Thursday, 2 June 2011

THE SWIMMING LESSON - a short story by GC

“I swear if there’s a woman in Bedford, some school tart you used to shag behind the bike sheds, don’t bother to come back. Don’t think I won’t find out either; I can smell them. There won’t be any ‘Donna, give me another chance’ this time.”
She went to the bedroom door and shouted, “Chrissy come up here and say goodbye to your dad.”
Mike Anderson grimaced but said nothing. He continued to pack the overnight bag that lay open on their bed.
She watched him for the slightest clue he was lying. She was reassured when he put pyjamas, dressing gown, and his slippers into the bag. Then she reasoned it could be a scam. He wouldn’t have packed a bottle of Champagne and a box of condoms in front of her.
Donna felt a strange sensation in her chest that she had almost forgotten. Love, she thought. This stupid, stupid man who she loved so much it hurt might be throwing away everything with some stolen one-night fling.
She handed him the T-shirt she’d ironed. The years together and she still got a thrill from the sight of his smooth, sculptured torso. The bulk of his biceps had been a pillow for her head just an hour before.
His daily workout in the gym he’d created in their garage meant if he was not the handsomest man she’d ever known, he was the strongest.
He dropped his mobile phone into his shirt pocket. “Look it’ll be on,” he said. “Ring me any time.”
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
He couldn’t think of a smart reply so instead pulled her towards him by the belt of her housecoat.
She kept her lips closed until she yielded to the pressure of his mouth.
Perhaps he should cancel the trip, he thought. Some Saturday morning nookie – the only time their daughter could be guaranteed fixed to the television – would sooth both their tempers of the last few days.
“I haven’t brushed my teeth,” she said pulling away.
“You’ve got nothing to worry about. I’ll be back before lunch tomorrow. Don, I really am going to meet Adrian, his missus, and their three kids.”
She knew he was telling the truth about the meeting. She’d spied on his e-mails. But he had got up to enough mischief in the afternoons without spending a night away. Who knows what temptation he might find after a few drinks?
“No more tattoos,” she said firmly. The last time he’d strayed – with a Bosnian ballet student he’d rescued from a chip pan fire – he had M and D entwined inside a heart decorate his shoulder. It wasn’t his first tattoo.
He kissed her again and this time she’d didn’t resist.
“Yuck,” said their eight-year-old daughter Chrissy from the door. She was dressed in pyjamas and carried the television remote.
Blond and pretty she was a tiny model of her mother, he thought.
“Chris, I’m sorry love but you remember daddy won’t be able to take you to karate this afternoon.” He used the third person-speak with his daughter that still unsettled Donna.
“She’ll just have to miss class this week; I’m at the hairdressers.” Chrissy didn’t seem bothered.
“But daddy will be back in time to take you swimming tomorrow,” he promised.
“Why do you have go at all?”.
“Well, you’ve got your best friend Amanda at school. When I was at primary school I had a friend called Adrian who I haven’t seen since I was 11 and that was nearly 25 years ago.”
“You tell him, Chrissy. It’s not as though you were best mates otherwise why so long?”
He ignored Donna’s dig and swept his daughter up in his arms, did two straight-arm stretches bringing her close to the ceiling and nearly kissed her before setting her back on her feet.
“There’s this website on the internet that gets old school friends back together. We met through that and now he’s invited me to visit him and his family. We all could have gone but it would have been a squeeze.”
“Are they going to come here?”
“I don’t suppose so. ”
“Why do you have to sleep there?”
“Enough,” he said impatiently. “Go and watch the cartoons and I’ll say ‘bye before I go.”
“Why are you sleeping there?” Donna asked when he was ready to leave. “It’s not that far a drive, you could have done it in a day if you’d wanted to?”
“It means I can have a proper drink with him. We haven’t seen each other for 25 years. Aren’t you impressed? I know I am.”
“Why have you got to get pissed?”
“Because that’s what men do.”

Mike was 20 minutes into a motorway traffic jam when he had his first serious reservations about the reunion. It had seemed such a good idea at first. One of the guys at work had raved about the website and he felt compelled to give it a go without thinking too deeply why.
Adrian Black made contact almost immediately. But their e-mail exchanges were clumsy and boring. Each recalled ancient incidents the other didn’t remember. A face-to-face meet-up was called for.
But now Mike was doubting the value of the whole enterprise. They had been in the same class but had never been friends. They hadn’t even gone to each other’s birthday parties. What would they have to talk about?
He was still wondering whether to turn back when he reached Bedford.

“A fireman of all things, who would have believed it?” said his host handing Mike a fresh beer before settling down in the garden chair opposite.
“No stranger than you turning out an art teacher,” said Mike putting the can by his feet. He had only just opened the one in his hand. He had already drunk more than he cared to for the time of day.
It had taken him a while to find the house. They had exchanged pictures over the net. Mike had been prepared to find Adrian tall, balding, hungry-looking. And his wife Julia, small, mousy (Donna didn’t have to worry about this one) and the young children indistinguishable from each other by age or sex in their general scruffiness.
However seeing him in the flesh, Adrian seemed genuinely surprised at the body Mike had built for himself.
“Good God, Jules, if you knew how weedy – I’m sorry you were – Mike was at school and look at him now.”
He didn’t know if to be flattered or embarrassed, as Adrian seemed to take his wife on a tour of his body. In fact he wasn’t certain if Adrian was taking the piss and Julia seemed to be pretending interest.
The two men went off to the local pub an hour after Mike’s arrival. The hours and the pints drifted away in empty conversation much like their e-mail exchanges.
On their return Adrian gave him the house tour proper, while the children, unchecked, charged about between them. It was a terrace house much like his own except with an extra bedroom and a much larger garden
Adrian’s paintings were everywhere. Bowls of fruit and flowers and fields were just about recognisable. The thick paint looked as though it had been applied by hand. He thought of Chrissy’s nursery school daubs and he wished now he had kissed her goodbye.
On the wall of the staircase there was a series of small frames containing drawings of nudes of both sexes.
Above Adrian and Julia’s bed hung the largest painting in the house; a nude which he took to be of Julia because of the smallness of the woman’s breasts and not because of the abundance of the model’s pubic hair.
Mike kept a clear enough head to be glad not to show his irritation when later Julia expressed regret on learning that he and Donna hadn’t thought it necessary to marry. It was no one’s business but theirs. Donna refused to tie the knot until she was sure Mike had given up his philandering ways. He didn’t like to be reminded.
Early evening he found himself gratefully alone in the garden picking the grit of half-cooked veggie-burgers from between his teeth after the worst barbecue of his life. It took the couple an hour to bathe and put their children to bed.
About 9.30 Julia followed them to “give you boys a proper chance to chat.” At the same time the men moved from the garden to the living room. There she air-kissed him goodnight. “Thanks for coming; Adrian doesn’t bring many friends home.”
Mike hadn’t expected that despite the amount of booze that had been consumed, Julia’s departure made he feel more uncomfortable not less.
(to be continued tomorrow)

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