Not all who wander are lost
I have not seen Maria since lunchtime on Wednesday in the deli. I’ve been in meetings off site with Mark Bowman and Boris McCabe the Director of ITG, a formidable man who wears designer suits.
I’ve also squeezed in a few meetings with companies looking for mobile Apps and I’ve secured a meeting for Simon to view a suitable retail outlet near to our office when he’s back from America.
On Friday, on my way home, I stop for an hour in the late afternoon sunshine to look at the sea and stare mournfully across the Lough. I haven’t gone back to London for the bank holiday weekend because Jenny and Richard have taken the boys to Malaga to see Dad so I go home to Auntie Annie’s house, restless and bored and my mood is volatile.
I pour a strong gin and tonic, add plenty of sliced lemon and ice, and I drink greedily.
Tony Braxton, I’m a Woman, sings to me from the radio and my mobile phone rings.
“It’s me,” Maria says. “Where are you?”
“Can I come over?”
Thirty minutes later I answer the door.
“Watching Dirty Dancing with Grandma, for the fifteenth time.”
She wears blue jeans, flat moccasins and a low cut, beige T-shirt. She accepts a glass of red wine and exclaims with delight over the house, the pine fitted kitchen, large terrace doors that overlook a neat garden and I follow her through to the lounge.
She walks past two comfortable beige sofas, a large television, an unlit fireplace and she stands at the floor to ceiling window and gazes across the Lough. I watch her figure and her slow movements but I don’t trust myself to move beside her, so I return to the kitchen where I begin washing salad and rinsing tomatoes.
“I hope you haven’t eaten. I’ve made pasta and garlic bread,” I call.
“It’s a beautiful house.”
She returns and stands in the doorway watching me.
“Auntie Annie modernised it. She’s like me in that sense, she hates old houses and antiques.”
We speak about houses, families and heirlooms. The conversation flows and we talk freely as I set the table beside the window overlooking the garden.
“It’s too cool to eat outside.”
“This is a lovely treat. I didn’t expect dinner.”
“The unexpected can often be a welcome surprise,” I reply.
She watches me silently as I place the salad bowl and steaming aluminium wrapped garlic bread on the table.
“Why did you assume I was happily married?”
I don’t turn from the hob.
She doesn’t reply, so I change the subject.
“I’m pleased you’re here. It’s nice to eat with someone. I miss Auntie Annie and I miss not cooking every night; not having dinner parties, or barbecues.”
I place the macaroni on the table.
“I always cooked for Kat. She was lousy in the kitchen. This is Dad’s favourite too.”
“Does he know you’re gay?”
“Does it bother him?”
I look out of the window and speak. “I suppose it did. I’m sure he would like me to marry and have children and to be happy.”
“Is marriage and children the recipe for happiness?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
We eat slowly.
I speak about Spain, my father and my parent’s divorce, and then I end up telling her how I met Kat.
“Were you faithful?” she asks.
“I was in love with Kat but there were a couple of casual flings.”
“Did you have many relationships before her?”
I think the wine has emboldened Maria and I smile.
“I had a girlfriend at University in Madrid. It is easier in Spain to meet gay people. There are gay bars in London but it’s very hard to meet the woman of your dreams that way.”
“Well, it’s like going to the pub. How many people meet their partners in a bar? It’s much nicer if you meet someone through work or are introduced through mutual friends, you get to know someone first, don’t you think so?”
She doesn’t look at me when she replies.
“I met Michael when I was very young. We were still at school.”
“Have you been faithful?”
“Have you ever been attracted to another man since you’ve been with Michael?”
“Not really, no.”
“Never?” My voice holds a note of surprise. “You’ve never met anyone you were attracted to in all these years?”
“I envy you,” she says but she doesn’t look at me. She breaks off a lump of garlic bread and places it in her mouth. “I envy the fact that you are so free. You can do what you like. You have no ties and you only have to please yourself.”
She misses my point.
“I’m not single from choice,” I say icily, “I would be much happier in a relationship.”