Authors: Deborah Moggach
With three ex-wives, a failing career and only his dog George for company, Buffy's bachelorhood is looking worryingly confirmed.
Until he meets Celeste.
Dazzled by love, Buffy has no idea that Celeste is systematically researching his ex-wives, children and step-children, and unearthing secrets that will change all their lives...
Deborah Moggach is the author of many successful novels including the bestseller
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
. Her screenplays include
The Diary of Anne Frank
and the film of
Pride and Prejudice
, which was nominated for a BAFTA. She lives in North London.
You Must Be Sisters
Close to Home
A Quiet Drink
Hot Water Man
Driving in the Dark
To Have and to Hold
Smile and Other Stories
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
âI don't think I'll get married again.
I'll just find a woman I don't like
and give her a house.'
For Max Eilenberg, Mike Shaw and Rochelle Stevens
BUFFY WAS SITTING
in what he still insisted on calling the saloon bar of his local, The Three Fiddlers. The racing commentary was drowned by the noise of a drill. Outside, as usual, they were digging up the road. This time, according to one of those self-congratulatory
Bringing It To Your Community
placards, they were laying down cable TV. The noise of the drilling was joined by the hooting of cars, stuck in the inevitable traffic jam this caused at the junction with the Edgware Road. He was feeling mulish and dyspeptic. Despite his post-breakfast sachet of Fybogel his bowels had failed to move that morning; nor had his first Senior Service, inhaled vigorously into his lungs, had its usual, prompt effect.
He gazed into his foam-laced, empty glass. He was
feeling his age, whatever that meant. Depending on his mood,
shifted both ways â
my God, sixty-one
. Today it was
Events had conspired to irritate him, an elderly reaction he knew, but still. First there was the bowel business, or non-business. Then, when he had gone out on this glorious summer's day he had had another undeniably elderly reaction: how did young girls manage to wear such indescribably hideous clothes? Once he had looked forward to hot weather, revealing, as it did, achingly tender shoulders, slim legs and promising hints of cleavage. Now girls cropped their hair and wore those awful, awful boots. Those with the most monumental buttocks wore luminous shorts; the slim ones, on the other hand, enveloped themselves in drooping layers of black, like Greek grannies. And he himself, of course, was entirely invisible. Not a flicker from them. Nothing.
It was then, when he was looking at the only recognisably female woman, that he had tripped up on an upturned paving stone, outside his block of flats, and almost taken a header. Blasted TV cables. Testily, he reflected upon choice. Nowadays, choice had been removed in the things that mattered, like saloon and public bars. Once harmlessly divided into two sections, two pungent little microcosms of society which one could visit at will, depending upon one's
finances and the presence of a female companion, pubs had now been knocked-through and neutered â Tony Blackburned into a mid-Atlantic no man's land of bleeping machines and androgynous creatures probably working in PR. On the other hand, there seemed to be a proliferation of choice in what one already had too much of anyway. Take lager. Nowadays there were about a million different brands, the more obscure the better â he should know, he'd done the voice-over for one from East Senegal or somewhere â who needed them? Though of course the repeat fees were welcome.
And then there were all these TV channels, cable and things, popping up when it was flustering enough keeping up with the four one already had, especially now they had a video and Penny kept recording
The Clothes Show
Palm Beach Story
. And then self-righteously blaming
because he apparently hadn't labelled it.
âI don't see why you make such a fuss' she said, âyou never get around to watching all those boring old films anyway. It's so anal, darling, to hoard.'
âI just like to know they're there. It's like church.'
âBut you never go to church.'
âExactly. But I know I could, if I wanted. It's
She had tossed her shiny hair and clipped shut her briefcase. Then paused. She had stood still, like
a fox, scenting a rabbit a long way off, through the undergrowth. Her nostrils flared.
Maybe she could write a piece on it.
That's what she was thinking. He knew her so well. Maybe one of her cuddly, tabloid
Aren't Men the End?
pieces, with blush-making references to himself; maybe something for a woman's glossy,
Ten New Grounds for Divorce.
An amused, middle-class think-piece for
She spread her talents widely. My God, she even wrote for
â one of the ten grounds for divorce, in his opinion.
