In his flat
Its checkmate Lucy.
Johan’s face, JJ as he is known looks serious. The chess set is a small travel one. A friend from Kerala bought it. It was very kind of her, he remarks.
He tells a tale of when his Father paid a bribe so that he would get onto the chess team at school, but he didn’t go along with it. Lucy, lost in thought doesn’t follow the gist of the story and she sees a slight if not annoyance then pity on J’s face. He is pouring her another glass of white wine while she rearranges the chess board, asking him which colour he would like to be. He looks at her as if she might be a little bit special.
Then he breaks into one of his killer charm school grins. He begs Lucy not to leave so soon, when she in a while grabs her leather Jacket and keys ready to go. Nails painted dark pink to match her lips. .
‘You don’t have to go home, Just because I kissed you’.
The first morning he said this
Śubha prabhāta mērī rānī, Jaba tuma yahām̐ hō tuma rānī hō
Good morning my queen, when you are here in this house you are the queen
Is what it means, she thinks it is a bit like su casa mi casa but with hindsight could see it meant more. He spoke so softly. He got down on one knee to say that to her.
For once she didn’t look so bad in the morning, she felt relieved and secure. Also work had let her have a few days off, less stock taking and protected form the bitchy manager she always felt powered up after a few days. What with the broken engagement it helped her to have time to think and she looked less tired for it. The effects of crying might have counteracted any benefits of sleeping a little more though. She had gotten over the worst of it fairly swiftly, but for days she would wake up and Just cry at seven am, all day. All day and night. There was no comfort from the loss of the man she would marry. The only respite came from some Moroccan music , so very sad, wordless and a howl almost. The howling vibrato sounded the same as she, fleet of foot tapping away slowly from her memories day by day. He was having a baby with another woman. She had told her friend Flick, something similar happened to her too. She understood. Lucy was numb for a long time. When JJ got on one knee and said she ruled in his house, his quiffy hair complementing him, as she frequently did both openly and in her head, mending nearly happened.
Johan’s gentleness and refined behaviour made her re think the bad impression she had formed of some corporate types she had met before.
Lucy had told at least three people where she was to be on the safe side. She did feel really safe here with him, kissing and playing chess. She’d been reading a book that told her that to make him fall in love you shouldn’t talk to much or spend too much time showing him how you slurp your coffee. Not sure what my feminist aunt would think of that one, turning over the pages fast she looks at the other tips. Do not stay on the phone for more than ten minutes, buy an egg timer for difficult cases Chatterboxes. how god i might be chatting too much.
he is looking a bit sad though.
he is sitting with his back to her, the light is almost a half light. There is a little reading light on his desk covered in papers. All of his things are arranged really neatly, something very admirable when thinking about her own room. Stuff everywhere her brother would say. Shoes, lipsticks and Jewellery dropped everywhere. An utter bombsite. Wish I was a bombshell at times like these.
‘ Lucy, what’s your favourite song ?’, J is staring at Lucy.
‘ What, ever’?
Just tell me your favourite song, have you heard of Pandora radio?
It’s hard. Lucy desperately tries not to think of any of the songs she loved to listen to with her ex boyfriend who broke her heart. They’d been together for ten years.
Elvis, is always a winner, do you have suspicious minds she wonders whether to say this….
Um, can you play me some Muse, are you into that?
‘ No Lucy, it’s not my music it’s s radio, watch I’ll show you. ‘
she hadn’t heard of it. Feeling old, she gave up and asked him for guilty pleasures like ABBA, girls aloud or Paolo Nuttini. For some reason neither of the latter two were on there. ABBA was and they bopped to dancing queen, pissed in fairness by this point.
Johan reminded her a bit of a darker skinned Paolo Nuttinni, prince of men she giggled to herself that’s what her and her pal from the gym Flick called him. He was a lot younger than either of them more so Flick than Lucy. Flick would be fifty fairly soon, although she looked at least a decade younger.
‘It’s a human genome project’ , they apparently feed music through the airwaves and somehow study it so that they work out what is palatable to the human ear.
J plays all sorts of music when he is alone or with friends but tonight he plays whatever she likes, even the real obvious trash.
They listen to Simon and Garfunkel. That isn’t crap. They listen to Gwen Stephanie and the sugababes. My chemical romance and the pixies. Before his time.
They sit in his room. The floor is covered in varnished wood. Later on this will have to be changed to cream carpets. There is a small radiator in the corner. A bed, courtesy of MFI, or MI5 as Lucy sometimes called it. A dell laptop provided by his work a globally renowned accountants. On the mantelpiece is a picture strategically placed in a frame declaring that he is a ‘ good friend’. Inside the photo is a different J. A one who was determined to work hard and go to university, not waste time as he saw it. The truth is that he still worked hard, exceptionally hard.
