Quark

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.

 

Pineapple

Over time, she has learned how to pick the guys on dating sites who are just the right level of dirty.

Her technique is spot on, and she wishes she’d discovered it sooner. She feels like she has googled a cheat code for a computer game and is now rich beyond her wildest dream. Except the knowledge she has now doesn’t come from Google, it comes from her own slow, steady process of trial and error: of noticing something, formulating a theory and then testing that theory out in real life until she is sure that it’s watertight.

And this, she is sure, is watertight.

Since she started testing the theory, she’s had five different guys on the go: five guys who she can call any time she’s horny and be pretty damn sure that one of them will be over to lay her within the hour.

Ostensibly, these men have little in common. The first, Jim, is a plumber – funny, cuddly, obsessed with anal. The second, Paul, works in HR, goes down on her for hours. The third, Andy, likes to slap her tits, her arse and even her face, when she asks nicely. Four is Craig, shaven head, all about rope. And last but not least is Mike, who has a gorgeous, thick cock and can almost make her come just by telling her what he plans to do to her.

Ostensibly, these men have little in common. But in truth, she knows there is one tiny interest they share.

They all like pineapple on their pizza.

Oxbridge

She treats post-coital conversation like some kind of Oxbridge interview. Luckily, he’s into it, although he does wonder every time they fuck whether this will be the time that, after they’re done, she’ll pull a brick from under the bed, hand it to him, and ask him to throw it through the window. That’s what happens at Oxbridge interviews, right? Or it has happened one time at least. Supposedly.

What he likes about it is that he knows she isn’t doing it as some kind of test – she’s not trying to catch him out, or forcing him to prove his intelligence. It’s just the way her mind works – jumping from one subject to another, at speed, and seemingly also at random – he’s lost count of how many times the conversation has veered sharply in a different direction and he’s had no idea how that happened.

He tells her, eventually, that that’s what their chats make him think of and she laughs. He’s glad – he was worried she would be offended, although he did mean it kindly. In fact, these days, it kind of turns him on – she’ll be lying there, still flushed, still smiling, asking one minute about the countries that border Germany and ten seconds later about the last book he read, and he’ll feel himself beginning to grow hard again, just because she’s so adorable.

That’s what he’s thinking about – how adorable she is, how much he loves these conversations – the night it happens. He is tangled in the sheets, warm, comfortable, gently stroking his cock, and suddenly, she reaches under the bed and pulls out a brick. She hands it to him, and he takes it – what else is he supposed to do?

She gestures to the window. ‘Go on,’ she says. ‘Throw it. I dare you.’

 

 

Note

She keeps it in her wallet although she knows she will never spend it. It’s not a currency for a country she is likely to return to, and even if she does, she hopes by then she’ll have forgotten all about this note, tucked in amongst unused loyalty cards and old receipts.

He gave it to her to buy condoms. He was working overseas, she was visiting. She had forgotten to pack any – for some reason, it was always her, never him, that bought them. When she arrived, earlier that day, he seemed preoccupied, distracted. He’d kissed her, same as he always did, and they’d gone for pizza and wine, which had been nice, but everything seemed muted, in contrast to the excitement she’d felt on the plane.

Muted, but hard to explain why.

After dinner, they’d gone back to his apartment and she’d realised there were no condoms left in her washbag from the last time she visited. He had already stripped down to his boxer shorts.

‘Here,’ he’d said, handing her a note. ‘You can get some from the pharmacy down the street. There’s a machine on the wall outside.’

She takes the note. She decides to use the bathroom first. And that, perhaps is her mistake because there, in his washbag, on the bathroom shelf, is an open box of condoms.

She picks them up, returns to the bedroom with them. As soon as he sees the box in her hand, the colour drains from his face. He doesn’t have to say anything – they both know he’s guilty.

That night, she stays in a hotel. The following day, she flies home. She slips the note into her wallet on the plane. She’s intending to put it in the charity envelope, but she can’t bring herself to do it.

She’ll still be carrying that note around five years later.

Modern

She hears him say it, dozens of times a day, on the phone.

‘All of our houses are designed for modern living.’

What does that even mean, she thinks? What is it about houses with too few doors and too much glass to clean, that makes them ‘designed for modern living.’

