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An Almost Perfect Moon

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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‘No problem there,’ said Ben, ‘I’ve always fancied the pants off Luce.’

Finally giving her husband a hint of a smirk, Lucie added, ‘You’ve just got to know you’re right together. Deep down. But you guys might as well be married. You live together just like we do. What’s the secret for you? Much the same I expect.’

‘I don’t know, honey, what’s the secret?’ asked Tiffany, craning round to look at Flin.

‘What you have to realize,’ said Flin, half-heartedly covering Tiffany’s ears, ‘is that as well as being a gorgeous Aussie babe, Tiff is one of the most laid-back, easy-going people I know.’

‘And I like pubs a lot,’ added Tiffany, ‘which is important to you, isn’t it, honey?’

‘And you like pubs.’

‘And beer,’ said Lucie, ‘which considering you’re so tiny, I’ve always found extraordinary.’

Tiffany shrugged, then laughed. Flin looked at her, blonde hair dishevelled, and outsized woollen jumper stretched over knees tucked under her chin. He probably loved her more now than ever. He was a lucky man.

Ben decided to provoke Lucie. ‘Still,’ he began, grinning conspiratorially at Flin, ‘I think you might be wrong about Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. I reckon they’d have worked out. After all she’s marrying pots of cash and he’s got a young wife to have great sex with. Anyway, I want to know what the film expert thinks,’ said Ben. ‘Come on, Flin.’

‘Oh, I’m with you all the way,’ agreed Flin. ‘Great sex and loads of money can overcome all sorts of other problems, I’m sure.’

‘I know what you’re doing, you two, and it isn’t going to work.’ Lucie folded her arms adamantly.

Tiffany laughed, ‘If only you were rich, Flin.’

‘If only I were,’ said Flin, stretching, ‘but I’m not sure I really see the point of getting married. And if Tiff ever does insist on it, I think we should go and do it on a beach in Barbados or something. I’ve seen so many people get hitched and everyone, without exception, seems to become totally over-stressed and argumentative over it. Seems a lot more hassle than it’s worth.’

‘That’s why it’s good for any long-lasting relationship,’ said Lucie. ‘It’s a test. If you still want to be married after an engagement full of wedding organization and arguments with future in-laws, you know you’re definitely made for each other.’

‘Fair comment,’ admitted Flin.

‘I quite like the sound of Barbados,’ said Tiffany, turning round to see Flin’s reaction.

‘OK, let’s go next week,’ he grinned. ‘Can everyone here make it?’

‘Great. I’m up for it,’ said Ben, holding up his hand, classroom-style. But Luice hadn’t finished on the important matter of the de Winters’ future.

‘I still think Laurence and Joan wouldn’t work. It would develop into a miserable loveless marriage. Really, they’re two completely different people – different ages, different classes, which was important then, and for most of the film he treats her more like a daughter. He was certainly old enough to be her dad. And he never once called her by her name. By the end of the film you still don’t know what her bloody name is! I mean, what kind of a marriage is that?’

‘What about “opposites attract”?’ suggested Ben. ‘And “darling”, he did call her “darling”.’

‘Yes, but in a patronizing way. He was always patronizing her. I’d have slugged him one, personally, but she was so bloody feeble and infatuated she put up with it.’

There was slight pause after Lucie finished her speech, and she interpreted this as confirmation of an argument won.

‘Well, if that’s how you feel,’ said Ben, yawning again, ‘at least there’s no chance of anyone accusing you of being wet, hey baby?’

‘Lucie, were you always this strident, or is it a side-effect of being pregnant?’ asked Flin, not looking up from his paper.

Lucie threw a cushion at him, grinned sheepishly, and then said, ‘Well, what do you think, Harry? I’m right, aren’t I?’

Harry, miles away, had only been half listening. Sitting on the wingbacked armchair, (his favourite spot whenever he came over), a leg dangling over one of the arms, he was staring up at the bookcases, filled with Lucie’s creased-arched paperbacks.

‘I’m afraid I’m with Luce on this one,’ he said at length, ‘they didn’t seem to have a lot in common.’

‘Thank you, Harry,’ said Lucie triumphantly.

‘Yes, but come on, Harry, look at Julia. She’s absolutely gorgeous. You can’t say that doesn’t help.’

‘Sure it does, but is it enough?’

‘Looking at those breasts and amazing legs of hers, I’d have thought so, yes.’

‘Ben!’ Lucie glared at him.

‘Darling, that’s nothing against you: I think you’re perfect, but from Harry’s point of view, Julia is a very attractive proposition.’

‘And she’s pretty well-off, isn’t she, Harry?’ added Flin.