The flat is shared; there is a white guy, who owns it. He is too quiet that’s his problem Johan said, as he stared into her eyes. Too quiet and he never brings any girls back, I think he is gay. ‘ Johan his hair isn’t good enough to be gay’ they had both shared a little grin then. Some might think it sad but maybe they were like two matching cushions. He used to make her feel safe and like there might have been someone to stand beside her, but really she worried his eye was always on the next challenge. Next shag. Maybe, maybe not. That’s how it felt anyway.
As they sit, his phone beeps several times.
J likes to sculpt and paint. He shows the girls his work.
When they eat dinner earlier that night, the pretty waitress really smiles at him. So many people say hi. They’re shown to a good table.
J wears a white shirt with a thin stripe. Blue Jeans and black polished shows. He is around six feet tall. He has a sort of baby face, but at the same time high cheekbones, almond doe eyes and full lips, unusual in their beauty.
He speaks eloquently. He gives speeches sometimes, as part of his work. A few times he mentions other girls, on called Katia crops up, he tells funny stories about her. Another called Ann or was it Alice texts. He is open about this. It’s normal.
Lucy tries to understand about the various financial transactions, but it isn’t easy she think.
This is the first date she has been on since her fiancé announced he was no longer in love with her. That was precisely three weeks before she danced with Johan and he, miraculously she thought, asked for her number.
Lucy is a little older, her thirtier birthday had been a laugh, that was eighteen months ago now. She had switched the lights off in the bar she was in, for a laugh. The whole place went dark Just like that.
Ok, I’ll see you soon then, she’d said sounding far too formal as she left the arts centre where so many people were spinning like it was Brazil.
J whose name was Johan had lived in Madrid and spoke fluent Spanish. He knows everyone, dJs in London. Pilots. You name it. Flies to Dubai now and then. To Italy to see his sisters. He as a tattoo on his muscled arm, unusual for an investor.
In an instant, although Lucy is a cautious type, in her heart she knew that she could love him. But sometimes he seemed a bit young. He didn’t seem to be the person she had spent ten years with. Friends said it was too soon.
Their backgrounds are similar J is a Christian and Lucy is too. South India. Lucy was born in grey England, Johan in god’s own country. A few places are more beautiful than Kerala but I’m not sure where thought Lucy, musing over the many photos that J had of his family. He seemed to miss them so much. His sisters had several kids and he was a willing babysitter when they visited from Italy. They had both married out there. But he really missed his mum. She sounded a little cookie, but really passionate about her only son’s life. She had even reserved a plot for him in Kerala so that if he died he would be buried there. She was worried that he would not return to India, as she loved him so much.
He is a loveable sort of creature Lucy wonders over him though. He is so very perfect. How could someone keep a person like that, so popular and magnetic.
Johan has to study. He is embarking on an MBA as well as working. He regularly has to spend extra time at the weekend putting his work together, assignments mainly.
He doesn’t know whether he wants to stay in his line of work forever, it is a long road to follow the corporate one.
‘ Why not let me make you some tea, while you work, Lucy says.
‘ My doctor says I shouldn’t , I’m sorry.
‘ Just one cup? Lucy knows she sounds like Mrs. Doyle go on go on but he looks like he could use a cup of tea.
His long fingers are wrapped around a fountain pen and he is writing what looks to be many formulas or equations, yes equations on pieces of paper. She wants to ask him what this is all about, but she’d look thick.
In this period of time, outside Lucy looked passable if disheveled compared to some stages in her life when she would be the master of her own body. Training and dictating exactly what she wore, at every moment, no more tracksuits, always gaga or dita style smart.
Inside, she did not understand how she had been so lucky.
‘ He is going to finish me I know. ‘
‘He like you, he mentioned the diamonds on your toes didn’t he?” her friend said
tears followed. ‘yes he did but I can Just feel that he doesn’t love me’.
‘ you’ve been hurt give it time’.
‘i can’t be hurt again. i can only stay with him for a while. i want to marry him, but how could he stay with me.. It will have to end sooner or later. I can’t be with someone who will always want someone younger than me. He deserves someone his own age.
Inside she was confused and did love him. Every time they met apart form the last time, she felt really on top of the world.
But uneasy as if he was sizing her up, not in a good way sometimes. She was a little too big then. Things did get worse on that front. He did a good Job of pretending to want me, Lucy’s mind is tormenting her daily, daily fucking hell.
Sometimes, it seemed as if he would repeat the tings she had thought or said earlier to her friend. It couldn’t be. There is no way.
Johan loves order. His flat is pristine, apart from the day that Lucy hurts him, and then it was all messy. Order does extend to protecting yourself and he had to protect himself from being hurt. She is too much of a handful. Lucy. But a good girl, a good laugh.
