Second chapter of my unpublished novel ‘Shemail’

The smell of chrysanthemums, tulips, roses, orchids and lilies wafted through the room. The organic perfume made me feel relaxed, helped by the trickling sound of water from the stone cupid fountain that spouted in the centre of the shop. I was at the florists “Dizzy Blooms” in Primrose Hill where Jennifer worked and I was picking her up so we could spend the evening together. I’d managed to get away from work early by blagging to my boss Bryan Sales that I had a doctors appointment and had trundled up the Northern Line to the greener pastures of North London.

I loved what she did for a living. I liked imagining her at work in the day, surrounded by flowers and the smell of freshly cut stems. Such a different environment compared to the stale stench of my work pit. Jennifer’s surroundings suited her, it was a perfect fit. She was hippy boho and appeared unaffected by the trivial whims of modern life. I liked it that she wasn’t cooped up in an office and was brave enough to pursue a non-media, non-office career. It was all good apart from the fact that if I ever bought her flowers I know she’d be secretly judging the quality of the bloom, the cut of stems and overall arrangement of the bouquet.

“Won’t be long, I’ve just got to sweep up and then we can go,” Jennifer said.

“Don’t worry me, I’m enjoying sniffing all the petals,” I replied, walking around the creaky wooden floors and bending over to smell the bouquets. After a while I felt queasy from sniffing and went outside for some fresh air and a smoke. Jennifer soon followed me out and pulled down the shutters on the shop and then locked up. We walked along the street.

“So where are we headed?” I asked.

“I don’t know, what do you fancy?” She replied. I fancy you.

“Well it’s light out, why don’t we walk over to the park and then get a bite to eat after?”

“Sounds good, I love it when a man takes the lead,”

“Yes, I can be assertive when I want to. I can also be terribly indecisive when I don’t want to, so I’ll let you choose where we eat.” I joked.

“Oh Alistair, you’re a funny one. What a day I’ve had though, we’re inundated with orders. Seem to be a lot of people dying as well at the mo, must be the summer heat. The money people spend on flowers for funerals, it’s more than weddings, birthdays, probably even Valentines Day. I think it’s a waste. The flowers end up dying too, like the people being buried.”

“Oh, thanks for the morbid view, why don’t you cancel all funeral orders then?”

“We’d go out of business, it’s probably 50 % of our revenue,”

“So you profit from death?”

“I guess so. I never thought of it like that. I’m a grim profit reaper.” Jennifer looked down, as if she was looking for gaps in the pavement. I laughed. She was very witty.

“But it is a funny industry,” she continued.

“Industry, sorry floristry doesn’t strike me as an industry,”

“Okay then Mr. Pedantic, a funny business. No I mean, all the people you meet, normally flowers are bought out of guilt. A cheating husband to calm his wife’s fears. A boyfriend who’s been neglecting his girlfriend. A son who forgets his mum’s birthday.”

“Hang on, all those examples are when it’s the bloke who’s at fault.”

“Well that’s normally the case, isn’t it? We don’t have women buying flowers for their boyfriends, or very rarely. Or women buying flowers to say sorry for something, ‘here you go love, sorry I forgot your birthday,’”

“I guess so. So all men are bastards, right?”

“From what I see in my daily working life, yes, that statement is probably correct.” She smiled at me.

We walked along the leafy streets of Primrose Hill up the hill to the park. This was one of the poshest parts of London. Gorgeous multi-storey Victorian and Georgian town homes with fleets of BMWs, Mercedes and Range Rovers parked outside for Nordic au pairs to ferry the kids to school in. I turned to peek at Jennifer. She was 26 and had mousey blond hair that cascaded to the sides of her wide, expressive mouth. She wore a low cut dress that was the same shade of deep green as the rose leaves I’d just been sniffing. Her look was complimented by scuffed Adidas shell toe trainers she wore as she was on her feet all day. The light dappled on her face as it filtered through the leaves above.

