Garden

It starts with her thinking about what it will be like to have a pint in a beer garden again. She imagines the condensation on the glass, dreams of twirling a damp beermat between her fingers, pictures trying to find a spot on a wooden bench that isn’t splattered with bird shit.

Beer gardens are the kind of exhibitionist setting she likes. A picnic table is perfect for getting fingered. These days they tend to save that kind of behaviour for times when it’s just the two of them at the pub, but it hasn’t always been that way. When they first met, at university, there were often four people crammed onto each side of the table, and so, who could blame them when their hands wandered.

That had been her favourite thing of all – watching the first time he picked up his pint after his fingers had been inside her. Waiting to see if her wetness would leave a smear on the glass.

So yes, although she hasn’t thought about this for years, now she can’t stop thinking about it. If they were locked down together, of course, they could try it in their own garden, but they’re not, and in a way she prefers it that way. It wouldn’t be the same without other people around – it would lack the risk, which is a key part of the appeal.

And so, she doesn’t even tell him about it yet, although she will, one day. For now, it’s just a fantasy, something that belongs to her and her only. She might not tell him until they’re actually there, in the pub, months from now, and she’ll put his hand high on her bare thigh and whisper, ‘Finger me?’

She just wants to leave her mark on the world again.

Fascination

She can’t explain her fascination with it.

She thought she’d psyched herself up for this, thought she knew what she was getting back into, but the first time she has a drink with him after the event, the silver band on his finger is like being punched in the stomach.

She’d known she’d have to give up sleepovers, impromptu dates, late night phone calls. She hadn’t considered that she’d have to give up looking at his hands.

She watches him lift his pint to his mouth, scratch his face, twirl a coaster between his fingers.

Any minute now, he’ll notice her staring.

In her bedroom, she can’t bear it. ‘Can you just –’ She stops. She doesn’t know what to ask him for. She can’t ask him to take it off, after all, although she knows that characters in novels do that sometimes, when they’re cheating.

He’s not cheating. He’s not cheating, and that is the problem.

‘Can I just…?’

‘It doesn’t matter.’

‘Sure?’

‘Sure.’

The sex is as good as it always was. Marriage hasn’t changed his thick cock, the aftershave he wears, the way he kisses.

And then she has an idea.

‘Put your fingers in my mouth,’ she says. This is not new. She has always liked this.

When his fingers are in her mouth, she can’t look at them. That helps, a bit. A bit, bit not enough.

‘Deeper?’ she asks. She wonders if his whole fist could fit in her mouth.

His eyebrow arches. She’s never asked for this before. But he pushes his fingers deeper, so deep she gags on them. Her tongue slides over the metal.

He knows what she’s thinking, she’s sure. Perhaps one day they’ll talk about it, about the fact that this is hard for her. Not today, though. Today there is only the taste of metal and her own voice in her head.

 

Encouraging

She thinks of it as a revenge fuck. Revenge for twelve years of PE lessons, revenge for the humiliation, the shame, the anxiety. The plan, as soon as he tells her, still while they’re chatting on Tinder, that he’s a PE teacher, is to undo all that pain in a single hook up.

The idea of having a PE teacher tell her that she’s good at something – and he will, she knows, because she’s excellent at sucking dick, makes her not only wet but so giddy with the ridiculousness of it all that she’s almost hysterical in the days before they meet.

Yes, she imagines him saying, like that, that’s amazing, oh christ. She imagines him saying encouraging things – Please and I want to come on your tits and Aren’t you a good girl?

But it is not like that. After all, he’s a PE teacher. He’s incapable of being like that.

Oh sure, he likes the way she sucks his cock – otherwise his eyes wouldn’t be rolling back in his head, his mouth wouldn’t be open on a low groan – but making her feel good about herself? It’s just not what PE teachers do, is it?

