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Authors: Andy Jones

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BOOK: The Two of Us
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We stopped at a small village for a snack and a walk around the shops; Ivy went to Boots for ‘toothpaste and stuff’ while I paid a visit to the local Co-op. We met back at the car,
Ivy with a bagful of toiletries, me with a bagful of ingredients and clinking bottles. And from that point forward something was . . . off. Nothing glaringly obvious, but Ivy was definitely more
subdued. She sang with less gusto, didn’t play I spy, didn’t squeeze my knee with the absent-minded affection I have come to crave. Maybe she was apprehensive about meeting the family.
And, witnessing the current inquisition, who could blame her?

Dad wants to know where Ivy’s parents live, what their names are, do they go to church; Hector asks if make-up artists earn a lot of money, does she have an accountant, does she have a
website, has she ever met Madonna; the twins want to know does she have any sisters, any brothers, any pets, does she prefer cats or dogs, would she rather be a mermaid, a fairy or a princess;
Maria wants to know where Ivy bought her cufflinks, where she has her hair cut, has she always worn it long, what does she see in me?

‘Make yourself useful,’ Maria says, waving an empty glass in the air.

I throw my head back and sigh. ‘I just sat down.’

‘You’ve been sitting down for three hours,’ Dad says. ‘Go on, stretch your legs.’

I make a big show of hauling myself to my feet and out of the room, huffing and muttering under my breath. It’s not that I begrudge my family another drink or an audience with my
girlfriend, but the truth is I know very little about the woman I’m very much in love with and I’m as eager for answers as the rest of my family. I know she prefers cider to beer, her
favourite pie is chicken and leek, and she snores when she drinks too much; I know her hair smells of coconuts, and her breath smells like hell in the morning; I know she fell through a glass
coffee table when she was eight years old and her favourite sweets are Skittles. But there is so much I don’t know – her favourite Beatle; the name of her first pet, boyfriend or
record; I don’t even know her middle name, for God’s sake. And for some reason, I’m particularly interested in where she stands (so to speak) on fairies versus mermaids.

When I return with a bottle of wine everyone (Dad and Hector included) are listening with rapt attention as Ivy describes the best way to shape the tip of an eyeliner pencil.

‘What time we eating?’ asks Maria.

‘I’m starved,’ says Hector.

‘What we having?’ ask the twins.

Everyone turns to me, and I shuffle again from the room, grumbling about slavery, presumption and ingratitude.

I’ve chopped four chicken breasts, three onions, two chillies, six red peppers, half a bulb of garlic, and eaten at least a third of a smoked chorizo when Dad walks into the kitchen.

‘Need any help?’

‘I’m nearly done,’ I tell him.

‘So,’ Dad says from the fridge doorway, ‘this is unexpected.’

‘I’ll say.’

‘Here,’ he says, placing a glass of wine beside the chopping board.

‘Cheers.’ I take a sip, and then nod in the direction of the living room. ‘And?’

‘You could have done worse,’ he says, smiling.

‘Oh, I have,’ I say. ‘Christ, have I.’

Dad rolls his eyes with resigned, long-suffering affection. He teaches RE in the school I went to almost twenty years ago, and attends Mass anywhere between two and five times a week –
he’s the next worst thing to a priest.

‘Sorry,’ I say.

‘Do it again and I’ll pray for you.’

We’re elbow to elbow around the small dining table, but it’s a cosy, intimate squash as we cycle through the old anecdotes and make our way through several bottles
of wine. I’ve been separated from Ivy, who is now flanked by Dad and my sister. And whilst I would rather have Ivy at my side than across the table, it does give me the opportunity to observe
her as she entertains and indulges my family – laughing at their jokes, listening to their stories and jumping firmly aboard the let’s-take-the-piss-out-of-William bandwagon. And my
family are giddy with doting affection, competing for Ivy’s attention, attempting to trump each other’s gags, boasts and revelations. I extend my leg beneath the table and run it up the
inside of what I assume is Ivy’s shin. Maria flinches, striking the underside of the table with her knee and making the cutlery jump.

‘What the hell are you playing at!’

‘Cramp,’ I say, and Maria looks at me like I’ve come unhinged.

‘What are you up to?’ Ivy says.

‘Nothing. Stretching.’

Ivy narrows her eyes at me. ‘Were you . . .’ she turns to Maria ‘. . . was he playing . . .
footsy
?’

Reflexively I glance in my dad’s direction, but he is apparently fascinated by the pattern on his plate.

