Though this isn’t included in the novel, I decided to write Anna’s perspective of the time she met the man who lived in the Tin Can.
She’d been scared when asking him to dinner with its encoded offer of sex. She’d even provided a disclaimer for fear of rejection. But he’d accepted and now, having tidied her two-up-two-down in a dead town in Lancashire, she was checking herself in the mirror with nervous excitement. This would mean so much to her because it would be the first time she’d had a date, if it were to be deemed so, since Tony. She’d actually seen her ex-husband that morning, not knowing at the time that seeing him would be a kind of epiphany, a portentous glimpse of a past existence and future life. On seeing him, she’d decided without prejudice that he was not a well man. Once he was a strong, broad-shouldered, even hunky guy, but now seemed small and wasted in the chinos he always wore, the chinos she’d bought for him from George five years ago.
“Go after him,” her mum had said of the interesting stranger in the pub, who’d given her father life with some kind words and the offer of a drink, some polite and refreshing conversation for Anna. And she’d thought twice, but there was another voice telling her to go after him besides the one of her mother, the one in her head that had been telling her what she needed since Tony walked out on her three years ago. And so she did go after him, and she did find him in the dead square, feeding half-dead pigeons, looking travelled, tanned and fascinating in his shorts, hiking-boots, bohemian top and hat – every inch the man the inner voice was telling her had seen life and lived it.
“Have I lived it?” she asked the woman staring back at her from the mirror. The answer was that since Tony left, no. What had she got when he’d gone? A little cottage she loved, that’s true, which would always be hers as one day would the house belonging to her parents as the only child; a clerical job that paid OK but not much of a social life and anyway not much time for that since dad got ill; a non-existent sexlife; and this fucking eczema she was born with and had carried for the rest of her days – behind her ears and neck, her shoulders, elbows, behind her knees and, worst of all, between her thighs.
“You’re depressed,” said her mum on more than one occasion in fact numerous, “you should see the doctor.”
But Anna had resisted. Ever since she was a child she’d suffered and having taken a million pills and smeared a thousand creams with no results, she’d grown a deep mistrust of medics and medication of any kind. So if she did see the doctor what would he do? Tell her to pop something, give it three weeks and if there’s no change come back and we’ll put you on something else to pop. The pharmaceutical industry, after all, needed the money. One thing was sure to Anna, she didn’t want pills, she needed a life, and tonight she was going to find one, or at least just a bit of one.
In the mirror she looked OK, she thought, having decided to wear her hair down. Should’ve had the roots done, but too late for that now. Just some eyeliner, she’d never needed much make-up that was one thing in her favour, she was naturally, at least in her thoughts (or was it in Tony’s words?) good-looking, not pretty, not beautiful, good-looking. And of course just a bit of lippy to set things off and smile at this interesting man about her age, handsome, travelled, erudite and quite by chance sitting in The Barrel where they’d taken dad to see his old friends from the bus company.
“Did you find me OK?” she asked that man stood on the threshold clutching a bottle of Sauvignon.
“Evidently,” he replied with a smile.
“Only I was worried my directions were vague.
“I’m a traveller,” he said, “I sometimes don’t know where somewhere is but generally know it when I get there.”
“Come in,” she said, not knowing whether his reply was clever or indeed made sense. “Dinner won’t be long I hope you like lasagne threw it together I’m afraid I didn’t have much time I never get much of that you see after work I go and see to mum and dad and everything in fact it’s shop bought I’d planned to pass it off as my own creation but oh my God I’m waffling aren’t I please sit down.”
“A bit,” he said, saying this was borne out of nerves and liking her all the more for it because actually he was a bit shaky himself.
Having put his bottle in the fridge for later and opened the one she’d nipped out and grabbed from Morrison’s with the lasagne, she joined him at the table she’d carefully prepped.
“It’s a lovely home,” he said, and she was proud but said it’s nothing much but she has it how she likes it.
“I was nervous to be honest, you’re right,” she said, as they began to eat.
“Me too,” he reassured, “it’s kind of you to go to all this trouble, for a man you don’t even know. I was very surprised to get the invitation to dinner.”
“I surprised myself!” she laughed, “but I’m glad.”
“I’m glad your mum told you to come and find me,” he said, and she smiled that smile he’d said he liked with the teeth.
So with every forkful of food, complimented accordingly, there came morsels of small-talk and increasing confidence on both sides to free things up and widen the subject matter. She asked him about his travels and he documented with wit and wisdom his experiences in such exotic and not-so-exotic places, he asked her about her job and she managed to speak at length about it and shock shock horror even make it sound interesting… and then he asked about her father, about whom she could also speak at length.
“I’m really a daddy’s girl I suppose,” she said, “Because he was the one who’d read me bedtime stories, he’d teach me things. I remember when I was about seven and I’d hurt my knee and he said he’d make it go away and I asked if you could make anything go away even people even the past and he told me about the Grandfather Paradox about the theory of changing the past. I’ll never forget that, I never forget a lot of things we talked about and we talked about a lot of things. The other week we laughed, because after thirty-five years I finally confessed I was embarrassed that my dad was only a bus driver. But then I qualified it, saying he could’ve been so much more because he was so much more, he could’ve been a teacher, professor even, and he said he was a professor, professor of the buses, “the omnipotent, omniscient omnibus driver!” Yea we talked and laughed. We always do. … When he knows who I am.”
“Who says he ever knew you?”
“Who really knows anyone is what I mean. Do we know ourselves?”
“That’s true,” she said, “I don’t know myself sometimes,” then added with a laugh that they were getting a bit deep but it was true what he said, she didn’t know herself, she certainly didn’t know herself earlier when she was so forward.
“I like forward,” he concluded, and though she didn’t know it just then, that was the start of it.
“I want to explore every inch of you,” he’d said as they lay naked. Then, she’d felt reassured when he was kissing and licking up her leg and remaining for some time on her thigh before everything else that happened and she didn’t need to climax because she didn’t want it to end. Then afterwards they’d talked a little while and she’d told him she’d seen colours, and he’d said he’d known what she meant when he hadn’t, and she’d explained when she’s down she usually sees grey, but those she saw just then on the bed were colours, and the eczema was something she’d been freed of in a way. And finally they’d slept.
To Anna, it hadn’t mattered when out of politeness he stopped himself from saying he’d be moving on. And it didn’t matter this morning when, amid his awkwardness she said it’s fine, she knows he’s an explorer, “an experientialist”… What mattered most, she’d ponder when he’d gone, was that she’d taken control. The scared woman who didn’t know herself had made this happen; after work that day she’d go and visit mum and dad as always; she’d tell her mum what happened after she’d stalked the man with his newspaper in the pub, and above all else what it really meant. It wasn’t casual sex it was causal sex. The girl who’d been embarrassed that her father was a bus driver had become the woman who took control, said no to her depression and to hell with the eczema. All was so clear and certain to Anna now, except when to tell her mum what her dad had said, right at the beginning of his illness, and so seriously, and put in writing with the precision of a bus timetable, about wanting to go to Switzerland and end his life.