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Authors: Andy Jones

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BOOK: The Two of Us
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Joe glances up from his food; one eye squinting, the opposite eyebrow officiously cocked. ‘So,’ he says, ‘how’s Ivy?’

It was Joe that introduced us. And, according to Joe, it was immediately obvious that I had a thing for our new make-up artist. Ever since that first encounter he has adopted an attitude of
vaguely threatening disapproval, as if he somehow doubts my intentions, integrity or reliability. I’d call him on it, except the revelation that Ivy is now pregnant would appear to confirm
his misgivings.

‘She’s . . .’
She’s carrying my child!
‘. . . she’s good,’ I say.

‘Still at it like a pair of fruit flies?’ Joe jabs his knife forward and back in the air for emphasis.

‘What do you mean,
? I never said anything about fruit flies.’

Joe shrugs. ‘’swhat you do, innit. First throes of romance an’ all that.’ He sighs, stabs three chips and shoves them into his mouth.

‘How are the wedding plans?’

‘Sooner it’s over the better. Eight fucking months she’s been planning this.’ Joe puts down his knife and fork to show me eight fingers. ‘Could build a house in
that time.’

‘How’s Sammy?’

‘Potty training,’ Joe says.


Joe shakes his head. ‘Nothing cute about a pair of shit-smeared Postman Pat underpants.’

‘But it’s not all bad, is it?’

Joe widens his eyes. ‘What is this, you counselling me? Has Jen been talking to you? What’s going on?’

‘Whoa, nothing’s going on, I’m just asking about your bloody son, is all.’

Joe looks at me like he’s not entirely convinced. ‘She’s been going on about having another,’ he says.

‘Another baby?’

Joe nods. ‘After the wedding. Wants to have at least one that’s not a bastard, I suppose.’

‘That’s how she put it?’

‘She’s not getting any younger, neither,’ says Joe.

‘She’s younger than you.’

‘Next stop thirty-eight, mate. And between you and me, having a nipper puts a few extra miles on the bodywork, if you know what I mean.’

‘And with you being so well preserved and all. So, what are you going to do?’

Joe laughs. ‘You can tell you’ve never held a relationship down for more than five minutes.’

‘I went out with Kate for over a year.’

‘Yeah, and we all know how that ended.’

Yes, we do: with Kate (in her own carefully chosen words) sucking a co-worker’s cock, and then walking out on December the twenty-fourth, one day before Christmas, one day before my

‘What I am going to do,’ says Joe, ‘is what I always do.’

‘Which is?’

‘Whatever Jen tells me.’ Joe builds a small pie-and-pea mountain on his fork. ‘At least I’ll get a shag on me honeymoon,’ he says, feeding the pile of food into his

‘Lucky Jen,’ I tell him.

‘So,’ says Joe, rubbing his hands together in a now familiar signal that he is transitioning from hard-nosed friend mode to hard-nosed producer mode.

‘Here it comes,’ I say.


‘This is where you tell me how big your mortgage is, how much Jen spends on shoes, how much the wedding costs.’

Joe opens his mouth to speak.

‘And then,’ I continue, ‘you slide a piece-of-shit script across the table and give me the “this isn’t art” speech.’

‘Finished?’ I nod.

, dear friend, is where I ask you to do me the very big fucking honour of being my best fucking man.’


‘Exactly. And it’s traditional to say thank you.’

‘Thank you. This would mean a great deal to me if I thought your wedding meant anything to you.’

‘I’ll take that as a yes?’

‘Yes, it’s a yes.’ And the truth is it does mean a lot to me, but if I told Joe he’d only take the piss.

‘Right,’ says Joe, holding up the fingers on one hand; he ticks them off as he speaks: ‘You need to organize a stag do – strippers but classy ones, no hookers, no pounds
in pint pots. You’re in charge of suit hire, Moss Bros, cheapest shit they have. I need you to buy presents for the bridesmaids, fifty-quid budget.’


Joe laughs. ‘Fuck off! Between the three – get ’em wine, or something to put in their hair. Taxis between the church and the hotel, and a speech. I want it between three and
six minutes long, couple of jokes, rude’s okay, but not filthy. And nothing about nutters because Jen’s aunty’s a bit . . .’ Joe indicates a loose screw in the region of his

‘That it?’

‘For now, yes.’

‘And you’re sure about the no nutter jokes?’

‘Maybe just the one, then,’ says Joe, proving once and for all that he is immune to sarcasm. ‘So long as it’s funny as fuck.’

‘Got it,’ I say. ‘Consider me briefed.’

Joe reaches under the table, produces a brown A4 envelope from his bag and slides it across the table.

‘I fucking knew it.’

‘I’d hate to disappoint,’ says Joe, tapping the envelope. ‘Go on, open it.’

