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The Edge of Reason, Page 2

Helen Fielding

  Hmmm. Don’t think I should have done that. It says specifically in Loving Your Separated Man Without Losing Your Mind that the one thing they really do not like is being called up for no real reason when they are busy.

  7 p.m. Back in flat. Nightmare rest of day. After challenging traffic and rain-blocked journey, found self in rain-swept Leicestershire, knocking on the door of a big, square house surrounded by horse boxes, with only thirty minutes to go till transmission. Suddenly the door burst open, and a tall man was standing in corduroy trousers and a quite sexy baggy sweater.

  “Humph,” he said, eyeing me up and down. “Better bloody well come in. Your chaps are out the back. Where have you bloody well been?”

  “I have been suddenly diverted from a top political story,” I said hoity-toitily, as he led me into a big kitchen full of dogs and bits of saddle. Suddenly he turned and stared at me furiously, then biffed the table.

  “It’s supposed to be a free country. Once they start telling us we can’t even bloody hunt on a Sunday where will it end? Baaaah!”

  “Well, you could say that about people keeping slaves, couldn’t you?” I muttered. “Or cutting the ears off cats. It just doesn’t seem very gentlemanly to me, a crowd of people and dogs careering after one frightened little creature for fun.”

  “Have you ever bloody seen what a fox does to a chicken?” Sir Hugo bellowed, turning red in the face. “If we don’t hunt ’em the countryside will be overrun.”

  “Shoot them then,” I said, staring at him murderously. “Humanely. And chase something else on Sundays, like in greyhound racing. Fasten a little fluffy animal impregnated with fox smell on to a wire.”

  “Shoot them? Have you ever tried to shoot a bloody fox? There’ll be your little frightened foxes left wounded in agony all over the bloody shop. Fluffy animal. Grrrrr!”

  Suddenly he grabbed the phone and dialed. “Finch, you total arse!” he bellowed. “What have you sent me . . . some bloody little pinko? If you think you’re coming out with the hunt next Sunday . . .” At which moment the cameraman put his head round the door and said huffily, “Oh you’re here, are you?” Then looked at his watch. “Don’t feel you have to let us know or anything.”

  “Finch wants to talk to you,” said Sir Hugo.

  Twenty minutes later, under pain of sacking, I was on a horse preparing to trot into shot and interview the Rt. Hon. Bossybottom, also on a horse.

  “OK, Bridget, we’re coming to you in fifteen, go, go, go,” yelled Richard Finch in my earpiece from London, at which I squeezed my knees into the horse, as instructed. Unfortunately, however, the horse would not set off.

  “Go, go, go, go, go!” yelled Richard. “I thought you said you could bloody ride.”

  “I said I had a natural seat,” I hissed, digging frantically with my knees.

  “OK, Leicester, tighter on Sir Hugo till fucking Bridget gets it together five, four, three, two . . . go.”

  At this the Hon. Purpleface launched into a bellowing prohunting advertisement as I dug frantically with my heels until the horse reared up neurotically, cantering sideways into the shot as I clung to its neck.

  “Oh my fuck, wind it up, wind it up!” yelled Richard.

  “Well, that’s all we’ve got time for. Now back to the studio!” I trilled as the horse wheeled round again and started reversing at the cameraman.

  After the sniggering crew had gone I went—mortified—into the house for my things, only to practically bump into the Rt. Hon. Biffing Giant.

  “Hah!” he growled. “Thought that stallion might teach you what’s what. Fancy a bloody one?”

  “What?” I said.

  “Bloody Mary?”

  Fighting instinctive urge to glug at the vodka I drew myself up to my full height. “Are you saying you sabotaged my report on purpose?”

  “Maybe.” He smirked.

  “That’s absolutely disgraceful,” I said. “And not worthy of a member of the aristocracy.”

  “Hah! Spirit. I like that in a woman,” he said throatily, then lunged towards me.

  “Get off!” I said, dodging out of his way. I mean, honestly. What was he thinking of? Am professional woman, not there to be made passes at. In any sense. Though, actually, just goes to prove how much men like it if they think you are not after them. Must remember for more useful occasion.

