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Oct/Nov 2004 spotlight

Asparagus

by Alex Keegan


I will make her a meal: fresh, small-shoot asparagus, simmered gently, a little butter, lime, black pepper. There are two bottles of Sancerre chilling.

I haven't given up hope.

I cleaned while she went into the city, changed sheets, threw open the bedroom windows, drenched the place in a lemon air freshener, vacuumed.

I will not give up hope.

This morning as she dressed—she still dresses in front of me, her long lean body even more achingly perfect now it never opens to me—I sat up in bed. "So you think you'll get it?" I said.

"I hope so," she said. She looked in the mirror and did something to an eyelash.

"Can I make you some tea?" I said, and she said, "No."

I remember when it started. I was the high-flying manager, and she came for an interview. A month later I said, "Buy you lunch?" and three months later I left my wife.

Did I have any honour? I thought I did. We had started running in the evenings. I said, "Wouldn't Dave fancy it?" I meant, "I am falling in love with you. Bring your husband along before it's too late."

It was already too late.

We went to a conference in London. We stopped in Windsor for a meal. She ate asparagus. I talked slowly, talked about what I thought lives should be and what they never were, about her eyes and about the day she came for her interview. She broke away from the table, her eyes brimming. When she came back, she said, "Nobody has ever—" she bit her finger to stop something. "Nobody has spoken."

I drove us home, impossibly slow, trying to stop the night from ending. When we got to her little house, I said, "David is still up."
Next day at lunch I said, "We have to stop these."

"These?" she said.

I said, "The lunches, I can't."

"Why?" she said.

That night, after our run, she said she was leaving David.
I said, "Oh Sally, oh Sally, no wait. Go somewhere to think."
I told her I would wait there. I would ring her at ten, but think, Sally, think. She said she had done enough thinking.

Did I have honour? No, I did not. Did I ring my wife and invent? No, I did not. I sat there, computers buzzing, a photocopier humming, and at ten exactly I rang. She said, "I'm at Susan's. Please come, please come."

There is no need for detail. I am nothing worthy of detail. I needed, I wanted, and I was able, and I had no honour. I simply did not go home. My wife met me on the Saturday (MacDonald's) and she lied to our children, and then she went away, presuming that things would be temporary.

A little house together, buying new CDs, a small TV. Holidays in America, sun, and need we add in the obvious, the older, more experienced man, the fresh and hopeless girl (for at twenty-five, she was a girl) and only slowly rising, the stupendous guilt, the shadows that ran along walls and made us turn, the worse when the sex was good, the love was great, the hopelessness the very point of it all.

Until, at twenty-nine, a woman, she must have seen the future, and in a blink, a sideways glance, she saw with the clarity of a bird of prey. "I need to grow," she said, and I opened a bottle, the cliché perfectly forming around us, only the timing in doubt.

With age comes craft, with experience, trickery. I made it last another year, steering, helping, trading kindnesses for fucking, when once it was simply what we did, what lovers did, music playing, skin-to-skin.

And finally this job, the new role, far away (it always would be far away), one I had not managed to sabotage, and today the clinching interview, the perfect suit, the immaculate shoes, the face to kill for, hair, the eyelash.

She could have used her mobile. She didn't. This is why I know she has the job. I will make her a meal, asparagus. She will come home, and I will say, "You got it, didn't you?" and she will nod, her eyes turning slightly to the right, slightly down. And I will say, "Yes!" a great exclamation, and ask her for a hug, and as she comes towards me she will say, "You're not mad? You're not sad?" and I will answer, well-rehearsed, "Oh Sally, it's what you need, I know it is," and I will tell her to go run a bath, there's some nice Sancerre in the fridge, I'll bring one up. That way she won't lock the bathroom door.

And I will take her the wine, a large glass, and look at her. Her body, her body, and I will say, "Do your back?" and she will say, "Oh, God yes!" and I will start as I always do, at the neck, working down, around, shifting to make my erection less obtrusive. She will moan, as always, and when she leans forward for the second mouthful of Sancerre, she will lift her arms in that certain way inviting my hands to pass under and onto her breasts, and I will soap them gently, and she will say the worst thing a woman can say, "Oh Tom, you are such a nice man."

And I will say, "I've got some baby asparagus, a treat," and she will say, "Are you after my body?" and though I am screaming, I will say, "Only a little."

 

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