I slide the script halfway out of the envelope, read the name of the client printed across the top and slide the script back into the envelope. ‘It’s fucking bog paper.’

‘We all shit, William, don’t be such an elitist.’

‘We don’t all shoot films about it, though, do we?’

‘Here we go: I’m an award-winning director, I have to think of my showreel, you’re only as good as your last ad, blah, blah, bleat.’

I smile; keep my mouth closed.

‘I like you, Fisher, I believe in you, I think you’re talented and wonderful and handsome, okay? But . . . to be truly award-winning, emphasis on the
, you need to win
more than one. Plus!’ says Joe, holding up a finger and intercepting my wounded outburst before I get past the first plosive
B . . .!
‘Plus . . . you may be my favourite little
director, but you haven’t directed anything since July, which, when you think about it, makes you not so much a director as some unemployed ginger bloke.’

It’s no one’s ambition to direct commercials for a living. No one grows up dreaming of shooting toilet roll ads; the same way no one dreams of writing headlines, composing jingles,
photographing burgers or being the face of low-cost car insurance. You want to write novels or anthems, photograph models, play Hamlet, shoot movies, make a million, marry a film star.

That said, there are much harder ways to earn a lot less money.

Joe is still talking: ‘. . . pick and choose how they earn five grand a day. Some of us, William, have mouths to feed besides our own.’

Tell me about it.

‘And by the way,’ he continues, ‘the script isn’t shit.’

I can’t help but laugh. ‘Is that the criteria now?
Not shit

Joe laughs. ‘It’ll open doors.’

‘I know,’ I say, ‘ones with engaged signs on the front of them.’

‘So you’ll look at it?’

I don’t have to say another word; Joe’s instincts are as sharp as broken glass. I hesitate a split-second too long and he knows he has me.

‘Excellent,’ he says, already scrolling through numbers on his phone. ‘I’ll set something up. Time is it?’

‘Two minutes to twelve.’

‘Great,’ he says, phone to his ear now. ‘It’ll be two past by the time we get to the Goose, you can buy me a pint to say thank you.’

‘I don’t really have time f—’

‘Shut up,’ he says, ‘you’re my best man, now; you’re obliged. And anyway, what else have you . . .?’ Then, into the phone, ‘Michael! Let’s talk

Joe would have stayed in the pub all afternoon, but after two pints I lied and told him I had to go and meet Ivy. Joe sulked and played the ‘you’ve changed’
card, but I countered with the ‘promise of sex’ card, which beats all others in this vintage game. Even if it is a lie. Better that than reveal my true hand and the Ace of ‘Oh my
God we’re having a baby’. Too soon for that.

When I get back to Wimbledon Village I stop off at an organic grocer’s and then the butcher’s to buy ingredients for a boeuf bourguignon. The grocer’s is merely expensive; the
butcher, though, is a cleaver-wielding, blood-spattered criminal. What the grinning psychopath behind the counter charges for a modest-sized fillet of beef is roughly the same as a meal for two in
a Brixton restaurant. And if the mansions, supercars and garish corduroy trousers weren’t enough, the relative cost of our groceries tells you everything about the difference between mine and
Ivy’s postcodes. And for the first time since we’ve been together, I have to wonder how a make-up artist (even a good one) can afford a spacious two-bedroom flat in The Village. Maybe
her parents gave her the deposit; her dad is a retired lawyer so it’s possible. Or maybe she bought twenty years ago before prices became what they are today; she is, after all, old

However she came by the flat, she’s not answering the door. I’ve rung the bell four times now and my left arm is aching from holding a bunch of flowers behind my back. It’s
possible Ivy has popped out for some reason – milk, bread, fresh air – but the bedroom curtains are closed, making me reasonably confident she is simply taking a nap. I call her phone,
but of course it goes straight to voicemail. The midwife isn’t due for another thirty minutes, so I sit on the wall and eat raw chestnut mushrooms while I wait for some sign of life. After
another ten minutes I call her phone again, and when she doesn’t answer I try the doorbell, the knocker and shouting through the letterbox. I’m about to knock again when a voice –
it sounds like a laryngitic elf – asks if he can help. I turn to see an awkward, red-faced boy, half in and half out of the neighbour’s doorway.

Whenever Ivy is away for more than two days her neighbour’s teenage son, Harold, feeds Ivy’s goldfish, Ernest. I’m guessing this is Harold.

‘Harold, right?’

‘Who are you?’ Harold’s cracked, half-broken voice sends the ‘you’ up, down and back up again.

‘Fisher,’ I say, extending my hand.

Harold (and who calls a child Harold this side of a world war, anyway?) looks at the bags of groceries and bunch of flowers on Ivy’s doorstep. ‘Fisher?’ he repeats, looking at
me suspiciously.

