Once, 10 years ago, when Nigel was in his mid-20s, he was engaged to be married. Sabine was French and he'd met her at Harrod's, of all places, where she was helping him pick out a fountain pen for his then-girlfriend. He'd selected a Parker, and Sabine, behind the counter, had wrinkled her nose and said (rightly), in her impossibly sexy accent, "You must not think very much of this woman."
He fell intensely in love with Sabine, and one night, six months after the pen comment, after they'd downed three bottles of Pomerol, he asked her to marry him. It seemed the right thing to do; he even got on his knees in the middle of the Kensington restaurant. He loved that time, that initial period when everything seemed possible and the sex was great and boredom was like an advert on the television, starting and leaving in quick short bursts. It would be wonderful to be married and have pretty little children who spoke French and a wife who looked at him adoringly when he roared up the lane in his Land Rover.
The wedding was to be in Aix-en-Provence, where she was from, and her family was hosting the whole huge affair. Sabine came from a large family and she was the first to be married; her mother had cried on the phone when Sabine told her. The machine was set in motion. Sabine flew to Paris to have her wedding dress fitted and had marathon conversations with her mother on the phone. She worried about the flowers, went champagne tasting to select the vintage for the wedding breakfast, bought fountain pens (Recife, not Parker) for the groomsmen. The invitations were sent out. The dress was ready. The honeymoon had been paid for (non-refundable). And suddenly, a week before they were to fly to Aix, Nigel looked down at Sabine's sleeping face and her prominent, Gallic nose and knew he'd fallen out of love with her.
He woke her up and told her and that was that. Sabine cried and screamed and eventually she refused to talk to him. A month later he heard she'd moved to Paris, and when he tried to call her parents to apologize -- he wasn't a complete bastard, after all -- they hung up on him. Nigel never spoke to Sabine again.
He didn't think very much about this event for years. After all, things happened, sometimes it just didn't work out. Better that he broke it off then than go through with the wedding and live in complete misery for the rest of his life. He never mentioned it to Kath, his current girlfriend -- what was there to tell? But suddenly, 10 years on, he found himself thinking about Sabine and what had happened. He was back with Kath, the relationship was fine, so why in the hell did he keep thinking about something that occurred so long ago? Kath was nothing like Sabine, so it wasn't that. Finally he realized that what he recognized was his own panic, resurfacing like an old friend, clamping its hand on his shoulder.
To make matters worse, there was Anna. She was still lurking around London, staying over at his flat once in a while, sneaking out with shoes in hand early in the morning (Kath occasionally dropped by before going to work). He simply could not understand what it was about this woman that he fancied -- she was fat, she was loud, she was not his type at all. She drank too much and smoked too much and there was no way in hell that he'd ever give up sweet, skinny Kath for this cow. But the odd thing was, Anna didn't seem to give a fuck. Unlike what most women would do, she never even asked him about Kath or what he thought he was doing, screwing around with the two of them.
He wondered if it was an act, if she were following that Yank book "The Rules" that he'd seen (he'd found a copy of it lying around Kath's flat). No, that wasn't it. Finally, it dawned on him that Anna simply viewed him as he viewed her: a good fuck and a good time. That made him feel a little, well, used, but he tried not to think about it too hard.
But sometimes, at night, after Anna had left (he could never be sure when she would stay the night; Anna was nothing if not whimsical), the thoughts crowded in his head and his heart began pounding. Sabine, Anna, Kath, the girl he bought the Parker pen for 10 years ago (what was her name?) -- all of them yammering at him, looking at him, some hurt, some angry, some distressed and some just plain bored. He wondered if he needed psychiatric help. Maybe this was how madness started. He couldn't sleep on those nights. He tried and tried to put them all out of his mind, these women. They all wanted something from him, and he didn't know what it was. He only knew that he would fail all of them.
After a month of this, he decided to talk to his brother, Barry. Barry always had an opinion on everything, from the New Labour to the size of Ginger Spice's tits to Nigel's women. "You know what yer problem is," Barry drawled, poking a finger in Nigel's chest as they sat in Barry's local pub, "You're a sex maniac, you are. You just don't know when to stop. Give it a rest, mate. Stop fucking the fat one, get married to Kathy. She'll give you no problem at all, and it's time you start thinking about settling down."
Why did he even bother talking to Barry? He could have saved himself a trip down to Essex and read a self-help book instead. Besides, he wasn't even sure what his problem was, only that he wasn't happy with Kath, and he wasn't happy without her. And that he couldn't seem to stop fucking Anna.
Anna would tell him to do things. "Get on your knees," she'd command. "Lick my pussy. Shut up and start doing it." Sex with Anna was like the movies; sometimes he felt that they even had an audience. (They probably did, since Anna insisted they leave the curtains open and the lights on when they fucked.) It was nothing like anything he'd ever experienced. They'd fuck once, twice, sometimes three times in one night. He even liked the fact that she was fat -- it was true what they said about more cushion.
So maybe that was it. Maybe he was a sex maniac, just like Barry said. Maybe there was just nothing he could do about it. Maybe it was something that he just had to accept in himself. And as long as Kath didn't know, it couldn't hurt her. She was the right one for him, anyway -- she was all the things that he'd envisioned in his wife -- pretty, social, not too difficult. He loved her, he did. He just didn't really like to fuck her the way he did with Anna. It was just sex after all, not unlike eating or sleeping or breathing, really. Anna was a sex maniac too, now that he thought about it. And if the situation was OK with Anna, and OK with him, and OK with Kath (and it was, as long as she didn't know), then where was the problem?
As he fell asleep that night, he briefly wondered why women, apart from Anna, were always so pissed off. Men and women were just different, and thought about sex differently. Apart from Anna. And she was a bit nuts.