Table of ContentsHIS ’N’ HERS
The lyrics to
The Smile On Your Face
© Arthur Tapp 1989
Extract from Meg Ryan interview with Margot Dougherty published in
(January 1999), reprinted by kind permission of the publisher
Copyright © 2004 by Mike Gayle
First published in Great Britain in 2004 by Hodder and Stoughton
An Hachette Livre UK Company
The right of Mike Gayle to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
Epub ISBN 978 1 848 94912 6
Book ISBN 978 0 340 96096 7
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
An Hachette Livre UK Company
338 Euston Road
London NWl 3BH
For Claire (again)
and my monkey (for the first time)
I owe a huge debt to everyone who helped out on this book. Special thanks, however, must go to the following who went above and beyond the call of duty: my editor Phil Pride (for being the most patient boss an author could wish for), everyone at Hodder (for all their hard work when I made their work harder), Mark, the designer (for my cracking cover – Heal’s sofas, no less!), my trio of agents (it’s a long story), Jane Bradish-Ellames (for being a good cop and bad cop rolled into one), Hannah Griffiths (for hours of conversations about the meaning of life) and Euan (for seamlessly stepping into the breach), Chris McCabe (for not yawning every time I came up with a new idea), Nadine Baggott (for some of the spot-on observations), Blaire Palmer (for pointing me in the right direction on several occasions), Jackie Behan (for early feedback), John and Charlotte (for the ear-plugs), Carol Flint (for research activities), Arthur Tapp (for introducing me to eBay, the Liberty Thieves and writing ‘The Smile On Your Face’), Rodney Beckford (for his work as a sounding-board), Phil Gayle (for a key suggestion), Liz Hitchcock (for
offering me her life story), Richard Corbridge (for music-guru services), the Thursday night pub people (for being excellent drinking companions), the Monday night footballers (for my only exercise), Danny Wallace (for being Danny Wallace), Liz and James (for rescuing an early draft from my garden) and last but not least everyone @ The Board (for making the hours at my iMac go that little bit faster).
‘There’s so much mythology about getting together, and there’s none about staying together.
And staying together is what’s so hard.’ Meg Ryan in an interview with
Los Angeles Magazine
Thursday, 16 January 2003
With a remote control in one hand and a Budweiser in the other, I’m slouched on the sofa in front of my widescreen TV and
on DVD. I’m not really watching it, though, in the sense of following the story from beginning to end. What I’m doing is pointing my remote control at the DVD player and making it skip to the best bits, which constitute any moment during a film where there’s loud music preferably leading up to an explosion, gun battle or slo-mo fight scene. I know exactly where the best bits of all my favourite films are – from the bank robbery scene in
to the biggest explosion in
(the final one in the tunnel on the train) and the gun battle at the end of
(which is probably my favourite gun battle ever). I’m enjoying my search through my favourite DVDs even more than usual because I’ve just spent a considerable amount of money on a home-cinema surround-sound system, which is now turned up so loud that it’s making the mirror vibrate above the fireplace.
A huge grin is fixed to my face as I skip to my favourite scene in
where Keanu Reeves’s character sets off the metal detector with the arsenal of weapons slung around his chest. The noise is tremendous. The bass from the thumping soundtrack is punching me in the chest. It’s fantastic. I feel like I’m in a boxing ring with Ali, and when the guns start firing I’m in ecstasy. I never imagined that TV could be this good. I never imagined that there was a way of making my favourite thing in the world even better. Thanks to my surround-sound, it’s not just the explosions that are clearer: there are new, more subtle noises I’ve missed on a plain old TV. Having the sound separated out into front left, centre, front right and a sub-woofer to handle the explosions is one thing – but with my left and right rear speakers it almost feels like I’m there in the film with Mr Reeves. I can hear bullets whizzing past my head on the left, the
of empty cartridges falling to the ground on my right, and the low rumble of falling masonry surrounds me.
As the scene continues, though, I realise something’s wrong – or, rather, not one hundred per cent right. I look at the manual that came with the surround-sound system. After a few moments browsing through it I come to the conclusion that I need just a little more volume from my rear speakers. With the remote, I carefully adjust the levels, and close my eyes tightly, concentrating on the rear speakers.
, I tell myself.
As the ludicrously loud
scene comes to a close and moves on to boring talky bits, which home-cinema surround-sound does little to enhance – other than make it seem like all the actors are shouting at each other – I press pause. Keanu is frozen in time and space. I think about swapping over to
The Phantom Menace
’s pod-race scene, which is the only bit I’ve watched since I bought the DVD on the day it came out. Just as I’m getting the new disc out of its case the phone rings.
‘Hello,’ I say.