The thing is, she’s older now, and she likes that he’s awful, so she goes back for more, week after week. And then one day she makes a joke about how he’s so sadistic he’d probably like to see her do the fucking bleep test, wouldn’t he, and he says that they could do that, actually, except, instead of running, she would deep throat him and not come up for air between the bleeps?

It’s a revenge fuck, but not how she imagined it. It’s a revenge fuck, but the shame and humiliation are still there. It’s just that … this time, she likes them.

 

 

 

Doily

When Susie thinks about the summer she lost her virginity, what she remembers most is the daily array of tiny cakes and pastries on intricate, lacy doilies, and how she loved the feminine ritual of tea-time just as much as she always had. It’s just that it seemed so weirdly at odds now with the things she spent all day doing with Tom, who was two years older than her and lived four doors down.

In the previous summers when she stayed with her grandmother, she had never really noticed Tom, or, perhaps, it was that he had never really noticed her. But this summer, they have noticed each other and from noticing each other, things have escalated. Fast.

She’s free to do what she wants all day, as long as she’s back for meal times, so she heads to Tom’s shortly after breakfast and they hang out in his bedroom until just before 12, when she has to excuse herself for lunch. Between 2 and 6, while her grandmother naps and cleans the house, she doesn’t know that, four doors down, Susie is allowing Tom not just to fondle her tits, but also to put his fingers inside her for the first time.

She and Tom have been spending every day together for almost two weeks when he asks if she wants to fuck, and she tells him yes, she really wants to. Afterwards, they fall asleep together and she almost misses teatime. She aches when she unfurls herself from his single bed, but the ache is a good ache, it reminds her that she and Tom have a secret that no-one else knows about.

She toys with the edge of one of the lacy doilies as she eats her scone, and her grandma, noticing, says, ‘They remind me of the veil I got married in, those doilies. You’ll wear one too, no doubt, when you meet a nice boy.’

Susie has no interest in meeting a nice boy. She doesn’t say that, though, instead she focuses on a blob of raspberry jam that has fallen onto the doily. It makes her think of her own white, lace underwear, which, when she went to the toilet, was stained with several spots of blood.

It makes her want all over again. She leaves half her scone unfinished on the plate and is back in Tom’s bed less than half an hour after she left it.

Clandestine

She is cheating, he’s sure of it. Or about to cheat, perhaps, because he she hasn’t yet started coming home late or showering more often, or anything like that. It’s just that sometimes, in the middle of the night, he wakes up and she’s not asleep beside him. And it figures that she would creep downstairs to text a lover, because, with a husband and two children, when else would she find the time to do it?

The irony of it all is that they have more sex now than they’ve had in ages, although he’s read that that can happen, with affairs – that it increases desire generally, or something. Sometimes, he wakes to her kissing her way down his body and taking his cock in her mouth. When she kisses him, afterwards, her lips taste slightly sweet, in an unfamiliar way – not unpleasant, just different.

And so, he tries to put his fears that she’s being unfaithful to one side. He tries to focus on the fact that she seems happy, that he’s getting his dick sucked all the fucking time. But in the end, its no good, because he knows that things won’t continue as they are; that eventually the affair will escalate, and she’ll come home smelling of another man, and perhaps she’ll even want a divorce. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

So when he next wakes and her side of the bed is empty, he tiptoes down the stairs, wanting, but also not wanting, to catch her in the act, messaging, or whispering on the phone, or whatever it is that she and her lover do in these silent, pre-dawn hours.

The living room is still dark. So too is her study. Which leaves the kitchen. He creeps round the corner, expecting to see her sat at the breakfast bar, face lit by the blue light of her phone. But she isn’t holding her phone. The only thing she’s holding is a family sized bag of Mini Eggs.

Blancmange

If she could safeword her way out of choosing a safeword, she would. She has a thing about words, about giving them too much weight – has never found it easy to name pets, pub quiz teams or characters in stories – and she cannot imagine any word that she could blurt out with no context and not feel a complete idiot for saying.

