I was at a party here in Glasgow when someone who was a little drunk, and seemed to enjoy offering anecdotes inclined to shock, said to me, when the others at the kitchen table had gone through to the sitting room to dance, that she would like to show me a text. In it, the sender had said that just because he was engaged to someone else this needn't mean they couldn't be close in the future. While the others had been sitting around the table she had offered a couple of tales about her polyamorous activities which were shocking less because of the activity itself than the way she told them and the farcical element they contained. One concerned her and her partner going out one night and both picking up other people. They had done this before but on previous occasions the people they had slept with had places of their own: both Miranda and her partner had gone to disparate parts of the city to sleep with these newfound strangers who had quickly become intimates. But this time neither of the people they had picked up had places to go: they were sleeping on friends' couches, had come through from Edinburgh, and didn't think it fair to take back a stranger to copulate with at their friends' place. A dilemma arose: where, Miranda wondered, could they have their prey? The answer was in their own flat and Miranda admitted it was a very strange feeling relaxing in post-coital comfort with a man whose name she had only first heard a couple of hours earlier, while next door she could hear a man she loved and had lived with for couple for years grunting his way to orgasm.
It was one of four stories she offered that evening, but it was the third, with the text she showed, which seemed both the most disturbing and at the same time the most conventional. The others were tales of polyamorous adventure but this one concerned the more traditional feeling of jealousy as she went on to tell me that it wasn't her ex-boyfriend at all who sent it; it was his fiancee. She said that the following day after receiving the text she received another which she chose not to show me; in it her ex said that his fiance accessed his phone and sent the text pretending to be him, presuming that Miranda would reply and reveal how much she still cared about him and perhaps try and arrange an assignation. Not that all this was in the text: all her ex said was that he didn't send the previous text and that his fiancee had. Miranda hadn't replied to that initial text from the fiancee, believing that something in the tone wasn't quite right, that her ex wasn't given to the sentimental and that if he wanted to sleep with her again he was inclined to say it directly. Did she still want to sleep with him I asked impertinently, though the directness which she had talked about her life indicated that she could hardly chastise me for my enquiry. She said she would not wish to create for herself some minor pleasure if it meant misery for someone else. I wondered if the deceit the fiancee had shown meant that she had lost the right to such consideration. No, Miranda insisted, saying that if at any moment that evening, when her ex was sleeping next door with another woman, he had expressed dismay at what was happening in their bedroom, she would have stopped immediately, asked the person to leave and hugged her boyfriend till he was reassured once again of her love for him.
It was then that Alison came back into the kitchen and said we should join the others. Everybody was on the dance floor she said, and sure enough when we went through there were more than fifty people moving enthusiastically to the swing band the host had hired for the evening. The floorboards showed a mild elasticity as more bodies gyrated on the floor than any owner might have expected and yet nobody seemed concerned. Miranda said there were too many bodies in one place, saying that in polyamory that usually didn't happen: she never believed in orgies. She said it within earshot of Alison, despite the loudness of the music, and yet I couldn't say for sure that she heard it. However, I suspect the comment wasn't so much for my ears or for Alison's but to generate a complicity between Miranda and me. What were we talking about in the kitchen, Alison may have been thinking, if she had overheard what was said, and I wonder if she didn't hear what was said then she at least sensed momentary intimacy between Miranda and myself.