‘Hi, it’s me,’ says Helen.
‘Hey, you. Are you on the train?’
‘Yeah, it’s a bit of a nightmare. It’s running an hour late because of signal failures.’
‘Trains these days are useless,’ I say sympathetically.
‘The only good news is that I’ll be able to get some work done.’
‘I suppose so.’ I reach across to the coffee-table for my beer and take a swig.
‘What have you been up to?’ asks Helen.
‘Nothing much,’ I reply, surveying the box the surround-sound system came in and the bits of plastic and polystyrene around it.
‘Well,’ she concludes, ‘I’d better go. I just wanted to make sure you were all right.’
‘I’m fine,’ I reply. ‘You’re coming round to mine tonight, aren’t you?’
‘Of course,’ she replies. ‘See you later, then.’
‘Yeah, babe,’ I reply. ‘See you later.’
I hang up and, with Keanu still frozen in suspended animation, look around the living room and think about the way my life has turned out. On paper, for a thirty-two-year-old divorced but financially secure accountant, life probably doesn’t get much better than this – ‘this’ being everything in my living room: my new home-cinema surround-sound system (of course), my widescreen TV, DVD player, VCR, digital cable box, hi-fi, CDs, records, books and prerecorded videos. Stuff. Stuff that makes me happy. Or, at least, it used to make me happy.
Buying the surround-sound system today after work was an experiment. A testing of a hypothesis that has been worrying me for a while. Have I reached a point where ‘stuff’ no longer makes me happy? The surround-sound system has certainly made me cheerful. But this is nothing in comparison to the happiness I feel knowing that Helen is coming round tonight. This is bizarre, because Helen isn’t matt black or shiny silver. She’s not made by Hitachi, Sony or Panasonic. She doesn’t even have an on/off button. She’s just a woman who fulfils in me the basic need not to be alone.
And I realise now it’s time to grow up again.
It’s time to stop being so self-centred.
It’s time to ask Helen to move in with me.
I’ve just got home from work. The flat is in darkness. I kick my shoes off in the hallway and go through the post I’ve brought in with me from the communal entrance. There’s a bank statement that’s supposedly addressed to me but it says Mrs Alison Owen. I take out a pen from my bag and scribble ‘
MS ALISON SMITH
’ in large block capitals and throw it on to the small table in the hallway where house keys and junk post tend to reside before they get tidied away. The rest of the post (a gas bill and two credit-card statements) is addressed to Mr Marcus Levy, my fiancé. Walking further into the hallway I call his name but there’s no reply, so I call my cat, Disco, but she doesn’t appear either. With no signs of life forthcoming I head into the living room and check the messages on the answerphone.
‘Hi, babe, it’s me. You’re probably on the tube right now. I’m just calling to say I’m running late. It’s been a really bad day here. I’ll be home soon, though, and I’ll bring something for dinner . . . Oh, and my mum called me again about the wedding. She wants to know if she can invite Aunt Jean, because apparently they’re on speaking terms now. And before you say it, I did tell her the wedding’s only a month away and she’s pushing her luck, but you know what my mum’s like. Anyway, I told her we’d let her know.’
At the mention of Marcus’s mum I press the erase button on the machine. It emits a satisfying beep as though I have just evaporated Mrs Levy with a ray gun. Putting down my bags on the sofa I wander into the kitchen, open a new can of Whiskas and call Disco for her dinner.
‘Disco! Dinner time!’
‘Disco! Dinner time!’
‘Disco! Dinner time!’
Disco’s not the sort of cat who needs to be called three times. Normally she’d be hanging around my feet mewing like a demented ball of fur before I even get the can-opener out of the drawer. I check the garden and she’s nowhere to be seen. I move my search back into the flat and eventually I find her lying in one of her favourite haunts – the space between the bed and the radiator in the spare bedroom.
‘Hello, sweetheart,’ I say, in what Marcus calls my ‘Mummy’ voice. ‘It’s dinner time.’
She doesn’t move.
‘Come on now, baby,’ I say rubbing my hands together to attract her attention. ‘Grub’s up.’
She still hasn’t moved and I realise suddenly that she isn’t well. I pick her up and sit on the edge of the bed. She lies limp in my hands, and as I stroke her fur I can feel that her breathing is shallow.
‘What’s wrong, baby?’ She doesn’t even look up at me. I lay her on the bed. Although she’s never been like this before I think perhaps it’s just one of those things – that she’s eaten something dodgy in someone’s garden. Just to be on the safe side I call the vet to see if they have an emergency surgery. Thankfully they do, so I place her in an old Walkers’ crisps box I find in the airing cupboard, surround her with two of Marcus’s old jumpers to keep her warm and walk to the vet’s.