Continued from “The Sleeper on the Train”.
“Your problem is you’re not getting enough sex,” Jude said to Michelle.
“Is that right?” said Michelle.
“No it’s not right. You’ve got everything – rich husband, nice house, brand new car in the drive, kids all fledged – but you’re bored.”
They were on a table outside a bistro in Covent Garden, where they’d eaten paninis and were now having a bottle of wine. Jude, Michelle’s American friend she knew from college, was smoking and offering morsels of advice between puffs.
“That’s what I mean by it’s not right. Sure you need an outlet, and I’m not talking about watching mind-numbing soaps on TV or joining a fucking zumba class.”
“An outlet,” said Michelle, “You’re saying sex is an outlet?”
“I sure am,” said Jude, coiling smoke into the sunny air and emphatically crushing her third cigarette into the ashtray.
The fact that the two of them had ended up arguing over this, even to the point of vowing to end their thirty-year friendship, and that the argument went on all the way to Euston and nearly made Michelle miss her train, doesn’t matter. What matters to this story is that though Michelle joined the train in a state of anger and panic, she would later close her eyes and go to sleep for nearly two hours, and wake to the realisation that in her direct, American and brutal way, Jude had hit the nail on the head. And hit it, in her direct, American and brutal way, with a sledgehammer.
“May I help with your luggage?” the man had said, and she’d agreed, and said that she was grateful and he was very kind. And they’d talked a little, small-talk, about her propensity for lateness and leaving things behind, and about the nice weather and about the book she was reading. The book she opened after sleeping to find an earring and a note to say he was glad she was enjoying his book.
His book! The book she was reading was written by that man, the man she thought was kind of cute, who helped lift her bags onto the luggage rail, who she’d caught glancing at her while she was reading, clearly to see if she was engaging with the story! What are the chances of this happening? What’s more, why did this happen?
The sleeper that fell out of the book did not in fact belong to her – she’d taken it out because her earlobe was sore, probably down to the ear-bashing she’d taken from Jude! No, the earring wasn’t hers, but the fact that it was identical to the one on the right side, the one she left in, was once again perhaps some kind of miracle. A coincidence at the very least. It was a pity, she thought, that she never got to explain this to the man, and to thank him for his kindness, and to comment on the remarkable coincidence that she was reading Return to Cocoa Yard which the man himself had penned! The interesting, kind of cute, polite and gentlemanly man himself!
“How was London?” her husband Stephen asked when she got home later that night.
“It was lovely,” she said, going on to describe her two-day break, which took in a show, a pleasant boat ride down the Thames and lots and lots of shopping.
“And how’s Jude?” he asked.
“Fine,” she said, saying nothing about their fight, “She sends her love.”
“I hope you’re hungry,” he said, “dinner’s nearly ready.”
And he gave her a hug and she hugged him back – the man to whom she’d been married for thirty years, with whom she’d raised three children, now grown up with family of their own. The man she’d loved for all those years, ever since they met at a nightclub in Glasgow, who’d asked her to dance…
They made love that night, after the bolognaise he’d cooked, which she’d said was nice, and after that she’d told him more about London and fallen asleep doing so, unaware that he was watching her sleep and wishing they could talk a bit more.
Stephen had already left for work when she woke next morning, but had taken the trouble as always to put out a cup for her morning tea, along with a note to say he loved her. She read the note and smiled, but then remembered there was another note in her handbag, from the man on the train, the man who was kind and had written the book that she would put her feet up with and finish today, using the note as a bookmark whenever she broke for something to eat or drink.
It was a lovely story; moving, humorous and thought-provoking and when she read the final page she put it down with some regret.
It was now four in the afternoon and she knew it was time to start prepping dinner for when Stephen got home at seven. He worked so hard, she thought, and she deeply appreciated it, along with the nice house, a brand new car and everything that went with it. Yes she loved the man, and yet today there was somehow something gnawing away at her psyche. So as she took the rice from the cupboard and left it to soak, and began to mix the spices for the chicken curry, she got to thinking about what that was. Was it that she hadn’t made every effort to please him in bed the night before? Was it that she’d fallen asleep too soon afterwards, he did so love his pillow-talk? Or was it that in her heart of hearts she knew that she’d been having sex with him out of duty for a very long time? She gave this last question some thought, and couldn’t help reflecting that when they met as teenagers she so valued his gorgeous friendship that she left it much longer to have sex with him than her friends left it with their boyfriends. And why was that? she asked herself. It was because she didn’t want it to sully what they had together, to tarnish their friendship. And it was because she finally let him do it as that’s what was expected rather than what she wanted, and what he’d been expecting and she hadn’t always been wanting ever since. So ironically she let him do it because she feared losing his friendship if she didn’t.
So Jude was wrong, she decided, about sex. Yes she’d hit the nail on the head that Michelle was bored, but it wasn’t sex she was needing, it was the freshness and excitement of a brand new friendship. To find someone interesting and new to her, someone with new things to say, exciting opportunities to bring, unfamiliar places to see. She needed a key-change in her life to provide surprise, like how a good piece of music can change everything with a change of key. And yet, she thought, there was a strange stirring somewhere within her when she woke to find the man on the train had gone. She didn’t know quite what it was, but it was something, and it was not unpleasant. And it was something strong enough to make her google his name, to discover who was his agent, and to write a letter in the hope that it would somehow reach him…
To be continued with the letter Michelle wrote to the man on the train…