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?’


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


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 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.


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.’


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…’


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.’


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.


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.’



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.



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.





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.


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.