I saw the number on a lamp post. A round sticker, pink letters: In love with an unattainable? Call 020- … I was cycling home from the club, drunk. With a stern tap on the sticker, I muttered, ‘Shut up.’
A few days later I spotted it on the inside of the lift at uni. Then came the Facebook ad. One night I biked past the lamp post again. I parked my bike and dialled the number. An art project, surely? I expected an automated menu but instead heard a Flemish woman: ‘Good evening.’
‘I’m in love,’ I blurted out. It was an icy night; my fingers were frozen.
‘With whom? Name, surname?’
I told her. I told this Flemish voice about the office, her beautiful Excel sheets, wanting to crawl in-between her calves under the table. The perfume I saw on her desk, which I then bought during a Christmas sale and sprayed on my hat. The empty coffee cup in the kitchen, with the lipstick print that I carefully touched …
‘Fifth of January,’ the lady said.
‘6 Toulousegracht, 12.30 p.m.’
At number 6 I found a set of steps leading up to a heavy wooden canal-house door. Watery sunlight shone on the stained-glass window above. Beside the doorbell the sticker. The door buzzed open, revealing a hall with pale blue tiles on the floor and vases full of flowers. All fresh. I heard footsteps behind one of the side doors and a blonde appeared – I instantly knew she was the one I had spoken with on the phone.
‘I knew you’d come,’ she said, ‘Some people cancel. Let me take your jacket.’
She hung it on a suede hanger and we stepped into a softly lit office. Heavy curtains, side tables filled with bric-a-brac and more, overwhelmingly fragrant, flowers. The Flemish woman offered me a purple armchair, which I sank into, and poured me a foaming glassful of Prosecco.
‘Santé. So you’re in love with an unattainable. With the unattainable, I prefer to say. This is what we’ll do: you want a diamond, I’ll give it to you. There’s one.’
I looked over my shoulder and saw it, on a small velvet cushion beside a vase.
‘Go on, take it.’
I carefully took the diamond off its cushion. It sparkled. I showed it to her.
‘Drab, isn’t it?’ she asked. ‘Just a piece of stone.’
I didn’t know what to say. The smell of flowers was too strong.
‘You can keep it. Please finish your drink.’
I drank, quickly putting the diamond into my pocket. Was it real? The woman pushed a small box across the table towards me, embossed with a pharmaceutical logo.
‘Room five. We’ll mail you the invoice.’
Room number five was dark. There was a couch. It smelled vaguely familiar, like my hat. I took the pill from the box and swallowed it. The room was hot; I unbuttoned my blouse, laid down, closed my eyes and counted, as agreed, the letters in her name.
I opened my eyes.
‘Yes?’ I answered, sitting with my blouse unbuttoned on a closed toilet seat. This wasn’t my bathroom, but I did see my make-up bag.
‘Everything alright, sweetheart? Are you coming?’
My hands were shaking. Her voice.
I opened the bathroom door. It was her! She sat on the bed – the dark grey duvet cover suited her green bra.
I walked over, she touched my underarm. Goosebumps. It was all so easy. We kissed. Dry lips. Wet lips. She tasted of … of a human being, but different from what I expected: a little colder,
‘Do you want …?’
Her fingers on my belt. I kissed her nose, her sweet freckles.
She grabbed my blouse, pushed me onto the bed. Her long hair tickled my face. She unbuttoned my trousers.
‘Let’s make it quick,’ she said. ‘I have a long day tomorrow.’
I muttered something – her fingers were inside me. I sank into the duvet. I searched for her lips behind all that hair, kissed her roughly on the mouth.
‘I love,’ I whispered, ‘I love you.’
Lowering her head, she said the same to me, her hair like a bridal veil on my breasts, stomach.
‘Can you hear me?’ the Flemish voice sounded from a speaker in the ceiling.
‘That was excerpt number one, after the first month. We’ll switch now. Please close your eyes.’
‘And open …’
I’m in a bicycle shed at the office. Handlebars poking me in the back, but her body in my arms. My fingers – cramped – between her legs. Her lips on my earlobe: ‘Angelique.’
‘And open again …’
A shower. Steam. Shower head. The shower head in massage mode! She laughs. I’ve never heard her this cheerful before. Wet hair, summer skin. ‘You really didn’t know this feels fabulous?’ My nipples against the wall and …
I’m in the back seat of a car, trousers down and her gaze on me. I feel ashamed. I shouldn’t have done something, but …
A hotel bed. Drunk. Very drunk. ‘Can we fast-forward this one, please?’ I yell, and …
‘Open … again.’
A petrol station. The bed. Another bed. A room at the office. Stiff. Dry. Fast. Old. What? Old. Older. A picnic blanket. Bin bag. Fire alarm. The diamond on a ring. Regret. In bed, hair in my mouth. Stop. So much long hair in my mouth, in bed, folding bike, garden gnome, in bed.
‘Have you seen enough?’
‘Wait. One more time, please.’
Our bodies are different. Our mattresses are different: there’s a gap in between. I take her hand, she murmurs in half-sleep. I kiss the sharp edges of her nails, smell a vague kitchen smell. I look at the back of her head in the darkness. Count the moles on her shoulder, but I already know there are six. I’ve seen them before.