‘William Fisher,’ I say. ‘Ivy’s . . . you know, boyfriend, man . . . friend.’

Harold says nothing.

‘I’m meant to be meeting her,’ I explain. ‘But she’s not answering.’

‘You should come back later,’ he says.

‘We’re meeting somebody in fifteen minutes.’

Harold shrugs, steps back into his house and goes to close the door.

‘Wait!’ I tell him. ‘Wait. You have a key, don’t you? Can you let me in?’

Harold looks at me like I’ve just asked if he has a ski mask and a knife. ‘I shouldn’t think so,’ he says, leaning away from me.

‘Listen. Harold. Someone is coming to see us in fifteen minutes and Ivy is asleep. If she misses our visitor, Ivy will be massively pissed.’

Harold mimes swigging from a glass. ‘Drunk?’

‘No, not drunk. Pissed off. We have a very important meeting.’

‘Maybe she’s out?’ Harold suggests.

‘Her curtains are closed.’

‘What’s it about?’

‘What? What’s what about?’

‘Your meeting.’

‘Well, it’s not really any of your business, is it, Harold?’

‘Fine,’ he says, going again to close the door.

‘Harold, wait.’

Harold closes the door.

‘Git,’ I say loud enough for the spotty twerp – and half of the neighbours – to hear.

I try Ivy’s phone again, and again it goes straight to voicemail. I’m halfway through a rambling message when Harold reappears, holding a door key.

‘Harold!’ I say, like we’re reunited buddies. ‘Mate, thank you.’ But as I reach for the key, Harold withdraws it.

check,’ he says.

‘You’ll what? You bloody won’t, give me the key.’

Harold holds the key behind his back.

‘How do I know you’re who you say you are?’

‘What? Who else would I be?’

Harold shrugs. ‘Burglar. Rapist. Murderer.’

‘With a bag of fucking groceries?’

‘No need for that,’ says Harold, and he looks genuinely offended.

‘Harold, listen, sorry, but if Ivy’s in her pyjamas and finds you poking your head around her bedroom doorway she’ll freak out. And neither of us wants that, do we?’

Harold blushes scarlet, the hand holding the key falls to his side and I make a grab for it. He’s a strong little bastard, though, and his arm stays welded to his side like an iron

‘Just give me the fucking key, Harold.’

‘Get off me,’ he says, his cracked voice jumping at least an octave.

I try to pry the swine’s fingers open, but he’s got the grip of a farmer and his bony fist does not yield one iota.

‘Give it to me, you little b—’

‘What’s going on?’

I spin around to find Ivy standing in the doorway. Her hair is tousled and she’s wearing short shorts, a vest and no bra. I can’t see my own face but I can see Harold’s, and
whoever loses this blushing contest, it’s not for lack of a damned good effort.

‘You were sleeping,’ I say.

‘Key,’ says Harold, holding it up like a talisman.

‘He wouldn’t let me in,’ I say.

‘You snatched,’ Harold says plaintively. ‘I didn’t know who you were.’

‘I told you! I’m her manfriend, I’m Ivy’s . . . manfriend.’

‘Christ,’ says Ivy in a not-quite-shout. ‘Will you two stop squabbling.’

It takes the vast majority of my willpower not to tell Ivy that Harold started it. Even though I’m pretty sure he did.

‘Sorry,’ says Harold.

‘Thank you,’ says Ivy. ‘We’ll be okay now.’

Harold smiles at Ivy, glares at me, and slinks back into his house.

I pick up the flowers and show them to Ivy. ‘Flowers,’ I explain.

Ivy shakes her head and it dislodges a hint of a smile. I pick up the groceries and follow her up the stairs. And my word, she does look good in those shorts.

While Ivy showers, I put the flowers in a vase and the ingredients in the fridge. The kitchen and living room comprise a single open-plan area, the boundary between the two ‘rooms’
delineated by a waist-high breakfast counter. A baby could crawl unimpeded from the fireplace to the under-sink cupboard where Ivy keeps cling film, cleaning products, rubber gloves and bleach.
From the kitchen the baby has access to the hallway. Crawling past a flight of steep stairs the little bundle of joy will come to a small bedroom (or modest-sized nursery) on the left and a
bathroom on the right. The latch on the bathroom door doesn’t close, giving easy access to further ground-level cleaning products and a toilet brush. If the infant is lucky enough to survive
this treacherous expedition, he or she will arrive at the master bedroom where, as far as I know, there is nothing lethal or spectacularly unhygienic. The floorboards, however, are in a sorry state
(‘original’ an estate agent would tell you) and on more than three occasions I have ripped a bloody great hole in my sock on a Victorian splinter or proud nail.

BOOK: The Two of Us
5.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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