‘Let’s go with ‘Stop’ then,’ he says. ‘It’s not ideal, but if you’d rather keep things straightforward…’

But she rolls ‘Stop’ around in her mouth for a bit, silently, imagines saying it, and it loses all meaning, the way you can suck the colour off a Smartie or look too hard at the word ‘When,’ until it no longer looks like a real word at all.

No. ‘Stop’ is not the one.

In a way, she feels like having a safeword at all is like public speaking – she never wants to say anything that brings the focus directly onto her – and yet here she is having to choose a word that will literally have the power to change the whole course of events.

‘Red’ is another option it would be sensible to go with, but it feels too movie like, too Fifty Shades of Grey. Perhaps she could use ‘grey,’ instead? But she knows better than to pick a word based on her own batshit sense of what might be funny the first time she uses it. And although ‘red’ is not something she feels drawn to, it is closer.

She knows that people use ‘red’ because it carries the meaning of ‘stop’ in more every day, prosaic contexts. And yet, red is the colour that comes to mind when she thinks of kind – skin inflamed by flogging, by whipping, by shame.

But she is not there yet. She has not yet ventured into anything that turns her skin scarlet, hasn’t chosen to be humiliated to the point that it makes her blush.

No, the colour she most associates with her own kinks is pink. Her face flushed with excited, her nipples rock hard and rose-coloured. And then, afterwards, the sense of being limp, boneless, pleasantly weak and wobbly. That is how she finally settles on it.

Blancmange.

Acrobat

He is the first man she has not been tempted to fuck long before the third date. She fancies him, yes, and – unlike lots of other guys she’s been with in the past – she’s not concerned that he’ll turn out to be bad in bed.

No – the problem is her.

She’s not seen him perform – perhaps that too is part of the problem – but all she can imagine is him swinging from things, hanging upside down, and well, if he can do those things, doesn’t it figure that he’ll also want to do them in bed?

She, meanwhile, is definitely not cut out for swinging from anything, be it circus equipment or chandeliers. She’s not built for it physically – she’s all tits and other curves – and even if she was, she’s lacking the confidence, too.

Opposites attract, she tries to tell herself – so what if the most energetic thing she’s ever attempted is the first week of Couch to 5K. So what if she’s scared of heights? It’ll be fine.

And yet, when they do go out for date three, she’s worked herself up so much she can barely eat.

‘You ok? ‘ he asks, as she pushes risotto around the bowl.

She could just tell him. She could be brave. But telling him feels like swinging from a metaphorical chandelier anyway.

‘I’m good,’ she says. ‘Just not very hungry.’ And then she drinks three more glasses of wine.

Back at his, the drink has numbed her nerves somewhat. She can do this.

She takes off her clothes, lies on his bed.

And he fucks her.

It’s the most vanilla sex she’s ever had.

1badge

‘He took her in his arms’: on the difficulty of writing hugs

I don’t believe, as a rule, that sex is difficult to write. Yes, lots of people *say* it is, but it’s no harder (and for me, a lot easier) than writing, for example, violence, comedy or a whole damn novel with an original, yet plausible and satisfying ending.

That doesn’t mean, though, that there aren’t *parts* of sex that aren’t tricky to write. Orgasms, for example – fucking nightmare. Kisses are a challenge to write in a way that’s fresh. I find it’s easier to stick to the stuff that isn’t traditionally thought of as sexy – someone slowly rolling a condom down the length of their rock hard dick, someone refusing a post-coital tissue and instead allowing the splatters of spunk to slowly dry on their skin.

It had never occurred to me though, that writing hugs is as hard, if not harder, than writing kisses or orgasms. It’s a struggle not to be cliched – to not say ‘He took her in his arms,’ or ‘He wrapped her in a hug.’ I tried to write hugs that were original for this prompt, and I came unstuck – everything was too mechanical, because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t *matter* where someone’s putting their arms, or whether they’re resting their head on the other person’s shoulder, or whatever – what makes a hug, as with so many things, interesting to read – is context.

