This week, I am a man with a sore eye.
That isn’t to say I don’t have other defining characteristics; it’s just when you have conjunctivitis, you don’t think about them. You just think about your sore eye.
“Oh, come on Jules! Three months without it, man! What’s the matter with you?”
I should explain my relationship with Jorges is not exactly deep – we aren’t lifelong friends, or anything. ‘Car share’ about covers the extent of our friendship, and even that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t discovered him kicking his broken-down vehicle one evening in the works car park.
“Do you need a lift?” I asked. I was feeling charitable.
It all started there.
“Three months isn’t that long.” I protest. “Anyway, have you seen the state of my eye? I look like the Phantom of the Opera. No-one’s going to fancy me like this.”
“No, mate! Mel isn’t like that. She can see deeper than a few red veins. Anyway, you two are made for each other!”
These are the consequences of offering a lift to a stranger. You get into conversations, you confess things about your history; you let a little bit of the inside of you out; all because you can’t just sit in a traffic queue in silence for half an hour. Sharing has to take place.
Time to stop sharing. “No.” I say.
You have to be resolute at times like these. You have to draw a line in the…whatever it is.
Otherwise you end up like me on Friday night, facing this totally dazzling, effervescent female across a table in Hogan’s Bar with a stupefied smile on your face because she is absolutely, totally a knockout.
“Jorges told me you broke up with your wife?” Her words flow like liquid gold into the cast – ingots for my memory to cherish. “That’s so sad! Were you very much in love with her?”
She’s not afraid of the personal approach. I make my red eye look as pensive as possible. “I suppose I was – perhaps I still am, in a manner of speaking.” I say, preferring dishonesty to ingratiation. ‘I hate the bitch’. That wouldn’t do at all. “But I have to move on.”
She nods – she has this way of playing with her hair – her ash-blonde star-burst of hair that knows no rules but its own. “Three months is a long time.” She touches my hand with her fingertips.
What is this obsession with three months?
We have a nice evening, I won’t deny that – and I am given to understatement. When it’s time to go home I am reluctant to leave it there, and I say so; and she smiles and kisses me chastely: “Never on a first date?”
So I have to wait until the second date. A whole twenty-four hours relying upon just my imagination.
On reflexion, I should have paid more attention to the bag. A woman going out to dinner on a Saturday night doesn’t carry a bag of those ample proportions unless she has a sense of commitment – unless she is confident she will be spending a while away from home. By breakfast time on Sunday morning that bag has already produced a nightdress we didn’t bother with, a change of clothing, a toothbrush and several necessary cosmetics. After breakfast, when I suggest a walk in the park, it reveals one more surprise. A support collar which Mel straps around her neck.
“I’m being watched.” She tells me. She doesn’t elaborate.
We’re sitting on a bench at the top of the hill near the old bandstand which was fenced off after last April when the Salvation Army Band fell through the floor, gazing out across the town, our eyes dewy with new love.
“You’re lucky you’ve got the house.” She says. “Your wife running off like that.”
Apparently I have let slip more detail than I thought whilst car sharing with Jorges.
“He’s got a small mansion, the new bloke.” I say. “She won’t want for anything.”
“So you haven’t lost too much?”
“No kids. So, no, I don’t think so. We’re still working things out.”
By this time I’m getting a bit bored with listening to the birds and I’m feeling passionate. But it’s a bit awkward trying to snog a woman in a neck restraint: there’s this sort of under-or-over thing going on and there’s no rotation, if you see what I mean. In the end I give up.
“Let’s walk back.” I say.
Hand in hand, we stroll back through the park. “So the house is all yours?” She says.
“Unencumbered.” Actually, there I am gilding a mite; there is a small mortgage, but it’s only two hundred K and I manage that without trouble as long as I get plenty of overtime.
“Still,, it’s insured?” She says, and I think: ‘What a curious question’. “And that terrible old car – that’s yours, too?”
“It is. And what’s wrong with it?” I bridle – a few nasty little greenfly crawl across the rose-tints. I’m proud of my old banger.
“Jorges said it isn’t exactly comfortable. I’m afraid I agree with him darling. It is a bit rubbish, isn’t it?”
Darling! She called me ‘darling’. You can be sure a woman’s really into you when she uses a word like that, especially when you have one red eye. The ground gets all spongy beneath my feet and before I know it I’m walking on the soft stuff.
“Well, maybe.” I admit.
“Not maybe; definitely.” She affirms. “Anyway, I ought to get back. I’m due round my mother’s at two. Drive me home?”