  Now have just got in, having trailed round Tesco Metro and staggered upstairs with eight carrier bags. Am really tired. Humph. How come is always me who goes to supermarket? Is like having to be career woman and wife at same time. Is like living in seventeenth . . . Oooh. Answerphone light is flashing.

  “Bridget”—Richard Finch—“I want to see you in my office at nine o’clock tomorrow. Before the meeting. That’s nine a.m., not nine p.m. Morning. Daylight. I don’t know how else to put it, really. Just bloody well make sure you’re there.”

  He sounded really pissed off. Hope am not about to discover impossibility of having a nice flat, a nice job and a nice boyfriend. Anyway, am going to give Richard Finch what for about journalistic integrity. Right. Better start getting everything ready. Am so tired.

  8:30 p.m. Have managed to get energy back using Chardonnay, shoved all mess away, lit fire and candles, had bath, washed hair and put on makeup and v. sexy black jeans and spaghetti-strap top. Not exactly comfortable, in fact crotch of trousers and spaghetti straps really digging into self, but look nice, which is important. For as Jerry Hall said, a woman must be a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the sitting room. Or some room anyway.

  8:35 p.m. Hurrah! Will be lovely, cozy, sexy evening with delicious pasta—light yet nourishing—and firelight. Am marvelous career woman/girlfriend hybrid.

  8:40 p.m. Where the bloody hell is he?

  8:45 p.m. Grrr. What is point of self rushing round like scalded flea if he is just going to swan in whenever he feels like it?

  8:50 p.m. Bloody Mark Darcy, am really . . . Doorbell. Hurrah!

  He looked gorgeous in his work suit with the top buttons of his shirt undone. As soon as he came in he dropped his briefcase, took me in his arms and turned me round in a little sexy dance. “So good to see you,” he murmured into my hair. “I really enjoyed your report, fantastic horsewomanship.”

  “Don’t,” I said, pulling away. “It was awful.”

  “It was brilliant,” he said. “For centuries people have been riding horses forwards and then, with one seminal report, a lone woman changes the face—or arse—of British horsemanship forever. It was groundbreaking, a triumph.” He sat down on the sofa wearily. “I’m wrecked. Bloody Indonesians. Their idea of a breakthrough in human rights is to tell a person he’s under arrest while they’re shooting the back of his head off.”

  I poured him a glass of Chardonnay and brought it to him in manner of James Bond–style hostess saying, with a calming smile, “Supper won’t be long.”

  “Oh my God,” he said, looking around terrified as if there might be Far Eastern militia hiding in the microwave. “Have you cooked?”

  “Yes,” I said indignantly. I mean, you would have thought he would have been pleased! Also he had not so much as mentioned the whore outfit.

  “Come here,” he said, patting the sofa, “I’m only teasing you. I’ve always wanted to go out with Martha Stewart.”

  Was nice having cuddle but, thing was, pasta had already been on for six minutes and was going to go floury.

  “I’ll just do the pasta,” I said, extracting myself. Just then, the phone rang and I lunged at it out of pure habit, thinking it might be him.

  “Hi. It’s Sharon. How’s it going with Mark?”

  “He’s here,” I whispered keeping my teeth and mouth clenched in the same position so Mark would not lip-read.


  “’E’s ’ere,” I hissed clenched-teethedly.

  “It’s all right,” said Mark, nodding reassuringly. “I realize I’m here. I don’t think it’s the sort of thing we should be keeping from each other.” />
  “OK. Listen to this,” said Shaz excitedly. “ ‘We are not saying that all men cheat. But all men do think about it. Men have these desires eating at them all the time. We try to contain our sexual urges . . .’ ”

  “Actually, Shaz, I’m just cooking pasta.”

  “Oooh, ‘just cooking pasta,’ are we? I hope you’re not turning into a Smug Going-Out-with-Someone. Just listen to this and you’ll want to put it on his head.”

  “Hang on,” I said, glancing nervously at Mark. I took the pasta off the heat and went back to the phone.

  “OK,” said Shaz excitedly. “ ‘Sometimes instincts override higher-level thinking. A man will stare at, approach or bed a woman with small breasts if he is involved with a woman with large breasts. You may not think variety is the spice of life, but believe us, your boyfriend thinks so.’ ”

  Mark was starting to drum his fingers on the arm of the sofa.

  “Shaz . . .”