I didn't think very much more about that evening, about Miranda, her ex, his fiancee or even whether Alison had noticed in my body language that I may have been sharing with Miranda secrets to which Alison wasn't privy. But about a month after the party I went into a cafe not far from the university when I saw sitting on one of the couches Miranda with a man who I seemed to recognise but from where I couldn't say and whose name I certainly couldn't recall. Miranda introduced him to me as Nick but the person still remained vague in my mind, and I wondered if he wasn't the ex-boyfriend she was talking about at the party. There was complicity between them that didn't suggest a recent assignation but with Miranda it was harder to tell than most: she had the ability to give the impression of intimacy in a shorter space of time than anybody I had ever met. I've often wondered when looking back on my own sexual assignations how they have come about, what stages of intimacy they have gone through, awkwardness they've attained, silences they have acknowledged, before we have ended up kissing and eventually going to bed. Yet I sensed with Miranda that journey was shorter than most, but I wouldn't have assumed this meant she was without shame and embarrassment; just not in the arena of intimacy and sexuality. I said I was about to order a takeaway coffee and she insisted I order it now and join them while I was waiting for it. It was a request hard to refuse and I did what I was told. I suspected the wait would be a few minutes because though there was only a small queue the cafe was full and a few tables had numbers on them waiting for an order.
During the ten minutes I sat on the high backed arm-chair across from the pair of them I had the feeling of a therapist opposite a couple in a marriage guidance session even though the questions were mainly directed at me. Nick asked for how long I'd known Miranda. I said I didn't really know her at all; we had met a month earlier at a party. But Nick was having none of it. While I was ordering there, he said, Miranda had told him that she had offered me a few of her intimate secrets and he was not a little jealous. He laughed after he said this, but it was hard to know whether he was joking about being jealous or laughing at the fact that he could be. Miranda suggested he shouldn't tease me, putting a hand on his thigh but that somehow could as easily have been placed on mine. However, even if I could imagine without difficulty Miranda making love with Nick and probably any number of other men, I couldn't see myself with Miranda. Something in her confidence, which was admirable, I nevertheless found disconcerting. It was her very capacity for easy intimacy with people that made me believe I couldn't be intimate with her. Nick and Miranda had made, were making, or could make, a handsome couple I believed. Miranda was commandeering without being especially tall, with blonde wavy hair down long past her shoulders and a prominent nose and chin that might have obviated for some her beauty but for others augmented it. She was wearing a lime green jumper and a long skirt that day and also at the party and I could see her in a number of bold colours: crimson red, daffodil yellow and Klein Blue. Nick, who was wearing a T-shirt even though it was close to zero outside and with no discernible heating inside, suggested mass and, judging by the length of his legs, was probably over 6 foot. She asked me how Alison was in a manner I would have taken as insinuating if first I hadn't been surprised that she remembered the name at all. She said I looked astonished that she recalled my partner's name and added that she was good with names, even better with faces as Nick both disappeared from the conversation (he was looking through what seemed to be a script) and I tried to find him in my mind as I was determined to recall where I had previously seen him. My coffee was ready and as I said goodbye, Miranda said we should meet like this more often; Nick said we should meet again too.
I returned to the office nearby, a property agency I'd been working in for about three years, and as I sat at my desk, slowing sipping on the milky coffee, looking at my afternoon schedule, I tried again to recall where I had seen Nick before. I've often noted in this work that strangers become more familiar than they might in other circumstances. Showing people flats they may buy or rent, you find them not only revealing aspects of themselves as you introduce them to the property, but also see them hypothetically living there. It might be an obvious comment they make like the box room becoming the baby's room, or looking at the dining area and speaking about the friends they could have round for dinner, but I often contributed to that assumption by thoughts of my own. Sometimes I had in mind who should get a flat even if I had no power in the final decision. On rental properties, I usually had the last word; on sold properties it was whoever made the highest bid. Frequently I would feel mild disappointment that the people I hoped had secured the apartment didn't make a high enough offer and it was as if strangers would be moving in, a sort of miscasting, instead of those I had imagined already there. Seeing myself as some sort of casting director who also had a mild say in the mise-en-scene made my job perhaps more interesting than it actually was, and less mercenary that it no doubt happened to be. My undergraduate degree was in politics and cinema studies, and my interest in trying to find employment that did justice to my mild, mainly theoretical politicisation maybe found its outlet in claiming my job could incorporate aspects of the latter. If casting came in the form of trying to find the most suitable tenants for a given property, my interest in having a say in the design of a given 'scene' manifested itself in sometimes helping tenants who wanted to sell or rent giving the flat a makeover: painting the walls, stripping out the carpets, buying furniture and throwing the old stuff into a skip. Quite often I managed to get owners an extra fifty to a hundred pounds on the rent just by getting them to put in furniture more in keeping with the space. Often these flats were owned by older people who were charging well below the market rates and I reckoned in many instances the tenants could afford a bit more and the owners needed the extra cash.
