Gail is still uncertain about contacting Harry.
For days lilies scent the house. I don’t call Harry. Why? Well, it’s a bit like if I don’t then I can savour the pleasure of being asked out without any potential disappointment on either side. I was like that with Lottery tickets when the kids were young. I’d buy one but not look at winning numbers for a whole week, during which time I had innumerable fantasies about how I’d spend my millions and make so many people happy. I only once won scooped the princely sum of £5. So a dog walk with someone I find, oh let’s say it, not half-bad looking, is the lottery ticket I’m nervous of cashing in. I try explaining this to Meg.
‘Are you stupid?’ she says twice, aghast. I don’t answer. ‘Come on Gail, you said he was interesting so I know that means he really must be OK and hopefully half-indecent and you say you aren’t going to ring him?’
‘I haven’t yet.’
‘You’re a long time dead Gail. You’re alone in a little semi with a deadly-dull job, kids on the other side of the world and a social life that consists of me. And the dog.’
‘Oh, thanks for that,’ I say, my life dismally summed up in a dull suburban epitaph.
‘Oh, indeed,’ warned Meg. ‘If you don’t want him then pass his number to me. After Tinder Trevor a man who buys flowers and loo roll is right up there.’ That rose hackles on my neck. And Meg knew it.
‘OK, I’ll ring him. Anyway, you almost met him. He was in the wine bar the night of Tinder Trevor.’
‘That bloke reading the paper near us?’ So she’d noticed him.
‘Yes,’ I say quietly. From senior school onwards, Meg possessed a chameleon-like predatory character that I had grown to admire because I was so useless at it.
‘I was hoping he was Tinder Trevor. Get on with it Gail because there’s a mere four weeks until mistletoe season and there’s your work’s do to get through.’
‘He won’t be coming to that. I don’t think I’m going either.’ Not after last year and kissing a roving salesman who told me he was 35.
We said goodbye and I tried a new yoga class on my phone. Only, it’s too small to see properly on a tiny screen so I have to keep stopping and peering, then I lose track and have to start again. I do the same first 15 minutes until fortunately my phone flashes up I’ve achieved my target of 6000 steps. That wasn’t so hard.
I make a coffee and groan at the feast of Christmas TV adverts featuring happy family festive scenarios of togetherness, crackers, turkeys, puddings and joshing over what to do with Jerusalem Artichokes.
I have a fantasy then of a log-fire, snow-bound house, luxury hamper (with no need to cook a single thing) and a man; one who makes me laugh in and out of bed.
The next day is my annual appraisal from district manager, Phil Phillips. Clearly, his parents had a sense of humour. PP as we call him has no neck but a chin that seemingly extends fluidly down and overflows his finely-pressed collars. He is a stickler for box-ticking.
Last year he had an affair with Esther in the Human Resources Department. All hell broke loose. His marriage of 25 years imploded after his wife tracked him down to room in a Premier Inn via a phone app. Sadly, Esther, rather than PP, left work.
‘Hello Gail,’ he says in his overfriendly way, assuming I’d be flattered, as he grips my hand in a bear-like shake for a little too long. His chins wobble. ‘Make yourself comfortable and would you like tea or coffee?’
‘Just water please,’ I respond as he flicks through a pile of paperwork all about me. There are graphs and quotes from customers, marks out-of-ten, stars and exclamation marks. I sip and he shuffles. He asks if I enjoy work. ‘No’, I want to say but my financial bread is thinly buttered.
‘Yes,’ I say confidently and clear my throat. He looks expectantly for more. I can’t think of anything to say. PP hums and hahs, pulls at his pink tie as if it’s choking him and after a little more ticking it’s all over with. An A-star pass. Then comes the killer question as I head out the door.
‘Gail, Would you like to go for dinner later?’ He taps the desk. He is an unreconstructed male who has not taken #MeToo on board. I say no in a courteous way as becomes a female totally dependent upon a good report and the man who gives it.
‘I’m really struggling with the menopause,’ I say, with a wincing frown that indicates trouble. A gynaecological answer was enough to send PP into such a fluster he couldn’t get me out of the room quick enough.
But Meg’s right, I’m a long time dead and the flowers have dropped every petal. I phone Harry. It’s an answer phone. I don’t leave a message because I’d be likely to stutter or say something stupid.
It’s Friday night and I’m reading ‘A Woman in Berlin’ by Anonymous. While it isn’t light it’s gripping and I’m right back in history I know little about. The landline rings three times. I don’t answer given it’s sad to be in on a Friday night but listen. The first caller is from a charity pleading for more money, the second from my mother pleading for more company and the last from Harry, asking if I can meet for a walk tomorrow morning.at 10am at the reservoir.
Now I can’t read anymore. I text him. ‘Yes that’s fine, by the café.’ No kisses of course and there’s no response. I turn on the TV to try and watch the trashiest programme to take my mind of tomorrow but there’s no celebrities I even recognise who are dining, dating or trying to swallow harmless creatures in a jungle, that stop the butterflies in my stomach. I run a bath, unwrap a new razor and attack the forest on my legs. Not that they will be seen out of 100 denier for the next six months.