‘What’s footsy?’ asks Imogen, the elder of the twins by twenty minutes and always the most inquisitive.

‘Never you mind,’ says Maria.

‘Something naughty boys do,’ says Ivy, earning a chuckle from the twins.

‘I was stretching!’

‘Stretching credibility,’ Ivy says, and Hector all but claps at this display of Wildean wit.

I keep my feet to myself for the remainder of the meal. And I come within a forkful of making it through to coffee without further incident.

We’re eating dessert (the room is silent for a rare moment as everyone savours their cheesecake) when Dad announces: ‘By the ways, William, I’ll take your old room tonight, you
and Ivy can use my bed.’

It’s probably less than the five thousand years it feels like, but there is definitely a long awkward pause where my father’s words – in particular the word ‘use’
– hang above the table. Ivy, fork still held between her lips, looks at my dad, smiles, hum-mumbles the twin syllables of
Thank you
. Or maybe it’s
Blimey
.

Maria glances across at Ivy and smirks. Hector looks at me and winces. I look at my cheesecake and feel my cheeks flush.

On the drive down I had wondered about the sleeping arrangements. Dad’s as Catholic as guilt and the only double bed in the house is his, which had me resigned to spending my first night
sleeping alone since Ivy and I got together. On the one hand it would be a shame; on the other it was bound to happen sooner or later and, to be perfectly honest, I’m exhausted. Plus, it
would avoid any embarrassing conversations with my father.

‘Changed the sheets,’ says Dad. And when I make the mistake of making eye contact, the silly bastard winks. It’s not a lascivious wink by any means; if I had to guess,
I’d say it was self-congratulatory at being so modern and goddamned organized. But a wink is a wink and, if I had to put a flag in the ground, that would be the moment my sex life died.

The awkwardness as we undress for bed is tangible; I stumble removing my jeans, embarrassed by my pale, dangling nakedness; and Ivy, for the first time in our time together, climbs into bed
wearing pants and a T-shirt. I was in all likelihood conceived in this bed, and whilst I have no desire for anything more risqué than a kiss on the lips, I am a little affronted by
Ivy’s assumption that the games are over. Also, I’ve drunk a bottle and a half of wine, so my mouth comments before my brain has a chance to edit.

‘You’re shy all of a sudden,’ I say, slurring the s’s slightly.

‘I’m tired,’ says Ivy. ‘If that’s okay?’

If that’s okay?

Maybe I’ve drunk more than I realize, because I hear myself saying: ‘Fine. Whatever.’ And the weight of the two words pulls at the corners of my mouth.

And while nothing gets thrown, neither ornaments nor accusations, this is the closest thing we’ve had to an argument and there is no affection in the room when I turn out the light and
climb into my dad’s bed.

I locate Ivy’s head with my hands and it’s turned away from me. ‘G’night,’ I say, kissing her hair.

Ivy sighs. ‘Night,’ she says, and she says it very very quietly.

We kiss in the morning, but it’s lost something during the night – urgency, electricity, promise . . . something. It doesn’t help that I have a pig of a
hangover, although Ivy seems to have escaped any ill effects.

She spends a long time in the en suite shower, emerging from the steaming room dry, dressed and with her hair turbaned in a towel. And this sudden absence of casual nakedness, it jars. Besides
the scars on the left side of her face, throat and neck, Ivy has scars on her belly, hip, right forearm, right thigh and right breast. And still she will pad about the flat naked or nearly so;
feeding the fish, making coffee, eating her Bran Flakes. We must have spent half of our waking time together without a stitch on. So, yeah, when she steps out of the bathroom in jeans, shirt and a
cardigan, it jars.

In the time it takes me to step in and out of the shower, Ivy is gone. I find her downstairs, talking to Dad, who has inelegantly heaped three cartons of juice, every box of cereal and every jar
and tub of spreadable substance he owns on the kitchen table. He is now trying to make tea and butter toast at the same time and is making a woeful mess of both.

‘Are you sure I can’t do something?’ Ivy asks.

‘All under control,’ Dad says, putting the lid on the teapot after two attempts. ‘Now, how’d you take your tea— damn! You said coffee, didn’t you?’

‘Tea’s fine.’

And instead of just leaving the tea to brew, Dad pours the pot down the sink.

‘Scatterbrain,’ he says, palming his forehead. ‘No, you said coffee, you get coffee. Instant okay?’

