by Steven John
I NEARLY UNSUBSCRIBED when I saw Wendy’s profile picture. I suppose seeing anyone you already know on an internet dating site is shocking. Like barging in on them in an unlocked bathroom.
Wendy and her husband David used to be our neighbours. She’s tall for a woman—over six foot. One of those russet-faced countrywomen who prefer animals to people. Horses, dogs, cats—she’d always kept at least one of each. David had a landscaping business with a list of well-heeled clients. Two years ago they moved away to a larger house with enough land to graze a horse. Sylvie, my ex-wife, kept in contact with her—emails, the occasional morning coffee, but I haven’t seen Wendy or David since they left.
Wendy looked faintly ridiculous on the dating site. I suppose she would’ve been equally embarrassed to see my own attempt at looking ten years younger. She’d posted a long distance profile picture of herself sat on a low wall next to a garden pond in a pair of red shorts—her long legs stretched out in front of her. It would’ve been a coquettish pose for a younger woman, but Wendy’s well into her fifties. She looked uncomfortable and, at the same time, amused. That’s what I liked about Wendy. She could poke fun at herself as well as other people.
Before Sylvie and I separated, Wendy and David would occasionally come to our place for supper, and we’d go to theirs. I remember one particular evening—Sylvie had been at the stove all day.
‘Another big production?’ I asked. ‘A bowl of pasta would do. It’s meant to be about the company.’
‘I thought for you it’s all about the drink,’ Sylvie said.
Wendy had worn red that night too. A long dress with a low neckline and a split up one side revealing a bare thigh. Her chest was freckled from the sun. Sylvie never liked dressing-up. She’d worn baggy black trousers and a sensible blouse.
While Sylvie clattered around with the food, David told stories of the clients houses he visited. The valuable paintings on the wall and the sculptures on the terrace. He was one those people who knew everyone. Wendy ran her own home-visit dog-grooming business. Between the two of them they were a smörgasbord of gossip, although they bickered like a pair of geese. Sylvie and I tended not to argue, not in front of anyone anyway. We just curdled inside. Our office-bound lives felt mundane compared to Wendy and David’s.
That night Wendy had drunk too much wine. Men she didn’t like she described as “dickheads” and the women as “bitches”. She had the deep-throated laugh of a man who’d heard a dirty joke, throwing back her head with her mouth full open. I did all I could to take my eyes off her bare leg.
Over dinner we got talking about the divorced woman who lived alone in the cottage between our house and theirs. ‘She’s taken a young lover,’ David said, ‘a painter and decorator she hired to paint her window frames.’
‘Who can blame her?’ Wendy said. ‘What middle-aged woman would say no to fucking a younger man?’ Under the table, Wendy had been running her bare foot down my leg.
I was the only one who laughed. Sylvie collected up the empty dessert plates. David stared into his wine glass.
After they’d gone, I helped Sylvie clear the table. ‘Why can’t you make more of an effort with your clothes when we have friends over?’ I asked. ‘Wendy seems to manage.’
‘So drunks like you can gawp at my cleavage?’
‘I wasn’t gawping at Wendy if that’s what you mean.’
‘When you weren’t playing footsie with her, your eyes were popping.’
‘There’s no popping of anything with you.’
By the time Wendy and David moved away the painter and decorator had stopped seeing our neighbour. I sometimes saw the woman on the village lanes walking her dog. I stopped the car once and tried chatting, but she wasn’t interested.
I shouldn’t be cynical about Wendy’s attempts to look younger on the dating website, and her online “bio” sings with positivity. All the women I’ve dated so far said they were depressed. I think they confuse depression with loneliness.
I’ve sent Wendy a message through the dating site, just to say ‘Hi’ and would she fancy meeting up. I don’t think either of us would be interested in anything more than a morning coffee.
Steven John’s short fiction and poetry has appeared in numerous online magazines and printed anthologies including Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020. Steven is Joint Managing Editor at The Phare www.thephare.com literary magazine and is a part-time Creative Writing Lecturer at the University of Gloucestershire, England. He lives next to a river that floods, in a house described as ‘a bit wind in the willows.’