Authors: Jenny Colgan
To Robin Colgan and Dominic Colgan,
for all the reading I got in as a child while you
were playing First World War/sailing boats/
digging enormous holes for no apparent reason.
As annoying brothers go, you’re absolutely
the best a girl could wish for.
‘Stop kicking me.’
Arthur had been dreaming of thundering hooves, when suddenly the hooves came to life. Fay hadn’t been dreaming of anything, and redoubled her efforts.
‘I have to keep kicking you! Otherwise you don’t get up and go make the tea.’
‘Why don’t you use the energy you’re expending on hurting my legs to get up and go make the tea?’
‘What are you, a time and motion expert?’
Arthur sighed. An argumentative approach to mornings with Fay had never benefited him before and seemed unlikely to start now. He rolled out of bed, wincing. Outside it was still dark.
‘There’s no milk!’
There was no reply, either. Fay had rolled over and grabbed the pillow, luxuriating in a few extra seconds of warmth –
warmth, Arthur thought crossly.
‘Do you want juice, water or ketchup on your cornflakes?’
Fay eyed him balefully. ‘I want you to remember to buy milk.’
Arthur moved into the bathroom impatiently, as usual knocking over several of the ornamental starfish and candles with which Fay insisted on cluttering up the place. The house was a boring estate semi in Coventry, not a New England beach house. No-one would ever, ever walk into their little bathroom and think – ah! Grooved wood! Perhaps I have been magically transported to a world of fresh lobster and windswept sands. Arthur had never been to New England. He briefly wished himself there, if only because the time difference would give him another five hours of delicious sleep.
Groaning, he stared sticky-eyed into the mirror and splashed water on his face. It was normally a nice affable face, although right now it looked cross and tired. He looked at his hair and resisted the urge to measure it. His floppy brown hair was one of his favourite things about himself and he was terrified of the day it would finally desert him, although it was bearing up all right (his forehead was just getting a bit longer, that was all). At thirty-two years old, the confused vertical groove line between his eyes was becoming permanent but his smile was lovely, which he would have known if he ever smiled at the mirror or in photographs, which he never did.
‘Hurry up in the bathroom!’
For God’s sake!
‘You’re not allowed to hurry someone out of the bathroom and still be functionally asleep, okay?’
He took off his pyjamas to get in the shower. When had he started wearing pyjamas? When had he and Fay stopped diving into bed naked as piglets all the time?
He briefly considered a quick Kevin Spacey in the shower but he had to get to work … oh, Christ, work. Arthur hit the plain white tiling with his fist. He’d forgotten.
‘Well, that’s nice,’ said Fay, wandering past the shower curtain. She was wearing a hideous dressing gown. When you thought about it, he supposed, all dressing gowns were hideous. Why had he never noticed that before? The pattern had not yet been invented that didn’t render them staggeringly unattractive. Nighties were sexy and nudie was beautiful, but dressing gowns were like dating a sausage roll.
‘Why don’t you take off your dressing gown and get in the shower with me?’ he said impulsively. He suddenly wanted to do something cute and fun and detract from the fact that he had just remembered that today he was due to be interviewed about his job by some people who had the power to take it away.
‘I thought you were busy with all the tile hitting and cursing,’ said Fay, brushing her teeth.
‘I was, then I saw you, a vision of loveliness in acrylic.’
‘Uh huh. Well, personnel issues won’t just sort themselves out, you know.’
I bet they would, thought Arthur mutinously to himself. He’d been with Fay for five years and still wasn’t a lot closer to understanding what a recruitment adviser did now than when they first got together.
‘And don’t you have that survey thing?’
He groaned again. ‘Please, don’t remind me. And it’s not just a survey, it’s a total strategic review of our entire function.’
‘What, playing Sim City?’
‘Yes, that’s right, Fay. That’s what I do. I play computer games all day and deliberately make the traffic go slowly.’
He felt her raising her eyebrows at him.
‘Well, you’re incredibly successful at that. Anyway, the condoms are downstairs.’
Arthur stood in the shower and let the water cascade over him. This was new. He had a sneaking suspicion Fay wanted to throw away the contraception and get on with the business of having babies. She was thirty-one. He thought that might be it. Anyway, she’d taken to hiding the condoms in unconventional places, possibly in the hope that he’d be so carried away he would say not to bother. It wasn’t working, particularly not when she was wearing a dressing gown that rendered her nicely curvy body practically bovine.
