My boyfriend arrives on Friday evening with a bulging Waitrose bag. He brings out delicious treaty things like oysters and liquefying stinky cheese and interesting wine just because. He dumps an armful of clean scented lilies onto the counter and rummages for scissors to snip off the ends, stripping leaves so they don’t rot in the water. Within three minutes of him arriving in my flat, it is filled with colour and noise. He then whips out a soft plastic bag filled with something pinkly squidgy. It looks like something Dennis Nilsson might have as a starter. Soft roes! says Boyfriend trying to find a millimetre of space. If the fridge was a cartoon it would be bulging – going wow wowwww.
I’ve lived in my flat for six months; it still feels new. So does my relationship. But since we don’t live together when we row, one of us can always storm off, and one of the things about a new relationship is the way a row can just blow up. Out of nowhere. Not sure of where the buttons are you press them hard inadvertently. So he buys me a hardback cookery book and I recognise the shop; it’s one of those places where remaindered books are sold off cheaply. I make a throwaway remark about cut price and it comes out wrong. It’s rude and I’m embarrassed but it’s early morning and my daughter is there so we zip it but later on he makes an unconnected remark about something else and I respond and suddenly he is furious and so am I. But with all rows there is the thing you are arguing about – and there is something else going on underneath, the button pressed – the core belief, the 3am waking up thought – the fear. Do the things that mildly irritate you now – will they become deal breakers?
I am tidy, he is not. He is hard on his stuff. The butter soft Bill Amberg travel bag he bought a few months ago now looks like it’s been tied to a jeep and driven through the Australian outback. I have the delightful habit of worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. I project the worst possible outcome. He uses logic to try and deconstruct an emotional reaction. I am emotional. He tells complex anecdotes to terrified waiters, carrying several heavy plates. He uses big words in arguments. I turn into Peggy Mitchell. Shut it you slaaaaag. I happily watch rubbish on television. He comments loudly on its rubbishness.
We are both trying to compromise without losing anything of ourselves.
The next day he accidentally knocks a floor lamp and it crashes into the wall taking out a chunk of plaster. Right he says, gets some filler and a chair, and stands on the chair to fill the hole in the wall. I can fix it.
I say nothing. He says nothing. I hate you I think. Why not just drive a fucking tank into my flat and have done with it?
Then I think of him standing out in the cold chipping out bricks to solve my condensation problem. Which it does. And retiling my bathroom. And mending my Angelpoise. Playing chess with my daughter. Sorting out my television.
A few seconds later there is a splintering sound as the chair he is standing on cracks. May as well finish the job as I’m up here. he says not even looking down, fatally adding Well it’s not a very well made chair is it? I don’t think it was meant to bear the weight of a sixteen stone man I say through gritted teeth silently adding you clumsy great twat.
I suddenly think of a Viz cartoon which features a woman who is obsessed with her tidy home, can’t bear her children messing it up and ends up killing and stuffing them. I don’t want to be the Viz woman in her pristine home, everything smelling of disinfectant, and with no boyfriend because I’ve knocked him off a chair beaten him to death with a broken bit of wood and stuffed him.
Later we drink red wine and watch Festen, the Danish film about sexual abuse and chronic family denial. It does rather put broken chair spats into perspective.