So instead of a new hug, here is one of the very few that I remember writing, one that I’m pleased with:

Of course, the actual goodbye is harder than the naked one. I sit and pull my knees up to my chest as I watch him tug on his clothes – boxers, T-shirt, jeans – and I almost cry again when I realise I’ve seen his thick leather belt hanging invitingly open for the final time. He finds his shoes and I wrap myself in my robe and follow him out to his car. How did I never see this part coming? He stands, arms out, inviting me in for a hug. We never hug. That’s how much has changed in one short week. On any other day we’d lie, intertwined, on the bed or the sofa, or wherever the wine was, until the sky was dark and the moon high, or until one of us mentioned the prospect of work the following day. And then he’d show me out, worn PJ bottoms sitting low on his hips, his hair as sex-mussed as mine, if not worse . He’d open the door, and as the cold night air enveloped us we’d kiss as if intending to start the whole evening over, our tongues thrusting and lashing, no less urgent than we’d been hours earlier. When I did manage to pull away, to insist that, no, really, I did have to go, he’d wait until I turned to leave, and then he’d see me off with a good, firm smack on the arse.

I’d love to see other writers sharing hugs they’ve written that they’re proud of, too – please feel free to share them in the comments.

 

Christmas Gift Guide (of Sorts) 2019

Okay , we all know how this works by now. Over the course of the year, I keep a list of what I think are thirty (plus a charity-type suggestion) of the best gifts you could buy for Christmas. Then, at the beginning of December, I write it up and share it with you here on the agreement that you’ll hit me up on Twitter or in the comments with any other excellent gift ideas you have, especially if they’re from independent sellers. Enjoy!

1. Jar of Christmas Eve biscuits, £28

I am a sucker for a beautifully-iced biscuit. Combine the beautiful icing with lovely packaging, and you’ve got me 100%.

biscuits

2. Turquoise sugar bowl with American walnut wooden spoon, £48

I know, ceramics and other handmade stuff can seem expensive. But I think it’s worth it: you get a thoughtful, one of a kind gift, and you’re supporting an independent maker. Double win.

turquoiseSugarBowl02

3. Calvin Klein logo slim-fit stretch-microfibre trunks, £26

Make new underwear less boring by buying it in festive colours.

calvinklein

4. Carbs book, £10.50

This isn’t new out this year, but still nothing has beaten it in terms of excellent cover design, and who doesn’t love a carb in winter, right?

carbs

5. Retro neon pink cassette tape iPhone case, £25

Casetify make great (effective!) phone cases in hundreds of fab designs. I’ve had my eye on this one for months…

cassette iphone

6. Monstera leaf earrings, £20

Cute earrings at the perfect price for a friend.

Claire+Hill+Designs+Gold+Monstera+Leaf+Earrings+

7. Corduroy notebook, £6.95

This is probably the best value notebook I’ve ever put on the list. And who doesn’t need a new notebook to add to the pile of other notebooks they haven’t wanted to spoil by writing in them?

corduroynotebook

8. Santa, £15

Super cute glass Santa to hang in the window, or on the tree, or y’know, anywhere they fancy.

craftyglasssanta

9. Demi Moore, Inside Out, £10.80

Look, I know very little about Demi Moore or celeb culture in general, but this was co-written with Ariel Levy, the New Yorker staffer who wrote The Rules Do Not Apply, which is one of my favourite books ever, so I figure this has got to be good.

demi moore

10. DKNY PJs, £77

Is £77 a lot for pyjamas? God, yes. Are these the softest, loveliest ones I’ve ever owned? Also yes. If you buy them from Figleaves on the day this post goes live, you’ll get 25% off, too.

dkny pjs

11. Fleabag coasters, £8.47 each

Beautiful coasters from an independent maker to remind them of the best thing on TV in 2019.

