“I’ve got a confession. I spent too much time in my formative years masturbating to ZZ Top videos.”
“Was it the beards?”
“No, it was those spinning guitars they had. I couldn’t get enough of them.” They both laughed.
“You’re a strange, strange man, Pete, you know that?” said Jen.
“And yet here you are. Again. So what’s that make you?”
“Loyal. Kind. Maybe a bit strange too.” Jen paused for a moment. “For the record though I don’t tend to walk around garages in dusty pit-stop American towns wearing tiny cut off denim shorts so I would have been no use to your adolescent self.”
“Oh I don’t know. Teenage boys can spin a wank out of almost anything.”
“Gee Pete, you really know how to flatter a girl…”
“I’d leave this one if I was you. Quit while you’re way, way behind.”
“Okay. You don’t want to hear about my Carrie Fisher phase then?”
“Not if it’s more tales from the wank-bank, no,” said Jen. “If it’s a radical feminist awakening phase that you went through when you learned to appreciate strong, independent women for who they were rather than whether they were wearing a gold bikini then maybe. We’re in a post-Weinstein world Pete.”
“She was quite something.”
“Yeah, she was. Did you read any of her books? I can lend you Postcards From The Edge if you haven’t got it.”
“I’ve read it,” said Pete. It was his turn to pause. “Georgie had a copy. She loved it and she loved Fisher. I still haven’t seen the new films, you know. I know she was really looking forwards to them, especially when she heard she’d signed on, and I just don’t want to see them without her.”
“They’re pretty good but I’m no judge,” replied Jen. “Georgie was the expert on that sort of stuff. I saw Phantom Menace with her, I think it was before you two got together when she lived with me. I liked it. Couldn’t understand why she was in such a foul mood for a couple of weeks.”
Pete laughed. “When we moved in together she made me get rid of my DVDs for episodes 1 to 3. Said she didn’t want them in the house. These aren’t the films you’re looking for. Those were her exact words. I was in love with her before that but I think that was the moment I really knew.”
“It was the moment she knew too. I’ve never told you this but she rang me that week because she couldn’t believe you’d thrown them out. Apparently you didn’t even try and argue about it. Just opened the back door and chucked them in the bin. She was seriously impressed…”
“Really?” said Pete. “That’s funny. All she told me was how seriously unimpressed she was that I even had them in the first place. I still think there’s a decent film trying to break its way out of parts 2 and 3 but she was pretty militant about it. I did once catch her watching Revenge Of The Sith though when it was on TV. She said she was checking that it was as bad as she remembered it.”
“And was it?”
“So she said. You reckon she’d have like Last Jedi?”
“Yeah, I do. I think she’d want you to go see it, too.”
They were both silent. Jen was about to speak again but she was stopped by Pete’s voice, cracking but growing progressively stronger. “The funny thing is that I know you’re right but it’s just one in a long list of things I’ve stopped myself doing since she died and I don’t know when I’ll be ready to any of them. I haven’t listened to Ryan Adams. We saw him at the Lyric before anyone knew who he was. He was always our singer. There’s a Turkish place we used to eat in a couple of times a month that I haven’t been back to. Won’t walk over Hammersmith Bridge. It’s where I would have proposed. Gave up reading Game Of Thrones and I won’t watch the TV show. She was always telling me to read it but I wanted to wait until he finished writing all of them. There’s an upcoming exhibition at the Tate, retrospective of Japanese contemporary art, that I won’t go to because… No, I don’t get how it can be retrospective and contemporary either but that’s not why I’m not going… She won’t be there with me.”
“When do you think you’ll be ready to let…”
“Let her go? I won’t ever be ready to do that Jen.” No anger; a weary resignation.
“I wasn’t going to say that. Not let her go. Let those things go is what I was going to say. They’re not her.”
“No but that’s where I feel the traces of her most sharply,” said Pete after another extended pause. The conversation’s rhythm was broken now. Staccato sentences punctuated with silence. “Or that’s where I feel the absence of her most sharply. I still catch myself turning to tell her something, to point something out, and then remember she’s not there. I tell her anyway. In those places, with those things, it’d just be too much. How can I find joy in the things we used to find joy in together?”
“Can I tell you something stupid?” asked Jen.
“More stupid than my ZZ Top confession?”
“More stupid than that. You were young and impressionable. I’ve got no excuse. For a while, after she died, I didn’t know what would happen to us. To our friendship I mean. Me and you. I knew Georgie a long time, before you guys got together, but all my strongest associations were with both of you, as a couple. I worried that seeing you, speaking to you, would just be a constant reminder to me that someone was missing. That it’d be too painful. I worried we wouldn’t be able to be friends.”
“And yet here you are. Here we are. Again. I appreciate it, Jen, I really do. You’re like – these talks, they’re like a little bit of sun through the clouds.”
“I thought I would be more like incessant drizzle?” said Jen.
“Incessant Drizzle? Weren’t they on Rough Trade?”
“You’re thinking of Mild To Moderate Snow Showers. Or maybe Outside Chance of Hail. I always get them mixed up.”
Pete laughed, sucked in a deep breath. “Thank you for…, well for this. For talking shit and listening and making bad jokes and… well for all of it.”
“No thanks necessary,” said Jen. “Don’t think I’m letting you forget that you described me as a little bit of sun through the clouds though.”
“Just ‘cos it’s cheesy doesn’t mean it’s not true. Normal service will be resumed when we next speak.”
“I look forward to it. Seriously though, are you alright?” There was the same pause he always left before answering and then the same exchange before the line went dead.
“You know the drill by now Jen. No. I’m not alright. Not today. But ask me again tomorrow. What about you?”
“No. Me neither Pete. But ask me too.”