When I got back to the room she was whimpering at me to untie her. It was sometime after four in the afternoon. The room was dark, the heavy curtains kept out the remains of the evening light. It must have been quite a while after her two abortions, which, even now, we never talk about. I could just see her crouched body huddled in the corner, the whiteness of her winter flesh illuminated by the light that shone from the passage.
I suppose we had been struggling in our relationship. We never really spoke to each other anymore, and we dished out day-to-day affection with what seemed to me to be little desire. I had suspected for a while that it was only sex that made any sense to her, and, god, by that stage I couldn’t have told you what made sense to me. When I got down and untied her I noticed the radiator wasn’t very hot. And when I looked at the minor scalding on her wrists I realized that it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. She said that she had managed to close the tap with her foot.
‘Jesus Dan, just get me off this fucking thing.’ And then after a pause she said: ‘Where the hell did you suddenly disappear to?’
I didn’t answer that question. She went into the bathroom and ran her arms under cold water, and I put the box of condoms into my top draw. I sat down on the edge of the bed, in the dark. I wasn’t sure what she had meant just then. Jesus, what did that mean ‘where the hell did you suddenly disappear to?’ ‘What took you so long?’ perhaps, but ‘where did you suddenly disappear to’, that question didn’t make any sense. And what made me worried was that she didn’t seem very angry with me. After she came back and turned on the light I noticed that she was in one of her self-satisfied moods. She spoke to me in short jabbing sentences. She normally did this when she was either pleased with something, or when she knew something that I didn’t.
‘Are you alright Daniel?’
‘Go and watch your football.’
‘I’m going to the shop with John. So, go on, down to the pub with you. Kevin’s probably there.’ She was smiling in the mirror while she was putting on her clothes and make up. There was something in her eyes that worried me.
‘When did you organize that?’ I asked.
‘Going to the shop with John.’
‘Right now. He was in the bathroom with me. He’s got that weed for you.’
‘I’ll come with you if you want.’
‘Don’t be stupid Dan. You hate shopping. Go and watch football.’
I didn’t like the idea of them going to the shop together. It made me nervous. Sitting there, watching her, it was like we were at the end of something. Like the dam wall had cracked allowing out only a trickle, but the bursting of the wall now seemed inevitable. It was strange – I hadn’t felt like that in a while. I didn’t want her to go to the shop, not with John anyway.
We had been living with him for about a year. John thought of himself as a bit of a player, and maybe he was. I had grown too tired to care or listen to what ‘model’ he was dating or where he was going for his holidays. Janet had always claimed that he made her flesh crawl, but I was never quite convinced of that, even from the start.
It wasn’t like I hadn’t suspected something before. I had seen them one night, after arriving home, on the couch nestled together, perhaps slightly too close for friendship, watching some reality program that Janet always watched. I didn’t really seem to care at the time, the idea of nestling on the couch with her and watching those reality programs, slightly revolted me. I had been noticing for a while now that an intimacy between the two of them was developing. There were little touches here and there that suggested something that wasn’t entirely platonic. Anyway, at the time it wasn’t something I really wanted to know about – it seemed easier to ignore it. But sitting on the bed, watching her, I suddenly didn’t feel quite the same.
Earlier that Sunday John had been in his room on his computer listening to some drum and bass tracks, or whatever hell music he was into at the time. He never seemed to play much on his decks anymore, although he was constantly talking about them. I was lying in bed with Janet, watching television and smoking joints. Or at least she was watching television, I was paging through a Playstation magazine I had bought a few weeks ago. I had been using it to roll with. I eventually got out of bed at about three in the afternoon with the idea of having some lunch.
‘Dan, what are we going to do today?’
‘Whatever you want. There’s some football on at half three that I wouldn’t mind seeing.’
‘Let’s do something different.’
‘Yeah.’ I was looking for my towel among the dirty clothes on the floor. ‘I mean it’s up to you, but it’s a bit late to get out of London.’
‘What about doing something different in this room?’
‘Uhm. Yeah.’ I said looking at her and then pointing to the fact that I was going to have a shower I opened the door. But I could see out of the corner of my eye that she was wanting something more from me. I had really wanted to watch the football. And I knew what she’d meant by ‘something different’ was to have sex. Sex was something slightly undesirable to me in those days. Janet was attractive, so I’m not sure why it had become such a trial, perhaps it was the way that it was demanded of me, or perhaps we’d just had too much of it. Christ, I can’t really explain it. The only way of enjoying it, was pretending that it was somebody else, which led to the long hours I was spending at work. I didn’t really do anything at work. I just read the news or googled football teams. It somehow seemed better than going home.
