouth.
‘Why aren’t we married?’
I hadn’t meant to ask this so bluntly, and I immediately regret doing so when Adam’s rice makes its second appearance as he spits and splutters all over me. I pick grains from my hair as he downs his bottle of beer. Both of us are wondering what he’s going to say next.
‘Married? You want to get married,’ he says finally. Sadly, it isn’t a question.