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In the long history of Phil Smith and Emma Messinger’s flat share there is one chapter that isn’t spoken of. Phil and Emma are the only people who will ever know, God willing. Emma has made this clear on several occasions now, once with Phil at stapler point. Which Phil, in all honesty, thinks is a bit rich. As if he’s desperate to brag about that night.


Picture the scene: It’s Tuesday, about ten o’clock. The flat looks as depressing as usual, it’s off-white walls and Ikea furniture possibly reaching even deeper lows of interior design in the lacklustre, energy-saver light. Emma taps away at the computer. Peter has been desperate for a new policy to take attention away from the dead horse they’re currently flogging. Emma, unlike some people, is doing her job and writing down a few ideas. She also has the British Airways website open in a different window. It’s for those frequent occasions when she has to pretend there’s an escape route just to keep her from taking her own life.

Phil is sitting in front of the TV watching every one of the fucking Matrix films, back-to-back, for the hundredth shitting time.

Emma admits it. She is, perhaps, more tense than usual tonight. This is because she started the day in one of those bad moods that sometimes come out of nowhere and, by lunchtime, had listened to five different men comment on her “P.M.T.”

She sighs, gathering her composure, and decides to check her e-mails. Fuck. There’s a message from Twatface.

Twatface is otherwise known as Ollie Reeder, the emotional fuckwit she’s wasted years, literally years, of her life on. She can almost read the e-mail without opening it. He will be asking her to go out for coffee with him. There will be some mumbling, passive-aggressive attempt at an apology. The whole thing will have been instigated by either a long dry spell (she can’t imagine Ollie’s exactly drowning in pussy), or laziness (finding new people to have sex with does take a certain amount of effort). Then again, there could be a third reason… She’ll know by reading it whether Malcolm Tucker’s grinding his organ in the background. She opens the e-mail. She’s already hating herself for taking the bastard back, but in a lot of ways she’s as lazy as he is.

“Hi Emily,” it reads, “I know we just met the other day but…”

Emma cannot read any further. She is too angry. To be fair, Ollie’s major sin is being slipshod with his e-mail addresses. For once he’s probably not being cruel on purpose. But Emma doesn’t care. It’s a good enough reminder of how much she hates and despises him.


Phil’s first clue that any of this emotional turmoil is happening comes when an Emma-shaped obstacle blocks his view of the T.V. screen.

“What?” he says, testily.

“Nothing,” says Emma, with a fire in her eyes that immediately puts the fear in Phil. Her voice is measured, casual, calm, “I’ve been on the computer too long. Mind if I watch with you?”

Phil is not entirely sure how he should answer this question; nothing like it has come up before. Usually, she either sits down and complains about how stupid all science fiction is or she doesn’t.


“It’s a free country, isn’t it?”


Phil isn’t completely stupid. He knows that Emma is in a foul mood about something. She’s been completely silent for half an hour but she’s still sitting there next to him. He’s trying to enjoy the film but he’s hopelessly distracted by her. She’s like a tranquilised wild animal. At any moment she could pick herself up and rip his throat out. Phil swallows nervously, suddenly, unpleasantly aware that he has no desire to move away. “That is not a sexy thought,” he tries to tell himself, “That is not a sexy thought. That is not a sexy thought.”

Emma puts her hand on his knee and feels him jolt beneath the touch.

“What the hell are you doing?” Phil yelps.

He’s unconvincing, he knows. Ordinarily, he’s not attracted to Emma. Not really. She’s pretty, yes, and clever, certainly, and sometimes even quite funny. But she’s not Phil’s kind of girl.


There’s something about her when she’s angry. Not when she’s moody or a bit pissed off. We’re talking about full on fury here. Those moments when she reminds Phil of Galadriel when she’s resisting the temptation of the Ring. That kind of wrath. That level of hotness.

Before Phil can say any more, Emma turns and shifts herself so that she’s kneeling over him. He makes a noise something like a fish out of water.

“I’m not taking your virginity, am I?” Emma gibes.

Phil turns sour-faced and petulantly answers, “Oh ha ha. How many girls have I brought back here?”

“Three, including your mother.”


Phil loses his already fragile grasp of the conversation. Emma is looking for a place to put her hands that doesn’t entirely disgust her. Noticing that she isn’t saying anything, Phil pipes up again. There’s an important issue that he feels he has to be clear on.

“Um, excuse me asking this but… are we going to have sex?”

Emma doesn’t answer him straight away, but she’s trying to undo his fly so he’s getting quite a good idea of where this is all going.

“Right,” says Emma, finally, “No foreplay. You’re going to put it in, try your best, and take it out.”

Emma leans over to the other side of the sofa where she’s left her mobile phone on the arm. She picks it up and starts dialling a number. Then she faces Phil again.

“Your name’s Paul, you work at a publishing house, and your parents are loaded,” Emma says, staring earnestly into Phil’s eyes, “At the weekend, you go to the opera and feed the homeless. Got that?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Do you think you can make sex noises like someone called Paul?”

Phil nods. He rates his acting skills; he was quite a hit when he played Desdemona in a school production.


Emma is regretting the mad decision already. She can hear the faint ring as her phone makes that call. When did she give up all her self respect, she wonders. It has been a while since she’s had sex though. And at least she doesn’t hate Phil like she hates Ollie. Not really. Most of the time she’s just annoyed by him.

She realises that she has her fingers in Phil’s hair. She’d quite like to take him by that ugly fringe and ram his head against the coffee table.

Instead, she kisses him.


The phone has stopped its ringing. On the other end of the line, Ollie answers, “Hello?”