‘This fucking house is like a fucking zoo,’ she tells him, on what feels like the 900th day of the summer holidays, as she hoovers up cornflakes from under the sofa.

‘Less than a week to go,’ he tells her, ‘we’ve got this.’

She feels bad that the start of the school term can’t come round soon enough. She loves her kids, really.

‘If this house was actually a zoo,’ he says. ‘What animal would you be?’

She barely hesitates. ‘A panda.’

He laughs. ‘Really? I’d have you down as something fiercer. How come a panda?’

She looks him straight in the eye. ‘Cuddly,’ she says. ‘Cute.’ She pauses. ‘And barely ever fucks. Like us.’

‘We fuck!’

‘Not during the school holidays.’

‘That … that is true.’

‘Did you know,’ she asks, ‘that they think that one of the reasons pandas in captivity have so little sex is because they can’t get any privacy, because they’re being watched the whole time? And that’s kind of true for us, too – if it’s not one of our kids hanging around, it’s one of a million visitors … my mum, your dad, all the friends the kids have over for sleepovers. I can’t even pee in peace, let alone fuck.’

‘Well, I’m sorry you feel like a panda,’ he says. ‘I really am. But even pandas get it on a few times a year, I think, so maybe our day is coming.’

‘God,’ she says, ‘I hope so.’ She sighs. ‘Anyway, if I’m a panda, what would you be?’

He thinks for a moment, then laughs. ‘A lion,’ he says.

‘King of the animal kingdom, huh?’

‘Well,’ he says, ‘that’s part of it, sure, but I was thinking about the fact that the men last roughly 15 to 20 seconds. Which, given how long our dry spell has been, is roughly how long I expect it to be for me, too.’



It may not be a great thing to use as a yardstick for how much he cares about her, but what else does she have to go on? She wants desperately to know where things stand between them, where they are headed, but she is too scared to ask. What if asking sends him running in the opposite direction?

And so she keeps track of the kisses on his messages until it almost drives her fucking insane. She longs for consistency and he is far, far from consistent – some days there is one kiss, others three, some days there are none at all. It’s meaningless, she knows, but she can’t help but read too much into it – how can three kisses not mean more than one? They must, right? Or has she got it the wrong way round – does a single kiss in fact mean more than a whole of string of them? Is that more sincere?

Eventually, she decides it must mean more when he sends just one. After all, they are seeing each other regularly, he sends her ‘Goodnight x’ messages before she falls asleep and, well, she just has a good feeling about things. After all, it’s been a while since anyone sent her any kisses at all.

The good feeling lasts until they are out together in a bar one night. It lasts until he goes to the bathroom and leaves her alone with his phone.

She has never been great at resisting temptation and she is even worse at not playing with fire. And so yes, she does look at his messages, and yes, immediately she wishes she hadn’t. Because it it turns out he doesn’t always communicate his affection with kisses. Sometimes he communicates it with pictures of his dick. And he has never, ever sent her one of those.



He tells her that he thinks she must be a xenophile and she laughs and says, kindly, ‘You can date a Frenchman and not be a xenophile.’ He is not wrong about her love for France though. What is it they call it? The delicatessen with beaches? How could anyone not love it?

That is not what I meant, he says. I wasn’t talking about your feelings for me. Doesn’t she know, he says, that xenophilia can also mean a love for foreign objects, and she laughs again, loudly this time. Foreign objects, makes her think of losing things up her bum, for some reason, of having to go to A&E on a Friday night to have them surgically removed.

As it happens, she is not so far off the mark with that thought. ‘I am right, though,’ he says. ‘Aren’t I? You’re fascinated by objects, things that are foreign to you.’

She knows what he means now, sort of. It is true that she can get kind of obsessed with things. She will see something in a shop, something she doesn’t even need, and she won’t be able to stop thinking about it until she buys it. Her house, because of this, is filled with all kinds of nonsense.

‘I … I guess,’ she says. ‘Yeah, I guess that’s fair.’

‘I wanted to get you something,’ he says now, ‘something that I think will be foreign to you. Shall I show you?’

She has a bad feeling about this. ‘Sure,’ she says. ‘Show me.’

He pulls a carrier bag out from inside his satchel. She recognises the branding. Uh oh.

He hands it to her and she pulls out the object inside. She forces herself to smile, a big, bright, forced smile.

Of course it is something to put in her arse.