Ivy is a confirmed coffee snob and I know she would rather drink nothing than drink instant, so when she tells Dad, ‘Instant’s perfect,’ I feel a fresh pang of affection for
her.

As Dad begins refilling the kettle, the kitchen smoke alarm starts emitting a jagged high-pitched beep, and my nagging headache mutates instantly into a snarling monster with very sharp teeth.
Black smoke is issuing from the toaster and Dad stands frozen, looking from the toaster to the alarm, trying to decide which one to tackle first. Still clutching the kettle, Dad snatches up a mop
from beside the fridge and whacks the smoke alarm three times until it falls to the floor in two separate pieces, one of which is somehow still beeping (albeit less enthusiastically). He stamps on
it once and it dies. The toaster pops.

Dad smiles at Ivy like a lunatic. ‘Needed a new one anyway,’ he says.

I pick up the fragments of smoke detector as Dad retrieves the charred toast and proceeds to scrape the burnt slices over the sink.

‘Dig in,’ says Dad, brandishing a blackened knife at the stacked boxes of cereal in a manner that suggests he won’t be happy until we’ve eaten all of it. And so we eat a
breakfast of burnt toast, powdery muesli and instant coffee, while Dad picks up where he left off last night, questioning Ivy and humiliating me.

Mercifully, Ivy has work tomorrow – a two-day shoot for a German car manufacturer – and we’re on the road before ten o’clock and before Dad can inflict any further damage
to the domestic appliances or my relationship with Ivy. He insists on making us a packed lunch and sends us on our way with enough brown bananas, soft pears and thick, Clingfilm-wrapped cheese
sandwiches to keep us going for a week. There’s a significant possibility that I’m still over the limit, so Ivy drives and I press my head against the cool glass of the passenger-side
window in an attempt to take some of the heat out of my hangover.

The Fiat came courtesy of my best friend, El; he gave it to me when he became too severely affected by Huntington’s disease to drive. One bumper sticker invites fellow road users to honk
if they’re horny, whilst the other (‘bummer sticker’, El calls it) declares: ‘I’m so gay I can’t even drive straight’. And so, as we proceed south on the
M6, we are honked and hooted and air-horned by car after car after van after eighteen-wheeled juggernaut. It was kind of amusing last week. Today, less so.

‘I wonder if they think I’m a woman,’ I say as a Ford Galaxy passes us, parping its horn, three gleeful children waving from the rear window.

‘Why would they think that?’ says Ivy, not smiling.

‘You know . . . the bumper stickers.’ Ivy frowns. ‘Well, you’re obviously not a man.’ I wait for a smile of acknowledgement; don’t get one. ‘So
presumably, if we’re a gay couple, I’m a woman.’ I rub my hand over my shorn auburn hair. ‘The manly one.’

‘Maybe they think we’re just friends,’ says Ivy.

I spend the next several miles fretting over whether or not I have offended Ivy. Maybe some of her best friends are lesbians. Or an aunty. She’s never mentioned it and the subject
didn’t come up during last night’s interrogation, but anything is possible.

A new song starts on the radio: ‘Could It Be Magic’.

‘So who’s your favourite Beatle?’ I ask.

Ivy flicks her eyes in my direction. ‘You do know this is Take That?’

To be honest, I thought it was Boyzone, but I nod anyway. ‘Of course.’

Ivy says nothing.

‘Well?’ I venture.

‘What?’

There’s an impatient sharpness to Ivy’s response, and now I’m certain she’s being pissy. Probably because I was being insensitive or something last night.

‘The Beatles,’ I say brightly, deciding that rather than apologizing for (and, therefore, reminding Ivy of) last night’s behaviour, the best policy is to gloss over all this
silliness with a bright coat of chirpy good humour. ‘John, Paul, Ringo or the other one,’ I say.

‘The other one,’ says my beloved.

‘Mick or Keef?’ I persist.

‘Didn’t we do twenty questions last night?’

‘Yes, we did. Well, you lot did; I was cooking. Thing is, it made me realize how much we still don’t know about each other. That’s all.’

Ivy pulls into the outside lane to overtake a convoy of cars that are doing around three miles an hour under the speed limit. It’s hard going on the Fiat, and it rattles as we creep past
several cars and vans slowly enough that I could reach through my window and shake hands with every one of the drivers. We pull back into the middle lane and I start breathing again.

‘Sorry about last night,’ I say, abandoning my policy of dumb ignorance.

‘It’s fine. They’re lovely.’

BOOK: The Two of Us
12.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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