  “Wait . . . wait. It’s this book called What Men Want. Right . . . ‘If you have a beautiful sister, or friend, rest assured that your boyfriend is HAVING THOUGHTS ABOUT SEX WITH HER.’ ”

  There was an expectant pause. Mark had started miming throat-slitting and toilet-chain-flushing motions.

  “I mean, isn’t that revolting? Aren’t they just . . . ?”

  “Shaz, can I call you back later?”

  Next thing Shaz was accusing me of being obsessed with men when I was supposed to be a feminist. So I said, if she was supposed to be so uninterested in them, why was she reading a book called What Men Want? It was all turning into a hideously unfeminist man-based row when we realized it was ridiculous and said we’d see each other tomorrow.

  “So!” I said brightly, sitting down next to Mark on the sofa. Unfortunately had to get up again as had sat on something that turned out to be an empty yogurt carton.

  “Yeees?” he said, brushing the yogurt off my bottom. Sure there cannot have been that much on or needing quite such hard brushing but was very nice. Mmm.

  “Shall we have supper?” I said, trying to keep my mind on the task in hand.

  Had just put pasta in bowl and poured jar of sauce on it when the phone rang again. Decided to leave it till had eaten but answerphone clicked on and Jude sheep-voiced out, “Bridge, are you there? Pick up, pick up. Come on, Bridge, pleeeeeease.”

  I picked up the phone, as Mark hit himself hard on the forehead. The thing is, Jude and Shaz have been kind to me for years before I even met Mark, so obviously it would not be right to leave the answerphone on now.

  “Hi, Jude.”

  Jude had been to the gym where she ended up reading some article calling single girls over thirty “retreads.”

  “The guy was arguing that the sort of girls who wouldn’t go out with him in their twenties would go out with him now but he didn’t want them anymore,” she said sadly. “He said they were all obsessed with settling down and babies and his rule with girls now was ‘Nothing over twenty-five.’ ”

  “Oh honestly!” I laughed gaily, trying to fight a lurch of insecurity in my own stomach. “That’s just complete bollocks. No one thinks you’re a retread. Think of all those merchant bankers who’ve been ringing you up. What about Stacey and Johnny?”

  “Huh,” said Jude, though she was starting to sound more cheerful. “I went out with Johnny and his friends from Credit Suisse last night. Someone told a joke about this guy who drank too much in an Indian restaurant and passed out in a korma and Johnny is so literal that he went, ‘Christ! How bloody awful. I knew a bloke who ate a lot of Indian food once, and he ended up with a stomach ulcer!’ ”

  She was laughing. The crisis had clearly passed. You see there is nothing seriously wrong, she just gets a bit paranoid sometimes. Chatted a bit more and, once her confidence seemed firmly back in residence, I rejoined Mark at the table only to discover the pasta was not quite as had planned: slopping about wetly in white-colored water.

  “I like it,” said Mark supportively, “I like string, I like milk. Mmmm.”

  “Do you think we’d better call out for a pizza?” I said, feeling a failure and a retread.

  We ordered pizzas and ate them in front of the fire. Mark told me all about the Indonesians. I listened carefully and gave him my opinions and advice, which he said were very interesting and very “fresh,” and I told him about horrid sacking meeting with Richard Finch. He gave me very good advice about working out what I wanted from the meeting and giving Richard plenty of places to go other than sacking me. As I explained to him, it was rather like the win-win mentality as advocated in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when the phone rang again.

  “Leave it,” said Mark.

  “Bridget. Jude. Pick up. I think I’ve done the wrong thing. I just called Stacey and he hasn’t called back.”

  I picked up. “Well, maybe he’s out.”

  “Of his mind, just like you,” said Mark.

  “Shut up,” I hissed, while Jude ran through the scenario. “Look, I’m sure he’ll ring tomorrow. But if he doesn’t, just move back one of the Mars and Venus Stages of Dating. He’s pulling away like a Martian rubber band and you have to let him feel his attraction and spring back.”

  When I got off the phone, Mark was watching the football.

  “Rubber bands and win-win Martians,” he said, smirking at me. “It’s like war command in the land of gibberish here.”

  “Don’t you talk to your friends about emotional matters?”

  “Nope,” he said, flicking the remote control from one football match to the other. I stared at him in fascination.