We walked into the park and as it was about 7.30, the sun had descended and London glowed majestically below us. The traffic and hum of the metropolis whirred in the background, like a hulking beast that never slept, making you aware of its presence. The tower blocks in the City poked through the haze in the atmosphere. They seemed small in the distance, as if you could pick them up like chess pieces. The sky was tangerine which turned pink to the fringes as the sun flecked under the clouds. It was like a psychedelic album cover from the 70s.

“I’ve just about had it where I’m living. I can’t stand sharing with people anymore, I want to live on my own.” Jennifer said.

“Really, on your own? That’s expensive though. Wouldn’t you get lonely anyhows?”

“No, I’d love it. I love my own space. I can’t face living with other people’s mess and noise anymore. Plus, Jo, who I live with, always has her boyfriend round so there’s always an extra body,”

“Oh dear, an annoying flat mate, I know how you feel. And when they’re together, couples can take the piss a bit can’t they? Not counting the general air of annoying stable smugness they exude,”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

“You do?”

“Yes. I’ll get over it though. I feel like going away somewhere exotic. Some serious backpacking. I fancy Central America.”

“Sounds good, you can’t beat a bit of healthy travel to escape from it all. Escapism and hedonism, two of my favourite things. I tell you what why don’t we go together?” I blurted out.

“Maybe,” She smiled automatically, as if she wasn’t convinced about the idea of travelling together just yet. She’d only just been telling me how she liked her own space, so perhaps the suggestion of traipsing around Guatemala together clutching Lonely Planets and both suffering from severe diarrhea might be a tad presumptuous, not to say awkwardly over-intimate at this point. I’d kind of spewed it out without thinking, showing how easy it is for diarrhea to spew forth from the mouth as well as your arse.

“So where’s your favourite place in the world,” I tried to change the subject, to break the silence that had passed.

“Hmm. What do you want, my top five? I find it hard to list things. That’s such a male thing.”

“Okay, sorry, let’s just stare into space then shall we?” I blurted out abruptly. I was hitting the wrong conversational buttons.

“I’m only kidding. Let me think, favourite place. Then afterwards we can move onto favourite colours and then rock bands, right,”

“Yup, I want your top twenty colours next,”

“Ok, place. I loved Brazil. I spent six months there teaching after I left school. It’s so colourful and alive, you can smell sex and electricity in the air. The people are really friendly and there’s so much to see. It’s like with most developing countries, the people are poorer but they seem to be happier for it. At least that’s the impression I get.  But closer to home, I’d have to say the Lake District.”

“So you moved from Rio to the Lake District. That’s a real opposite. That’s like going from the Kalahari to Lapland. But good choice though, we shouldn’t overlook all the beauty that’s closer to home. England’s underrated, right?”

“It is, I haven’t seen enough of it.”

“Me neither, although all the same, when I go on holiday I just want to get away from England really, two weeks in Devon for my summer holiday just wouldn’t cut it for me. It’d probably piss down for half of it and it’s expensive. I need guaranteed sun and a different culture.”

“We could go to Skegness together then,”

“Ok, you’re on. Central America’s a no-no, but you can stomach Skegness with me, right?”  She laughed.

We had some nosh and a bottle of  Pinot Grigio at the William IV which was on the edge of the park. It was cool to be with Jennifer, I felt like I could be myself with her, there was no pretence. She walked me back to the tube and then she got a cab home to her place in Belsize Park, the opposite direction to me so any suggestions of ‘coffee’ at mine wouldn’t have been practical. I gave her a clumsy peck on the cheek when parting, like I was kissing a friend’s mother. It didn’t seem like the time or place to go for anything more. Sometimes I did feel a barrier exude from Jennifer, I’m not sure if that was erected to deflect me in particular, or if it was just her normal manner. I hoped it was something to be eroded over time as she got to know me more. Maybe she was wary of me and had heard of my erring ways from somewhere. It would be a challenge to find out and break down. I liked people who weren’t open books and took time to get to know, they were normally more rewarding and there was the delicious intrigue of peeling back the onion layers – as long as it didn’t make you cry.

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