He wants to sculpt, it is something he really loves to do. Sculpt and also paint. You can come across some off the wall sculptures in the books in his home, there are some pieces of art that really are sound installations, recordings of babbling brooks and his work I nothing like that. He has tried for the past year to put together a Jigsawish selection of well Jigsaw piece.
‘Lucy, come with me tomorrow and I will show you’, there is quite a lot to it glass Jigsaw pieces pinned in no order to a wide piece of cloth. From a distance the effect is a glittering sea of silver.
Drawing breath, J you little bugger, rumour had it that you were a corporate beast, lining your fat cat pockets’ ‘I’m impressed.’,
The boss is ringing him again, there are problems in the company, and he excuses himself and goes to make her a cup of tea. The tea was sent from a plantation belonging to his father many miles away. He misses his sisters form time to time, not perhaps exactly as much as Lucy thinks though, he grins as he stirs the tea anti-clockwise as requested. Bt they exist, he laughs thinking about a crazy mate of his who invents siblings and even a dead uncle to pull chicks. He wouldn’t go that far. As he walks back into the room she is in, he feels a little nervous watching her put her lip gloss on. Oh gosh is she really in his room?
‘ if I have children, IF J says pointedly. They will not be going to boarding school so young.
This is obviously quite an embarrassing topic to discuss early on and Lucy focuses on one of the paintings on the wall. She is thinking that would be her dream, to have a baby and a home together with this almost stranger.
I hadn’t thought about it, she fibs.
He goes on to describe how when he was very young he had to go to a prestigious boarding school.
They chatted for a long time and eventually they started to kiss, Just for a while. The street lights outside are starting to fade and it is turning light outside.
This routine is repeated until Lucy is quite at home there. She didn’t mean to leave make up behind and other things behind like hair clips and hooded tops but she did.
She would stay sometimes, not sleeping only pretending too, so excited to be near to him. He would very faintly snore, before turning and then breathing softly.
Lucy speaks French, German , English and Hindi. She used to work as a translator. It was good work well paid. Mainly translating menus or tourist information. The start of our new careers said her friend, when they both got Jobs. Her friend is a dentist.
Yes, here’s too us, Lucy raises a long arm with a glass held tightly in it and toasts their careers. That was a while back now. She had to leave eventually, when she lost everything.
Lucy likes playing with her hair, sometimes straight then curly like most do.
Dresses in many colours are her thing. Tall for Jeans really. Her best friend is tiny, only five feet, this makes her look both unlucky and charitable for being best friends with her, some people think.
She has a nice normal family, who are pretty strict but who love her.
A cat called Marmalade purrs waiting for her whenever she gets home.
‘ Why not Just move out?” J would say, you can afford it, move nearer to here. His eyes were so compelling.
‘ I can’t, you know why’.
‘ trouble at home’?
‘ something like that yeah J.
‘ oh well.’
If someone was passing by on the night they met, they’d think they were perfect, together and also apart.
Lucy chooses what to wear with care. She has wasted over two thousand pounds on credit cards.
‘Pooch, I was stupid this time, really dumb, look at all the money that we could have had for chew sticks, um chew sticks ! Chew sticks was said in an exaggerated way and the dog’s ears pricked up, she starts to beg like a Meer cat. oh sorry, i have to do my hair now go away you little groveller, you have had your dinner.
Most of the credit card has gone to pay for clothes. A new Alexander McQueen scarf, pink with black skulls. A Marc Jacob’s nude leather bag. Endomologie. Sun beds. Hair extensions. Candles that smell like rain from Selfridges and are almost too heavy to lift. The house is cleaned from top to toe over three days. All the coughing, arguing family has gone off to India on a marathon visit, so at least that’s something.
She loves them really, but the sheer noise drives her potty sometimes.
‘ Violet, its me, listen I’ve got all those random furniture that my uncle left, its making the place look scruffy. I Just don’t know if I can take the stress.’ The house looks Just all higgledy piggledy you know.
‘ I’ve got it, Just put all of the pare furniture in one room’
‘ What if he goes in it ‘
‘ He won’t ! Just relax !”
‘ Oh I suppose so, both girls giggle at her crazy nervousness.
‘Calm down woman what are you wearing then, for this lucky guy’.
‘ Well I’ve narrowed it down to three outfits. Probably Just black trousers or Jeans and a nice top maybe.’
What’s that in the background. Lucy can hear a combination of woofing, from the little puppy Violet has adopted Bruce and what seems to be building work. Violet had under floor heating and a Jacuzzi. Once they’d travelled up the high street two of them squashed into a convertible passengers seat. Another time they went to see Kylie in Manchester. She was always a good mate to Lucy, unlike some.
They were good friends. Violet is the ultimate glamour puss and has a very strong head on her shoulders. Quick witted and ready to go out and dance whatever the weather. that would be the blurb, underneath an ad Advertising her friendship.
