The first time he comes over, take him straight to the bedroom. He has to know this from the beginning. You’re not a sofa by the television, or an entertaining space, and you’re not a kitchen. You’re only a bedroom, he has a wife for those other things.
The sex will be good, because it’s temporary. He will do things to you that he has been thinking about doing for months, since he first saw you in the big Pret off Shaftesbury Avenue and offered to pay for your tea. He’ll hike you up against the wall, fuck you with all your clothes on. He will circle a finger around your thighs but he won’t touch you until you say Please. He will ask you to do things to him. He will lead your head to his crotch and it will be vulnerable, for him to beg like this, for him to admit that he can’t go without it.
There will be an after. Not a long one, obviously, he won’t stay over. But he’ll stay for a while, with your head on his chest, stroking the inside of your arm. You can ask him things then, little things. You can ask him her name.
Marion, he’ll say. It will make it better, somehow, to be able to name her. You shouldn’t ask what she looks like, or let him tell you what she likes in bed.
He’ll have your number saved in his phone with an inconspicuous name. Raymond’s Plumbing, something like that. Don’t think too long about it, about your name erased like that. Make it into a game. Change his contact details to something girly, Nina Mani Pedi. Nina was the name of a rabbit he had as a child, she was white with blue eyes and when she got too big his mother made him give her away. It might make him sad, to see her name there as his alias. It’s kind of nice, when he’s sad. It means you’re not the only one.
Start exercising again. Take up yoga, or pilates, so that when you tell him about it he can picture you in a sports bra and tight leggings, reaching into a stretch, the taut tone of your calves. Tell him you’re doing these things even if you’re at home unclogging the drains or taking banana peels to the community compost heap. When he asks to see you, tell him you have a spinning class. Don’t let him take your free time for granted. You’re an oasis. Remember that.
He’ll take you to restaurants but they won’t be nice ones. Two floor Leicester Square chains with their menus glaring out on screens up front. The first time you go he will sit down opposite and ask you what your name is. At first you’ll frown at him, worried that he’s serious. He will tell you he is Raymond, that he saw you sitting there and just had to come over.
Tell him your name is Nina. Shake hands. This is your new game, a public game that only the two of you know you’re playing. Commit to it even more than he does. Frown deeply when he slips and reveals a detail he shouldn’t know, or when his stories conflict. Make this your game, your secret, make sure his concealments are on your terms. When you get home on these nights the sex will be more passionate, painful almost. He’ll cry out when he comes, and after he’ll hold your face. It will be because you did something right. Do things right as often as you can.
Visit your sister more. You’re going to want to see her less, with her gaggle of unkempt toddlers, the tea towel over her shoulder, her smug exhaustion. Avoid her questions about your dating life, or when you’re thinking of settling down. Don’t let on about Raymond. Don’t look your brother in law in the eye. Try not to wonder, or to glance down at his wedding band. Has he ever taken it off? Do they all?
Spend a day with the children, help them bake cookies and make blotchy watercolour panoramas. Miss them even when you’re with them. In the car on the way home decide to end it with Raymond. You’re wasting your time on him.
You know you’re not going to, but you have to keep deciding that you should.
He’ll want to come inside you. You knew he’d want to when you told him about the coil, all men do. Don’t think about your sister then, or her kids, her litter-pile of a living room and the wiry greys growing out the side of her head, or how much you want it all.
He’ll invite you on his work weekends. He’ll say the only way he can bear it is if he knows you’re upstairs, waiting for him. There will be a lot of waiting. He’ll be in conferences all day or at lunch with Fat Pam and her rabbit photos. He’ll leave things for you to do, sudoku puzzles, the self help books he swears helped launch his career. Open the books wide until there are creases in the spines. Then discard them.
Write. It’s the perfect opportunity, there’s no one to distract you, nowhere else to go except the hotel business centre with its MDF walls and the cork dividers between the desktops. Sit with your fingers on the keyboard. It used to be easy, to just make things up. You can do it now, if you could just remember how you started. You can just create something. You can. Can’t you?
Give up and go back to your room. Open a sudoku book.
Don’t be sad when he gets back. He didn’t bring you here to see you sad.
He will fuck you in the mornings. Morning fucking is different to evening fucking, where everything is sexy and deliberate. There’s no time for tooth brushing or deodorising, to change into silky lingerie. A morning fuck is rough, irresistible. He’s less guarded in the morning, less worn down by the day. There’s something in him when he comes, contentment, real peace. It’s like living inside a good dream.
You will think about the morning fucks while you wait for him to call. But he won’t call.
Go to yoga. And spin. And pilates. Catch up on your work emails, clean your bathroom. Check every now and then to see if he’s online, but even when he is don’t text him. There will be a plummeting feeling when he goes offline again, not even having typed. Do something else when this feeling comes, hoover, trim your nails.