I know there are many greedy landlords, many who would have charged the extra and more without caring at all for their tenants' needs but while I wouldn't to exaggerate and says ours is an especially ethical company, I don't feel it is an exploitative one. I wanted the apartments to look as good as they could at a price that needn't be extortionate. How often I would go into apartments and see a king-size bed in a room that could accommodate no more than a queen-size, or a round dining table that took up most of the kitchen when a rectangular one would have fitted more neatly. I'd give them the name, number and address of various antique stores and charity furniture shops and they would spend sometimes no more than twenty pounds and make more than twice that within a month. Persuading them to do this was partly pragmatic: by getting rid of the bulkier furniture it looked like they had a bigger apartment to rent. But it was also aesthetic. It was while thinking about Nick that such thoughts came to me: had he possibly been a prospective buyer or tenant?
Alison worked in the city's other branch, in the centre, and perhaps we wouldn't have got together had it not been the shared interest of the job: her background was in business management and she always knew she wanted to make money, retire from the property market early and create the dream that made her sleep at night: a retreat somewhere warm, by the sea, that would offer locally sourced food, massages, yoga, pilates, meditation, all taught by people from the area, with special rates for people who wanted to drop in to classes and who were local. Her ambition was to own by fifty a dozen flats and then sell them on and invest in the retreat. I would put on daily film screenings with a discussion afterwards and also organise a book group, building a library of books that would be an expansion of my present library already. I often went into second-hand book shops and picked up material that I wanted for this future endeavour. I sometimes think there are couples that exist on the basis of their opposition to each other and others who are beside each other. The couples who are opposite each other might experience more intense feeling, better sex and dynamic and contrary conversations but it is as if their purpose is to remain themselves and refuse dissolving into a couple with a shared purpose. I had been in relationships like that at university, and another in the time after I graduated while I was doing low-paid work or was unemployed: working in a cafe for six months, a bar for four and as a swimming pool attendant for a little longer, with periods on the dole in between. I seemed to be looking for the emotional equivalent of my employment status: nothing permanent. Yet perhaps my slightly younger self would look at this man only a few years older and see someone who has settled for another he doesn't especially love, who shares a common interest in the work, and has a future by virtue of her dreams rather than his own. Perhaps that is so.
However, meeting Alison when we both arrived at the same apartment due to a mix-up and decided to try and sell it together, and watching how good she was at selling people not only a place but also a dream too, I saw for the first time after three months in the job that flogging accommodation needn't be like selling soap. What was interesting too about this sale was that Alison didn't do it merely looking for the highest bidder, she worked very hard to sell it to the people she could most see living in it. That evening she was showing people another two apartments and I asked if I could join her; I had a lot to learn. She agreed and afterwards we went for a drink and discussed work and which led me to see the job I was doing as consistent with my interest in aesthetics; in coming up with the idea that we were casting directors and production designers. She liked the analogy and I said I suspected she was more the producer and I the theorist. When I started to explain my studies I could see that the attention wasn't quite there, but whenever I drew comparisons with the work we were doing she again got interested. I could see Alison didn't need analogies to do the job; maybe I always would.