‘I’ve had an idea.’ She said when I got back into the room. ‘Why don’t you blind fold me and tie me to the radiator, remember, like we used to do it.’ I dried myself, and began putting on some clothes, and pulled open the heavy curtains.
‘Dan, what are you doing?’
‘Well, if we are going to do this, we need the curtains closed. It needs to be dark.’ She got up and closed the curtains and handed me some objects. Two long socks tied together and an airline sleeping mask. It irritated me slightly that she had planned this. ‘Come on,’ she said, ‘Jesus, don’t look so excited. How many times do you get to do this to me?’ The thought of saying ‘every fucking night’ did occur to me but I went over to the corner of the room and she crouched down and I tied her to the small pipe leading into the wall from the radiator.
‘Do you have any condoms?’ I asked. I didn’t have any and she had missed her pill recently. We were being careful in those days; the two abortions had led to that.
‘You must have some from that multipack we bought from Sainsbury’s last week. Anyway it’s fine it’s been seven days since I missed the pill.’
‘Janet for fuck’s sake we’ve been through this before and it wasn’t fine. Maybe we should do this later. After we’ve been to the shop.’
‘What happened to the ones we bought?’
‘Jesus, well go to the pub down the road and get some from the toilets.’
‘Those machines never have any.’
‘For fuck’s sake Dan just go. I’ve got some pound coins in my purse.’ I looked at her, uncertain as to what to do. If I didn’t at least try and get some condoms I would never hear the end of it.
‘Should I leave you tied up like this?’
‘Yeah, hurry up. Dan!’
‘Put the blind fold on me.’
I walked downstairs. John’s door was open. He was staring at his computer screen and music was pumping out of the two large speakers he had on his desk. He turned it down as I walked passed. ‘What are you up to today?’ he asked.
‘In bed. I’m just going out for a second.’
‘Is she up to anything?’
‘No, I think she just wants to sleep in.’
‘Understandable. You interested in any drugs? Paul is coming round with two grams of charley for me and some weed.’
‘Yeah, I suppose I could do with some weed.’
‘Janet doesn’t want anything, does she?’
‘Anyway, I’ll go up and ask her.’
‘She’s asleep at the moment. I’ll ask her when I get back. I’m only going out for a second.’
The thought did cross my mind to go up and untie her, but I walked out and went down the road to The Ship. Sky Sports was on the big screen and Andy Grey was talking about the game that was just about to start. I stood and listened for a few seconds and then went towards the toilets. As I got to the corner of the bar the person sitting there stuck his hand out and tapped me on the shoulder.
‘Oi, Dan, are you here for the football?’ I turned around. I used to watch quite a bit of football with Kevin in there in those days.
‘Hello Kev, I can’t really, just came in here to go to the toilet.’
‘Come on Dan. It’s been weeks since you were in here. You have to watch it. It’s going to be a fucking brilliant game.’
‘Come on you bollock, you can’t live in that fucking woman’s shadow all the time.’ Kevin had never really liked Janet. He had made his views on her quite clear over the years. ‘Phone her and tell her that you are watching the football. At least the first half.’
‘Sorry mate, I can’t.’ I walked towards the toilet.
‘I am buying you a pint, what do you want?’
‘Kevin don’t be a twat. I have to go home.’
I walked into the toilet and put two pounds into the machine. The coins kept coming out but eventually I got two to stay in and I pulled the lever. The packet of two condoms fell out into the slot and I put them in my pocket.
Kevin was standing at the bar with a pint of Guinness for me when I got out. ‘You have to stay for a pint.’
‘God Kev, you really shouldn’t have. I’ve got to go. Janet’s…’
‘She’s waiting for me.’
‘For fuck’s sake it can’t be that important. Let her wait. Woman love that kind of shit. They say they don’t, but they do. It keeps the relationship alive. A bit of suspense.’
I thought that if I drank the pint quickly it wouldn’t make much of a difference. The game had started. ‘So how are tricks?’
When I started drinking I found that I couldn’t get the Guinness down very quickly, perhaps it was something to do with the fact that I hadn’t eaten since dinner last night.
Tottenham scored in the first five minutes of the game but Arsenal were all over them. Henry went wide twice and Pires was on goal and seemed to be brought down in the box, but the referee played on. Kevin was talking to me about his plans to travel to South America, telling me that I should come with him.
