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After a rumpus and the swift exit at the book club, Brummie Mummy and her paramour Ian need to clear the air. It’s make or break time, folks.

There’s no one in sight. Although there’s fog and I can’t see a lot. How long is it since he left? I’m heading for Ian’s house. I need to catch up with him.

Except I can’t go fast. I’d started off sprinting. But the rain which had fallen before is freezing over. Twice already I’ve skidded on patches of ice.

As I get near the golf club a car moves to the electric gates. Suddenly a figure appears in the headlights.

A tall man with hunched shoulders. A loping stride.

‘Ian!’ I call. ‘Wait!’

For a second I think I’ve made a mistake.

Until he turns, speaks my name.

I walk towards him in slow motion. There’s an old voice in my head. Saying Men won’t respect a woman who runs after them.

I stop a little way off. We both stand there.

Then Ian says, ‘Why aren’t you wearing a coat?’

I glance at my cardigan and shirt. But choose to ignore this fussing.

‘It’s all wrong.’ I tell him.

‘What is?’

‘At the reading group. One minute we were discussing the book and then…’

A horn beeps. The gates are opening and some bloke in a four wheel drive would like to get out.

Ian moves away.

‘We can’t leave things like this!’ I cry.

Ian says neither can we stay where we are.

It is too late for the pub. Going back to his place might complicate matters. Best just to walk round for a bit.

So we head uphill, leaving the golf course behind.

I tell him, ‘People reckoned there was something between us. Now they’ll think we’ve been at it for months.’

Ian says in that case they’ll be wrong. He adds that we’d both let the discussion become personal.

This is a quiet residential area. Householders wouldn’t appreciate any disturbance.

Eventually I say, ‘Oh perhaps it’s not that bad. Poll and Iz are mates. Chantelle was too drunk to notice.’

‘But Louise…?’

I laugh. ‘There’s a rip in one of our chair covers. Plus I’ve not had my hair done since September.
Nothing else I do will shock her.’

‘In that case,’ says Ian. ‘What’s your problem?’

Why does every man I meet want to believe I’m brainless?

‘I’ll tell you what our problem is.’ My voice rises a semi-tone. ‘One minute you text me non-stop. The next I don’t exist…’

Ian’s taking big strides, so I can only just keep up. His eyes are fixed on the horizon. This makes it hard to be sure what he’s muttering. It’s about not being able to rely on anyone.

The phrases ‘being used’ and ‘messed about’ are clear enough.

‘Listen!’ I say. And catch at his sleeve.

This is a point I get to with Gemma. Where we are beyond everyday wrangling and I have to make myself understood.

‘We’ve not known each other long,’ I tell him. ‘Yet you think I should be making an announcement to my husband and child – then taking off with you.’

Ian’s slowed right down. His mouth opens.

But I continue.

‘You go on about being honest. Well, my honest opinion is, you’re considering yourself. Not me. Perhaps we shouldn’t see each other any more,’

I am the one setting the pace now. There is more to be said.

‘And what’s this about being used? Yes, you gave me useful advice about teaching. But then I helped you with your son…’

‘Can we stop here?

I feel suddenly vacant. Like after being sick. My pathetic attempt at an affair is over.

But there will be no tears.

I force myself to stare at Ian. Who is pointing down at a bench.

He just meant we should stop walking.

We have reached an area where the richest people used to live. The houses are large, with attics and cellars. They have front lawns the size of parks, bordered with tall trees.

You might pretend this was a lane in some old village. Only most of these properties have been turned to hostels or bedsits, or are boarded up. At night it’s not the cosiest of places.

All the same I sit down. With Ian next to me.

‘I’ve been an idiot,’ he sighs.

‘Oh yes?’

‘There’s all this - stuff. None of it your fault. Why should you get dragged in to it?’

I say maybe I wouldn’t mind being dragged.

It is to do with Amanda, Ian explains. His former wife has changed the plans for Jacob’s next visit.

Because Jacob’s got a new best friend. A friend whose birthday party happens to be that same weekend. It would be unkind to deprive a boy of such a treat, when there are other times he could visit his Dad. Absolutely reasonable. Except Ian keeps suggesting alternative dates, yet nothing gets agreed.
‘I’m getting scared.’

His voice has faded to a whisper.

'What of?’ I ask.

‘Losing him.’

We sit in darkness. Fog has muffled all the usual sounds.

It is a strange thing. I don’t much like watching my daughter lurch into adolescence. Gemma spends her allowance on hair dye and fierce perfume. She wants to invite friends round for an all-night DVD sessions. She won’t let me buy her a print dress from Monsoon. She has a profile on Facebook. Her favourite T-shirt is black with a skull motif.

But I try to think how it would be to live without her. Like doing without an eye. Or a kidney.
I suppose I could manage if I had to . But my days would be diminished. Nothing would be right.

I shudder.

Ian says I will catch my death.

He takes off his jacket. I object. There is no reason why he should freeze too. But the jacket turns out to be one of those two-layered affairs. Ian unzips the inner fleece and hands it to me, before putting the outer shell back on

Next he unwinds his scarf. Very gently he wraps it around my neck. Tears sting the corners of my eyes.

For a moment I’m not able to thank him.

A quarter of an hour back I was itching for a fight. Now I picture the two of us scaling the nearby fence.

