Me and the Fat Manby Julie Myerson
Amy is a married, small-town waitress, an orphan with a chaotic past and a restless soul. Her husband doesn't know that she plucks men from the park, provides sexual favors for money, and puts it straight into a secret bank account. When a middle-aged stranger named Harris walks into her life, claims he loved her mother, and quite inexplicably, insists she get to know… See more details below
Amy is a married, small-town waitress, an orphan with a chaotic past and a restless soul. Her husband doesn't know that she plucks men from the park, provides sexual favors for money, and puts it straight into a secret bank account. When a middle-aged stranger named Harris walks into her life, claims he loved her mother, and quite inexplicably, insists she get to know his shy, fat friend Gary, she is confused and beguiled. At first wary, even repulsed, she is astonished to find herself falling into a tender and erotic love affair - an affair that leads her all the way back to the Greek island of her childhood and a series of chilling revelations about the past.
Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll., NC
The New York Times Book Review
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1 ED
- Product dimensions:
- 5.62(w) x 8.76(h) x 0.99(d)
Read an Excerpt
I sat on a damply green bench in the Garden for the Blind and waited for a man to come, just as one always did.
The longer you waited, the stiller you sat, the closer he might be likely to come.
At first he might be going out of his way to look head-down in a hurry or else he'd perhaps be coming through the black, little swing gate from Quiet Street, either as a short cut to the main city road or else on his way to the NCP car park where the red lit-up sign always said Full.
Maybe he'd slow and stop off at the gents' toilets a longish, dirty-looking building with the sign hanging off and dark hedges all around. But you could count on him not being long in there I never got over how efficient in and out he'd be. After, he'd go more slowly relieved, looking around him. Maybe he'd stop for a second to light a fag, then looking up, pretending like they all do not to see me, coming over slow and lazy to sit on the bench.
Hiya, you'd want to say. But you didn't. You looked coolly ahead, like you never spoke to strangers. Why would you?
Making out he didn't know I was there or didn't care, he might have a briefcase or he might not. He might just have a plastic carrier, crinkled and blackened from so much regular using.
This one carried no bag, nothing. He had on a dark green parka thing with some orange flashes and what I took to be a sports motif of two spears and a flame. Newish trainers and a brand-new leather dog lead the plaited sort but no dog.
Lost your dog? I queried softly.
No he stuttered a bit, No, I haven't.
And he looks over at me just a quickish glance, eyebrows lifted, then away again, a look which scorches. He isn't half as old as I'd have thought from faraway, but he's ratty enough. Clean nails, but dirty hands, black in the cracks like a garage man.
The wind blows and air rushes fast around us, leaves lifting and then down. Dust and grit sprayed against your legs.
He takes out some fags, pointing the crushed packet at me. I pull one and as he moves in to give me a light, I accidentally whiff his breath an hour of boozing and not much time with a toothbrush.
Holding the cigarette between my lips, I unzip my jacket and get out my hair, a twisted scrap of a tail but freshly washed this morning and blonde, how they like it. If it goes fuzzy excitement, sweat, the rain I damp it down with gel, the green, sweet-shop smelling one. Sometimes I plait it, pull it off my face: there are hygiene rules for work, which is fair enough.
Now, I pull off the laggy band with the two plastic bobbles that clack. Let it loose swuff, swuff wait for him to react.
He glances at the part of my neck just before it divides into chest. What's he seeing? Flat little girl to spoil in a cotton vest? Or busty woman's tits, squashy as fruit and good for kicking around?
Have a good look, I say.
I take a thick mouthful of smoke, get rid of it slowly. He makes a good show of laughing, for a nervous man.
You're not showing me much, he goes.
How much do you want?
What're you offering?
You want to go somewhere?
He looks away and laughs like he doesn't believe it or like it always happens to him, both. And when his eyes come back, they're not messing any more.
I've got a place.
As usual, I make up the amount, the most money I dare say. I used to play at shops with Sally lining up tins from the cupboards, making up what amount you like 'cause the money (heavy, dirty old money) wasn't real.
Now, the money's still unreal. Sometimes you make up a big amount, for the fun of seeing them react. Sometimes blonde hair, flash of tit, lovely, softly willing girl you get it.
He winds the dog lead round his hand, then lets it untwist slowly. OK, he says.
The room was too hot and it stank of people's eggy breath and old undies, not mine I might add. Normally I was in the other one, the front one that was cleaner and had twice the light, but today it was unavailable you knew this because it was shut with a chair and a cardboard box pulled over in front of it.