It has been six weeks since he last touched her. She dreams about fucking him, sure, but here are the other things she thinks about, too:

  • the way that when they’re eating at a restaurant and he goes to the Gents, he squeezes her shoulder tenderly before he sits back down
  • all the times he’s ever kissed her forehead
  • the way he smells, oh god, the way he smells
  • his empty wine glass on the bedside table
  • that curl that he can’t ever quite tame
  • dressing for him, all the way from the black lace knickers to the dusky pink lipstick
  • the way his chest gets all flushed after he comes
  • the anticipation at the station, as she waits for his train to pull in
  • the way he smacks her arse when she walks through a door in front of him
  • his hands pinning hers high above her head
  • the way that, when he wants to be inside her, he touches her waist, casually, as if he’s trying to get her attention
  • walking into a bar, alone, but knowing that he is already there, waiting

It has been six weeks since he last touched her, and fuck knows how many more it will be before he does again.


When the Robinsons come for dinner, which they do often. they always bring flowers. She wonders who buys the flowers. It could be him, sure, but she can’t imagine it – he doesn’t seem the type to hang around in Tesco, agonising over whether to choose the roses or the new season tulips.

She can’t imagine him agonising at all. He never does when he’s with her. With her he is surefooted, or sure-fingered, more like, whether he’s pinching her nipples or sliding them one, then two, then three inside her.

And so no, it doesn’t see likely that he chooses the flowers. But he manages to get his hands on them every time, because every time there’s a little post-it note from him folded down somewhere among them. Sometimes the note says something pretty sweet, I missed you this week, perhaps, or Can’t stop thinking about you. Other times – most times, truth be told – what is says is not sweet at all. I’d love to fuck your arse was one from a couple of weeks back, and there’s been one about coming all over her face, too.

That’s why she’s glad that Tom has never arranged a bunch of flowers in his life. It means that she can always take the bouquet, a big smile on her face and then have a moment to herself in the boot room as she puts the flowers in water and reads about whatever Matt wants to do to her this week.

Tonight the flowers are peonies. She loves peonies. But as she goes to take them from Susie – trying, the whole time, to read the expression on Matt’s face, to guess how filthy he’s feeling – the baby monitor roars into life.

Tom takes the flowers. ‘You go,’ he says, ‘it’s no problem. I know where to find a vase.’


Sometimes, usually when he wears the button-fly jeans, she remembers what it was like the first time, when she was the one unsnapping those buttons and she’d been unsure if she was doing it right. No, scrap that, not unsure. She’d had absolutely no clue what she was doing. She still remembers the jut of his dick against the denim, the fear of somehow hurting him, the fact that he was nice about her trembling hands.

He’s not nice now. And she doesn’t undo his jeans anymore.

These days, she couldn’t undo his jeans if she tried, most of the time. As soon as they reach the bedroom, he has both of her hands pinned above her head, while he snaps his fly with the other hand. Gone are the days when he would undress her, slowly, carefully, and although she misses it sometimes, she knows that really, she prefers it this way, where she rarely gets her clothes off at all – often her dress is just pushed up and her bra pushed down, so her tits spill over the cups, eager for his touch.

Sometimes, she wonders how they got here, how he figured out who she was, under all that insecurity, that fumbling. How did he know?

Not that it matters of course, how they got here. All that matters is that they did get here. It’s just that sometimes she likes to think about the journey they took to get to this point. It turns her on, remembering.



In some ways, you know it’s funny. You know that you will make a joke, when you turn up at his apartment later, about how you bumped into his ex at your beginners’ knife skills class and, well, you could have cut the tension with a knife. 

It’ll be funny later, but to be honest, while it’s happening it’s not so funny. At first, your worry is that you will somehow slip and chop off her finger, but that worry is soon replaced by something more tangible. You will realise that, beginner or not, she is better at this than you are. The teacher will praise her for her excellent knife control and you will glower and resent her the compliment. You will nearly take your own finger off because you are hypnotised by the smooth movements of her blade as she segments citrus fruits for a delicious caramelised orange tart. You will watch her efficiently fillet a seabass and feel like she is in fact cutting your self-esteem from your bones. You will make such a mess of the task yourself that you’ll feel bad for the fish.

