“It’s over. I can’t see you anymore,” Lucy had said to him over the phone. “Not now it’s summer.”
What does that have to do with anything?” he’d said to the dialling tone.
He looked out of the window at the park opposite his flat and saw nothing but couples and families. He put his palm flat on the glass and tried to picture himself sitting on a bench, tucked away in the rose garden, carefully peeling an orange where the citrus tangs wouldn’t make people wrinkle their noses as much as they do on a bus or a train. But that reminded him of her shampoo and suddenly what he imagined instead was Lucy in a summer dress, coming along the path hand in hand with a tall faceless man in good jeans and proper shoes, not trainers. She was laughing and pulling him along, chasing the butterflies flitting from pink to white to yellow before taking off out over the lake.
So, she was already seeing someone else. In his park.
The dialling tone didn’t give him any clue as to why summer was a bad time to date him, so he dropped the handset back into its dock and turned away from the scene of her imagined betrayal.
Now here he was in his small cube of a kitchen, kettle in one hand, and a Snickers bar in the other. He bit off the corner of the wrapper and pushed the chocolate bar free, ripping the rest of the wrapper and crushing the chocolate shell with the force.
By the time the kettle boiled, two more wrappers had joined their pioneer friend on the counter and Alastair was feeling too sick to drink the green tea Lucy had recently bought him.
A dull ache took hold in his temple, his mouth was dry, and he had a sudden urge to leave the flat, which he felt was shrinking daily. In the hall, he struggled into his light summer jacket, grabbed his keys and wallet and ambled to the pub two streets away.
His local on the corner was okay but this one, The Unicorn, served guest ales and offered early bird meal deals and right at this moment, he felt that nothing could comfort him more than their oozing brimful dish of lasagne and some garlic bread with cheese. He might even order curly fries with that, which was something he hadn’t done since he’d first started dating Lucy. What had she called it? Oh, yes, a “MealDealbreaker”, and so he’d opted for a side salad instead on that early date in December last year.
‘Stupid to eat salad in winter though,’ he thought. ‘What had she been thinking?’
He placed his order at the bar and chose a table close to it, but off to the side of the dining area. He squeezed in to the padded bench seat and then got himself all hot and bothered trying to free himself of his jacket.
The purple polo shirt he was wearing clung to his body and it felt damp in the small of his back, his armpits and around the love handles which Lucy had started to tease him about.
‘Didn’t she buy me this shirt for Christmas?’ It wasn’t a good colour on him. Not when he flushed beetroot with the slightest physical exertion. ‘Some people just do, don’t they?’ he thought. ‘I’ve always been like it, even at school.’ Although he had to admit that he couldn’t remember the polo shirt being quite so snug at Christmas. ‘Clothes don’t last anytime at all, these days. A few washes and they’ve had it.’
Without Lucy around to shape his evenings and weekends, Alastair soon became a regular at The Unicorn. It was easier than traipsing around a supermarket, lugging everything home, putting it away and then trying to summon up the energy to cook something in his tiny kitchen. Instead, he kept his stash of Snickers stocked up and went there for his dinner.
At first, the old boys at the bar nodded and grunted hello to him when he came in, the bar staff asked him how his day had been, other diners joked with him or asked him for the sauce bottle and he distinctly remembers a time when the glass collector flirted with him.
Then, Alastair supposes, he became a regular and they barely registered him arriving or leaving and increasingly forgot that they hadn’t taken his meal or drinks order. He felt as if his table had become untethered from the others and was drifting across the dining area, as people moved from tables close to his to those further away.
But it didn’t put him off coming to The Unicorn, although he was finding it increasingly hard to walk there and back. He wanted to take the car but in this part of town, the police stopped people for kicks and he knew that he would be the one to be stopped ten metres from his own front door.
So he shuffled there and he shuffled back, and now has to stop for breath at every second lamp-post. He remembers a time when strangers and neighbours passing by would ask him: “Are you alright, mate?” “You okay there?” “D’ya need any help?” but now, no one stops him or talks to him as they pass. He can’t tell if they know him or not because he’s so busy concentrating on each step. He has to, unless he wants his foot to catch on an uneven paving slab and for him to keel over.
Alastair can’t remember the exact moment it happened but knew that, on that grey, drizzly Tuesday evening in late September when he left the house, he was no longer there anymore.
Lucy was long gone, Summer was over, and he had eaten his way through the disappointment of it all.
Until he was so big that he simply disappeared and no one could see him anymore.