A Bit on the Side
From the Selected Stories
‘They suit you,’ he said. ‘Your Spanish shoes.’
They’d bought them, together, two days ago. She’d asked and the girl had said they were Spanish. He’d meant to say they suited her then, but the bagwoman who was usually in Chiltern Street at that time had shuffled by and he’d had to grope in his pocket for her twenty pence.
‘They’re comfortable,’ she said. ‘Surprisingly so.’
‘You thought they mightn’t be.’
‘Yes. I did.’
It was here, at this same table, that she had broken the news of her divorce, not doing so – not even intimating her divorce – until her marriage’s undoing was absolute. Her quiet divorce, she had called it, and didn’t repeat her husband’s protest when the only reason she had offered him was that their marriage had fallen apart. ‘No, there is no one else,’ she had deftly prevaricated, and hadn’t passed that on either. ‘I would have done it anyway,’ she had insisted in the café, though knowing that she might not have. She was happier, she had insisted, too. She felt uncluttered, a burden of duty and restriction lifted from her. She’d wanted that.
‘Wire gauze, I suppose,’ he said, the subject now a cat that was a nuisance, coming in the bedroom windows of his house.
Although such domestic details were sometimes touched upon – his house, his garden, the neighborhood of Dollis Hill – his family remained mysterious, never described or spoken of. Since the divorce, he had visited the flat her husband had moved out of, completing small tasks for her, a way of being involved in another part of her life. But her flat never seemed quite right, so used had they become to their love affair conducted elsewhere and differently.
He paid and left a tip. He picked up his old, scuffed briefcase from where he’d leant it against a leg of their table, then held her coat for her. Outside, the sun was just becoming warm. She took his arm as they turned from Marylebone High Street into George Street. These streets and others like them were where their love affair belonged, its places – more intimately – the Japanese café and the Paddington Street Gardens, the picture gallery, the Running Footman. This part of London felt like home to both of them, although her flat was miles away, and Dollis Hill further still.
They walked on now, past the grey bulk of the Catholic church, into Manchester Square, Fitzhardinge Street, then to her bus stop. Lightly they embraced when the bus came. She waved when she was safely on it.
WALKING BACK THE WAY THEY'D COME, he didn’t hurry, his battered briefcase light in his right hand, containing only his lunchtime sandwiches. He passed the picture gallery again, scaffolding ugly on its façade. A porter was polishing the brass of the hotel doors, people were leaving the church.
Still slowly, he made his way to Dorset Street, where his office was. When she’d worked there, too, everyone had suspected and then known – but not that sometimes in the early morning, far earlier than this, they had crept together up the narrow stairs, through a dampish smell before the air began to circulate in the warren that partitions created. The wastepaper basket had usually been cleared the night before, perfunctory hovering had taken place; a tragedy it always was if the cleaners had decided to come in the morning instead and still were there.
- The New York Times questions Ireland’s highly-p
- Gay wedding cakes latest target of anti-gay...
- Spanish judge slams Ryanair’s sexist air...
- Racist incidents in Ireland up by 85 percent...
- Bah! Humbug! The ten worst things about Christm
- No Irish prosecution for man named as world’s...
- Offensive NFL sign outside restaurant just...
- Ireland crowned “Top Tourist Destination”...
- An open letter in strong defence of capitalism.
- Dublin cops foil hit on drug kingpin John...