He closed his eyes, wondering whether to risk shaving in the warmth (which would earn him a lecture and a bottle of Cif shoved into his hands). Suddenly he got a strong sense again of last night’s dream. The hoofbeats were pounding on snow. He could almost remember the smell of the sweating body of the mare … That was odd. How did he know it was a mare? Well, dreams were the most peculiar things; he’d never met a horse in his life.
‘Can you ride a horse?’ he asked Fay downstairs. She was now unattractively done out in a purple business suit with accenting scarf.
‘Why, would it be quicker getting me to work than the Mondeo? Is this your new scheme for the town centre?’
‘Never mind,’ he said. ‘What are we doing this weekend?’
‘The Hunters on Friday night and some cheese and wine thing on Saturday.’
His face fell. ‘But the Hunters are very
‘Well, they live in our street. And, you know. So are we.’
She pecked him on the cheek and disappeared out of the door, shutting it a little too forcefully.
The clouds were as heavy over Arthur’s head as the bedclothes had been. The traffic was a heaving mass stretching out in front of him as far as he could see. When the system had been designed by Arthur’s office in the 1960s, the concept of even every house having a car was completely ridiculous. Now everyone felt it was their basic human right to keep two, though it meant that, in practice, nobody could move. And at least half of the cars were as large as vans and fitted out so that if you had to take a quick detour through the jungle, they’d be ready. Mind you, driving via the jungle and up through Borneo might be quicker than most trips on the A405 to Coventry. But this morning, the A405 suited Arthur fine. Anything that kept him as far away from work as possible whilst letting him listen to Radio 2 was a good thing as far as he was concerned.
The man in the white jeep next to him managed to pick his nose, scream into his mobile and make a rude gesture at a lorry simultaneously. Arthur shook his head. Days like this had been getting more frequent recently. He might be only thirty-two, but he felt fifty-five. When he looked ahead, he didn’t seem to see anything – just more of the same, with less hair. This is just Tuesday mornings, he thought to himself. The grey road and the grey horizon and the long monotonous journey ahead were conspiring to make him maudlin. This wasn’t new. And today’s forthcoming inquisition was merely serving to remind him that he’d been feeling this way for a long time.
Fay slammed the door on the way out of the house that morning, then winced at herself. Very mature, she thought, that will definitely make him love you. Of course, he wouldn’t have noticed – probably wouldn’t even have cared if he had.
She got into the little Peugeot and slumped forward onto the wheel, wincing as she felt the roll of fat press over the waistband of her skirt. It was just … God,
. What was it going to take? He seemed to be going directly from student to mid-life crisis with no intermittent period of, you know, adulthood. She loved him so much. And it felt that she just got nothing, absolutely nothing in return. She couldn’t leave him. She loved him. And did she really want to be single again? And not twenty-five-and-living-in-London single – thirty-one-and-buried-in-Coventry single. That really didn’t bear thinking about. Prey to the cream of dandruffed middle management. And it would be divorcés or nothing and you’d get their horribly whiny brats with E-numbers smeared all over their greedy maws …
I want a horrible whiny brat, she thought to herself, pulling out into the already incredibly heavy traffic. Only mine would be sweet and interesting and well-behaved and only eat organic vegetables and actually like them.
Maybe I should just tell Arthur straight out. I do love him, and the timing is right. There’s never a good time to go for it. He’s never thought about it for a second, but if I just said, ‘Hey, why don’t we have a baby?’ then maybe he’d just say, ‘Oh yeah, wow. I never thought of that before. I love you, darling.’
Or he might not look up from
Integrated Transport Today
I really have to tell him tonight.
The large dingy lobby in the grim, low-rise public sector building – barely brightened by some amateur executive artwork depicting what might have been Lady Godiva or a camel and a bear having a fight – was humming. Arthur realized that subconsciously he had put on his smartest suit and tie.
‘Yo,’ said the temp on main reception. She had arrived as a temp – a particularly surly one – in about 1983 and never left. Unfortunately Arthur had never got around to learning her name and felt it was a little too late to ask now.
‘Hey,’ he said. ‘What’s going on?’
‘Some bunch of wankers turned up and took over the management offices.’
‘What did they look like?’
‘Wankers, I just told you.’
‘Scary wankers, or the normal sort?’
‘What, like you, you mean?’
The temp pondered for a moment. ‘No, I would say they were more arseholey than you.’
Arthur smiled. ‘Do you know, that’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me for ages.’