But Penny was in Positano, writing a travel piece for somebody or other. She was writing a lot of travel pieces lately. This, of course, was the real reason for his irritability. It was lonely, shuffling along to Marks and Sparks to buy a
meal. By now he knew them by heart.
Cumberland Fish Pie
â disappointing, too much potato;
â a bit ersatz but okay. They reminded him of periods in his life he preferred to forget. Besides, there was never quite enough in a
so he usually bought a
which was just too much, of course, but being greedy he always ate the lot, scraping out the foil dish, and then fell heavily asleep, waking in the middle of the night with heartburn. Then there was the wine problem. A half-bottle wasn't nearly enough, of course, not nearly. But a whole bottle
was marginally too much, with the same results except when he woke it was with a flaming throat and palpitations. When Penny was there it was fine; she was a light drinker which meant he could polish off practically the whole bottle but not quite.
Besides, he liked to chat. He liked her breezing in from the outside world, tut-tutting at the mess and half-listening to the events of his afternoon. She was invigorating, in a vaguely abstracted way. She had breeding â her father was a brigadier â and a Home Counties gloss to her, she sorted things out and got things done. She could be good company â amusing, full of gossip â especially when there were other people present; when they were alone she was inclined to boss him about. She was at her best with workmen â good-natured but firm and authoritative; rather the way she handled him, in fact. Otherwise she treated him the way she treated the dog â with brisk testiness, especially when he got under her feet or stood in front of the fridge.
He wasn't good at being alone. He got bored. He missed the bickering, the sulks, even the hours she spent on the phone when he was trying to watch the TV. Scents in the bathroom â perfumes she got as promotional freebies â lingered for days after her departures. Actually, they didn't exactly remind him of her; they reminded him of some idealized female
presence, the sort of woman he had never met, and certainly never married. The sort of woman who cooked him dinner unresentfully and laughed at his anecdotes even though she had heard them before; who didn't record over his videos. Who didn't call him âdarling' with an edge to it; why did women only use endearments when they were particularly irritated, or trying to make some sort of point?
He got to his feet. George's tail thumped; he got up, with difficulty, and gazed up at Buffy, his eyes moist with devotion. Why had no woman, in all these years, ever looked at him quite like that?
Buffy bought another pint from the landlord. He was new, an impossibly tanned, athletic type. God knew why he had decided to run a pub. The world was becoming filled with handsome, vigorous young men. They sprang up from nowhere, or sometimes from Australia, and ran the sort of enterprises that seemed vaguely beneath them; the sort of businesses which used to be run by boring old geezers you could rely on to be there year in year out, for ever. These new ones all looked as if they had just dropped in to do you a favour. This particular one was called Curtis, he had heard the name, but the moment had passed when he could have called him Curtis, casually, and now it was too late.
Buffy sat down; George sank to the floor. Penny
seemed to have been away for ages; in fact she had only been gone for two days. The trouble with these absences was that you had to be particularly nice to the person before they departed, and particularly nice to them for quite a while after they returned; it gave a marriage an unnatural glaze, a stagey feel. Also, because they had been abroad it made everything you had done seem even more petty and trivial than usual. If that was possible. She always returned tanned and somehow taller â he forgot how tall she was until he saw her again. Radiant, too, but full of complaints to make him feel better. âChrist, the hotel . . . more like a building site . . . bulldozers, mud . . . We had to watch a fashion display, three hours, would you believe it they all wore
. . . almost as bad as folk dancing, no, not quite, nothing's as bad as that . . . then we had this nightmarish rum'n'rhumba evening . . . Shirley got totally paralytic, you know, she's the one from
. . . and everyone had the most appalling hangovers the next day . . .'
She brought him back things to eat â obscure Greek sweetmeats wrapped in foil, Sicilian anchovies, things that leaked in her suitcase. He was touched by this, of course, but it made him feel like a housewife whose husband was returning home. This in turn let to the inevitable operational hitches once
they had gone to bed. The longer she had been away, the more honour-bound he felt to attempt some sort of sexual congress on her return. After some dampish fiddling around they both knew they would never get any sleep this way, it could go on for hours. âDon't worry,' she'd whisper, âI'm totally zonked, anyway.'