in the Grass
I know a thing or two about
reptiles, having dated a few in my time. Barry was the first, an
archetypal lounge lizard in his shiny suit and overpowering aftershave; I met
him in my local nightclub. He patrolled the bar as if he owned it, his
eyes alighting lasciviously on every female who entered the room.
‘Hello, babe,’ he breathed, as he sidled up to me, oozing acne and intent, in
equal measure. I smiled as he pulled up a stool and listened as he proceeded to
bamboozle me with his knowledge of the double-glazing industry. This was
at a particularly low point in my journey towards self-enlightenment and for
reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me now, I agreed to meet him for dinner
the following evening.
In the less forgiving light of the local steakhouse, I realised that any
misapprehensions I might have had about Barry proved to be entirely accurate,
and when he slipped out to the cloakroom, I took my opportunity and slipped out
the front door.
Anthony was a much smoother specimen. Good-looking, charming and suave,
he seduced me with his dark, attentive eyes and entertaining patter. He
was a salesman for an agricultural machinery company, spending a lot of time on
the road, but we tried to meet up at least once a week
‘Shelley, you’re the only woman I’ve ever felt really comfortable with,’ he
told me over dinner. ‘I could talk to you all night long.’ He told
me about his childhood, his job and his fascination for all things
mechanical. Sadly, there was one snippet of information he failed to
mention. His wife.
‘Oh, darling, don’t be like that,’ he pleaded, when I found out that
little nugget and gave him his marching orders. ‘We’re as good as
separated. It’s you I want. Not her.’
He went on to tell me how awful his wife was, a real bearded dragon, by all
accounts. He was misunderstood and when the moment was right he’d be
‘getting rid of the missus’, as soon as. Relieved at my lucky escape, I
left Anthony slithering in the undergrowth.
Carlos was a different species entirely, exotic and colourful, I had a real
soft spot for him. Dark, swarthy and sensual, with Carlos you were getting
exactly what it said on the tin. We got together at the local salsa club
and I shall be forever grateful to him for initiating me in some snake-hipped
moves. We made a lovely couple attracting admiring glances wherever we
went, but in all honesty I knew it was Carlos who was drawing the
attention. He was a full-on, high-maintenance, Latino love machine and I
didn’t think I could stand the pace for any length of time.
Sadly, I said adios to Carlos and felt only the tiniest pang of regret when he
took the news with cheerful equanimity.
When I met Nigel a few months later, I knew immediately he was no snake in the
grass. He was your regular boy-next-door made good. A banker,
athlete and all round good egg, I knew my mum would be overcome with excitement
when she met him, immediately launching into designing table plans and choosing
hats. For that reason, I tried to take things slowly. A few
weeks into our courtship, after a romantic evening at a riverside restaurant,
he took me back to his place for coffee. When he stood up and took me by
the hand, I thought I might melt with excitement.
‘Come with me,’ he said, leading me through to his bedroom, ‘I’ve got something
to show you.’
But nothing could have prepared me for what came next.
‘This is Rambo,’ he said, pointing proudly to a big, thick, mottled thing.
screamed, my hands flying to my eyes in disgust.
obvious distress, Nigel continued. ‘He’s a Royal Python,’ he said, his voice
taking on a breathy quality. You’re a real beauty, aren’t you, my
darling?’ He cooed adoringly at the snake in the cage, oblivious to my
squirming figure beside him.
composure I could, I cleared my throat and said, as convincingly as I could
manage, ‘Oh, how fascinating. I didn’t realise you were into reptiles.’
‘I love them,’
he said. ‘This is just the start of what I hope will be a large collection.’
Well, talk about
the scales falling from my eyes. Whether or not Nigel had any other
motives for leading me into his bedroom I never did find out because I quickly
made my excuses and left.
We carried on
dating, but things were never really the same again. Those little
differences I first thought endearing began to irritate. When I served up
my favourite vegetable pasta bake, he turned it over disdainfully and asked, ‘Where’s
vegetarian, remember,’ I reminded him, cheerily.
‘I’ll soon knock
that out of you,’ he said, looking as though he meant it.
Not only that but I began to think
he saw me as a glorified personal assistant.
‘Would you pick up my dry cleaning
today?’ and ‘could you get a birthday card for my mum?’ were just two of many
requests he directed my way.
I wouldn’t have minded, but with Nigel it was all one way. Deciding to
consign him to my ever expanding ex-boyfriend list, I was about to ring him
with the news when I received his panicked call.
‘I completely forgot, but its boys’ night in at my place tonight. Could
you knock up a bowl of chilli or something?’
Something? Who did he think I was? Nigella Lawson?
‘Um, I’m not sure I’ll have time to get to the shops,’ I stuttered.
‘Oh, don’t worry about that. There’s plenty of stuff in the freezer. Just
throw something together, would you, love?’
I seethed quietly down the phone. It would be my parting gift, I
decided. At lunchtime I dashed to his flat, carefully avoiding Rambo, and
grabbed a couple of bags of meat from the freezer, emptying them into a
casserole. I glanced at my watch. With any luck they would
have defrosted by the time I’d finished work and then I could throw a bottle of
wine and a few herbs over and that would be dinner done.
Later that evening I put the finishing touches to the meal and bunged it
in the oven. I felt only a twinge of regret as I closed the door on Nigel
and Rambo for the last time. But reptiles, in any shape or form, I’d had
Nigel, bless him, rang me the next day to thank me for the meal.
‘I didn’t realise you were such a great cook, Shelley,’ he said, ‘that
casserole was delicious. Listen, babe,’ he asked, ‘you couldn’t do me a
massive favour? I’m right out of food for Rambo. You couldn’t nip
into town and get some, could you? I could have sworn I had loads of bags
in the bottom drawer of the freezer, but I must have used them all.’
An awful realisation slithered through my veins.
‘Yes,’ he said in that impatient tone of his, ‘frozen rats. Half a dozen
packs will be fine.’
I gulped. I suppose it was an easy mistake to make. Still, I didn’t
tell Nigel that, only that I wouldn’t be seeing him again. One piece of
bad news a day was more than enough.
©2008 Jill Steeples
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