Even in the snow, they could be seen tottering down the high street avoiding cracks in cobbles on a Friday night.
They decide to go for a drink later, it is a champagne bar. Big black and red seventies disco squares cover the floor. A piano plays and the candles give the place Pulp Fiction mock fiftties gangster girl vibe.
‘Do you like this one then loo loo ? , sexy Violet asks her, raising her eyebrows quizzically. Her prada bag hooked to their table on a silver hook, so as to protect its soft leather form the floor.
A tear drops into her french martini, her silken locks touching one breast and her tanned satiny left arm, the hand with a mole on it is quivering a little. Looking down then looking up like a too shy teenager.
‘ think I love him Violet, it’s scary, ‘
‘ well, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do and ring me tomorrow, let me know how you get on with the furniture.’
Sure enough J had captured her and on that night when he arrived she was spell bound as she later told Violet.
He bends down and kisses her lip-gloss off passionately and comments on how nice the place looks. He noticed the unusual balcony of one of the rooms at the front of the house as they drove up, would it be ok if he checked it out, might be nice to watch the sunset?
Cringingly Lucy opens the door on the only room in the house with all the Junk in it.
He didn’t seem to care.
‘ Why did you buy all this new stuff’, he whispered even thought hey were alone.
‘ You’re beautiful without all this stuff, ‘
‘I need a cup of tea, he says and hand in hand they go to the kitchen.
She puts the kettle on, looking for skimmed milk in the fridge for him.
The fridge could do with a good clean really could.
‘Shucks no food in this J,’
‘seriously look !
there was no food at all in the fridge, she’d meant to replace it but half of it had been thrown out. The wonders of her family being away, normally it had to be replaced every bloody day.
So instead they went to Asda and bought some chocolate pudding. J’s special pudding and even though Lucy hates chocolate pudding she ate it and talked about football, because hopefully he would stay for a bit longer.
Why does he keep grabbing my hand and looking into my eyes, it’s almost like he loves me too.
Hours go by and the only thing that they have worked out is that there is in fact a Bollywood star with an extra finger, the finger has not been removed. The finger did not hamper his film career. Also that in India, some people worship snakes. There is a two headed snake on Wikipedia that lived for some time. They liked playing chess. He would always win somehow, with a mischievous grin as he got yet another check mate. She was really concentrating but somehow always ended up staring at her opponent for too long and losing.
‘ It Just sounds a bit dull, Lou,’ I know you’re excited, like a little school girl, ooh did he make you blush’, the sarcasm was unexpected, thought we were friends.
‘ Well sounds like you’ve cocked up anyway doesn’t it,
said her other friend when they talked.
‘He sounds nerdy’. Said one happily married pal, who lived for the ‘funny’ tales of her last bad date.
‘ Well maybe we are. ‘
‘Oh, ‘ a long pause. I see, well it’s ‘ up to you Lou’.
J, liked to surmise that whilst she was not his intellectual equal, it was Just funny. He was by all accounts a brain box anyway.
He did everything he could to keep her happy for a little while. Always checking if she warm enough, she usually was a bit cold strangely. She sometimes didn’t say when she was upset or scared that one of his female face book mates was really a lot more. He would say in quite a measured way that things could be sorted out, or moved, or blocked. His Job took everything out of him some days and he Just wanted to sleep deeply and not talk about everything. But when they used to sit top to toe on his bed giggling about something or other they were pretty happy.
Once he got a bit drunk, it was a ball. He did get drunk a lot more, but hid this from Lucy, she was quite innocent about some things despite her being older. He wrote on his face book page the next day, he was feeling delicate. Three or four girls replied. Lucy was in the room and sees what he has written, she turns pale but doesn’t react. Inside she is so hurt, why can’t he Just be mine? Why does he need these extra people and why tell them one thing and me another. I know the answer to that one though, yes siree.
The night he got really drunk she picked him up and it was funny. He demanded chips so he got them, with gravy no less a change from venison and the other things he had ordered with her in all the restaurants they went to. Chips and Gravy, maybe being in the north was rubbing off.
He had a nice habit, that was to hold her hand if they were in traffic, she usually drove not being a drinker and if they were stationary he would sometimes hold her hand. That was amazing. Other times he would slip his hand into the inside of her thigh about half way up.
This night J has really had too much, he had been on a recruitment exercise he said.
He said that the shit was going to hit the fan. Someone had lost a lot of money. He couldn’t concentrate on the recruitment exercise. This stupid bitch called Alice was texting him, he told her he doesn’t care, that he has a girlfriend but she is making trouble. She is going around saying he got her pregnant. His Dad is going crazy.
Lucy sincerely feels a little frightened at this point. This isn’t her J, he seems so angry and different. Like he doesn’t care about anything, not the person who plays chess and laughs at two headed animals with her on you tube.