Mara took the key away if you didn't pay that or got her maid to hassle you even if you were with a punter. Fair enough. If you were making it, you could afford the rent. But she made allowances for me. Why? I don't know, maybe she liked me. I was the youngest, the blondest, the best figure, the least used. I was married so she considered me clean. I got the rooms on a one-off basis hour at a time, so long as there was one free. No one else knew this of course; Mara was good in that way.
He was quiet, fairly polite, keen to get on with it. I was glad when he put the dog lead down.
I don't have a dog, he went as I unzipped him, I just like the feel of this, know what I mean?
I said nothing. They don't expect you to make speeches, wouldn't hear them if you did.
Talking about the dog lead had done its job, made him hard.
I've not done this before, he said, eyeing the right angle between cock and groin.
Like hell, I thought. He clocked the Durex and said, I'd pay you a tenner more without and I told him to shut up, I was in charge.
He made a little click in his throat and, as I unrolled a Durex and eased it on, he coughed to hide how much he was aroused. The rubbery odour hid the fish stink of his cock, a smell which'd lodge in the rough, screwy hairs at the base. I'd learned to hold my breath and turn my imagination off while I was doing it.
It was all over in less than a minute.
I wiped my fingers on a Kleenex. When I got home, I'd have a good rinse with medicated mouthwash.
He left, the dog lead slapping in his bum pocket. I checked the money was still where I'd put it. I went straight to the Nationwide and added it to my fund.
It had been a long fucking winter and I was sick and tired of running around with other people's coat collars sticking up my nose. Plus Mervyn the second chef was getting a fixation on me and it was starting to piss me off. That and then Auntie's passing away half-way through a shift.
Auntie wasn't anyone's real auntie, we just called her that. She'd been at Greenaway's since forever, folding napkins and sorting linen at the top of those stairs.
That morning she just toppled and by the time she reached the bottom step she wasn't alive anymore. I'd never seen a dead person unless you count my mother dragged out of the sea, which I don't remember.
And then he walked in.
A man well past middle-age, he's the clever, disorganised type messy, wearing-out clothes but he doesn't fool me. You can tell he's comfortably off, went to a posh school and all that. Well-off is a funny thing. You get billionaires who look like tramps who walk around with grease pouring off their hair, who hide the clues like it's a game. It's as if they can't help it. Give them a bit of education and they let their nails go black. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but the basic point is true.
I haven't booked, he says, leaning forward and spreading cleanish fingers on the fireside table. Any chance of a table for one?
No problem, I tell him because we're quiet today I don't even have to check the book which is lucky considering we've just killed a member of staff. I ask him if he'd like a drink upstairs first they usually do and I glance in and see that Paula's laying up as fast as she can. We're behind with everything.
He says he would. Like a drink.
We walk up the brown-coloured stairs with the gold rods reflecting and he must have got to me already in some way because I'm seeing it all through his eyes the wall-lights which are sheaves of golden wheat with the bulb poking through, paintings of uncooked food like garlic and onions and berries all up the wall and the stencils of spatulas and serving spoons and sharp knives as you go down again.
You're not local, are you? he says, and I jump I'm in a state, to tell the truth.
Your accent, he goes, It's not from round here.
I tell him I used to be in London, but I moved down last year. Why bother to tell the whole truth to strangers?
Lovely city, he says, I've been here forever myself.
I take a look at him then. He's oldish. The stubble of a beard pokes redly through his pale skin, but the hair on his head is almost white. As he rubs his hands together, a signet ring slips around on the joint.
We'll need the table back at two-fifteen, I tell him.
Fine by me.
I hand him the menu, then try to light the fire, which is always a pain to do.
Your hand's shaking, he points out and I confess to him that I'm all over the place since we had a majorly fatal accident just over an hour ago.
Oh, he goes, probably just thinking I mean someone's nicked their finger or scalded theirselves or the equivalent.
Downstairs, I tell him, turning the gas tap, each fucking match going out. Someone who works here. Worked, I should say.
Want a hand?
Don't worry the fake logs catch at last and the fake flames lick. I rock back on my heels.
What sort of an accident? he says.
Actually (as I speak I'm noticing ash on the carpet and next to his elbow a dish of spat-out olive stones from last night) someone fell downstairs and died.
No! he's so shocked.
