An Extract From It Happened in Paris

Chapter One

OK, I’ve cracked. I’m leaning against the fridge, glass in hand, in a state of blissful relaxation. My heart has been racing all day with the pressure of enforced wine deprivation; I conceded defeat at seven o’clock. I would’ve had a heart attack otherwise. Last week my doctor told me that anyone who drinks more than eight units of alcohol a week is in danger of becoming alcohol dependent. Brandishing a plastic beaker, he illustrated what amounted to eight units. It wasn’t enough to drown a wasp. To be honest, I suspect I may already be alcohol dependent, but I don’t care, because I depend on all sorts of things, like make-up and credit cards. No, alcohol dependency doesn’t bother me at all. What does bother me is the fact there are hundreds of skinny alcoholics out there. How do they stay slim and snorkel wine? I wouldn’t mind being a skinny alcoholic. I wouldn’t mind being a skinny anything.

I swirled the glass under my nose. This drink is medicinal and so much better for me than drowning myself, which I’d considered this morning. I’ve been made redundant from the advertising agency where I’ve worked for the past ten months.
OK, so this in itself may not necessarily be deemed a life or death issue, but in celebration of being employed, I have amassed an overdraft of nine grand. I wish I’d been the victim of fraud. It would have been so much cheaper than me spending my own money.

I ambled from the kitchen, glass in hand, jack-knifing back for the wine bottle. So, I’m unemployed and overdrawn. I owe the bank nine thousand pounds. That’s nine hundred ten-pound notes. I swallowed a lump of panic and swiftly replaced the mental picture of an enormous stack of ten-pound notes with a neat little bundle of fifties, and immediately felt better. Put like that, it’s nothing.

Sitting on my bed, I opened last night’s Evening Standard with a flourish.

‘OK, Evie. Mission Employment: find a job,’ I told myself, but, typically, the Job Vacancies page had been shredded by the letterbox, and so I found myself pondering the Lonely Hearts ads.

‘Thirty-something.’ Yeah right. Forty-four next birthday, more like. I slurped my wine.

‘Fun-loving.’ Hah, a pisshead. I flipped the page over with a dramatic sweeping gesture.

‘Seeks knight in shining armour.’ Husband’s buggered off with someone else. What she seeks is anything male with a pulse.

‘Enjoys eating out.’ Can’t cook.

‘Adventurous.’ A slut.

I tore out an advert headed ‘Hypnotism combats alcoholism’, threw the newspaper neatly on the floor, and decided for the first time in my entire life to clear out my bedroom.

I’d just thrown open the wardrobe when my flatmate, Lulu, arrived home from work. She thumped down on the bed, kicked off her pumps and tucked a pillow behind her head. I tossed her a fleeting look. She squirmed against the headboard, legs straight, ankles crossed. She wore her navy nurse’s tunic with the dinky upside-down watch and white trousers. Arms folded with exaggerated purpose, she looked at her fingernails.

‘Good day?’ I asked her, sensing the opposite was likely the case.

She shrugged and went into dream mode.

So,’ I tried again. ‘What did you get up to?’

She gave a despairing sigh.

‘Remember I told you about David, the new doctor at my surgery? I’ve fancied him since the creation of time. I’ve positively
adored him and, well, I thought he might be the one,’ she said, in a whiny, sorry-for-herself whimper.

If I’m not mistaken, he’d actually only worked at the practice for two weeks.

‘Mmm, I do. He—’

She flapped a silencing hand.

‘I stayed at his flat last night.’

The whiny whimpering was now punctuated with watery blinks.

‘We slept together.’

I dumped a jumble of clothes, hangers and polythene bags on the bed.

‘Lucky you,’ I said, massaging my forearms. ‘I’m jealous.’ As well I might be, I thought. I haven’t had sex for twenty-eight

Lulu sucked her knuckle, her face clouded over. ‘He came before me!’ she shrieked, vaulting from the bed.

I jumped.

‘He finished before I’d hardly started … twice!’

Demented with rage, she paced the room.

‘We did it twice and both times the same thing happened. It’s fraud!’ She squirrelled in her pocket, whipped out a tissue and blew her nose. ‘It’s not acceptable behaviour, not on a first date. Perhaps after, after, five years of marriage, or on his birthday, or, or, if I’m knackered and I say he can, but, but …’ she stuttered.

Privately, I thought it charitable of her to have given the guy a second chance. Twice!

‘He didn’t even fancy it at first. He was watching Deal or No Deal. I broke a nail tugging his belt off. Look.’

Her hand shot out in front of my face. She had indeed broken a nail. I winced.

‘He wanted to wait and see what was in the last box.’

She snorted in fury.

‘”Sod the last box,” I told him. So, he got going, and guess what? Guess what!?’ She shook her head forcefully. ‘Bet you can’t guess. Never in a million years.’ She gave me a millisecond to speculate, and then rushed on. ‘He went into some sort of trance. I thought of that scene in Ghost when Whoopi Goldberg was possessed by spirits. I hoped he’d been possessed by a horny marauding Viking kidnapper, but no. I think he must have been possessed by a Victorian train driver, because he literally chugged to a halt. And then it was over.’

Her hands twisted and knotted in despair. ‘I thought I might have been possessed myself, by the Boston strangler, because I wanted to kill him. And what makes it worse is that it was my idea.’ She pounded her chest with a clenched fist in emphasis.

Horny marauding Viking kidnapper. Gosh, I wouldn’t mind one of those myself, I mused. Imagine a gorgeous hunk of a man, hair in a ponytail, six o’clock stubble, brandishing an enormous sword. He’d wear a leather skirt and a fur cape, and smell of Chanel for Men. He would easily be able to lift me up to put me in his boat, and I’d look dead slim next to him. I frowned. But what would I be wearing?