Unblock Evan on Facebook. It’s what you did when you were single, which maybe you now are again. He’s heavier now, there are puffy rings under his eyes that he didn’t have when you were seventeen. There are photos of his house but none of the weed farm he was always talking about, in a shed in his garden with full spectrum lightbulbs. You’ll wonder if it exists.
It won’t be shocking to come across his wife. You always imagined he’d get one eventually. She’s probably stocky, like the actors in action films he used to fancy, with dark eyelashes. She probably looks a bit like you.
You won’t be prepared for the kid.
Shut the page down, open a blank document. Try to write something, to distract yourself. Watch the cursor blink. You can tell yourself that you’ll go back to block Evan later, but you won’t.
Go to HIIT class, do more spinning. When you’re spinning you’re distracted from Evan and Raymond and your empty WhatsApp chats, your sister and her stretch marks, your brother in law and his weekend trips to Jersey. Spinning is better than writing. It’s active and exhausting and you don’t have to think while you’re doing it.
One night they’ll cancel barre because the instructor has a cold. That night you’ll text Evan.
He’ll text back right away.
Talking to Evan will help plug the Raymond hole. You’ll ask if he’s married now, even though you already know. He’ll send you a picture of his family and you’ll call his son an angel, or a darling or something, to prove you don’t hate him.
When he asks about work, make it sound more glamorous than it is. The arts, you know. He’ll say he always knew you’d end up somewhere like that. You were so creative. He won’t mention the stories you wrote him but you’re both thinking about them, twee little love stories, overwrought with clumsy, pretentious metaphors. Don’t tell him it’s just an HR job, that they don’t let you near the creative stuff.
He’ll invite you for a coffee. You’ll say, How about a drink.
Only now, inevitably, will you hear from Raymond. His number will come up on your phone, Nina Mani Pedi, with the smooth assumption, See you later? It won’t be an apology. It never is. And you can text back, as blithely as he would, With a friend. Maybe next time x.
Wear something humble for Evan, a dress with flowers, not one of the booby ones. Meet him in a pub that does food, eat some fish and chips, order the kind of drink you only have one of, a glass of wine, a half pint. Chatter to him about his family, about what he’s doing now.
I’m in theatre PR. I’m surprised we haven’t come across each other.
Ask him for another drink after you finish your meal. Offer him a smoke. He has that look about him, like he’s been jonesing for a cigarette since 2011 when his kid was born and his wife told him he had to start looking after himself.
If there’s a bench outside the pub, sit there, or lean against a wall. Roll the cigarette yourself. He’ll probably be looking at you. It’s OK for him to look. You look almost the same as when he knew you, you’ve worked hard on it, moisturised skin, the gym, flattering waistlines. There’s been something new recently, a hardness in the corner of your mouth, but he won’t notice it now in the fading lamplight, two drinks in him and a fag between you.
He looks so different. It’s not just the weight, it’s the weariness, the adultness of him. He’s got a practical jacket on, the kind with a built in gilet, and underneath he’s wearing cashmere, cashmere, a far cry from the plaid shirts the two of you used to share, the concert tees you’d buy in vintage shops, the jeans you’d rip and acid wash and rub with scouring brushes until they were tattered and near-unwearable.
Tell him, if he asks what you’re thinking. Tell him, You’re such a man.
He’ll say, And you’re a woman.
Pretend like it’s true.
Check your messages in the bathroom, with your tights round your ankles. He won’t be online, of course he won’t. Nina Mani Pedi, off somewhere else, with his wedding ring on, laughing like you don’t exist.
Take Evan home and fuck him. He’ll pretend he doesn’t want to but he does, that’s why he came, gasping for the thing he can’t get from his wife. Suck his dick, touch his balls, stick your tongue in his ear when he comes. There will be fear in his eyes but that’s the whole point. He hasn’t felt fear in so long. It’s the only thing you can give him.
When he leaves delete his number, block him on Facebook. Then delete your own Facebook, just to be sure.
Call in sick the next day and go for a walk.
Walk up to the heath, into the leafy winter marshland. Don’t look down at your feet. Look up, at the trees, feel them towering over you, the weight of them. When you were a little girl you used to look at the trees like this. You used to think it was sad, that once there were trees everywhere and now there are only trees where people allow them to grow. As a girl you felt distant about it but now you feel something more intimate, an urgent kinship. Both of you are endangered species.
Hug one. You’ve seen it on Instagram, and there’s no one around so who cares. Wrap your arms around the trunk, feel the ancient roughness through your sleeves. It is so different from a man’s roughness. Sometimes men make you feel invisible. Trees make you feel insignificant. It’s a different thing, more gentle. Like looking at a full moon.
When you come back he’ll have texted. I miss you.
And despite yourself, your stomach will relax.
You’ll text back, Come over.
And it will start again, like always.