That evening, after seeing Miranda and Nick in the cafe, I was about to mention to Alison that I'd seen the woman from the party, the one with the anecdotes, when I stopped myself, perhaps because what I did talk to her about was at least as significant. I'd arrived home around 7 after showing a couple a house and Alison had already started cooking. As she chopped some vegetables to throw into the stir fry and asked after my day, I told her instead about the house out of the city we were trying to sell for 1.5 million. I said I didn't like selling expensive houses, didn't always like the people who were buying them and didn't like feeing that so much depended on their acceptance. Selling a place for 200,000 or even 300,000 was a situation where everyone was somehow on the same level. The buyer, the seller and the estate agent, but when you got to a million-plus pounds there was the buyer and seller dealing with a middleman beneath them. Obviously not everyone with a bit of money was obnoxious but a few were and the ones I'd tried to sell the house to that evening were amongst them. The owners were away on some island where they already had property, and the prospective buyers arrived at the house in two cars: his a BMW 18; hers a Porsche Carrera 911. Both vehicles appeared new and streamlined to move through traffic as if oblivious to anything outside the car itself. I'd never shown too much interest in cars until I became an estate agent. The only car I'd previously owned was a Mini Cooper I'd inherited from my grandmother when everyone in the family agreed it might be best if she gave up driving. Her hands couldn't hold the wheel properly, the onset of Parkinson's that led to the complications which killed her. Maybe she ought to have kept driving and died at the wheel; it would have been a more dignified death. But taking the job I knew I had to upgrade, buy a car that looked like I wanted to sell flats rather than backlots but tried to be pragmatic about the necessity without getting caught up in the status symbol vehicles invoked. Yet it made me much more aware of the cars people drove and what it appeared to indicate concerning their personalities. When the Porsche and the BMW pulled up in the driveway I expected the worst and got it.
When Mr and Mrs Johnson-Jones arrived the first thing the wife asked was if I would make her a cup of tea; she didn't ask especially impolitely but there was in the request an assumption that I wasn't there only to show them around the house but to meet their various whims. As I put the kettle on, looked through cupboards to find a cup, and then in some others to find a teabag, the husband said he would like a cup too, but only if I could find some loose leaf tea and a teapot and strainer. They then laughed but it was a laugh exclusively between them rather than shared amongst the three of us. It wasn't a laugh that suggested we were all complicit in a hunt for tea in a house that none of us owned, it was a laugh indicating that they owned more than enough that they were doing what they often did: ordering around someone in a manner the person receiving the order wasn't used to but that they would often order around this way. I found cups, a tea-pot, loose leaf tea and a strainer, and then found myself fretting over whether there was milk in the fridge. Don't worry, the wife, said, we don't drink milk in our tea, as if my momentary search for it was a lapse in judgement: how could I have thought they might have milk in it?
After I poured the boiling water into the teapot they both said, at the same time, I should leave it in the pot; they would pour it themselves. It sounded less like a gesture indicating that this was the least they could do; more that they didn't trust me in making it precisely to their requirements. After a minute of talking amongst themselves as though I weren't there, they said I could pour the tea now: it should be just the right strength. I wanted to say hadn't they agreed to pour it themselves, but didn't. After I poured it for both of them I suggested I could show them around the house. No, they insisted, I should just wait there and if they needed anything, or had any questions, they'd call. I put the kettle back on, took a teabag out of my bag and popped it into a mug. I sometimes felt like a tea waiting for clients to arrive and, while feeling entitled to use utensils, hot water and crockery, to help myself to a teabag appeared a bit presumptuous. It seemed there was no end to the presumption of the Johnson-Joneses, and after a couple of minutes I received a call from upstairs. It was the wife asking if I could rush up. When I arrived she said could I seriously expect them to buy a house with such small ensuite bathrooms. I mentioned that it had been completely refurbished a couple of years ago; many older houses wouldn't even have any ensuite bathrooms and this place had two, as well as a toilet and shower on the ground floor and a large bathroom on this floor as well. That gave it four toilets and four showers, as well as a large bath in the bathroom.
