As he turned the corner at the end of the street the cold air that had been squeezed between the tall buildings of a narrow side road, angry at being so confined leapt at him from ambush. It threw dust in his eyes and swirled newspaper pages and Styrofoam take-away containers around his legs in an attempt to bring him down. He hunkered into his jacket and pushed his hands angrily into his trouser pockets. He hadn’t realised how much he’d been leaning into the spiteful buffeting wind until he had passed the entrance to the side road and stumbled into a lack, an empty pocket of air without the temper or momentum to support him. This time he swore aloud as an old and familiar pain burned in his left knee and he rocked like a boxer who in ducking a punch had gone too far and nearly failed to right himself.
Friday fucking night, he thought. Everyone else in the office seemed to revert to a playground mentality on the fifth and, for most of them, final working day of the week. The standard insincere morning ‘how are you?’ would more often than not be met with a waggle of the eyebrows or a theatrical tilt of the head and some inanity like ‘TGIF’ or ‘It’s Friiidaaay’ this last would be drawn out in an attempt at a jocose take on Noddy Holder screaming on Slade’s ubiquitous Christmas number one. He, in bleak contradistinction to his grinning colleagues, never felt anything more than numb on a Friday. Never felt any greater positive emotion at least. He had certainly felt less than numb. On many occasions.
To him, the start of the weekend said simply that he had flushed away another five days of his life. In his heart he knew that his co workers were better off than him. As much as he despised and despaired of them, as childish and feeble as they were, men and women of a base and mean intellect who challenged his patience with the least attempt at low and execrable wit, he still knew that they held a trump card he could not match. They were happy. They seemed genuinely thrilled at the endless grinding pointless repetition of their careers and the clichéd paucity of their social lives. They looked forward to a Friday night getting pissed in a pub which boasted only one attraction; it was the nearest drinking den to the office. What astounded him most of all was that to even the most cynical and intense observer they put up an impenetrable façade of pleased anticipation when discussing the prospect of yet another early evening in the same down at heel bar not two minutes from their place of work, and, and this was what really astonished him, the entire time to be spent with the same awful people with whom they’d just endured five miserable, tedious days.
He’d noticed a few weeks ago with a curiously perverse spasm of spurned disappointment that they didn’t even bother inviting him any more. Having refused their entreaties with varying degrees of politeness for the best part of two years now he supposed that it was inevitable, and of course he didn’t want to go in any case. He wanted to put immediate distance between himself, his job and his professional relationships, and so that is what he did. Every Friday, with a growing sense of despair at the grinding futility of his life he peeled off the fake plastic smile the moment he was out of the building and left it to blow along the streets with the other detritus and, head down, arms straight at his sides, hands deep in his trouser pockets he’d head for home.
Shouldn’t the very word conjure images to banish the demons of his working life? Sanctuary, warmth, comfort. Weren’t these the words with which home ought to be synonymous? But that of course wasn’t how his life had transpired. If work was the mortar in which his days sat moribund, desolate, then his home life was the pestle which ground any remaining hope or ambition to a dry, inert dust. He shivered in the chill evening air and tried to burrow down farther into his jacket chewing absently at the neck of his shirt, his chin submerged beneath his collar. Maybe the wind hadn’t actually picked up, possibly the temperature hadn’t just fallen a degree. Perhaps, he thought as he passed the newsagents and looked for traffic at the familiar crossing which would take him to the entrance of the park, it was the very thought of home that had sent the cold shudder through him. Could she do that? Just by him thinking of her? Didn’t she have to at least take an active part if she was tormenting him from afar? Stick in pins or burn an effigy or something. He crossed the road and smiled a cheap humourless smile to himself.
It wasn’t home that was the pestle he realised. Home in itself was a perfectly pleasant comfortable nondescript terraced house like so many others in the city. They had a nice kitchen, a nice sofa, a nice deck out in their small but perfectly nice back yard, a nice bathroom and a nice if increasingly cold and passionless bedroom. What they seemed to have less and less of these days was anything nice to say to each other. No, it wasn’t wasn’t home that was the pestle. It wasn’t even her. It was them. Them together, them apart even when in the same room. The relationship hadn’t suffered any eruption, there had been no seismic disagreement leaving them stranded on opposite sides of a marital chasm. They had simply not seemed to realise that they’d both stopped watering and caring for the soil in which their love was supposed to grow. They’d killed whatever they’d had together through lazy, careless neglect and now what was left was so dessicated, so utterly beyond saving that even if either of them could summon the will to as much as try to resuscitate their relationship they would find the body long since removed, cremated and the ashes of their distant lost affection blown apart by the winds of domestic despair.
