The whole business was so not me but my friend Amy had just been dumped by her husband of twenty some years and she was anxious to find a replacement. It wasn’t just Amy either, all our other friends had colluded and, before I knew it, the guilt setting had been activated. The same setting that has me driving my mum here, there and everywhere like a permanently on call chauffeur or babysitting my sister’s obnoxious children while she and her husband enjoy one of their ‘date nights’. It’s a funny thing how, when you’re single, everyone assumes you’ve got nothing better to do than be at their beck and call. No, hang on, it’s worse than that. It’s as if you should actually be grateful that they embroil you into their busy, crappy lives as a diversion from your own empty existence.
How I’d love to tell them all to go and fuck themselves but it’s never going to happen. The guilt setting puts paid to that. So here I was, having settled on jeans and a jumper, heading off to meet Amy in town. The actual event was taking place in a bar which presumably, it being a Tuesday night and dead, was renting out the space. We were meeting in our favourite pub for a drink first though. Well, I say favourite, it’s probably the last pub standing amongst all the cafe bars and bistros that have popped up at more or less the same rate as traditional boozers have closed down.
People just don’t seem to want that kind of thing anymore and so it was just me and a handful of blokes still in their work clothes as I waited for Amy. Looking at my watch, I tried not to be annoyed, it’s not like it was a surprise, Amy’s always late. It’s sort of like her trademark. I was already contemplating a second drink when she arrived in a mad whirl of red lipstick and Coco Chanel. “Sorry, sorry,” she panted, doing the air kiss thing. “You know me.” I started to feel even more uneasy about the whole thing once I clocked that she was wearing her best dress, the one she’d bought from a ridiculously expensive boutique to celebrate being rid of the tightwad husband.
That’s another funny thing, we’d spent the past few months ‘celebrating’ her freedom from the shackles of being married to a dull, charmless man and yet here we were hoping to bag her Mark 2. It had been on a girl’s night out a couple of weeks ago when, after a bottle of Prosecco and a round of Mojitos, she’d begun sobbing uncontrollably, hiccupping between sobs that she couldn’t stand being on her own a moment longer. It had been as unexpected as that, one minute we’d been talking about her selling the old marital home and buying a functional city centre apartment and the next it was all about hunting down a new other half.
The whole bloody table had become consumed by the project and, as the only single person there, I was unceremoniously nominated as her wing woman, the one who would have to traipse around with her until she got her man. I hadn’t been too worried initially, I’d even laughed along, dismissing it as the drink talking. I hadn’t reckoned on Amy’s ruthless determination to reconnect with coupledom, however. Amy, who in every other area of her life is lazy and disorganised, had suddenly become a man hunting machine and I found myself caught up in the down-draft.
By the time she’d got to the pub, there was no point in her having a drink as the event was due to start in just over five minutes and Amy didn’t want to be late for that. And so we made the short walk to the bar, Amy tottering along in her new statement ‘killer heels’ and me feeling like a frump. I couldn’t remember what statement she’d been making when she’d bought them but it had been something along the lines of ‘fuck you’ to the old husband, the one she was hoping to replace tonight in the very same shoes.
Sweeping into the bar, making her statement, Amy beckoned at me to hurry up as an overweight woman bustled over to greet us. She was the kind of overweight woman who would say she was happy with her size – all bright colours and big jewellery and, who knows, maybe she was? “Ladies, come in, come in, register over there with Fi and grab yourselves a glass of bubbly, we’re going to start in a few minutes.” The room had been given something of a makeover with hearts and flowers placed decorously on every available surface and two rows of tables and chairs set diagonally across the dance floor. Fi was sitting behind two tables pushed together, clutching a clipboard. Next to her was a heart bedecked trestle table laden with glasses of what turned out to bear more resemblance to industrial fluid than champagne.
Rabbit in headlights style, seriously disturbed by the force of Fi’s megawatt smile, I trailed after Amy who handed over our tickets. “You’re going to have a great time, ladies, what’s your names?” Scribbling on a couple of sticky labels with a thick black marker pen, she offered us our name badges for the night. I felt sure I’d pronounced my name clearly and contemplated pointing out Fi’s error but in the end I simply sucked it up, pressing the label emblazoned with ‘Debz’ onto my jumper. I mean, I’ve nothing against people shortening their names, I’m all for personal choice but I’m just not a Debz. Truth be told, I’m not even a Debbie, I tend to stick with Deborah.
Staggering over to the makeshift bar, I grabbed up a glass of bubbly, swilling down half of it before realising my mistake. “What do you think?” Amy hissed out of the corner of her mouth, her glass of bubbly poised ready to sip. Glancing around, there were groups of women and men standing about, some already hungrily eyeing the prey, others looking like they wished they were dead. The woman who’d welcomed us, suddenly began to tap her glass with a pen, garnering everyone’s attention in a ridiculously grand way. “Welcome everyone; I’m Steph and this is Cam, my partner in business and life.” She wiggled her fingers in a come hither gesture to a man who, had I seen him in the street would have pegged as a Jehovah’s Witness. Steph was still talking, “We found love through a dating agency and wanted to share that joy with others and so we’ve established our own agency, 2 becomes 1 and hopefully, tonight, some of you will have the same good fortune that Cam and I had.” I’d become mesmerised by Steph’s cleavage, which was enormous and the conundrum of whether she realised just how much of it was actually out there on display. Every time she gesticulated or laughed, the soft, white, marshmallow mounds would jiggle and I began to fear they might make a bid for freedom completely.
Consequently, I missed a lot of the ground rules but I’m a quick learner and, to be honest, there wasn’t much to it. We each had to take a seat, ladies to the right of the table, gentlemen to the left. We were to chat to our partners for three minutes at which point a bell would ring, signalling that the gentlemen should move clockwise to the next table and the whole rigmarole would start over again. After that the evening became something of a blur in which the industrial fluid began to taunt me, in much the same way the sight of dry land might torment a drowning man.
Next to each of our names Fi had drawn a black heart in which she’d written a number, I was 32. At the end of the night, we were supposed to hand in little slips of paper on which we’d recorded the number of anyone who’d caught our fancy. We were allowed to select five numbers but unfortunately that was the bit I’d missed due to my pre-occupation with Steph’s breasts. I wasn’t too worried though as I surreptitiously handed over my blank piece of paper. I think it was safe to say I wasn’t going to be joining Steph and Cam in loved up bliss – not that night anyway.