That evening, you will take the onion focaccia that you’ve made to his, and he will tell you that it’s delicious, and you will remember the joke you wanted to tell him, the tension one. You will not tell it, though, because you will not be in the mood. You’ve worried about this for a long time, the day you would inevitably meet his ex and the fact you knew you’d be jealous. And you were right to be worried, because you are jealous. It’s just that you were expecting to be jealous of her shiny hair or her bouncy tits, but you’re not. You’re jealous of the way she dices a fucking shallot.


Because she is a writer, she would like there to be more of a plot to the way it all works out in the end. She knows how it’s supposed to start, with her establishing her normal life – which, in this case, is the fact that she never manages to come during sex – and then immediately move on to how she tries to fix that.

The truth is, though, that she doesn’t try to fix it, not for five whole years. She’s content –more than content – with the sex, not least because they’ve discovered other stuff that turns her on: biting and bruises and giving head, to name just a few of them.

Already, as a story, it’s way out of shape.

At the midpoint of the story, she should already know what the ending will be – she should be foreshadowing that ending a bit. But there is no foreshadowing, because the situation remains the same. She is no closer to orgasm than when they began.

After that, things do get a bit more plot-heavy. They start to try things. Toys, porn, his fingers on her clit, her fingers on her clit. She doesn’t enjoy any of it. It’s just a distraction from all the things she does like about the sex.

So they stop trying. Bad, from a sex point of view, perhaps, but good from a story one. This is the darkest moment, the point where everything the heroine is trying to achieve seems beyond her reach.

And then, one day, when they are not trying to make her come, either of them, when he is on top, and her leg is on his shoulder and they are kissing and her hips are thrusting back towards his, she does come, just like that. Pure serendipity.

Bad, from a story point of view, perhaps, but good, so damn good, from a sex one.



She feels as if she has spent her whole adult life thinking up reasons to turn down party invites, so it comes as a surprise when, after she meets Will, she no longer wants to turn them down.

She and Will have a game they play at parties, you see. They turn up, they make polite conversation with the hosts, they work the room a little, and then one of them excuses themselves – ostensibly to go to the bathroom. The bathroom thing is a lie, though, or at least, it usually is. Sometimes they do end up in the bathroom, although she prefers bedrooms these days.

Since she met Will, she has fucked in fourteen master bedrooms that are not hers. Sometimes in the car on the way she’ll sing You’ll always find me in the bedroom at parties to the tune of Jona Lewie’s You’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties, and she’ll put her hand on his leg and anticipate the feeling of someone else’s linen bedding caressing her bare skin.

She believes that they’re subtle. She believes that both of them know when to lay of the champagne so they can get laid without getting caught. Yes, she sometimes tries on the hostesses’ perfume afterwards, or they might leave a little damp patch on the duvet cover, but she’s pretty sure they get away with it.

She no longer turns down party invites, but little does she know that she is not getting away with it at all. Everyone she knows is now looking for reasons not to invite her to their parties.


She has begun to look for men who have what she thinks of as the Quark factor. Quark, she remembers from a pub quiz question she once got wrong, is actually a type of soft cheese made by warming soured milk until the desired amount of curdling is met.

And that’s what she wants to feel when she fancies a man. The desired amount of curdling. She is not interested in men who make her feel good about her choices. She always wants to be just a little bit repulsed. It’s why the last three men she’s fucked have been Tories.

Peter is not a Tory, not as far as she knows. But even while they’re still chatting online, he has some quirks that bug her, like the way he texts ‘lol’ after what feels like every message and ‘morning beautiful’ every single day. She is not a ‘morning beautiful’ kind of girl.

When they do meet, he tells her, when she’s only on her second glass of wine, that he still lives with his mum. And perhaps she should be less judgey, but everything curdles a little more at that point. Still, he’s not bad looking. and he’s clearly a sweet guy, and besides, she likes that curdle-y feeling, doesn’t she, so she gives him a second chance.

On their second date, he tells her his mum is out for the evening and invites her back to his. She agrees, more from curiosity than genuine desire, and that is her first mistake. They fuck in the living room – god knows why, unless he still has a Thomas the Tank duvet cover on his single bed – but she cannot find her enthusiasm and he cannot find her clit. Her second mistake is letting him come inside her; her third, letting the come drip out of her onto his mum’s velvet cushions. But that is not the final straw.

The final straw is when she looks down and sees he is still wearing his socks. That is when she knows that she has gone far, far beyond the desired amount of curdling.