I offered it with a firmness that I'd so far resisted but she then called her husband saying that I had been rude to her. He asked what I'd said and she said she couldn't quite put it into words. It was more, she insisted, the tone. The husband looked at me with a glare, containing every penny of his worth, and I looked back and said if his wife had a complaint to make then she should get in contact with the office. He took her in his arms as if she were about to cry and off they went down the stairs, out of the house, and got into their separate cars as I heard one after the other drive off. I sat on the bed for a moment, my hands shaking with nerves or rage I couldn't quite say, and then went back down into the kitchen, washed the cups, the teapot, and the spoons, put them away, and drove home.
Alison looked at me after I had finished and asked did I think they would send in a complaint. I was sure they would even if I was not quite sure how they would couch it. I found it hard enough to describe to her what happened since everything was so subtle. That evening we talked about various incidents over the years we had been in the job where clients had been difficult and Alison said too it usually came from people with lots of money. This didn't mean that most people with money were obnoxious; only that those who were, usually had plenty of it. Yet she said there was always a frisson for her when a new expensive property came in and she couldn't deny that she enjoyed looking over it, meeting the people who might buy it, and consulting with the people seeking the house. I said to her that if the Johnson-Joneses complained, and I didn't lose my job a consequence, what I'd do is pass on all the million-pound properties on to her. She said she would talk to the company boss (there were only two estate agents he owned) but he might agree.
Later that evening still lying awake in bed after Alison had fallen asleep, I found myself drawing once again on my film analogies. I didn't want to be involved in big-budget productions, didn't want to deal with people who had millions of pounds to spend or squander; I wanted to work on independent productions with people who were putting all their enthusiasm and energy into the one work. The Johnson-Joneses possessed an air of distraction I'd seen on a few occasions showing people around expensive houses: their mind was as absent as it was present, as though this was just one of a number of properties they would own. If Alison got pleasure from a new, expensive house on the market that we were going to try and sell, my pleasure came probably most of all from the first-time buyer, the tenant amazed I'd found them somewhere suitable, or the landlord who was surprised I wanted to help.
Over the next few weeks I thought a lot about the job and how I might change it in other ways as well. I'd taken it for granted that as an estate agent I needed a car and a relatively fancy one too, but it was though that evening with the Johnson-Joneses brought out in me a modestly radicalised self that may have been no more than a sense of humiliation which was exclusively based on them having money I didn't have. As long as I aspired to all that they possessed I could feel their power over me. The car I had bought to give a good impression made no impression at all when they drove up in their BMW and Porsche. While I managed that evening to avoid subservience as I tried to refrain from being rude, I was well aware that this determined state might still be too close to the impolite for me to stay in my job. Something that had been on my mind a great deal hadn't been on theirs at all: I suspected they were too busy micromanaging the many areas of their lives to waste time on a complaint. They didn't buy the house, of course, and might have done so if Alison had shown them around it, but for a few days I did feel that my employment was in their hands even if it turned out the thought was hardly occupying their minds.
The owner of the agency said he was happy for Alison and me to allocate the properties as we wished when she talked to him about it. She explained that I seemed better at pushing the lower end market; her the higher end, and it was after this that another idea came to me: that I would get rid of my car and cycle between properties. I usually cycled only at weekends, sometimes doing long, seventy or eighty-mile rides that left me exhausted and took up much of my Saturday time Alison sometimes wished we could spend doing something nice. Even if she also cycled, for Alison it was a holiday joy rather a weekly chore. She liked a couple of holidays we had taken in a friend's holiday home in the south of France where each day we'd cycle from the village centre to the lake about three miles away. Anyway, I worked out that I could cycle the same distance during the week doing my job and proposed it to the boss who, initially showing reluctance, was convinced when I presented him with the environmental argument, one that meant if he sacked me he wouldn't be likely to win a court case over it. I offered my position as unthreateningly as I could manage and I am not sure whether it was the hint of threat or its relative absence that convinced him and allowed me to keep my job.