‘What’s the time?’ I said realizing that I had been there too long. I had kind of lost track of how long it had been. From the angle we were sitting at I couldn’t see the clock on the television.
‘Four. You’d better not be thinking of going now, Arsenal are about to score it’s going to happen any second.’
I had recently changed the radiators to come on at four, now that the worst of winter was over. Henry scored. I finished my drink and bought Kevin another and left. He almost tried to physically restrain me from leaving but I got out and went home to untie Janet.
Janet came back alone from the shop. John had apparently gone off to see some of his mates. She seemed a little pissed off about something but she didn’t seem annoyed with me in particular. I was playing Playstation down in the lounge when she came and stood at the door, drinking a cup of tea. ‘Why did you leave me there for so long?’
‘No, I quite enjoyed it for a while.’ She laughed. ‘Until the central heating came on and you weren’t there.’
‘As I said, I’m sorry. I forgot it came on at four.’
The inconsistency of what she was saying and the actual events was making me think. The thought that John might have gone into the room and had sex with her had occurred to me several times. I had imagined that possibility while I was at the pub buying the condoms, although I didn’t seem to care very much about it at the time. The thought that she knew it was John and wanted him, kept entering my head. I’d had a lot of thoughts while they were at the shop together.
Perhaps she didn’t know it was John. Perhaps she suspected it was John and didn’t care. Perhaps she was goading me with this infidelity and trying to get me to react to it. If she didn’t know it was John, could I keep pretending that it was me? If she did know and she was baiting me to get a reaction, how long could I stand it? If she knew it was John, enjoyed it, and now felt guilty, she could exonerate herself from any blame by saying that she thought it was me. Or was she planting these ideas to get back at me for leaving her there, tied to the radiator? I couldn’t tell what line she was playing, if, in fact, she was playing any line at all.
Whatever it was, even if nothing had happened, I knew she now had a stick to beat me with for the rest of my life. Or perhaps it was her way of getting out of our relationship. What would she tell her friends? And, fuck, what would I do with John? Kill him? Thank him? Ignore him? I wanted to believe that she had fallen asleep and dreamt that I’d been there at some point. That was the thought that I was clinging to, but it was being washed over by the others.
The idea of John having sex with her was now always there. I didn’t want to ask her anything about it, the thought of it made me feel sick. She was still standing there looking at me, I could feel it, although I was trying to concentrate on FIFA 2004. Perhaps she was waiting for me to break. I wanted her to go away, to get out of the lounge, to stop looking at me. She used to play games at the beginning. She was always trying to make me jealous. Perhaps we had been in some kind of game for a while. Perhaps the difference was, now she was winning.
I smoked a few more joints and then went to bed. She’d been working in the study and she didn’t come in till much later. And when she did, she got into bed and moved towards me with confusing affection. ‘I take it you don’t have any condoms?’
‘No, I’ve got some.’ I said.
I lay there thinking for a while. Was she acknowledging that we hadn’t had sex. that she accepted the fact that I had failed to get the condoms, or that John had had sex with her twice?
‘God, I think I’m too tired anyway,’ she said kissing my ear.
I couldn’t really get to sleep that night. I got up and watched some television in the lounge. I drank a fair amount of whiskey and carried on smoking joints until I finally passed out. I heard John come in at some point, but he went straight to his room. When I woke up on the couch the next morning Janet had already left for Brussels. She was away with her work for the next week.
I didn’t concentrate much at work. Instead I thought of only one thing. Say if he hadn’t used a condom and she got pregnant with his child. Say if he had an STD and we all got it. Say if she thought it was me and it came out one day that I was at the pub while John raped her twice without her knowing. Say if none of these things had happened. These thoughts, once they had reached their worse possible outcome in my head, would just go around and around. I couldn’t bare it. And when I went to bed I had to close my eyes to the vision of John having sex with Janet.
I sent her four or five emails that week. We never really phoned each other when she was away. She only sent me one, it just said ‘Brussels is a fucking bugger.’
She got in late Friday evening. I had been lying in bed, waiting for the front door to open. She seemed to take an age downstairs once she got home, banging and bumping into things. I lay there waiting for her to come upstairs. I had questions.
‘God, I’m so fucking tired,’ she said when she finally got into the room. ‘Brussels was a fucking nightmare.’ She sat down on the bed and started taking off her boots. I stretched out and felt her back. I slipped my other hand under her shirt and pulled her towards me.