Mmm, just now, yeah. It's awful.
I shrug to show how tough I am and then I look full into his eyes and I can't help it, like an idiot I burst out laughing.
* * *
I'd started taking the men in the summer so I suppose you could have said it was a recent thing.
Some people might be judgemental. They might think it's weird, a perverted activity, because I wasn't broke and I wasn't even single why sell yourself, when you've a man to bring home money? and that was on top of my quite reasonable wage every week from Greenaway's.
At the time of starting I told myself a crowd of things. My mother had not exactly kept her body to herself (so my foster parents enjoyed reminding me) so why not me and for some return? It was the thrill that got me going, but it was the money also secret money, quick as a flash money, money that was all mine.
Because my mind doesn't have to go where my body goes. My soul isn't in my mouth but plenty of men would pay good money to be in there.
I'm a nice, well-balanced girl, I told myself, a girl in search of a better life. I can't wait at table and carry coats forever. I'm twenty-seven, nice-looking. I've never minded sex and I've never had money of my own, not notes coming into your pocket quicker than they drift out not so much that you could throw the notes up in the air and they'd flutter down around your head.
You could whack men off for that sort of money a few quick flicks of the wrist whereas you'd have to do a job for years and the money would just slow-drip into your hands like Chinese torture, so limited and mean it slips away between your fingers before you've had any pleasure from it.
This way you get to feel the notes, the fatness of them, the warm heaviness of coin in your purse. It's for me, this money and anyway, the truth is it gets easy once you've done it a few times you learn to put away the disgust. A person can get used to anything: think of undertakers, or those poor fuckers at the scene of the crime, or medical students.
So you pluck them from that park, take them, take their money, let them go again. They're nothing to me, these men, their hearts bumping away in their jackets as they lose themselves. I could cut their dicks off if I wanted. How do they know I don't carry a knife? Their heads are back in ignorance and ecstasy and all I see is the apple bobbing in their fine, white flesh. In the end they're gone and only the money's left behind.
It's not their fault. I don't blame them. I blame the hormones and the loneliness of the nine to five. The cold journey to work, the paper to shuffle, the ads with the panties or the tits in them. With me they get a chance to bloom and overflow.
And I don't do anything funny, just blow or hand relief and always with protection. The more they want it, the quicker it is. Sometimes I'll be in and out of there in five minutes flat, maybe seven. Sometimes I'll be lighting a fag and sipping a coffee less than ten minutes after.
It's the shock, he said. Relax and let it all come out.
I gasped, wiped my eyes with a tea towel.
It seems bad to laugh, I told him. Because now even though I was laughing, the muscles in my face were indicating they wanted to switch over and cry.
It's quite OK, he said as if women cracked up in front of him all the time.
He leaned his head back against the hump of the sofa. His look was level and calm. He linked his fingers one by one, like a game.
His eyes were the sort you can't see into but you know there's lots going on. I don't know what he was saying but I let his voice into my head like it was music or sleep.
I'm OK now, I told him, and I was.
I went behind and pulled up the blinds and sun made the room nicer. I removed the dish of olive stones, not that it seemed to bother him, but it was bothering me.
You're a nice girl, aren't you? he said.
You seem nice anyway.
Can I tell you the specials? I said and I began on the pan-fried halibut with salsa verde.
You must meet Gary, he said, interrupting.
My well you'd love him. He'd love you.
I looked at him. Your what? I said.
There was some intimacy between us, so it seemed OK to be direct. But, truthfully, I was torn between wanting to know and wanting to go through what was cooked fresh that day. All those specials were lodged in my head just waiting to spill out.
He's my lodger, he said.
Why do I have to meet him?
He laughed. Amy, he said, Oh Amy
I must have looked gone out at him, because he said, OK, poor girl, I'll come clean. I recognised you as soon as I walked in and I'm still in shock, I can't believe it it's like seeing her again, seeing Jody. I knew your mother. Last time I saw you, you were stark naked on the island, cracking pine nuts with a little round stone.
At school, they made you write your life story. Mine was pretty short and sweet.
I was born on the island of Eknos to a teenager called Jody, who drowned when I was six. Jody was from St Albans. She didn't really speak to me. My father might have been English too or Greek or German. Maybe American. It's true I reckon that Jody fucked nearly everyone that stepped off that ferry boat.
Jody's parents had said they wanted no more to do with her so, after she died, I was given to foster parents in London.
