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My nameless ex-girlfriend and I are busy eating our takeaway Nando's meal. She's removed the tablecloth from her gran's antique dining room table, since she doesn't want us ingesting glass. I've spent about ten minutes trying to sweep up debris from the kitchen floor using a grass broom.
The table is broken. It's from the force of the lamp coming down on the edge of it on Saturday evening when she chucked her husband out of her house. She needs a week away from him to let her rage subside and get perspective.
We've just started eating when the electric gate opens, and he drives in. He's come to collect a shirt and some toiletries. We've never met, and this isn't the best time for it. But hey. Here he is.
Ex-girlfriend says, "Bernard, Roy. Roy, Bernard."
We shake hands. He's damn good looking for an American. Shaggy, curly hair. Looks a bit like Iain Banks, the Scottish writer. About my height. Stocky too. I wonder if Ex-girlfriend fell for him cos he's a bit like me?
I say, "Nice to meet you. Pity about the timing though. Very crap circumstances."
"Yeah," he says. "I've heard a lot about you."
"Yeah," I say.
"Want a drink?" he asks, pouring himself a Scotch.
"No, thanks," I say. "I'm cool with the Tab."
"Well," he says, not without irony, "welcome to my house."
"Our house," says Ex-girlfriend.
He sits down. Everyone's silent.
He gets up. Goes and does something in the bathroom. Ex-girlfriend starts telling me about her sister. It's like she's denying his existence.
He comes back. Sits down. Swirls ice in the Scotch glass.
"Want some rice?" I say.
"Nah, I've eaten," he says. "Going to a party just now. Wanna come?"
"No thanks," I say. "Working a full day tomorrow."
Ex-girlfriend continues the story about her sister.
"I have to interrupt you," I say. "Bernard, I need to say some stuff to you..."
He swirls the ice.
I take the plunge. "Bernard, I know this is really uncomfortable for all of us. But I have to tell you this. I love this woman. We spent several years together, and I want the best for her. And what you did is unacceptable." I'm shaking at this point. We're both sitting down. My body is coiled, and my reflexes are ready to take over. My daily tai chi training is about a million miles away. "This is what I need to say... don't hurt her."
"Lemme get this straight," he says. "You come into my house uninvited and tell me what to do???" He's still swirling his ice. And the glass is a heavy one. Beside me is the lamp Ex-girlfriend smashed against the table. It's nice and heavy. Wooden. Turned on a lathe. Heavy enough to break the table.
"Actually, Bernard, it's not 'your' house. It belongs to both of you. And I'm not uninvited. I'm here because she asked me to be here to support her. I care about her, and I care about the fact that she's six months pregnant and her husband was fucking some woman on Friday night."
His foot has gone rigid against the front bar of his chair. His swirling has gone slower, and the little muscle on his temple is twitching.
I say, "Bernard," and I feel my eyes grow dark, a bit of psychosis held at bay somewhere by years and years of self-discipline, but on tap should I need it. My dad taught me some stuff about fighting. He was a bit of a gangster in his day. His weapon of choice was a smashed up snooker cue. "Bernard," I say again, and I lean forward slightly, getting my blocking hand in place, breathing hard and deep to get the synapses open, the tai chi starting to kick in, "I hope you're not thinking what I think you're thinking. Don't do it, Bernard."
"Don't do what, Roy? Make your point."
I point at his hand, the one that's very very slowly swirling ice. "Bernard," I say, "you don't know me. You don't know anything about me, and I seriously recommend that you back down. Don't fuck with me, Bernard."
"Roy, I identify with everything you've said. But I resent your coming into my house and saying 'Don't fuck with me.' I resent it."
Ex-girlfriend stands up and inserts her pregnant belly between the two of us. "Stop it, both of you," she says.
We both seem to consider this.
"What's your point, Roy?" says Bernard, the ice-swirling a tiny bit faster now.
"I don't know what my point it," I say. "I can tell you how I'm feeling. I'm angry. I'm sad. I'm shaky. I'm feeling very protective towards my ex-girlfriend. I care about her, and I want the best for her. I'm feeling like we've just had a dick-size comparison contest, and that it's really irrelevant. I don't know what my point is. I think what I'm trying to express is that I'd like you to treat her with care and love."
He nods. The ice swirling speeds up noticeably now. "I hear you," he says. Then, "I'm impressed at your being able to speak out and stand your ground on this. But I really resent your coming in here and saying, 'Don't fuck with me.' It's aggressive, and I don't appreciate it. Everything else you've said is valid, and I'm listening."
"Okay," I say. "My 'Don't fuck with me' comment was out of line. I apologise for that. Sorry. I was coming across as aggressive. And I meant to come across as aggressive. But it's inappropriate. And I apologise."
"Accepted," he says, and extends his hand.
"Sure you don't wanna come to the party?" he asks.
"Nah," I say. "I've got a bunch of scripts to check tomorrow morning. And I'm really tired all of a sudden."
"Come with me," he says to Ex-girlfriend.
"No, thanks Bernard. I need some time to myself."
"Okay," he says. We talk a bit about Prague for a while, and then he has to go. He drives off.
I spend another five or so minutes with my ex, and call it a night. Tons of work in the morning. And I'm feeling ragged. My love for Jacqui is smashing me right between the eyes, and I'm wishing she could have been here to be proud of me. Heck, I'm proud of me for this, what, restraint?
My ex says to me, "Roy, thank you. One of the things I most admire about you is that you're unafraid to say the things that need saying. Nobody has said these things to Bernard. Nobody's said these things to me. Thanks."
We hug, and I drive home in the cold autumn air, my roof down, my heater on full blast.