Lynn made three new piles: those who were over-confident (too much like David), those who were desperate, and those who were in-between. From the in-between pile, she chose three likely candidates: “Nice ’n cosy” Robert, widower of 63; “country lover” Patrick, a bird-watcher and hiking enthusiastic of 49, and “bookish” Trevor, who wanted “only to chat with a nice lady”.
Lynn met Robert at the Wisley cafe – a neutral place. She had RHS membership, and hoped he didn’t mind paying the entrance fee. While Lynn sipped her tea, and picked a croissant into a flaky pile, Robert ate a sandwich, a bowl of soup and a pain au chocolate. His favourite meal was breakfast and he took off on verbal perambulations on the subject of great breakfasts he’d had. His preferred breakfast country, it turned out, was Germany, where breakfast was a marathon that started with Sekt, traversed through eggs, smoked salmon, yoghurt, selection plates of ham and cheese, fruit, came to a rest with mounds of bread, jam (“which they call marmalade”), honey, butter, chocolate spread and collapsed, exhausted, with coffee.
“You’d really enjoy it,” said Robert.
Lynn, looking down at her shredded croissant, doubted it.
Robert went on to talk about his three children, his five grandchildren, his cookery classes and what he’d had for supper the night before. He didn’t mention his wife, but he did talk about being alone, especially in the context of food. He didn’t like cooking and shopping for one, and couldn’t stand going to restaurants alone. Lynn thought he was probably looking for someone to eat with. That was fine with her; when she was hungry she liked to eat. The problem would be watching Robert. He gulped his drinks, lathered crumbs all over his face and chest and talked with his mouth full. Lynn knew she couldn’t spend a minute more with him.
Outside the cafe, croissant crumbs adhering to his chin, he asked her if they would see each other again. As she began to shake her head regretfully, he burst into loud tears. She patted his shoulder until he stopped crying.
“You’re awfully kind,” he said, holding onto her hand. “It’s just that I haven’t had sex in so long.”
Lynn considered this, and made a practical suggestion.
“If that’s the way you feel, then you must pay for it,” she said. She waved and walked blithely away. Robert was his own problem, not hers. It was wonderful to feel nothing about his predicament. She caught a glimpse of herself in the cafe window – cheeks red from the cold, eyes glittering – and blew herself a kiss.
A week later, she called “country lover” Patrick. Lynn very clearly reiterated her “no sex” stipulation and he said he understood. He tried to persuade her to meet at the Worplesdon pub, from where they could have a lovely walk, but Lynn stood firm, insisting on the Wisley cafe where she felt comfortable.
Lynn sat in her spot watching the door. Patrick had mentioned that he generally wore khaki, so she knew him immediately when he came in, dressed head-to-toe in army fatigues. His hair was extremely short, and he had bronzed and muscled forearms. He shook her hand lingeringly and managed to touch her three times before they sat down. Lynn began to think that Patrick, like Robert, had not listened to her.
Her attention wandered while Patrick had a cup of tea and a tuna roll. She remembered the moment in her marriage when she’d realised that David had stopped listening to her. She’d asked him three times if he’d wanted scrambled eggs or spaghetti for tea, and he’d looked up at her from his Atlas Man magazine and said, “I’m not bothered.” As she beat the eggs in the kitchen those three words had pierced her.
“I’m not bothered” had been the theme of her marriage but now he was very bothered about Agnieszka, the Polish facialist. Drifting back to Patrick, who was talking about the range of bird species that Wisley hosted, she noticed that at least he ate neatly.
After finishing his roll, he said, “How about that walk, then?”
Patrick liked talking, which was companionable. He talked her out of the cafe, across the meadow, past the pond and towards the Seven Acres. Guiding her in a gentlemanly fashion along the garden paths, he used every opportunity he could find to pat her arm as he made a point about the mating call of the robin or to bump arms as he pointed out a nest in a tree. Lynn realised he was leading her into the darker recesses of the park near the Arboretum, and that she couldn’t bear listening to him talk or enduring his sly approaches any longer.
“Guess what, Patrick?” she exclaimed, coming to a halt near a bench. “I’ve just remembered I’ve got a dentist appointment. Must be off then!”
Patrick clenched his jaw. “Jesus!” he exclaimed. He beat one of his fists against a nearby tree.
“What did I do wrong this time?” He looked at Lynn, face hardening. “Because when it comes to you women, I always, always do something wrong.”
Lynn didn’t need to think. She said, “Patrick, you talk too much. You should listen more. Be attentive.”
With a jaunty wave, she left him, enjoying the swish of her skirt against the back of her legs as she did so.
(Copyright Charlotte Otter 2010)
To Be Continued …
See Part I here.