In the school essay I didn't say about the fucking. I wanted to be normal like all the navy blue girls, so I didn't put anything much. I said I had a Dad called Brian and a Mum called Eileen and that Brian had a beard and Eileen had red marks where her bra straps rubbed.
When people aren't your parents, you see them more clearly.
When I was seven I was taken to see a man for the express purpose of talking about Jody. My mum, she had a fascination. Grown-ups still got excited or cross when they talked about her when I was out of the room you knew because the sounds changed as you opened the door.
The man held my shoulders too tightly and asked me to think of the island and tell him what I saw.
I saw nothing and he was truly narked.
Try and concentrate, Amy, he said. How do you feel when I talk about your mother?
Bad? I guessed.
He opened a sweet out of its wrapper lovely, acidy smell. He deliberately turned it over in his hand so I could see it had a pink side and a green side. There was blurring where the colours touched. He said I could have it when the session was over.
I chewed my fingers with my front teeth but he tutted and pulled my hands from my face.
Uh huh, he went. Bad.
Eileen looked at Brian. Brian looked away, then down, then back at the man.
Amy, said the man quite loudly like he wanted everyone to hear, Why do you chew your fingers when I talk about your mother?
I did not speak.
Eileen sighed. She had little red veins down the sides of her nose, like a cold wind had been rushing past her all her life. I put down my fingers and tried to chew the inside of my face. They all watched me. They made out that they knew what I was doing.
Eileen is dead and buried now and Brian and my foster-sister Sally are not important in this story. They say life's a series of choices, but I don't know. So far it's always been other people doing things to me marrying me, signing papers which decided my life, pissing me off and so on.
If you knew how hard we work on your behalf, Brian said, teeth gritted. If it had been a movie, he'd have grabbed my collar, held my face up to his in the grainy shadows. As it was he went on peeling his boiled egg, pulling off the white membrane and shell with fingernails he filed to a point at traffic lights. It was unusual for a man to file his nails. Brian who said the poor should all be forced to get sterilised was very exact in this way.
Sometimes I relaxed and forgot to eat the skin of my hands and the old world popped up: old men moving things in corners, a slick of salt on your skin and the friendly warmth between my thighs her hair, yellow as custard and twice as creamy.
Her hair, I said, A big thing of long hair.
Eileen nodded at the man to show I was remembering right, that my mother had that hair. I flushed. I had managed to make up the truth.
The man was medically trained. He made us all a cup of tea.
Eileen said I must have been remarkable there, with my so pale face and long pale hair.
Eknos: a postcard in my head of an unreal place a coloured snap of blues, wide seas and so on where other people go. Trees so herbal and foreign they're almost black, starved cats asleep on tables and rabbits who sit on wire mesh so their droppings fall on the ground, no mess.
The rabbits are kept for eating not as pets, so no one minds. I sit under the pee-smelling hutches and squidge the droppings in my fingers poor rabbits, waiting for her to come out of there where she's been a long time. The men roar up on bikes shout things, bare hairy arms holding on. They straddle me on the bike and show me how to move the gears, but my feet don't touch. Bike wobbles. She catches me suddenly there and we go inside. We belong together, me and my barely-remembered shape of a mother.
Which reminds me, her shape: tall and skinny with breasts that jut out suddenly a roof over my head. Then, her belly, growing fast, her amazing belly button upended and pale brown like the uncracked top of an egg. Her rolling up, tongue licking, lighting up. Her hair a wide, far curtain shutting me off from the sky's dazzle when I go to sleep in her shadow.
In the olive trees, a blue painted chair is stuck upside down and the tree stumps have paper bags over them. In winter the sea roars below us. Months of just her smell, her vague touch, nothing else.
* * *
I didn't know Auntie's last name, but I daresay Hetty had it for the wage slips.
She was about eighty I mean it and yet she still put on eye-shadow so thick and shiny it went into her eyebrows. She cared for that linen like she was the only person in the world who could do the job, but any of us could have sorted it in half the time.
A cab dropped her at the same time every morning. She changed out of her boots and into elasticated pumps and a wrap-around nylon apron with racehorses round it. All morning she'd be perched on her stool at the top of that steep rake of stairs facing the airing cupboard.
She sat there for two hours taking the fresh napkins out, cutting the plastic tape and folding them. She kept a half-pint beer glass topped up with cooking sherry in the cupboard and was pretty pissed by the time she left at twelve.
She liked to try and talk to Jack about sex.