Any time that I lost in cycling for example from the West End to Rutherglen was made up on numerous shorter journeys where no longer taking the car, negotiating the traffic and finding a parking space, meant I could be there in half the time. It also left me feeling much more integrated in the city, often passing people I knew on the street and waving to them. Sometimes they offered a double-take but then waved back, and over those first two months I reacquainted myself with a number of friends who would have seemed like figures from the past because they were figures through a windscreen. I couldn't have stopped to say hello even if on occasion I managed to get their attention, giving the horn the briefest of beeps. But with the bike I often stopped, said hi and even on several occasions, if I was on my way back from a property viewing, took a break and joined them for a cup of coffee. One of these people happened to be Miranda.
She was sitting outside a cafe next to the river not far from the university and as I put my arm in the air she waved back in a gesture suggesting I join her. I did. She initially assumed I had given up my job and when I explained what happened, told her the story about the Johnsons-Joneses, my own little theory about working as an 'independent' and extending that independence to giving up the car and getting a bike, she said she was pleased to hear it. Miranda added that she never really saw me as an estate agent but this change may have explained why, and also what Nick had told her after they had met me a couple of months earlier. He recognised me, she said, and after thinking about it, recalled from where. I asked her if he happened to be the man she discussed at the party, the ex who was engaged now to another woman. She said it was, adding that after he not so much left her but insisted that he wanted to try and be monogamous, and believed the woman with whom he became engaged would be the right person to do this with, he moved out of their flat and tried to find one of his own. He was originally from Spain and in the eight years he had lived in Glasgow he never went flat hunting: either he moved in with friends or the person he was with (namely Miranda) did the looking for the pair of them. Anyway, over two months he must have looked at forty flats, and nobody would rent him one. During this time he was still living at Miranda's: his fiancee lived with five other people in a house share and while he often stayed overnight, nobody except his future wife appeared keen for him to move in. The idea was that he would find a one-bedroom flat and if things continued to work out between them, then she would move in there as well. Miranda said (in details that I began to recall) that I had shown him three flats and reckoned the first two didn't quite suit him; that I'd say I couldn't quite see him living there, and then phoned him about a week later with another three that might be more appropriate. Nick was amazed that I'd kept him in mind so literally, and he did indeed take one of the flats I showed him a flat he is still in and where the rent is cheaper than most in the area that wasn't far from where Miranda and I were sitting: a top-floor flat on Otago Street. Miranda said that of all the people who showed him around an apartment, and where quite a few of them were friendly enough, Nick believed I was perhaps the only one who seemed to empathise with his predicament, as though everyone wasn't a potential tenant to extract money from, but an actor looking for the role that would best suit them, a part they could play in a mise en scene that would fit.
I smiled and said that she made that up; after all, I'd just told her about my theory of independence, of seeing myself as outside the estate agency equivalent of the Hollywood machine, and there she was saying that this was precisely how Nick had viewed me while I was showing a viewing to him. But it was then I recalled indeed that in front of him that day in the cafe was what looked like a script and there was in his body language an attention to the detail of being perceived that I'd noticed before in people who mad a living out of being looked at. It occurred to me then that Miranda might have been an actor too, and she said that was how she and Nick met, in a stage production during the fringe festival nine years earlier in Edinburgh. After that, they got together, decided to stay in Scotland, moved a few months later to Glasgow (though they lived separately for several years), where he thought there would be more opportunities, and where she took a job in care work which she was still doing: mainly taking people with learning difficulties to the cinema, cafes and sometimes sleep-overs at the client's place. Like me, she created out of the job an ethos it might not necessarily have. She saw the people she cared for less as people with learning difficulties and more people with difficulties of life, people who in other circumstances might be in therapy, trying to learn how to live on the assumption that their lives were generally in order apart from this emotional area of disarray. But in therapy you have the person in a seat across from you for fifty minutes; as a care worker they are in your company for several hours and sometimes overnight. You walk the city with them, you talk about the mundane, and the profound if they wish to do so. She said she didn't want glorify her job; that wasn't the point. The purpose was to give meaning to it. I said that many jobs, while remaining both mundane and poorly paid, were given new titles. Instead of a binman, the person became a refuse collector, instead of a secretary, a personal assistant. Yet the person was still trapped in the same job on the same pay. But perhaps what Miranda had done, what I had done, was transform the job internally to give the work we did the dignity that made it our own.