“Of course, If you don’t mind riding in my rubbish car.” I say, giving her a peek at my bruised ego.
So Melissa’s in my car, and her bag is on the back seat, and I’m wondering why she’s pulled the sun visor down, apparently to study herself in the vanity mirror on the back, because she’s still wearing the neck support and it doesn’t do anything for those porcelain good looks. I don’t comment.
“Let’s drive around a bit!”
“I thought you had to get back?”
“I do, but it’s not urgent. Mum, you know, she won’t mind if I’m a bit late? It’s such a nice day.”
We have the window open, listening to the traffic as we drive through the city. She smiles, touching my hand, playing with my fingers on the gear lever. I feel renewed, as if I’ve shed a dozen years by just sitting beside her, and I’m a boy again with all the commitments and the malice of my spoiled past wiped away. I’m proud to be in the company of this flaxen-haired beauty with her large, deep blue eyes and, yes, her big surgical collar about her neck.
We’re stopping at traffic lights. A gleaming Aston Martin has been following us for a few blocks now, and it would normally spark feelings of envy but not today. Today I have found love.
Melissa’s hand is on mine. My hand is on the gear lever. Suddenly, and with surprising strength, Melissa has shifted us into reverse. Her foot kicks my leg firmly off the clutch. In my surprise I press down on the accelerator with the other foot. We shoot backwards. Metal meets superior steel with a gut-wrenching crunch. Melissa screams. Melissa does not, will not stop screaming, which, with the window open, certainly impresses passersby.
A man’s elegantly dressed head and shoulders appear at my window. “What on earth were you doing?” The outraged driver of the Aston Martin demands. Melissa gives me no chance to respond.
“What were we doing? What were WE DOING? You drove into us, you BASTARD! Oh, god, my neck. I’ve already bloody nearly broken it, now it’s worse.” She’s in tears now, serious tears. They’re making her collar all wet. “My career, I’m going to miss another shoot. Oh, Christ, what am I going to do? It’s all over. ALL OVER!”
At this last plaintive protest I believe I may hear a subdued ripple of applause. We’re drawing quite a crowd.
Now I would like to make a contribution at this point, but I am given no chance. Beauty is in distress and I have already become invisible. While her sports car driving Sir Galahad is rushing around the car to be at her side, Melissa makes time between screams to glare at me. “Hold your neck and look injured. This one’s got to be worth ten grand!”
I could elaborate further, but I think you get the picture. It appears that when she picked out the Aston Martin in her vanity mirror, Melissa chose astutely, because her screams, interspersed with the information that she was a top model who would lose thousands because of her injuries, and her repeated demands first for an ambulance, then the police, galvanised our new acquaintance (I won’t call him a friend) into becoming very attentive indeed. So attentive that he insisted upon driving her to his preferred private clinic himself in his still-driveable car. I could only look on helplessly as Melissa left my life, draped in the arms of her new white knight, who seemed oddly reluctant to show his face. Then I ‘phoned the AA.
On Monday, Jorge turned up to drive me to work, which was fortunate, considering I now had no transport.
“I heard.” He told me.
“Funny, I thought you would.” I told him. “You’ve seen Melissa then. Poor girl must be in a mess.”
“Melissa? Nah. Fit as a fiddle, mate. Don’t worry. It’ll all work out – sports car man’s looking after her, and you too, if we’ve got it right. You’ll get a better car out of it, at least. I’m guessing you’ll be getting a call, so keep stum for a bit. If you have to claim on your insurance, be sure to mention the neck injury. That’s worth a few thou.”
“But her modelling work…”
Jorge gave me an old fashioned look. “Modelling work? Melissa? She pulled that one, did she? No, she’s no model; though I get her the odd bit of glamour work on the side.”
“You ‘get her’ – what do you mean?”
“Didn’t I say? I’m her agent, mate. She’s a very clever girl, is Melissa. Has a natural gift. ‘Don’t worry, Jorgs’, she says to me. See, that move she pulled on Sunday, that could so easily have gone wrong, couldn’t it? But she has this knack of picking out the ones with something to hide. We may never find out what it was, but Aston Martin guy had some reason to keep things quiet, and she knew it. She could see it in his eyes, just by looking at him through a mirror. Now, is that talent, or what?”
We are driving into the works car park. Jorge says: “Melissa was telling me about your house. She reckons you’re struggling with the old mortgage a bit, doesn’t she? Thought so, she’s usually right. She’s booked until next month, but she reckons you might like to invite her to a fireworks party? I know a place you can get some good Chinese rockets and stuff.”