Bet you broke a few hearts, eh Auntie? he went, dropping calf's kidneys in a pan to sizzle. She bunched up her old lips, trying to hide how hungry she was for him to say this. Yes, she said, she'd have to admit that she was, but she wasn't going to start telling him all about it, and anyway God loved her now.
When Jack laughed and his head went back, you saw the little thing at the back of his throat waving, pinkly wet.
Auntie was planning on getting the fare together for the jumbo jet to Australia to visit her niece God willing, she always said but as far as we could tell she'd been saving for years and wasn't likely to go now, so you have to assume God wasn't all that keen on the idea.
Paula said she died with her mouth and eyes wide open and that she went to the toilet all over the floor. Sometimes, when I think of how people enter this world all pale and soft and clean and then how they die in their own mess, I can't find anything good in it.
Jack said everyone could help themselves to a stiff drink from the bar. My guess is Mervyn guzzled more than one.
Then, it was back to work like after a fire practice on with the show. People were booked and there was no question of cancelling. A party of ten Japanese delegates was due at one-fifteen. It was how Auntie would've wanted it and I'm not being funny.
No one knew Jody that was or is the nature of Jody so it's hard to take in that he says he knew her.
Hello Amy, he goes again, just dropping out the name like it totally belongs to him. My face hots up at hearing my name said like that.
There's a bit of a silence and at last he says, Ever go to the Garden for the Blind in Henrietta Park?
Why? I flush.
Haven't I seen you there?
I look at his shabby tracksuit bottoms, deck shoes, a shirt hanging untucked around his waist, a thick jersey that's gone thicker in the wash. He is at least sixty and I know I'd have remembered him if I'd done him. He wears one of those creepy copper bracelets you see in the ads.
I think of the Garden for the Blind, the bench with the badly-done heart scratched on, the litter bin crammed with Lilt cans and old nappies, the smoky flower beds, the dregs of the day, the men, my men.
No, I say, I don't think I know it. You must be thinking of someone else.
I take his grey coat flung on the sofa and slide the hanger into the shoulders, catch the sweetish whiff of old sweat from the satin lining.
I'm pretty certain of this, he says. It's that hair. You're pretty hard to miss, you know.
I shrug. I've never even heard of it, I tell him.
He seems amused. He flicks the pages of the wine list without looking at them.
I'm sorry, he says and he's smiling now. It's just the most incredible coincidence, scarcely believable.
My silence makes him look up as I knew it would.
How did you know her? I ask him.
Join me, he says, Have a drink.
I can't, sorry.
The clock chimes twelve, time for Auntie's cab. I wonder whether anyone has thought of cancelling it or if it will just turn up as per normal.
Do you like your job? he asks me.
I shrug. It's work.
I ask him what he fancies to drink and he says a Kir. I polish up the rim of the glass really hard. Last night's dirty coffee cups are still in the sink.
Look Amy, he says, I'll level with you. Jody wasn't just a friend. She was the biggest and best thing in my life for a while. There are things I'd like to tell you, things I'd like to ask you. Could we be friends? I'd like to have some time, get to know you. Could we meet somewhere, talk?
Oh, I say, A date is it?
He laughs and then looks sad.
There isn't a lot of time, I tell him, Generally.
I take him his wine, dry roasted nuts in a pottery dish. He raises his glass To you, he says.
How did you know her?
It's a long story.
Where should we meet?
Paula comes up the back staircase with the lemons and we both look at her. The smell of her hand cream smudges the air after she's gone.
He says could we meet in the Garden for the Blind and I say I don't think so. He starts saying how it's got all these rare plants all the names written out in braille and I say I'm sure it has, but
It's very private, he goes.
Oh what, I say, Because no one can see you?
I don't know the place, I say again, Why there? Why go on about it?
He picks up yesterday's Gazette off the table and starts to read. I hope we can be friends, he says without looking up. I'm Harris.
He has some numbers scribbled in blue biro on his palm like a kid. His wrist is so pale and hairless I could bite into it.
The first man I sucked for money was Guy Carroll, an old school chum of my husband's.
He called me up at work the day after we met at some party and took me out to lunch. Behind my husband's back secret, smoochy. Our date was at his club. My husband had been to a posh school but was the type to wear scuffed jackets and deny his background. Guy was the opposite type. He had banker's hair tight, wiry, terrier curls that seemed stuck on to his head. He stood stiffly to attention and wore cuff-links and there was a mass of blackheads at the back of his neck you longed to squeeze.
