Stu & Stella, Paula & Mike – A love story


   Stu & Stella

Well, here are again then, just you and me, sitting in the corner of The Bakers Arms. Whatever happened, eh? How did it ever come to this? I know you are bad for me and do my head in, that you make a fool out of me and cost me all my money. But then you look so good and at 5% ABV taste even better.

Love eh. Where does that get you? All my life it’s taken me to realise that though it’s love you crave, it’s love that hurts you so badly. Time passes and what you love and who you love inevitably change, and just when you think you are certain, you’re not.

It starts early. They bring home a cat or dog for you to love. You dress it up in human clothes, feed it tit-bits under the table and try and encourage it into the paddling pool against its better judgement. Then one day the bloody thing dies and leaves you. Your parents say it has gone to heaven to see its mummy, but all you can see for real is the fresh bump in the flower bed.

Then at school your preferences become polarised and you love everything that you don’t hate. You love sausages, The Tomorrow People, football, Vienetta and Pot Black. You hate your form master, your sister, the hair that starts growing on your legs and semolina. You think you love Caroline Buchanan who seats three desks away but you’d rather die than let her know.

Then suddenly school’s over forever, and you go to work. Banking or insurance; the elephant’s graveyard where people who don’t know what to do go for their careers go to die. You fall in love with all the women working there, but they don’t love you. You want a girl more than anything, but then being stupidly shy and conducting a lifestyle of beer and football with your mates isn’t going to get you one is it. Even the girl in The Dolphin who looks like an anteater turns you down.

Then somehow it happens. You meet Sandra, trainee dental assistant with teeth like Scrabble tiles and suddenly you have a girlfriend. As fixed in her ways as the resin in which she sets false teeth and a character that anesthetises your soul like a shot of novocaine to the jaw. Still, she is a girl, and you dream of sex with her in the dentist’s chair, and the waiting room, but her libido is as sterile as an autoclave full of dental tools and you make do with the very occasional conjunction when her parents are out, provided you are ‘quick about it and don’t  make a mess on the sheets’. Your brain tells you that it’s love, and in its name you readily exchange the drunken curries with the lads for seemingly endless waits outside the changing rooms at Dorothy Perkins or dinner parties with her dental mates discussing fillings and the comparative merits of B&Q and Texas Homecare to paint their new flat. You buy a place together as all your friends seem to. You learn though, and in time the lads welcome you back to the bar with open arms and she spends more and more time at her mother’s to escape you and the bedsit that you still haven’t got around to painting.

Love slowly reveals itself to be a mutual loathing and your desperation to fly is matched only by the mutually constrictive financial ties that seem to make you so inescapably inseparable. You wonder what Caroline Buchanan is doing now, where you would be now if you had been brave enough to kiss her, and could she somehow now come and save you. Then you get thrown out. Replaced. You act distraught yet inside are so relieved. You pledge vengeance on Sean the dentist, who you find has been filling more cavities than those in her teeth, yet you want to pat him on the back and wish him ‘best of luck, Mate’ along with a rotting skin disease.

Now single again, with a shared kitchen, microwave meals instead of shepherd’s pie and a rusty Nissan Micra replacing your snazzy BMW. Knees too sore for football, too unfit for the gym, both your age and waistline in their forties and the future looking bleak, the few lads left in the group seem to have replaced or seemingly downgraded their women and life seems sad.

Then Paula comes along. Now I’m 57 an argumentative, balding grumpy and cynical mess, yet she loves me.  She’s eight years younger than me but thirty years more emotionally mature, has a heart of gold and a history of being squashed by horrible men, of which she is yet to acknowledge I am one.  I tell her she should find someone better than me, someone less angular, easier to get on with and less against the world. But she says no, she’ll stick with me and I know that she will. She tells me she loves me every day. The only one who can make me and Paula not work, whatever ‘me and Paula is’, is me.

Love her? Yes, I suppose I do. I won’t move in with her, not yet anyway, but I do love her. There, I’ve said it. Not in a romancey, passionate way, more a best friend, partner way I guess. I wouldn’t be without Paula. Stay together?  Of course we will, but then I don’t want to give up these evenings in the pub, just me and you Stella, my Stella Artois.

Paula and Mike

That man! Down the pub again. ‘I need my space, I need my space’. Any more ‘space’ and he’ll be on Jupiter. Four years now we have been, well girlfriend and boyfriend I suppose, though he’s never called us that, but I still don’t know where I stand. If I ever try to talk about ‘us’, the future or  moving in together he gets even more grumpy, accuses me of ‘pressurising him’ and pulls away. He says I’m acting like Sandra did, always trying to trap him, but I’m not. Not really.  But then I’m 54 now and need the security of knowing whether or not he will be there in 1 year, 5 or 25 years’ time. I tell him I love him every single day, though I’m not sure I do.  I used to, at first. But then what is love anyway?  I just want to be looked after and be cherished, is that asking too much? Maybe for Stu it is. The fiery initial passions have ebbed of course, but surely the embers are meant to stay at least a little warm? If only he’d say he loved me. Just once, that would be enough. But he never has.  I’d imagine there’s more chance of his sticking his hand in the fire, to keep the analogy going.

Maybe he meets a woman at the pub? In a way I wish he did then I wouldn’t feel so bad about Mike. I’d never have shown any interest in Mike if Stu would ever commit. I’d even turn down Harrison Ford. Mike is the opposite. Never stops complimenting me, telling me how wonderful I am. He’s wrong of course, but he can tell me to his heart’s content and I will lap it up.  We are 6 delicious weeks into our ‘fling’ or whatever it is, meeting at secretly agreed times at the Kintbury Arms, or going for walks along the quiet stretches of the canal. it’s too early for the ’L’ word from me. But he says he loves me and I believe that he does, or at least thinks he does. He says it’s over between him and his wife, that it has been for years, that they are staying together for the sake of the children and will both be happier when he’s gone. He says he never meant to fall in love again: tells me he didn’t think he could, but now that I’ve ‘turned his world upside-down’ and he wants us to run away together, make a fresh start for both of us. Do I believe any of that? Of course I don’t. I bet his wife has a different take on the story, and I really don’t want to be seen as the ‘cougar from hell’, though this does has its appeal!  But he takes my hands, looks so deeply into my eyes and says it so sincerely I think he believes every word.

Should I say ‘yes – let’s do it!’ Of course I shouldn’t, ‘we’ wouldn’t last 5 minutes. He’s put me on a pedestal and can see no wrong in me.  I can’t say that I don’t enjoy being up there, so treasured because I do, but it’s dizzy looking down from up here. You wait until he hears me fart or sees my face in the morning. But it is so tempting to say yes, so tempting.  OK, we may only last 5 minutes, then crash and burn horribly, but in that time I would be light years from here, never to return. But then I really don’t want to hurt Stu. He’s the nicest man in the world really. Oh Stu, if only you had Mike’s lust for, well life – and me. If only I could take Mike’s half full glass and tip it into your empty one, but then you would only go and drink it.

If he would only tell me that he loved me, or even hinted that one day we would live together, even in a year or two’s time then I would be the happiest girl in the world and drop Mike like a stone. But truth is, I don’t think he does.

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