An expensive rooftop bar far above Marble Arch, glittering with Moet flutes, Arab businessmen smiling like wolves, gold bracelets flashing in electric candlelight. Snow drifts from a black sky and settles on the glass. I watch the silent passage of tail lights in Park Lane far below. A crooner plays Elton John on the piano.
I hear myself saying to Anna all those things my own wife has longed for me to say, that I have only said until now under duress, morsels of love grudgingly prised from a sticky heart.
The reason I can open up to Anna and not my wife is not clear; I like a rational explanation for everything, and when it is not apparent I invent one. Only a man who has experienced that same breathlessness with a particular woman might understand both my certainty and my confusion; for others it will sound merely fanciful.
She starts to talk again about Paul.
“I love that you open car doors for me,” she says. Paul would never think of doing that, or holding my coat for me. I can be at a party all night and he never checks to see if I have a drink. We both work all day, but I’m the one that always cooks tea.
It is unfathomable to me that she has endured this neglect for so long. To me, she is everything a man could ever want.
“Listen to me,” she says. “What a whiner.”
“It isn’t whining.”
Why should a woman apologise for wanting to be treated as something to be valued? Why this constant guilt over what she needs and craves?
“Sometimes I don’t think we have anything in common any more,” Anna says.
“Then why do you stay with him?”
You think because of what she says that she is tired of him and wants to leave.
“He’s all I’ve ever known,” she says.
“That’s not a reason. Leave him, Anna.”
A wan smile.
“Sometimes I see lovers in the street and how much in love they are and I wonder why I can’t be like them. You have shown me what real love can be like.”
“You can change this,” I say.
She sips her drink and looks away.
“I made love to you more in a few weekends than in a whole year with him.”
“You deserve so much more.”
I feel safe in this role, as her mentor, the one who has been there and knows his way around a failed relationship. Like an actor in a long-running play, I can speak any line for any character on cue and without thinking.
“My whole family think I’m perfect, she says. I’d like to be a little wicked, just once. I’m sick of being everyone’s angel.”
“I like you wicked.”
There is a beat when we look at each other. Her eyes are liquid.
“Well, mister,” she whispers, “what are we going to do?”
She has opened the possibility of talking about the future. But just then the waitress leans in to ask if we want more champagne and Anna’s question is left unanswered.
The pianist calls us over at the end of the set, asks if we are on our honeymoon, the way we look at each other, he says, it’s like there’s no one else in the room.
For me it is like there is no one else in London. Next day, under the lowering skies of Camden Town, we buy mulled wines and wander through the techno fashion stores in the old factory tunnels, all brown brick and punks and Middle Eastern wide boys with East London accents.
In the afternoon we make love in my room as a cold wind buffets the glazed windows.
“Do I exhaust you?” she whispers, “and gives me that crazy smile, putting her head adorably to one side.”
She says she cannot imagine ever not talking to me, hopes we will always be in some way connected. She is writing the last lines before we have even finished the first chapter.
Another man would have made it an affair and nothing else. Another man would have been more ruthless, more cynical.
The naked husband falls in love.
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