I ate three courses, keeping up with him.
Not fussed about your figure then? he said, and you could tell it was what he thought you said to a woman.
He talked loudly, always looking straight ahead. As his mouth opened, you saw the meat going greyer and softer. Now and then he wiped his mouth or edged his wrist out of the cuff to see the time. The waiters came back and forward, asking how the meal was and topping up the wine. I gave one a look, to show it was all a pretence with Guy.
He told me stuff about his time as an officer in the army he was thick as shit he was a banker now. I didn't know what I was doing there really or what was going on only that he kept this permanent smirk on his face, like we both knew something we weren't owning up to.
You don't like me, he said suddenly, his face flushed with the triumph of working it out.
Oh, I lied, You're OK.
What don't you like? His eyes lit up with accusing greenish flecks.
Well, all right, you're an asshole, I said.
He seemed pleased by this. What else, gorgeous?
You're so fucking uptight, middle-aged.
He closed his eyes. Am I?
You think you're so great because you've got money.
Money. Have I? What else?
Oh come on, he went, There must be something else.
I was liking this game. It was like holding the zapper for the TV, changing channels whether the programme was boring or not, just for the sound of the click.
Back at his hotel, he rolled on a Durex and I let him put it in my mouth. The TV was on with the sound turned down and it was Crufts. I love dogs so I propped a pillow under my head and watched out of the corner of my eye and it took my mind off the stretching of my lips and the sour throbbing as his dick rimmed thickly up and down.
You like doggies? he asked me when he'd come and the little teat at the end was hot and full.
I do, I told him straight, I'd like to breed and show them.
He laughed. My husband and I had a sheepdog, Megan, but she was his really, not mine. I felt no particular love for her and she always went to him in preference to me, even when I was the one who fed her.
I continued to watch the screen, but Guy seemed to want me out. He disposed of the rubber and tucked his prick back in his boxers. A Lurcher was going to win, I just knew it. Then, as he pulled up his trousers, he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out three new, pinkish notes fresh from the bank.
What's this? I said.
For your trouble, Sweetie Pie.
Posh git, I thought, and I was going to throw it back at him but then I thought about being in a shop with it in my hands, what it could buy. Take it, a calm, retail voice whispered to me.
OK, I said, and put it in my bag. He watched me slip it in the money pocket and do up the zip. He saw me, still watching the dogs on the TV and so calmly taking his money and he licked his lips which were already moist.
After that we met now and then, until he got posted abroad. He left a biggish hole which it was tempting to fill, so one day I went down the Garden for the Blind and did.
It was the beginning of lunch, two or three days after the visit from Harris. I'd done the cold table and wiped down and was rolling a quick cigarette at the kitchen bar when Paula said someone was asking for me.
I swigged my soda. Who?
Paula shrugged. A couple of chaps.
There's only the one in.
Reluctantly, I put down the ciggy.
Jack was finishing the duck confit as I went past but we hadn't been told all the specials yet or even done the board. I went out there. A cloud of dust turning over and over in the low sunshine and you could smell the newish carpets. It was the Harris bloke, sitting reading the paper with a youngish and pretty ugly-porky bloke next to him.
He beamed at me like I'd just said something so witty.
I told you I'd bring Gary, he said.
Gary and Amy. Amy and Gary. Gary and Amy and Harris. And Jimmy. Jimmy. Your life clouds over and your heart contracts when you say these names.
Gary was about thirtyish and there was no way round it, he was fat. He was very fat I mean, he had a fatness problem. I'd certainly remember if I'd done him, though I imagine you'd have to root around in all that flesh to find the shrimp that was his dick and then you'd suffocate in all that thickness. Small, dark eyes and brownish skin and black hair. A big head and little angel-boy lips chubby hands, thick thighs that strained at his trousers and a floppy brown cord jacket. With his eyes half-closed he looked like he didn't want to be anywhere at all and especially not here.
I couldn't help it, I was staring at him, he was such an eyeful.
Harris had shaved so his face was smooth and pale all over and he had on new-looking clothes. In fact, he looked like some hard-arse TV personality full of shiny clues and jokes, a bit handsome and a bit cocky.
This is Amy, Harris told him. What a miracle, eh? I still can't believe it. I just walked in and there she was.
So you said, Gary said.
So say hi, the older man told him.
Hi, said Gary.