Lost in his dark thoughts and the gloom of the gathering night he found himself at their gate with no recollection of the final half a mile of his walk home. His fingers found the latch key in his jacket pocket and pausing for the merest fraction he drew in a quick breath and so emboldened unlocked the door and stepped inside. As he wiped his shoes on the words ‘Home Sweet Home’ ironically embedded in the fabric of the inside door mat, his spirits suddenly lifted a little. There was no sound from the living room. No television soap opera or game show and no light escaping from beneath the door. Perhaps she’d gone out for the evening. In fairness he had said he was going for a drink after work. Stung at no longer being invited to the apres office piss up and annoyed at her sarcasm when he’d mentioned it at the breakfast table this morning, he had said that, actually, he quite fancied a pint or two and so would be late home. She wasn’t to wait up. If she’d heard him she hadn’t acknowledged the fact but he supposed now that she must have and had decided to go out herself. Sauce for the goose and all that. Well, he thought, having the house to himself for a couple of hours was about as good as Friday night got. He would open a couple of beers and watch what he wanted on the telly for a change. No Ian Beale, no Ken fucking Barlow, but something intelligent, something informative, something, in short, that was actually worth watching.
It was then he heard it. He wondered afterwards if his subconscious hadn’t detected it when he’d stood on the Home Sweet Home mat but had filed it away as too unlikely to be real. As he stepped towards the kitchen door however there was no mistake. A small strangled cry had floated down from upstairs. Like a tiny fluttering bird knocking dust from the branches of his memory the sound was distant, strange and at once immediately, intimately familiar.
It was the sound of his wife having sex.
He placed his hand on the newel post at the bottom of the stairs and as if in a trance or drawn by invisible and at once irresistible threads he began to climb. The door to their bedroom was ajar. She was in the habit of hanging an array of towels and clothing over the top of it and so it was never properly closed. As he stepped onto the landing the unmistakeable, uncontrolled primal noises of his wife achieving a powerful, surging orgasm froze him to the spot. The spell was broken a heartbeat later when an unfamiliar yet unambiguously masculine groan shuddered from the room. He strode forward, his lips and knuckles white his body visibly shaking. As he pushed open the door the tawdry drama was revealed in all its mundane and sordid glory.
It wasn’t the tall, muscular physique of the man lying, sheened with sweat in his marital bed that robbed him of his courage and sapped his anger, although he was very tall and athletic with not an ounce of fat and biceps like a side of beef. Something else made him turn on his heel and stride back to the stairs. An emotion other than rage or fear was spreading through him. A bewildered dazed and confused disbelief led him stumbling blindly to the kitchen. He liberated a bottled beer from the fridge and absently fumbled for the opener in a kitchen drawer. There were the mumbled bass and hysterical treble notes of voices from upstairs and hurried movement on the ceiling above him. He sat and sipped his beer. He didn’t even look up as heavy footsteps descended the staircase. But when the door to the kitchen opened he slowly turned his head and to the confusion of the lithe, muscular and impossibly handsome man filling it’s frame, a wide beautific smile spread across his face. The man had fine, dignified features, he was young obviously strong at the peak of human fitness and just before he left the house he had attempted a blushing apology and explanation in heavily accented English.
Alone now, with no noise other than the ticking of the kitchen clock and the distant muffled sounds of his wife’s sobbing, he felt for the first time in as long as he could remember, truly happy. He opened another sweating bottle and raised it in a toast to himself before allowing the cold bubbling froth to run down his throat. This could be he thought the greatest moment in his life. It was impossible. And yet it had happened. This was a moment he would treasure for years to come. People would ask him ‘didn’t you mind?’ and they’d say ‘for God’s sake man he slept with your wife’ to which he would shrug ‘The guy didn’t realise she was married, not his fault ‘ and in any case he thought, I won’t be able to blame her for what she’d done. Hell, if I wasn’t straight he could have had me too, the man is simply gorgeous.
He glanced at his phone to check the date. He wanted this day to be seared forever in his memory. This special day, he thought , this happy happiest of days. The day I met Laurent Koscielny.