I’ll Google ‘Vikings’ for images.

Lulu stamped her foot in temper. ‘Do you have an opinion or not?’ she snapped. ‘I’ve just been sexually insulted and you’re acting like nothing’s happened.’

‘Er, well, don’t upset yourself,’ I told her. At least you’ve had sex, I thought. ‘It happens, you know.’ I tilted my head in sympathy as she marched past.

‘Not to me it doesn’t!’ she yelled. ‘I’m good at what I do.’ She tossed her hair in a circle, and folded her arms so tightly, her fingers turned white. ‘It’s just like being a fat aerobics instructor. Tell me, have you ever wondered why they bother? Huh, have you?’

I gazed at her. Aerobics instructors? Had I missed something?

‘Fat aerobics instructors might as well get fatter and fatter. What’s the point of working your backside off if your arse is the size of a bus and stays that way? Well, I should just have watched Deal or No Deal.’ She jabbed her finger in my face. ‘Do you get my point?’

I nodded knowingly. Too bloody right I got her point. I’ve been to aerobics once.

‘Oh well, the next one can only be better,’ I offered, improvising.

‘Men like him should be deported,’ she snapped.

‘Where would you suggest they be deported to?’

‘Out of London for starters.’

I held a dress in front of me, gazed in the mirror and wondered how many vinos I’d had when I bought it. It was neon green. I tossed it on the ‘to go’ pile on the floor, and delved back into the wardrobe. This tidying-up lark is exhilarating. Why hadn’t I thought to do it before? It takes no time at all, I’m finding things I’d forgotten I had, and with fewer clothes cramming the rails I can see what’s what. Yes, there was definitely a semblance of order taking shape, and it was pretty damn rewarding.

‘I’ve made a decision,’ Lulu said, resolute.

‘What’s that then?’

‘I am not sleeping with a man unless he’s taken me out on three dinner dates. So, if this ever happens again, at least I’ll have enjoyed three pleasant evenings in fabulous restaurants with exquisite food and fine wines.’ She bounced back onto the bed.

‘And,’ she crossed her arms triumphantly, ‘I told Esme the surgery cleaner what a crap shag he is, which is the equivalent of a BBC news flash, so his reputation’s shot to bits.’ She nestled back against the headboard and tucked a strand of long blonde hair behind her ear. ‘I buried his mobile phone in a pot of chilli con carne on my way out of his flat as well. It’s not as though I want to hear from him again, is it?’ she reasoned, smiling at her Tiffany ring. I turned from the wardrobe to face her.

‘Why did you finish with Marcus?’ I asked. A guy she’d dated for three months before finishing with him on Valentine’s Day. She tapped her finger on her cheek, thinking hard.

‘Do you know, I can’t remember. Marcus was willies and willies ago.’ Her attention drifted. ‘What are you doing?’

‘What does it look like? I’m clearing out my wardrobe.’

‘Why?’ she asked, giving a bewildered shrug.

‘Why do people normally clear out their wardrobes?’

She polished off my wine and studied the bottom of the empty glass.

‘Haven’t got a bloody clue. I don’t see the point myself.’ She wafted gracefully from the bed, pulled her tunic over her head and wriggled out of her trousers. ‘Do you think we should go to a slimming club?’ she asked, tugging on my arm. ‘Take your clothes off, and stand beside me, in front of the mirror.’ I stepped out of my shorts and pulled my T-shirt over my head.

‘Not bad,’ she said, drawing in her tummy. ‘I mean, we’re not size zero, but, well, we don’t have wobbly bits. And we are twenty-six, we’re not eighteen any more.’ She flashed her bum to the mirror. ‘I hate those new pants, the low-cut briefs. I prefer the high-leg. I couldn’t find any in Marks and Spencer yesterday,’ she complained. ‘Do you think the nation’s lingerie designers are of the opinion that the entire British female population have developed square arses?’

I nodded, scrutinising my own figure and wishing my boobs were smaller.

‘You’re fine. I mean, you’re a C-cup, I’m a D, so of course I’d think you’re fine,’ she said.

Lulu is beautiful. As well as thick blonde hair and huge brown eyes, she has long sweeping eyelashes and amazing high cheekbones. But in fairness, and she would be the first to agree, I’m not too bad looking either, with my unusual combination of dark brown hair and pale blue eyes. We both have slimmish, longish legs we tend not to appreciate and size twelve backsides which we’re prone to obsess over.

She’s a district nurse. It’s mind-blowing, because I know her for the drunken party animal she is. The only bedside manner I can associate with her is condom related. But apparently she’s the most popular and hardest-working district nurse in her practice. Her appointments are booked in ten-minute slots. She says she loves her job. Secretly, I think she enjoys whipping down knickers and stabbing as many buttocks an hour with a needle as she can.

‘We’re out of toilet paper, bread, bin bags … in fact, everything. We need to do a food shop. And we’re down to our lastfour bottles of wine,’ she said, still studying her profile. She prodded the cellulite on her thighs, sighed, and knelt to scoop up her clothes. ‘Get dressed. We’ll go now.’

‘What about this lot?’ I asked, flapping my hand towards the mountain of clothes on the floor.

‘Stick it back in the wardrobe,’ she suggested, with a dismissive backward wave.

I am not sticking it back in the wardrobe, I thought, indignantly. I’d never get round to clearing it out again. I’ve started getting this place into shape and I’m determined to complete the task. I tucked the clothes under the bed. I suppose I could sort it out properly another time, there’s no real rush.

‘Ready?’ Lulu hollered from the front door.

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