fleabag coasters

12. Velvet alphabet cushion, £57

Ostensibly a gift for a child’s room. Is a child going to appreciate a £59 cushion? Didn’t think so. Your BFF will though.

normal_velvet-alphabet-cushions

13. Muji jersey bedding, £6.95-£54.95

I feel like I must have said before that I think snuggly bedding is an underrated gift. The Muji stuff is some of the best, and the duvet has a zip closure, so you’ll never lose the buttons in the washing machine.

mujibedding

14. Mimosa Society Patch, $9

Machine washable, iron on patch that I *wish* I’d bought when I saw it in the US over the summer.

mimosapatch

15. Three Women, £16.99

One of the most compelling things I’ve read in 2019. Buy it for your friend who’s fascinated by female desire.

three women

 

16. Coucou Suzette Ski Teacher socks, €15.00

*So damn cute*

ski-teacher-sheer--socks

17. Lobster emoji power bank, £30

Ever seen something you want for yourself, but can’t justify? Please welcome the lobster emoji power bank.

lobster charger

18. Cocktails in the One Aldwych Lobby Bar, £80

Four cocktails (service charge included) in one of the best hotel bars in London. Go with a friend, or go alone and people watch the hell out of the situation.

lobbybarcocktails

19. Shark pass case, £6

Great for office Secret Santa, I reckon.

sharkpass

20. Riedel ‘O’ Stemless Pinot Noir / Nebbiolo Red Wine Glasses, Set of 2, £17.50

Best thing about these, other than the amazing quality of the glass itself? Less risk of accidentally knocking them over when you’re in the bath.

riedel

21. Liberty Gift Coin, £100

I’m pretty sure that in-store you can get these for smaller denominations, but if you’re buying a big present for someone who lives in London, I can’t imagine anything cooler than a hundred quid to spend in Liberty in the form of *one big coin*.

libertycoin

22. Green housefly, £35.50

Face it, you’ve already fallen in love with him.

housefly plushie

23. Ren Moroccan Rose Bath Oil, £10

I’ve put the full size Ren bath oil on the list before, but to be honest, I haven’t found any bath products this year that have impressed me more than the ones I’ve put on the list in previous years, so instead I thought I’d include the miniature, which is another good Secret Santa choice.

renbathoil

24. Cheese raclette set, £30

Raclette is such a fun meal to share with someone, but a mains-powered raclette set takes up a shitload of room in your kitchen and there’s always the risk of someone tripping over the cable when you’re cooking on it. Eliminate that risk by buying this tealight-powered version instead.

raclette

25. Tickets to Hotter, from £16

I saw Hotter, a show about ‘what gets women hot’ at the Soho Theatre earlier this year, and I loved it. It’s doing another very short run straight after Christmas, and in my opinion would be a lovely activity to give to someone so they have something to do in those quiet days before New Year.

hotterfitter

26. Edinburgh Gin Plum & Vanilla Liqueur, 50cl, £16

This makes the best, and easiest, prosecco-based cocktails, and everyone, from your neighbour to your nan, is bound to love it.

plum gin

27. Orly nail polish, Passionfruit, £11.99

I don’t think Orly is necessarily the best quality polish, but it is the only brand that I’ve found that does a true neon pink that you can pick up on the high street. Passionfruits aren’t this colour, obv, but we’ll let that go…

 

ORLY-PASSIONFRUIT-POLISH-18ML-Passionfruit-na-727965

28. Blue Gin Sequin Hanging Ornament, £25

I’m not going to apologise for the fact that everything handmade on this list is pretty pricey – that’s inevitable if you buy from small traders who make things with love and care. So yes, £25 is a lot to spend on a tree decoration, but I’d be delighted to receive this as a gift.

gin ornament

29. Fresh Mini Mask Marvels Gift Set, £25

I’m still not that familiar with Fresh as a beauty brand, but all my friends who’ve used it really like it, and I’ve not seen any other beauty gift sets this Christmas with packaging quite so lovely.

fresh masks

30. Moth bag, £12.95

A slightly weird gift by itself, perhaps, but how cool would this be gifted alongside a cashmere jumper?

