I’m chopping mushrooms, dancing between hob and chopping board, cha-cha-cha. Paper white flesh of fungus. He says mushrooms have no place in a fry-up, but I haven’t noticed him complaining much these days when I put his plate in front of him. Just looks up at me with those twinkling eyes, and I melt. Bastard knows it, too. He can do anything, and then look at me like that, and I’m putty in his hands.
I’m not complaining.
It’s hot, but the sultry weather of the last few days has cleared after the storm in the night. Hot night. No, don’t think about that now, Hathaway, you are chopping mushrooms for his breakfast.
Heft the knife in my hand, feel the polished walnut warm on my palm. I love the way it sits just right, the knobbed end against the heel of my hand. The scent of the wood too. Never thought wood smelled, not like that anyway. Chopped wood, yes, wood on the fire, but not knotted, polished wood like this. Warm as honey, rosy as a Mediterranean sunset.
Don’t buy a knife, he said. Bad luck, he said.
Well, then I won’t buy it for us, I told him. I’ll buy it for me. Or for the house.
He is superstitious. (And he rags me about being a Catholic, and believing in saints and miracles!) His mother told him you never buy a knife for a couple. Said it cuts the relationship in half. Parts two lovers better than a guillotine. He was like a cat on hot tiles when I told him, hopping from foot to foot like the soles of his shoes were on fire, wringing his hands. Never seen Robbie Lewis superstitious. Never thought he could be.
I told him. Made it into something else. ‘For the house,’ I said.
I wonder if he knows. I wonder if he understands how much this means to me. A home of our own. A home to share.
I stop slicing, look at the blade. It’s a dull grey, nothing to look at, but it is so sharp that it practically slices the air into crudités when I wield it.
At the heart of every home is a hearth. The hearth is for cooking. And I’m the cook.
I wonder if he knows.
The walnut is smooth against my skin. My toes wriggling on the warm lino. Soft breeze on my back through the open kitchen door. A bee buzzing. Birds outside, singing. Scent of lavender cutting through the spitting fat from the sausages and bacon.
I’ll squeeze some fresh oranges in a minute. He’ll like that.
Shift my hips and start slicing again, and that’s when I feel it, that tell-tail twinge.
God, I love it.
(I know I shouldn’t. I’ve tried to get over it, but there will always be the suspicion that its wrong. I know. But I can’t help it. )
The next morning I always savour it, like this, alone with the frying pan, taking a moment to feel the ghost of him inside me, the tenderness in my body that he leaves.
God, I love it so much.
Shift my weight from hip to hip and there it is again. Making it twinge deliberately so I can feel it. And then my head is back there, in the steamy darkness, with the storm rattling away in the distance. We couldn’t sleep. His hands on my skin, mine on his. Sheets sticking to us. Rocking together. Then me on my hands and knees, salty flesh slapping together, his belly on my back, his loins against my buttocks. One arm around my chest, the other straight, supporting his weight on a cage of straight fingers, thrusting into me while our sweat mingles and trickles down the backs of my thighs.
I put my hand on my shoulder and feel the tender place where he bit me just before he came, pouring himself out into me.
Dear God, I’m getting hard again just remembering it. Cock twitching and filling at the thought of him, just the very thought. Bad, though. Can’t risk having an erection in jogging pants. I’m at half-mast already, look like a walking tent pole!
I wonder if he knows. Of course he knows. What he does to me. But if he really understands?
Never thought he’d do that. Not that. I’ve a lot to thank the adventurous Mrs Lewis for, it seems. Not such a dull knife after all. Clever Mrs Lewis liked to experiment. Left me a man who knows what he likes, knows what he’s doing. Left me a man who isn’t afraid of his body.
Not like me.
My own personal cross until I met him, this skinny, demanding body. The bane of my life. So many hours trying to ignore its messages. Trying to blot out its needs.
Not him. A creature of the flesh is my Robbie. Lives inside his body. Inhabits his skin in a way I never will. But I’m learning. Learning from him to listen. Feeling my way. Learning his body like braille. Learning my body like Greek. Thought it was a dead language, and here I am, speaking it as fluently as I did as a soft warm baby.
I wonder if he knows.
I wonder if he knows what it means to me, the feel of his skin against mine, the feel of his belly when I press my face into it, nuzzling like a kitten pawing its mother’s flesh to start the milk. The rasp of the hair around his nipples against my lips. The crepey softness of his neck against my cheek. The woody smells of him.
God, this is no good, this is impossible! I’m going to be positively priapic by the time he wakes up!
Chop the mushrooms, James, chop the mushrooms. Sausages nearly done. I bought the chipolatas, the thin ones with the herbs that he likes. Bacon too, streaky. He likes it well done. Crispy. Cuts the golden fat off to savour it separately, the treat at the end of the meal. Likes the yolk of his egg runny in the middle, firm round the outside, the white, crispy round the edges. Very much the connoisseur of the fry-up is my Robbie.
Slip the metal slice under the egg to make sure it is loose from the bottom of the pan. Nearly ready. Have to call him in a minute. I hate to wake him. I love to watch him sleep in. Watch him sleeping in our bed.
Our bed. Our home. I wonder if he can even begin to understand what it means to me. I never had a home. What is home? A place where you feel safe. Never felt safe until I met him. Never felt accepted. Never felt enough. Always conditions. The next exam. A hundred Hail Marys. Saying the right thing. Or just keeping out of the way. Keeping quiet. Don’t tell anyone. Keep your trap shut or I’ll belt you one. Home was never safe.
And then there was him. And where ever he was, there was home. Where ever he was, there was safety.
I really don’t think he has any idea what that means to me.
He’s always been a safe haven.
The only one.
Even that one night. He said ‘I don’t want to look at you.’ That night outside St Gerard’s, in that blind alley after Will died, when I was trying to explain, when I was trying to make it right.
But even then. Even then, he didn’t give up. When I fucked it up again. When I chose oblivion. When I chose Zoe. He found me. He saved my life. He never stopped. He never will stop. Because he loves me. I don’t know why. And I really don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it.
I’m continually scared that I’m going to wreck it. Some days (like today) I wake up and I look at him sleeping, so beautiful, his skin life-etched, so wonderfully himself that just looking at him makes my heart bleed, and the only thing I can do to keep the fear away is to get up and cook for him. Some mornings, when my body is aching from our love-making, when my head is still singing with need, and I know, just know it’s all going to end in disaster, the only thing that keeps me afloat is hope. Hope that he’ll keep on forgiving me. Hope that he’ll never exact any conditions. Hope that if I can just wield this knife, and cut enough mushrooms and fry enough bacon, then I’ll keep the demons off.
He’s been watching me chopping. That twinkle in his eye. He comes out of the shadows of the hall, into the sunlight. His eyes are the colour of the sky in springtime. He is all rumpled and damp from sleep. God, he’s gorgeous. Beyond gorgeous. It’s all I can do not to grab him and throw him against the wall, and ravish him again right now. Or cry. Cry because he’s so beautiful. Because he wants me. Because he is my home.
Instead, I wave the fish slice at him.
And he grins like he knows every thought I’ve had.