She wonders if he thinks it’s bullshit too. He certainly looks like he buys into the whole deal, with his carefully-gelled hair, his chinos, his blazer and his shirt, with the top button casually undone. No tie. Ties are not designed for modern living.

She wants to ask him whether he thinks it’s bullshit, on the night when he offers to buy her a quick drink, but it seems like the kind of question that might spoil the mood. Instead, they talk about what they’ve watched recently on Netflix, the restaurants in town that they like, where they’re each planning to go on holiday this summer. One drink turns into four, and eventually he says, ‘Would you like to come back to mine? For coffee?’

For coffee? Is asking someone up for coffee modern?

They do drink coffee, made in his chrome Nespresso machine, before they fuck in his beige bedroom. He is on top, the clean smell and solid weight of him both reassuring and satisfying.

It is the only thing that is satisfying, though. The actual sex lasts less than five minutes. He is done in less than twenty thrusts. She, of course, is not done, but she pretends that she is nonetheless. It seems easier that way – or it’ll be easier in the office tomorrow, at least.

She understands now, what it means to be designed for modern living. And she knows that – despite the charm, despite the carefully selected smart casual outfits – he is definitely not.

Lachrymal

One of the things she loves about him is that, every year, on Valentine’s Day, he doesn’t shower her with sentimental but meaningless gifts. Instead, he plans the whole day around a theme – a new theme every year, but always something special, something clever. Just like him.

This year, the day begins with a flogging. They play until she’s crying, but good crying, tears mixed with laughter, pleasure mixed with pain.

It is not clear to her, until they arrive at the gallery, what theme the flogging is connected to.

But it’s not the flogging that’s connected to the theme, it’s the tears. The show consists of huge, blown up photos of tears on microscope slides. The tears all have different structures, like unique snowflakes and she wants to believe that the differences come from the different feelings that caused the tears to fall. How might a sad tear differ from happy tears brought about by flogging, she wonders.

The accompanying notes, however, say that this is not how it works. The different structures aren’t caused by different emotions, they’re caused by random evaporation. For a moment, she is disappointed, and then he is behind her, whispering, his breath hot and damp against her ear. ‘Basal tears,’ he whispers, ‘are the type you are most familiar with. They help to keep your eyes healthy…’ he kisses her neck, ‘… wet,’ his fingers graze her cunt through the satin of her underwear, ‘…and clean.’ Now his fingers are pushing her underwear to one side, sliding inside her. ‘Wet sounds good,’ he says, ‘but clean is overrated, don’t you think?’

Keepsake

She is a sucker for a keepsake. Here are just some of the things she has kept over the years:

  • Twenty-four numbers of men with the surname Tinder.
  • Two condom wrappers, torn, empty, in jewel-like colours: one red, one purple
  •  Four restaurant receipts, none of which are from meals bought for her, all of which are for meals split, not just two ways, but exactly, to the penny, according to who ate what. She’s glad that guy’s gone. She’s not really sure why she’s kept the receipts.
  •  Tabs on his ex-girlfriend’s insta. Yes, she still checks it. Occasionally.
  •  One Eurostar luggage tag from a minibreak in Paris. The only time she’s not gone there alone.
  •  A note of the kind of food his cat likes, in case she needed to buy more while he was away on that business trip, and she was cat sitting. Except: he wasn’t away on a business trip. He was three streets away; fucking someone else.
  •  One stuffed dinosaur, holding a stuffed heart. From Sainsbury’s. A Valentine’s gift. From Sainsbury’s. Still, she won’t take that out on the dinosaur. It’s not his fault, so he never quite makes it to the charity shop pile.
  •  One apartment key.
  •  A business card from a ceramics place he thought she might like. It turned out he was fucking the woman who ran the ceramics place.
  •  A blue sweater, worn soft by endless washing. She still wears it from time to time. She still thinks fondly, from time to time, of its original owner.

Here are some of things she has not kept:

  • A man

Juniper

She tells him she’s worried that the juniper tree won’t survive the move, because the truth is she’s worried that she won’t survive the move – okay, okay, that’s a little melodramatic, but she’s worried she won’t be happy after they move – and it seems easier to project her feelings onto a small tree than to be honest about her emotions.

The juniper tree – and some complimentary mansplaining – were part of her 40th birthday gift. ‘Look at the berries,’ she’d said, fingering the branches delicately, ‘they’re beautiful.’