Screenshot 2019-12-01 at 23.14.17

This year, as well as a charity suggestion, if you’re in the UK, I’m going to use this opportunity to remind you that the most important thing you can do this Christmas is vote. If you’d like to make a donation to a charity doing great work as well, why not try Crisis at Christmas who provide a meal and lots of other useful stuff for homeless people on Christmas day.

All pictures are taken from sellers’ websites. No copyright infringement is intended. If you’d like a picture removing or crediting, please do get in touch.

Clowning around

When Josh comes home on Thursday night, there’s a car parked outside the house that he’s never seen before. If it was just a black BMW or similar, he probably wouldn’t even have noticed, but it’s not. It’s a small, green Mini. It’s not the kind of car that his neighbours – all stockbrokers, lawyers or doctors – would drive. Still, he’s no sooner noticed it than he’s forgotten it. Probably just someone visiting.

Inside, his wife Amanda is in the kitchen doing laundry – shoving sheets and pillowcases into the washing machine.

She turns to smile at him over her shoulder. ‘Hi, babe. Good day?’

He nods, a little lost in thought.

‘Don’t you usually change the bedding at the weekend?’

She laughs. ‘Oh, you’ve noticed then?’

‘I pay attention.’

‘Sure, sure.’

‘The puppy dragged his muddy paws right across the fucking duvet.’

‘Bugger.’

‘Indeed.’

Their marriage is a happy one. She’s a good mother, a great lay, a fun person to generally hang out with. It’s been ten years, and he’s never had any reason to doubt how solid their relationship is.

But in the last month or so, something seems to have shifted. He can’t put his finger on it, quite. What has happened since then? Nothing of note: a supper club, a business trip, a kid’s party. Could she be having an affair with someone at work? It just … it just doesn’t seem likely.

A few hours later, that thought too has slipped his mind.

*

Amanda has tried hard to be a good wife. It’s not that she’s fallen out of love with Josh – god, far from it, she’s never met another man whose kisses alone can make her so wet – but a couple of weeks ago, she got blindsided in a way she could never have foreseen or protected her heart against.

Since then, she’s seen Charlie twice. She can’t go to his place – he’s separated, but still living with his wife and kids – which is not ideal, because it means they have to meet at hers, and inevitably, when they do, things tend to get messy.

The first time, he’d offered to change out of his work gear before he came round. It’d taken her a while to reply to that message.

Amanda: But I quite like it?

Charlie: OK, I’ll keep it on <clown emoji>

Both occasions have played out similarly – he’s headed over after work and they’ve shared a bottle of wine together at the kitchen table before they’ve fucked. She doesn’t want it to just be sex – she likes the bits outside of the bedroom, too – the bits when they’re just talking. He makes her laugh, and for those few hours of the day, she can forget that she has responsibilities.

The talking is good, but the sex is better.

There’s something about the way he unsnaps his braces, the way he pulls down his oversized, polka-dotted trousers to let the thick heft of his cock bounce free, that makes her want him to bend her over the nearest flat surface and immediately shove himself deep, whether she’s wet enough or not. She’d worried, when she’d slipped him her number during a children’s party, of all things (although where else would she have met a clown?), that she might find fucking him too ridiculous in practice. But it’s not ridiculous. It’s fun, and hot, and … kind of sinister, although that just makes it seem even hotter.

She was careful, the first time. Afterwards, she combed the bed for evidence and it was lucky she did, because she found two green hairs curling synthetically on the Egyptian cotton sheets. That freaked her out – she’d laundered the whole lot.

The second time, he brings her a balloon in the shape of a sausage dog and he’s wearing checked trousers, enormous shoes and a bright blue jacket with a large fake sunflower pinned to the lapel.