We could take refuge in the garden. There’d be a carpet of fallen leaves, sheltering branches to arch over us like a four-poster bed. And haven’t we waited long enough?

This is crazy. Not only is there a temperature of minus something. There would be take-away wrappings, broken glass. And God knows what else.

It is essential to stay in control.

I suggest that what Ian needs is not me, but a proper girlfriend. Some bright, vaguely maternal, female might to do nicely. A person in gainful employment, but otherwise free to cheer Ian up and accompany him on expeditions.

Ian asks if I have any ideas about how he might obtain such a woman.

I don’t know… The internet?’

Ian tells me, rather bitterly, he has already considered this.

‘So why didn’t you?’

And then Ian says something that shocks me.

It reminds me of a long gone occasion, before my father got ill. When Dad insisted on lengthening the flex of a cassette player with some extra cable and two connectors. Unfortunately he was rubbish at DIY. When I touched one connector, it gave me a blast that threw me against the wall.

This time I remain where I am. But I curl my fingers into Ian’s

‘Oh,’ is all say.

My eyes have adjusted to the gloom. Next to my thigh I can see an AJ and a RH. Surrounded by a heart. Who were these people? A couple sitting together, as one of them gouged rough initials into wood? Or a fearful kind of love? Someone afraid of the end - using a knife to make it last?

I am calm and secure. This seat is my home. The fleece and scarf are all I need.

I stare at the tendons on Ian’s hand until the pattern blurs and shifts. As a younger woman, I had dabbled briefly with meditation. I am in a similar state now. A trance.
Sudden inspiration comes to me.

‘You know,’ I say to Ian. ‘I’ve got an idea.’

I start telling him about having seen my mother on Saturday.

For the most part it was a successful visit. But we’d found her in a right state.

Mum’s not an affectionate person. So it’s a surprise when she launches herself at us, the minute we’re through the door.

‘Thank Heavens!’ she says. ‘I was at my wit’s end.’

The problem is her new cordless telephone – bought at a knock-down price - which she declares to be ‘hopeless’ and ‘broken.’ If only she hadn’t put her old phone straight out with the rubbish.

‘But we just spoke to you. From the mobile. When we left the motorway.’

Two or three questions establish that the phone’s uselessness is about the difficulty of making a new voicemail message. The machine came ready supplied with one. However Mum believes the voice to be ‘nasty’, and has spent the best part of two days trying to record over it.

In her opinion the instruction booklet was ‘nonsense’. And the manufacturer’s helpline is staffed by people who don’t speak clearly. The only person she did manage to understand said she might find the longer – online - version of the manual more helpful. My mother told them she didn’t have a computer then put the receiver down.

Mum is right about some things. The pages in English (which are at the back of the booklet) are very odd. We decide this may be because a robot was programmed to translated them from the German, that’s at the front.

Despite our recent difficulties AWH and I can draw on years of working together. (This is something I don’t mention to Ian.) My husband works out what he the robot might have meant. I experiment with the Menu and Delete buttons which Mum hadn’t wanted to touch. At the same time our daughter entertains us with her attempts to pronounce very long German words.

Gemma also tries to supervise her grandma. Because Mum’s found a still older phone which got stashed away in her wardrobe. She keeps darting about in the hope one of us will inspect it, while the flex loops itself round her ankles.

We review the incident on the journey home.

AWH says, ‘I still think you should get her to the GP. Just for a check-up.’

Grandma’s not ill.’ objects Gemma. ‘Not like Zoe’s Nan. She can’t remember Zoe’s name and went to Sainsbury’s in a dressing gown instead of a coat.’

I agree that her grandmother manages, Just about. When it’s not a matter of technology.

‘Gran gets flustered because she’s alone. She should have people nearby.’

Awful Wedded Husband thinks Mum should consider selling up, and buying a unit in a development for the elderly

I tell him I agree. ‘But if I suggest it she’ll get in another flap and reckon I mean some sort of home.’

‘You should take a couple of days. Drive her round to look at a few places. She might be converted.’

‘So,’ I tell Ian. ‘I’m meant to be planning this.’

We agree this could provide a pretext for a rather different visit. But now it’s getting late.

We’ll talk again though. Soon.

Three houses away from home, I give Ian his scarf and fleece. Then we kiss. It’s a brief, almost formal, act. We’ve moved to a different stage.

I’d thought AWH might have waited for my key in the lock.

But the lights are all out, and the house is silent. Of course. He’d said he was meeting a major client first thing tomorrow.

I slip under the duvet and listen to his slow breathing.

But there are things I need to tell him. After a while, I rub a hand on his shoulder.

He groans, ‘What is it?’ .

‘I’m sorry’ I tell him

‘What? he says again

‘For leaving like that.’

I explain to him somebody in the group was upset. But he’d walked in and then the meeting broke up. I needed to go after them and make sure they were alright.

‘One of your mates?’ asks AWH.


‘Trouble with her love life?’

‘That sort of thing.’

‘I don’t know… You girls.’

My husband yawns. And goes back to sleep.

It take me rather longer.I keep replaying Ian’s voice, hearing the words that shocked me.

Oh I know it’s just one more complication. My troubles are not over.

But he said he loved me.

And I’m so happy.

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