He barely looked at me, total lack of interest. I tried to judge the relationship, wondering if they were a couple there was a slight, loose, softness about the fat man. But I somehow couldn't see Harris in bed with a bloke. I put down some bread and brought menus, and they fidgeted about a bit and ordered a bottle of Saumur and I went away.
In the kitchen, Karen was writing up the specials. The hair at the back of her neck had been done with a razor made you want to stroke her like a pet.
Well, who was it? said Paula.
No one, I told her, putting the wine order on the spike.
In the back, Mervyn tried to talk to me about his sex problems. Fuck off, I said and I didn't care what he thought or if someone heard me.
You're no fun, he said, heaving open the metal door of the cold store with his shoulder, glancing around for cream buckets. I went back to the bar and got out the wine. I lit my cigarette and took a puff but it went out, so I left it till after I'd dealt with Harris.
I set the ice bucket on a stand, opened the wine with some difficulty and gave him a drop to taste.
You live with him? I said to Gary.
He shrugged. More or less, he went.
Come round to lunch, said Harris.
I don't know I began, but he whipped a piece of paper out of his pocket and wrote on it.
I won't take no for an answer, he said. It's extraordinary, to see you again I believe it was meant to happen. I mean it, Amy. I've found you; I can't just let you slip away.
I looked to see Gary's reaction to all this, but he immediately glanced off in a bored way. His arse took up the space of two persons on the banquette.
Sunday? Harris passed me the paper with the address and a phone number and I stashed it in my apron pocket. One-ish? he said.
I said, Fine. What harm could it do? I hadn't had so much excitement in a long time.
Harris ordered the pan-fried scallops on a bed of noodles and seaweed, the grilled salmon with lime and broad bean sauce to follow, Gary the pepper risotto. Maybe he was vegetarian. You get some fat ones.
Upstairs, Hetty was interviewing for someone to replace Auntie. She lined us up and told us not to mention Auntie's fatal accident, then Jack pointed out that it had already been in the fucking Gazette.
Let's just get the job filled, Hetty snapped, Then we can worry about what's been reported where.
The air was thick with upset and whisperings, but they needn't have worried, none of the applicants seemed to know about Auntie. Hetty brought them round the kitchens one by one and nobody looked up at the top of the stairs in a gruesome way. Some even stood innocently on the actual spot where she'd died and all they asked were questions about rota and sick leave.
In the toilet, I blew my nose and took a good look at my two eyes in the mirror. I'd got the brownish eye pencil too close in and it gave me a shifty look. I tore off a bit of toilet paper and removed it, then licked my lips to make them wet-look.
Then I sat on the closed lid and stared at the piece of paper. The address meant nothing to me, was in a part of the city I'd heard of but never been. The writing was fancy and girlish, with the number seven crossed in a French way. I looked at it a long time and then I put it away and went back out.
Who're your friends? Karen went, when I shouted out the order to Mervyn, making sure not to go anywhere near him.
What friends? I was getting sick of all the fuss. I spooned aïoli into a ramekin to go with a prawns Paula was about to take.
The two guys who keep on looking at you. The big dark one and the thin old one.
I don't know them, I said and went out of my way to yawn.
You have to realise, if you have a baby when you're still a kid yourself, you won't know how to look after it, you'll lose your temper sometimes, you won't be the ideal kind of parent.
Jody had left St Albans at sixteen and hitched around Europe with Justin Appleby. Just like that. Left school, home, parents and all for this guy. I never met Justin, but her whisperings about him live in my head. He had long, matted hair and a laid-back outlook and he took drugs and lived off the state because of his ideals. Even years later, it was Justin this and Justin that. She was crazy about him and her parents had the bad grace to call him an unwashed layabout.
Even now, when I think of Justin being sneered at, his personal hygiene criticised, it tears me up. When she ran away travelling with Justin, her father said he wouldn't leave her any money but she said, What's money? We wanted to travel the world and we wanted a kid.
I close my eyes and I see the two of them on a ferry headed somewhere, her head buried in the meaty darkness of his afghan coat, his black hair apache-sleek and it just about slays me to think that the baby they're dreaming of isn't me.
They argued in Lausanne. He tore the gold plate hoop earring from her lobe and it needed three stitches. He picked up his bedroll and she never saw him again.
The day she got off the ferry at Kapsali, it was raining and four dogs were doing it on the quay, one on top of the other like stacking chairs.
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