… I got myself an Americano and found an empty table by the window where I could start 'Hope of a Tree' while drinking my coffee. The day was sunny and the Fulham Road was thronged with people doing their Saturday things. With my book and my coffee I felt as if I was in a little island of no hurry and no bother where I could let my mind be quiet for a while.
I opened the book […] and there’s Cynthia on Clifton Bridge thinking about jumping and here comes Sam to talk her out of it. OK, I thought, you can get a good love story out of a beginning like that. Then I noticed a woman who’d just sat down at the next table watching me. She was about my age, not bad looking, maybe a little too much jaw, dark brown hair in a Louise Brooks cut. Black polo neck, little pink leather jacket, black trousers and Birkenstocks. Very sleek, very cool and sure of herself.
She gave me a sort of knowing leer and said, ‘Enjoying it?’
‘Just started it,’ I said. ‘Have you read it?’
‘Had to,’ she said. ‘I was married to the author.’
‘Oh,’ I said.
‘Do you know him?’ she said.
‘Sort of,’ I said. ‘I’m his girlfriend.’
I was surprised to hear myself say that but I tend to take against sleek women on sight.
‘Really!’ she said. ‘He usually goes for the intellectual type. Which you don’t, at first glance, appear to be.’
‘It could be that he’s looking to change his luck,’ I said.
‘Which way?’ she said. I stood up and took half a step towards her. She suddenly looked less sure of herself.
‘Maybe,’ I said. ‘You’d like to continue this discussion outside?’
‘Oh dear,’ she said. ‘Phil has come a long way down the female evolutionary ladder. This conversation would seem to be at an end. I suggest that you go back to your book and I to my cappuccino.’
‘While you still have your teeth,’ I said. She stayed quiet then, and when she picked up her cup it rattled in the saucer. I was amazed at my behaviour and quite pleased with it. Ms Ex-Wife finished her cappuccino quickly and left, avoiding eye contact the whole time […].
Sam talks Cynthia down off the bridge and they go to the camera obscura. ‘It’s a dark chamber,’ says Sam, ‘but you get a clear bright view of things from here.’
I imagined him saying that in the kind of film where you can see what’s coming long before it arrives. Sam – he’s American – would be played by Jim Carrey without his usual gurning and pretty soon we’d find out in a flashback that he’d been contemplating suicide after being dumped by Jennifer, played by Emily Watson. Cynthia would be Kate Winslet. An American film shot on location here.
‘Another dark chamber?’ says Cynthia as they start taking their clothes off at Sam’s place on page 17. They get through the sex pretty quickly because that part is only foreplay for a whole lot of talk about books and music and painting and movies. With quotes from here and there in italics. Italics always tire me out. I had a second Americano because I was getting sleepy. Then I got up and walked down to the New King’s Road and over to the river. I found myself a bench in Bishop’s Park and sat there in the sunshine watching a crew rowing down the
river with the cox yelling at them. For a while I just sat there trying to let my mind go blank but the book was in my hands and I kept thinking, Am I this guy’s girlfriend? It’s always a bad sign when you start thinking in italics. I read a little more but by then I knew I wasn’t sure I could finish the book, it was too boring ...