‘Well actually,’ he’d replied. ‘Technically they’re not berries. They’re cones.’

‘Well, actually,’ was also how he’d broached the topic of them moving. It would be great to be in the city, he’d said, not just because it would be so much easier for him to get to work, but because they’d have a better quality of life, wouldn’t they? Perhaps she could even take up tennis?

Initially, she hates it. Even living a five minute walk from Waitrose doesn’t make up for losing her beautiful garden. The juniper tree sits, sadly, in a large plastic tub of soil, and waits for her to replant it. She can’t be bothered. She can’t be bothered to do anything.

Until.

Until one day, a man pops round. Just a neighbour, being friendly perhaps, but when they shake hands, she notices that he is slow to let go of her hand, that his touch lingers. She notices his broad chest, his golden tan.

Perhaps she won’t just survive here. Perhaps she will thrive here. She won’t even need to take up tennis.

Insolent

She does it because she has begun to tire of being the other woman. She has a sudden urge to sabotage everything. She wishes he’d never told her about how he takes his kids to the fancy cafe with the average coffee every Saturday morning for breakfast. She wishes she’d never had to picture them sitting around the big, farmhouse style table, eating pancakes and playing happy families.

So one Saturday, she decides not to picture it. One Saturday, she decides to watch.

It is not how she imagined. They do, it’s true, sit at the big farmhouse table, him, his beautiful wife, his teenage daughter and his three-year old twins. But it is far from a happy families situation. The teenager – insolent as fuck – answers back to everything anyone says to her. That’s bad, but the twins, are worse. The twins are the reason why, for the whole hour that she sits and watches, hidden at a corner table, behind a large plant, she doesn’t hear him say anything other than the same two words, over and over again.

‘Stop hitting.’

‘Stop hitting.’

‘Stop hitting.’

She should be impressed, perhaps, that he never loses his temper. That he clearly isn’t just some dude who works in finance, he’s also an ok person and a good parent. But she feels like her act of self-sabotage has gone further than she meant it to: instead of the satisfying burn of envy, all she feels is mildly repulsed by his real life.

She needs a way to spice things up between them again, to remind herself of the spark that was there when they first met: the knowledge that what they were doing was wrong, but that they were going to do it anyway.

Which is why, the next time they fuck, the next time he slaps her tits, the way he knows she likes it, she grabs his wrist, looks him in the eye, and calmly says. ‘Stop hitting.’

Hog-tied

There are two things that surprise her about sexy pig fancy dress. First, that it’s even something you can buy, although you can, for the bargain price of £6.99 for a costume comprising a pale pink ‘satin’ leotard, pink ears on a too-small plastic alice band and a curly velvet clip on tail. When it arrives in the post, she kinda loves it, though. The second thing that surprises her about it is that, not only does her boyfriend not ridicule her for it, he seems to actively encourage it.

‘Your outfit, your choice,’ he tells her.

The occasion is a friend’s 30th, the theme, Favourite Film. And she’s always bloody loved Babe, so sexy pig it is.

Little does she know it’s given her boyfriend ideas.

The costume, when she tries it on, fits predictably badly, meaning that the overall effect is predictably slutty – both her tits and her arse seem desperate to escape from the tiny leotard.

‘I can’t wear this, can I?’ she says. ‘I’m too old. People will stare. Or worse, they’ll laugh.’

‘Trust me, you’re good,’ he replies. ‘Let them stare. You look hot as hell. I bet every man there will want to fuck you, which is lucky, because, erm…’

‘Erm what?’

‘That fantasy we talked about? The one where I let some other guy tie you up and then we both fuck you so hard that you can barely stand afterwards?’

She doesn’t say anything; just waits for him to continue.

‘Tom’s keen…’

‘Really?’

She’s keen on Tom, too.

‘He said there’s no better time to get hog-tied than when you’re dressed for it.’

She laughs at that.

‘You don’t have to do it, if you don’t want to. It’s entirely up to you. See how you feel after the party.’

‘Oh,’ she tells him, ‘I don’t need time to think about it. I’m 100% on board.’

He smacks her leotard-clad bum as they leave the house. ‘That’ll do, pig,’ he says. ‘That’ll do.’