‘What’s this?’ she asks, fingering a yellow silk petal.

‘Never you mind,’ he says, which is what he always says when he’s planning to pull some of his tricksy clown bullshit on her later.

At one point, she gets up to go to the loo, and when she comes back, he is resting his chin on his hand, and gazing at her with a look of soft adoration, although it takes her a while to realise that’s what it is – it can be hard to look past the painted-on smile to see what he’s really thinking.

‘I love you,’ he says, and although part of her is thinking What, already?, another part of her not only understands what he’s feeling, but is starting to feel the same.

Not that she’s ready to say it. To fill the awkward silence, she slides back into the seat next to him, reaches for the bottle, sits back and –

Paaaaaaarpppppp

He bursts out laughing.

She grimaces. A whoopee cushion? A fucking whoopee cushion? What does he think they are, eight years old?

‘Fuck you,’ she says, but he is still laughing, and then he comes round to where she’s sitting and he crawls under the table – Jesus Christ, she thinks, everything about this is ridiculous ­­– pulls her knickers to the side, and puts his hot mouth right on her cunt, licking her folds and sucking her clit until she forgets all about the damn whoopee cushion. Eventually, he slides two thick fingers inside her and shunts them back and forth, occasionally curling them as if he’s beckoning someone towards him.

Amanda’s head lolls back – she can feel the most incredible orgasm building inside her and she’s completely overwhelmed. All of a sudden, she’s coming, hard, and a torrent of liquid is gushing from her as if her own body has become the circus joke. When Charlie withdraws his hand, it is soaked with her juices. He holds her gaze as he licks his fingers one by one.

When he has left, she tidies, frantically. She moves the balloon animal to the playroom, mops the kitchen floor, hides the wine bottle under the rest of the recycling. She checks she hasn’t missed anything, and then she checks again.

*

Josh gets home just after six – he’s done the nursery run on his way back from work and she is filled with gratitude and affection.

‘There are some big-ass footprints on the mat outside,’ he says. ‘You’re not gonna leave me for some hot giant guy, are you?

She laughs, nervously; looks meaningfully at his crotch.

‘You’re plenty hot and giant enough for me, my love.’

‘Hold that thought,’ he says. ‘I’ll try and make bath time speedy.’

If you’d told her before the affair started that cheating would make her more hungry for her husband’s cock, not less, she would never have believed you, but it’s true.

She unbuckles his belt; snaps open his button-fly.

‘Fuck me,’ she says, pulling her dress over her head, and sliding her knickers down.

‘I want to taste you first,’ he says, and for the second time that day, a man drops to his knees in front of her. This time though, she waits in vain for the feel of soft lips against her flesh. This time, there is only the sound of her husband’s voice, caught somewhere between confusion and disgust, saying ‘Why is there lipstick on your cunt?’

*

She loses them both. Josh asks for a trial separation and she ends things with Charlie because she can’t look at him without recalling the mess she’s made of her life. Every other weekend, she’s alone in the house. It’s agony.

Josh, meanwhile, tries to put on a brave face, to act as though he isn’t dying inside. There are so many places he has to pretend. The office, the pub, the kid’s parties where he is the only dad flying solo.

Towards the end of one such party, the entertainment – an old-fashioned clown with a green wig, painted face, red nose and huge checked trousers – comes into the kitchen. He helps himself to a drink and a mouthful of crisps and he takes a seat opposite Josh.

Suddenly, a thin jet of water hits Josh right in the face. It takes him by surprise, so he doesn’t immediately understand that the clown is the culprit. Then he notices the sunflower on his lapel; realises it’s some kind of joke prop. He frowns. The last thing he’s in the mood for is this twat’s childish bullshit.

‘Sorry,’ the clown says, with what might be a smirk – it’s hard for Josh to tell because of all the face paint – and he passes Josh an oversized, orange handkerchief. ‘Did I get you? My bad. Although … a bit of squirting never harmed anyone, right?’