Perry looks at the roses, starts to turn away, and then hesitates. A cliché, expensive, impermanent, sure… But it would be good to arrive with something.
Yet they have the whole weekend together. He will have time to find her something nice. Something meaningful. He steps to the left, merges back into the flow of commuters and continues to be swept towards the Circle Line.
The previous week had been a strange one. He was overtired, and yet unable to sleep for some reason, and Gina had been busy and/or distant every time he phoned, so their usual hour-long rambling chats had been replaced by brief excuses and unfulfilled promises to call the next day. Yesterday he had a vague suspicion that they were getting into some weird, I’m not calling you if you’re not calling me kind of a game… The feeling had been bad enough for him to reconsider coming this weekend at all, but, no, she had insisted, nothing was wrong. She really wanted him to come.
So he guesses that it will all now be OK after all.
He passes a kiosk and considers buying some crisps and a Coke. He hasn’t eaten since lunch time, and he has the beginnings of a headache. Dehydration or low blood sugar probably. He weighs this against the fact that he’s trying to eat less junk, that he’ll be there soon enough, and presses on along the tunnel.
The platform, when he gets there, is packed solid, and the train, when it arrives, equally so. He doesn’t even try to get in.
When the next train turns out to be as packed as the first one, he resigns himself and forces his way into the sweaty squeeze of the interior.
His head is sandwiched between a man in a dirty shirt and a rapper-type. Mister Dirty Shirt is hanging onto the grab rail and pointing a generous underarm sweat-stain at him. To his right the boyz-in-the-hood guy is listening to aggressive rap music on a mobile phone. The phone distorts what is already Perry’s least favourite kind of music. In fact, he realises, rap is the only entire genre of music that he can’t bear. Ever. His headache starts to throb.
The train lurches from station to station. He wishes he had driven in instead of leaving his car at the end of the line. Sure the traffic would have been terrible, but at least he would have been encased in his own little metal bubble.
An hour later he is climbing the seven flights of stairs to Gina’s flat – the lift is out of order again. The effort of climbing is making his heart pump, and the pumping blood is making his headache pound. By the time he reaches the seventh floor, the pain above his left eye is so excruciating that he is having to half close it to avoid his eyeball popping out. That’s how it feels anyway.
He lets himself in and finds Gina sitting at the dining table. She looks up at him with a strange expression – somehow circumspect, as if unconvinced of something. He frowns at her, but the frown hurts, so he drops it and raises his eyebrows instead. “Hello!” he says, dropping his weekend bag and crossing the room.
She stands and kisses him on the cheek. On the cheek. He wonders why.
“Have you got any Aspirin?” he asks her. “I have the worst headache…”
Gina nods at him. Her eyebrows are wrinkled into a lopsided frown. “Probably,” she says. “Somewhere.” She sits back down.
Perry frowns at her and shrugs and turns. “I’ll just, erm, find them myself then, shall I?” he says.
When he gets back to the lounge, Gina is facing the other way. She is looking out of the window at the night sky, or the building opposite. Not at him, anyway.
“I don’t know why you bothered,” she says.
Perry rubs the bridge of his nose and wonders how long the aspirin will take to work. Probably an hour, half an hour at least. He needs it to work now.
He shakes his head, as if that might shake it off, and crosses the room. He lays a hand upon Gina’s shoulder, but she shrugs it away and spins the swivel chair to face him. Her face is crimson, furious.
“What’s wrong?” Perry asks. “Did something happen?”
“You happened,” she spits. Her eyes, usually blue, seem grey this evening. Her skin, usually pale, is ruddy.
“I don’t understand,” Perry says. “We spoke this morning and you said to come…”
“Yes, and you made it quite clear you didn’t want to. How dare you march in here with a face like thunder. How dare you come all this way just to have another argument, just to spoil another weekend. I mean, where’s the point in that? What is your problem?”
Perry frowns again and opens his mouth to speak, then closes it again. He coughs. “I didn’t have a face like… I have a headache… I’m damned if I know…”
“Oh, that’s it. Of course. You have no idea, do you! So that would make it all, what? My fault? Again?”
