This is a serialisation of the novel ‘Marcello: Love in the City’. Marcello has just been on a hellish date with his work colleague, Charlotte.
I thought a lot about Charlotte while checking my dating apps on the way home. Nothing erases the past quite like the prospect of fresh degradation. That evening, I fumbled through a swarm of pixelated faces in my room. The front door slammed, giving me a start. Luke shouted from the hallway: “Hey, Marco. Fancy a cup of tea?”
I yelled yes, and dismissed the momentary image of us as some quirky odd-couple. We were far too preoccupied with metropolitan junk to engage in tittle-tattle or domestic bromance. Instead, we used every moment together to explore the inner terrain. We talked incessantly about women – a truly inexhaustible subject.
“So, it all went wrong with, what’s-her-name, Charlotte?”
I had shown a harpy my beating heart, and she’d sneered. She didn’t even have the decency to tear it out.
I said, “Honestly, why did I go out with someone from work in the first place? I think I’ve made some kind of enemy there. It’s like one of those Albanian blood feuds where rival families fight each other for years. Did you know there are countless young men in hiding all across rural Albania? It all starts when one person wrongs another. There’s some kind of incident. Then next thing you know, the whole clan goes to war. It’s carnage. The young men end up going into lock-down. Half the time no one even knows what the feud is about. I read about it in The Sunday Times magazine.”
“Was the article accompanied by a set of moody black and white photos?”
“Yes. In a bleak rural setting, of course. Men sitting in lonely looking barns, starting out at rain-lashed landscapes. They did have one in colour though.”
“Was it the last one?”
“Yeah. It was a guy who’d fled the country. He was in Berlin, I think.”
“Got it. And this is you, is it?”
“No. I wish I was that guy. I’m the guy in the barn. Or I soon will be anyway. I can’t get away from Charlotte. She’s a senior manager in the business – and she’s everywhere.”
Luke drew a sharp breath. “Tricky.”
“Yes, what do you suggest?”
In a lightning flash I saw myself strolling into an unfamiliar office. A new man – an unblemished man.
Luke said, “At least it’s all good material for the blog, right?”
“That’s right. Who ever heard of a dating blog that charted someone’s success? Suffering is the whole point.”
“A bit grim, but I guess you’re right. Not that I ever read them. They’re for women.”
“I have some male readers,” I said. Not necessarily a fact, more a possibility.
“Let me show you something,” Luke said, picking up his iPad. “Francine posted this today.”
Francine was a French dancer (activist, and contrarian). Also, an irredeemable heartbreaker.
He played a black and white video of his ex dancing in a shadowy basement. It was one part ‘Footloose’, two parts ‘Flashdance’.
“Is that her?” I said.
“Yes – now watch this bit.”
Francine leapt before a large bay window, as she landed the film paused and an alluring female voiceover recited what was, no doubt, fine French poetry.
“How many times you watched this?”
Without taking his eyes off the screen, he said, “This’ll be the sixth time.”
“Hold on.” I tapped him on the arm. “Look where she is – it’s the Albanian barn!”
“My god. You’re right.”
“I’ve got it,” I said. “We are the men in hiding. London is the barn…” I paused and sipped my tea. “Francine – she represents all the amazing women of the world we will never have…”
“Go on, I’m with you.”
“And I’m the narrator, reciting a beautiful poem of my own composition.”
Luke stood up. “Sorry, man, you lost me at the end.”
He filled the kettle and we fell silent. Our compulsive tea habit punctuated the time in the flat. The creaking ceiling filled the gaps in our chatter. Berlin, I suddenly thought – that’s where I want to be.
Next: Marcello re-enters the online dating vortex.
You can read more of Marcello’s book on WATC here.
You can purchase his book here.