I then changed subjects and asked her if she ever found out more about the text Nick's fianee had sent. She said that was partly why she had met up with him that day in the cafe, to discuss it. It seemed the fiancee couldn't trust Nick even though he'd been faithful to her for more than a year, and while jealousy towards various women was frequent the main object of her anxieties happened to be Miranda. She couldn't seem to accept that a man who had for years been polyamorous would be able to adjust to monogamous life, and then realised his mistake was in trying to find monogamy with a person who had always lived her life on the assumption this was how humans ought to behave. The text wasn't the first violation of his privacy but the final act which indicated not that he couldn't be in a faithful relationship, but that he couldn't be with someone who thought fidelity trumped privacy: that any action was acceptable as long as it supported the continuing monogamy of the couple.
Miranda asked me if I remembered one of the anecdotes she told me that night at the party; the one about Nick having sex in one room in the flat and her in the room next door. I said it was not one likely to be forgotten. She smiled and added what was important wasn't the explicit nature of the deed but the implicit ethical requirements in the action. I smiled back, intrigued by the eloquence of the moral position she was offering, as she added that there she was lying in the arms of this stranger and she started to hear next door Nick and his most temporary of partners puffing and panting. At that moment she couldn't deny there wasn't a moment of jealousy but she knew that while for the briefest of moments her instinct wanted to go next door and pull the girl away from Nick and throw her out of the room, a thought almost as immediate could see the hypocrisy of her position and the potential collapse of the very deliberate and developed code she and Nick had worked towards. Nick had reminded her of that evening when they met in the cafe and said he had no sense in which his fiancee would respect any of the commitments they agreed to, except the overarching one of the marriage that they would be in. Anything else he believed would be undermined and how could he then marry such a woman? He told her that night, after meeting Miranda that day, the engagement was off. The fiancee took it better than might be expected; as though what mattered wasn't Nick but the marriage, and in time, no doubt, Miranda believed, she would find someone who accepted that the paramountcy of marital commitment would trump any violation of ethics under its rubric.
Over the next few weeks, indeed over the last couple of months, she said that Nick and her had been seeing each other two or three times a week, had started sleeping with each other again, and while marriage was something she certainly didn't want to entertain, they had arrived at the next best thing: she had just a few days earlier moved into his flat, the very flat close by that I had thought would be very suitable for Nick but, she wondered, whether I thought might be suitable for her too. Her smile then was very broad indeed, and yet I suspect on my own was a hint of a frown, as though I felt more the victim of an unusual trap rather than a master of others' circumstances. I had indeed provided an abode that they could both now share, and yet knew too that the intricacies of a polyamorous ethos made my own attempt at living by a self-generated code seem very simple indeed.
I returned around 7 to the flat that evening, after cycling for a few miles along through Glasgow Green, along the Clyde, turning up near Rutherglen, before crossing another bridge nearer the city centre and cycling back along the Clyde, once more through Glasgow Green and back in the direction of the flat. It was a regular cycle ride in the past when I had some excess energy I needed to work off after spending all day at work in the car or at the office, but I hadn't done it since I'd used the bike for work. The clocks had changed the previous Sunday and perhaps I wanted to take advantage of the added light but I think it was something else that motivated the cycle.
Alison asked if I wanted her to throw some more vegetables and prawns into the stir fry she was making. I said yes as she asked me about my day. I said no more than that a client I'd found a flat for the previous year mentioned that he really appreciated the effort that I went to in helping him find it. Alison didn't ask where I met him, whether he had walked into the office or that I saw him on the street. I knew my secret was safe even if I couldn't quite have named that secret which might well have been hidden from me too but it did seem to suggest whatever dreams I might have it was unlikely that Alison could easily be part of them.
© Tony McKibbin