“Can you just calm down and tell me…” he says. But as soon as the words are out, he knows it’s a mistake.
“Calm down? Calm down! Fuck you Perry! Really. Fuck you!”
“What is wrong? Please, I don’t know what has happened here. I mean, between this morning when you said you wanted me to come and now, when…”
“There’s just no point with you,” she says, turning away again. “It’s all just twisted. You piss me off, and then decide to come anyway, just to piss me off again. It’s exactly like Paris.”
“We talked about Paris,” Perry protests. “We explained it all. I thought we understood what happened in Paris. I said I was sorry, and you…” No, of course, you didn’t, he thinks.
“Except you’re doing it all again”, Gina says.
“I didn’t do Paris…” Perry starts. “It was a misunder…” And then he interrupts himself. “There’s no point…” He sighs. “I really don’t have the energy to have that whole argument again.”
“Poor you,” Gina says.
“I haven’t said anything,” Perry says, his own voice now starting to sound belligerent. “I don’t know why… I just asked you for a fucking aspirin.”
“Yes,” Gina says. “It was the first thing you said. Not hello. Not happy St Valentine’s day. Just, get me an aspirin. Well I’m sorry, but it’s the maid’s day off.”
“I did say, ‘hello.’ And I didn’t say, ‘get me an…’”
“Oh, so I’m lying as well now, huh? Jesus. I knew you were going to do this.”
“This is crazy,” Perry says, picking his bag up, and turning towards the door.
“Yes, that’s right,” Gina says. “Fuck off! Just walk away. Again. There’s no point trying to talk to you, is there? You never could listen. There’s just no one home.”
Out in the cold evening air, he stares up and down the street calculating his options. He could find a hotel for the night, but what would be the point? Gina never apologises, and tomorrow won’t be an exception. And he’s damned if he’s going back for round two until she does. And it strikes him, here, right now, at eight pm on St Valentine’s day, that for all Gina’s qualities, and she has plenty, nobody can really have a relationship with someone who simply can’t say, sorry. Because not being able to say sorry means something: it means that they are never wrong. And if they’re never wrong, then you are always wrong. And no one can build a relationship on that.
He glances at his watch. He could be home by midnight. He hitches his bag a little higher on his shoulder, and starts to walk.
As he reaches the platform he realises that his headache is fading, and is fast being replaced by acid reflux caused by the aspirin in his empty stomach.
Inside the – incredibly – almost empty carriage, he takes a seat opposite a young woman with a blue anorak and a huge green hiker-type backpack. She is reading a magazine, but when she looks up he catches his first glimpse of her face. She is astoundingly beautiful. She looks incredibly angry.
He glances away and thinks about Gina. In the end, he realises that it comes down to him not having had quite the right expression on his face as he walked in the door, and that thought makes him feel cheated, it makes him feel angry.
He can’t resist stealing another glance at the woman opposite. She is so very beautiful: maybe mid thirties, athletic figure, long brown hair, exactly the way he always imagines his ideal woman to be. And then she glances up at him again, and there is something about the glassy psychopathic anger in her eyes, the flicker of her eyelid, the wrinkle of her brow… there is something so dangerous about her demeanor (she honestly looks like she might be about to kill someone, anyone, him…) that his heart beats a little faster with a fight or flight response. He chooses flight and stands and moves to the door, glancing nervously behind him. “Women!” he thinks. “St Valentine’s day!”
He continues his journey – two carriages down – wondering if he is now single again. He imagines telling friends, “Oh yes, we split up on St Valentine’s day.” The thought makes him want to cry.
Sheena opens the door and grins at her girlfriend. Then her grin slips away. “What’s up love, did something happen?” she asks.
Cheryl shakes her head and drops her green backpack to the floor. “No, I just have this killer migraine,” she says.
Sheena exhales hard. “Gosh, you had me worried. You look like you’re about to kill someone. Poor baby.” She helps Cheryl off with her anorak and runs her fingers through her hair.
“Sit yourself down and I’ll get you some paracetamol,” she says. “Can’t have you with a headache on St Valentine’s day, can we? I have some serious bedroom action planned for you my girl.”