Sharon’s back. As soon as I heard, I went straight round to the house and let myself in. She was standing in the kitchen wearing that deceptively vulnerable look that she has. Also in the room was a little girl aged about three with ruby red hair and a Boxer dog. The Boxer was built like Sonny Liston and capered before me. It span round in circles, glancing coquettishly over its shoulder. The little girl was my superior in intelligence and composure. I could see it straight away, as could she. Her name was Amy. Sharon and her partner had adopted her 18 months before. Sharon and Amy shared a companionable stillness that was unruffled by my appearance.
I hadn’t seen Sharon for six months. She was thinner than ever, which made her liquid eyes appear larger. (‘It’s all gone. She hasn’t even got an arse any more,’ was how Trev sorrowfully put it when we spoke on the phone later.) She seemed altered in mind as well as body, appearing calmer and kinder and less hunted. This was no longer the Sharon with no limits. I raised Amy by the armpits until her red locks were dangling above me and I reached up and planted a loving kiss on her cheek. She accepted it, looking down at me speculatively. Then I lowered her to the floor and gave Sharon a hug. Thirteen years ago I gave this woman my best shot. It missed. The hug was neutral, formal, slightly tentative.
‘Coffee, Jerry?’ she said. ‘No sugar still?’ Then she gave me all her news. Judging by the brio with which she related it, she still lives in ‘a tale that is told’. Her mother, her brother, her sister, her poor father: each was a dramatic saga in itself. Then she asked with passionate interest about individual members of my family. I’d never met a person either as wild or as family-minded as Sharon before. Before she came along I’d always imagined the two attitudes were mutually exclusive.
The house sits in a small valley. If you look out of the kitchen window and up, you can see people walking by on the pavement above. Looking past Sharon’s blonde head and up at a passer-by, I recognised Tom, another of Sharon’s exes. (He was the one after me.) Sharon turned her head just as Tom looked down and recognised her through the kitchen window. He turned and jogged down the slope as though on rails, let himself in through the front door, and here suddenly in the room was Tom.
No one has seen Tom sober for months. He was no different now. Here was the customary red face. Here was the bemused expression on that red face of a man hemmed in by bores and rationalists. Here was the glittering eye and slurred speech. And yet here too were the lightning flashes of total understanding worthy of a savant that one often notices in the permanently pissed.
First Tom sagged in disbelief at finding himself in such august company. Then he turned his attention to the grinning, capering Boxer. He whipped off his sweatshirt and forced its front legs through the arm holes so that the dog was now wearing it. It fitted well. Then he pulled the dog’s face to his and snogged it, burying his mouth in the great dribbling Boxer muzzle and kissing with sensuous ardour. Then he spotted the cat, cautiously coming to investigate such an unusual man. Tom then threw away the dog’s head and made a great pantomime show of unbuckling his belt and frantically searching in his pants for his locally celebrated penis, as though instantly attracted and changing partners at an orgy.
Then he noticed the little girl standing there eyeing him gravely. He rummaged frantically in his jeans again, in the pocket this time, we were relieved to see. Going down on courtly knee, he presented her with a big square palm with two pennies in it. He was on his way home to bed, he told her. And on the way home he’d stopped at the bookies, and bet £380, which was all the money he possessed, on red, on the roulette machine. He lost. Therefore these pennies represented all he had left in the world. And he would be honoured and proud if she would take one of them. Which would she like? Amy very carefully studied both coins then made her selection. ‘What do you say?’ said Sharon, kindly. ‘Thank you,’ said Amy, looking this surprising man candidly in the eye.
Down on one knee still, Tom swivelled to face Sharon. A bolt of white logic had told him the moment he’d walked in that things were different with her now. But just for gallantry and old times’ sake, he said, ‘And what about you, gorgeous? What about a quick one before I go.’
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