  “Do you want to have sex with Shazzer?”

  “I’m sorry?”

  “Do you want to have sex with Shazzer and Jude?”

  “I’d be delighted! Did you mean individually? Or both at the same time?”

  Trying to ignore his superficial tone, I pressed on. “When you met Shazzer after Christmas did you want to sleep with her?”

  “Well. The thing is, you see, I was sleeping with you.”

  “But has it crossed your mind ever?”

  “Well, of course it’s crossed my mind.”

  “What?” I exploded.

  “She’s a very attractive girl. It would have been odd, surely, if it hadn’t?” He grinned wickedly.

  “And Jude,” I said indignantly. “Sleeping with Jude. Has that ever ‘crossed your mind’?”

  “Well, from time to time, fleetingly, I suppose it has. It’s just human nature, isn’t it?”

  “Human nature? I’ve never imagined sleeping with Giles or Nigel from your office.”

  “No,” he murmured. “I’m not sure that anyone else has either. Tragically. Except possibly José in the post room.”

  Just as we’d cleared away the plates and started snogging on the rug, the phone rang again.

  “Leave it,” said Mark. “Please—in the name of God and all his cherubim, seraphim, saints, archangels, cloud attendants and beard trimmers—leave it.”

  The answerphone was already clicking on. Mark crashed his head down onto the floor as a man’s voice boomed out.

  “Ah, hi. Giles Benwick here, friend of Mark’s. Don’t suppose he’s there, is he? It’s just . . .” Suddenly his voice cracked. “It’s just my wife just told me she wants a separation and . . .”

  “Good God,” said Mark and grabbed the phone. An expression of pure panic spread across his face. “Giles. Christ. Steady on . . . um . . . ah . . . um, Giles, I think I’d better give you to Bridget.”

  Mmm. Did not know Giles but think advice was quite good. Managed to calm him down and point him in direction of one or two useful volumes. Had lovely shag with Mark afterwards and felt v. safe and cozy lying on his chest, made all the worrying theories seem irrelevant. “Am I a retread?” I said sleepily as he leaned over to blow out the candle.

  “A retard? No, darling,” he said, patting my bottom reassuringly. “A little strange, perhaps, but not a retard.”

  * * *r />

  Jellyfish at Large


  128 lbs., cigarettes smoked in front of Mark 0 (v.g.), cigarettes smoked in secret 7, cigarettes not smoked 47* (v.g.).

  * i.e. nearly smoked but remembered had given up so specifically did not smoke those particular 47. Number is not therefore number of cigarettes in entire world not smoked (would be ridiculous, overlarge-type number).

  8 a.m. Flat. Mark has gone off to his flat to change before work so can have little cigarette and develop inner growth and win-win mentality ready for sacking meeting. So what I am working towards is creating a feeling of calm equilibrium and . . . Gaaah! Doorbell.

  8:30 a.m. It was Magda’s builder, Gary. Fuck, fuck, fucketty fuck. Forgot he was supposed to be coming round.

  “Ah! Super! Hello! Could you come back in ten minutes? I’m just in the middle of something,” I trilled, then doubled up, cringing in nightie. What would I be in the middle of? Sex? A soufflé? Making a vase on a potter’s wheel that absolutely couldn’t be left in case it dried in an incomplete form?

  Still had wet hair when doorbell rang again but at least had clothes on. Felt surge of middle-class guilt as Gary smirked at decadence of those who loll idly in bed while a whole different world of genuine hardworking folk have been up for so long is practically time for their lunch.

  “Would you care for some tea or coffee?” I said graciously.

  “Yeah. Cup of tea. Four sugars but don’t stir it.”

  I looked at him hard wondering if this was a joke or a bit like smoking cigarettes but not inhaling. “Right,” I said, “right,” and started making the tea at which Gary sat down at kitchen table and lit up a fag. Unfortunately, however, when came to pour out tea realized did not have any milk or sugar.

  He looked at me incredulously, surveying the array of empty wine bottles. “No milk or sugar?”

  “The milk’s, er, just run out and actually I don’t know anybody who takes sugar in tea . . . though of course it’s great to . . . er . . . to take sugar,” I tailed off. “I’ll just pop to the shop.”