July 23, 2011 § 17 Comments
To continue the theme of Least Expecting It, I just want to give you an example.
Last December there was a day when the snow came down in great dollops so everywhere looked like the top of a tiramisu without the chocolate sprinkles.
The children and I had been out all morning, only just managed to get home, and were hunkering down. I was making Bolognese. Telephone rang.
It was Toby, as in my happily-married-with-four-super-achieving-children friends Emma and Toby, asking for a favour. His friend Ben had been driving from what should have been 45 minutes away but it had taken him seven hours and he was now stuck round the corner in my neighbourhood. He was on his way back home to the big city but the snow was too much, could I put him up for the night?
I had “met” Ben once before, eighteen months earlier. Emma had set her sights on him for me and told me all about him. His gorgeous, beautiful, brilliant, charismatic, perfect (what else?) wife had died a while ago; he had five children and lived in a huge house and was in a groovy, well-paid job and was very successful and a sweetheart. When Emma introduced me to him at her party, he had looked me up and down as might a lizard, muttered something along the lines of “just off” and slithered away into the night. I thought at the time, Tosser. On reflection, I became more generous in my assessment and gave him the benefit of the doubt: perhaps he’d just been flustered and in a hurry. Some months later Emma told me he had a girlfriend a few years younger than me – of course – and the matter that had never been opened, was now not only closed, it was deceased.
Twenty minutes after Toby’s call, Ben appeared with a bottle of wine and some smoked salmon. Children otherwise engaged upstairs, we began chatting. Within fifteen minutes I was being regaled with the wife’s death bed scene. His love for her radiated off him like the orange Ready-Brek warmth did from the kids in those TV ads of yesteryear. I was not spared any details and he told me all about how wonderful she was, he was, his children were, the lot. Touching.
Then he told me he had had a relationship with someone (the girlfriend whom Emma had referred to) but had left her. In my kitchen, within 45 minutes of meeting this complete stranger, I had a complete picture of his wife, his girlfriend, his psyche and his emotions. I listened partly insulted that I was just a listener who was being made to jolly well listen but who could never live up to his wife and family, better not get any ideas; partly flattered that he wanted to tell me so much that was so intimate so quickly – I think I have that effect on people – even if such intimacy was so one-sided that it precluded almost any questions he might have rustled up about me.
I’d been asked to a dinner party that night of close friends; seven couples – and me (friends know me well enough not even to try to find a spare man – they’ve given up the ghost: there are none, not even SFARs on a snowy night in December). It seemed too churlish to make Ben do the babysitting, and I liked him well enough, so I took him along. We both threw ourselves into the spirit of the thing. Asked how we knew each other, we just said snow. My girlfriends gave me looks as if to say, “See! Fate! When you were Least Expecting It.”
We walked home through the mascarpone. The streets were up to their necks in it, and silent. I relished that thing, long forgotten, of having someone there with whom to talk about the evening, with whom to analyse it, to make observations and to reflect. I used to love that when I was married but fear, too brazen then, I took it for granted. It’s only now, with hindsight, I recognise such joys of marriage are in fact golden – ones that are so seemingly banal at the time that one doesn’t even register them at all, let alone as joys. (I have lists of them and urgently try telling them to my rather bemused married friends.) The pleasure I felt at participating in a debrief again, even with a virtual stranger, was considerable.
Of course, the scene was weighed down with the romance of every cheesy rom-com movie since the beginning of time, yet there was no romance. Probably because the romance to speak of was embedded in the snow, but wasn’t there in reality, between Ben and myself, if you get my meaning, I dared to slip my arm through his as we walked home.
He was the very manifestation of Least Expecting It – he had been stuck in my unremarkable neighbourhood, I had been minding my own business with Bolognese in the privacy of my own house, and we were both single, and snow was everywhere – that alone meant I should have bagged him into my bed.
It was past one in the morning. We walked through my front door and the expectation of Least Expecting It was piled up between us like the snow outside had been, practically up to our necks.
He lent forward to kiss me.
But did we?
(To Be Continued…)