Harry nodded wistfully.

‘So what’s the problem?’ asked Ben.

‘There isn’t one, I suppose. I don’t know. It’s just … well, I mean, you lot – you’re all so happy with each other. Ben and Lucie, you’re married; Flin and Tiffany, you might as well be. But I can’t see myself ever marrying Julia somehow.’

‘Why not?’ asked Ben. ‘You get on really well. She makes you laugh – you said so; she’s stunning; for some reason she seems to adore you. Sounds to me like you’ve got it made. Anyway, I thought it was all going well and that you were really keen. Has something happened?’

‘No, no, nothing. Nothing at all. Forget it.’

‘Harry, I do think you’re jumping the gun a bit,’ put in Lucie. ‘I mean, you’ve only been going out a couple of months. Stop comparing yourself with other people and see how it goes.’

‘Yeah, you’re right.’ He force-smiled at them: Ben and Lucie, looking so comfortable on the sofa, despite Lucie’s pregnant awkwardness; and Flin and Tiffany, Flin’s hand loosely draped over Tiffany’s shoulder while he read the paper, she sipping more red wine, the very picture of contented togetherness. It had been a mistake to mention his doubts about Julia. It was obvious what they would all say.

Ben, eyeing his friend, decided on this occasion to let it go. He’d call him up, arrange to go for a drink after football on Tuesday, and get to the bottom of it then.

Flin meanwhile had gone back to his paper and was leafing through the previous day’s property section, when something caught his eye.

‘Tiff, look at this,’ he said, slapping the paper down in front of her.

‘What?’ asked Ben.

‘A house,’ Flin told him. ‘A bloody big house – four bedrooms, a couple of old outbuildings and seven acres of land. Jesus, I must be mad.’

‘And?’

‘And look at the price. It’s worth less than our flat.’

Tiffany passed the advert to Ben.

‘I mean, when I see that,’ Flin continued, ‘I’m just so glad I live in a tiny two-bedroom flat on a seedy street in the arse-end of Hammersmith. Jesus. Makes me feel really quite ill. What the hell are we all doing here, for God’s sake?’

‘Yeah, but, Flin, who the hell wants to live in Northumberland?’ said Ben, passing the paper round to Lucie and then Harry. ‘I mean, it’s so bleak. And nothing to do unless you’ve a bit of a thing for sheep.’

‘I wouldn’t mind,’ said Tiffany. ‘I think it looks nice.’

‘You like sheep, do you?’ asked Harry, handing the folded paper back to Flin. ‘It’s cheap for a reason.’

Flin looked at it again. It seemed to be nestled in a small valley, although behind it, to emphasize the land that came with it, could be seen the empty Northumbrian uplands. Beautiful, but Ben was right – not exactly practical.

‘You’re right,’ he said at last, ‘but to think I could own that when I live in a glorified shoe-box still makes me feel a bit depressed. I mean, just look at all that space. The fresh air, no traffic jams, no graffiti, and yes, just the melodic sound of contented sheep bleating from the upper pastures. Maybe that’s the way forward. Get out of the madness of London and wind down for a while. Lead the simple life. De-stress. It’d be great, wouldn’t it? I’d get out of bed and be greeted by a vista of uninterrupted fields, instead of a mirror image of my own flat on the other side of the road. No Underground to scrabble through. No feeling grimy and soiled as soon as I got to work. Just clean, wholesome living.’

‘Wholesome but piss-boring,’ added Ben.

Flin looked at the picture once more. ‘Yeah, maybe,’ he said. ‘It was just a thought.’

As Harry left Ben and Lucie’s that afternoon, he was pleasantly surprised to note how the March days were slowly lengthening. He looked up to see a suggestion of clear blue lingering over the Common. The ground was wet underfoot, but the air felt dry and bracing after an afternoon spent surfeiting on food, drink and warmth. Feeling bloated, Harry decided to walk home. Anyway, he could never be bothered to wait for buses. Much better to be on the go.

The walk back to Brixton took half an hour. Across the quiet, wide-open stretch of Clapham Common, then an amble down the genteel calmness of Abbeville Road. The boundary between Clapham and Brixton was unmistakable. As he turned onto Acre Lane, he was greeted with immediate bustle and noise. Not far away, sirens cut across the evening air; then a shiny four-by-four with blacked-out windows thudded past him, vibrating music pulsing tremors along the road.

As Harry arrived outside his flat, he made his normal inspection of his beloved old Citröen, but, as usual, it was fine, not a blemish to be seen. His fellow Brixtonians seemed to respect rather than resent it. He sighed, feeling uncharacteristically low. On the cusp of thirty and a life that felt suddenly empty.
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