Home > Don't You Forget About Me(15)

Don't You Forget About Me(15)
Author: Mhairi McFarlane

My nephew Milo is six, wearing dungarees, and engrossed in what my untrained eyes assess to be a Lego treehouse.

‘Hello, Milo!’


‘What’s this? Bears In A Forest … World?’

‘Ewoks,’ he says, with evident frustration at having to break concentration.

‘Ah! Yeah I knew that. And this is their home?’

Exasperated: ‘Yes.’ Even the child’s pissed off I’m here.

‘That one looks very smart. Who’s he? Or she?’

Milo actually screws up his face in the effort of pandering to my inane intrusions.


‘Paploo! I like his scarf.’

Milo mutters: ‘Head dress.’

Esther appears with a flute of blush-coloured cava for me. Looking at it, I have a moment’s reflexive twinge of ‘oh God no’, swiftly followed by ‘actually go on, oh God yes’.

‘So how was last night?’ she says, peering closer. ‘Did you manage to behave yourself?’

Esther looks like me facially, otherwise she’s leaner and smaller chested, with layered, short I-have-a-busy-life hair. She boasts various skills I do not possess. How to audit tax returns. How to make a proper béchamel for a lasagne. How to exercise restraint. I know that any detailed chat about last night will end badly, as I’m still feeling too raw to bat on a proper inquisition, but luckily I have the perfect news to distract her – if she massively disliked Tony, I’m reasonably sure that she positively detested Robin.

‘It was fine, thank you. The bigger news, really, is that immediately after my sacking from That’s Amore!, Robin and I broke up.’

‘Oh,’ Esther says, eyes widening, and hesitates, before deciding she’s going to sit down with the other glass of cava she’s holding. ‘What happened?’

‘I … er …’ On the one hand, it irks me to confirm her suspicions about him. On the other, if I want to be close with my sister, shutting her out isn’t going to achieve it. Plus, I can never resist an anecdote. ‘I caught him …’ I rub the side of my nose and look towards Milo. ‘… With his Double-U Eye Ell Ell Why in a lady.’

Esther gasps and grabs at her Tiffany padlock necklace, running the pendant up and down the chain. ‘Caught him? As in you were there?’

‘On premises and with a clear view of the stage,’ I say, taking a bracing swig of cava. ‘I would say dress circle. He gave me a key to his flat and obviously I was unexpectedly not working my shift.’

‘Oh my God. I literally don’t know what I’d do if I could … if I walked in on it.’

‘Neither did I. I shouted a lot. It was his personal assistant, Louisa.’

‘Ugh. And he’d told you he was out of town?’

I open my mouth to say ‘No, why do you say that?’ then recall my fib about why he wasn’t going to be here today and hastily turn it into: ‘… Uh? Yeah.’

‘I’d say I’m surprised but he didn’t seem the most reliable of people. Something of a loose cannon. Cracking jokes about drug-taking in front of Mum and Geoff, honestly.’

‘Mmmm.’ That was selfish.

And that’s it really: above all, Robin was morbidly selfish. I stare at the column of bubbles whizzing upwards in my glass, and my half chipped off aqua nail polish.

‘I couldn’t tell how serious you were about Robin.’

‘I don’t think I could tell either. I wasn’t, I guess. I was happy to see where it went, and here we are.’

Esther checks that Milo’s engrossed in his plastic figurines, and says, quietly:

‘I know you and your feminist friends would flay me for this, and yes it’s old fashioned, but I don’t think sleeping with anyone on the first night, before you’ve got to know them, is setting you up for success.’

I groan. A previous unwise disclosure, made for the same reasons as this one.

‘Look at me like that if you want!’ Esther says. ‘It’s a hard fact of life, no one appreciates what comes too easily to them, whether you’re male or female. You didn’t want him to treat you like another disposable groupie. And yet …’

She gazes at me, trying to work me out.

My sister has a completely warped idea of my sex life. She thinks I am at the forefront of liberation, that I have one-night stands as often and as with as little thought as she gets a Caffè Nero. I’ve never bothered to correct her, to explain I’ve only been with the boyfriends she knows about. I’m not completely sure why. She thinks I haven’t found anyone worthwhile because I’m so unserious. I would rather she thinks of me as unserious, than tragic.

‘I don’t think holding out was here or there with Robin. He pulled the whole doesn’t believe in being faithful to one person thing, like he thinks he’s in the Sixties. We were merely ships, passing in the shite.’

Our eyes flicker to Milo but Milo is whispering something to Paploo.

‘Sorry,’ I mouth at Esther.

‘Careful. He’s like a bloody Mynah bird at the moment,’ she hisses. Then more loudly: ‘What a timewaster. You’re thirty. Of course you want more commitment than that.’

She says this the way Mum does, hoping that by asserting it, it’ll make it true. I go into mutinous teenage mode, because they’re making me feel like a scutter.

‘I don’t know if I want a proposal or whatever, but yes, maybe more devotion than having ess-ee-ex with other women would be nice.’

Esther drums her fingertips on the arm of the chair.

‘Who are you looking for? I struggle to picture him. I know he’ll have to be different, somehow.’

She sounds like Rav. Am I being obtuse, trying too hard? Showing off? Dad once told me I was a natural show-off who hates being the centre of attention: ‘a paradox you will have to resolve one day’. Not a day Dad hung around long enough for.

‘I strongly suspect Mr Georgina doesn’t exist,’ I say, lightly. I take a handful of pistachios from a leaf-shaped china boat on the coffee table, and pick at a shell. ‘I think that’s why I went for a wild card instead.’

‘I am sure he does exist. It’s just …’

Here it comes. There’s no tail without sting, with my sister.

‘… There’s what you think being in love is when you’re nineteen or twenty and then what it actually is when you’re a grown-up, and these are two different things. But some of us keep looking for the first version long after we should’ve let it go,’ Esther says. This lands hard, particularly with last night fresh in mind, and I say nothing.

‘Well, what I thought love was going to be, perhaps, I know you weren’t like that,’ Esther adds, completely misreading my silence and everything else too. I know she means well. ‘What I’m saying is, lower your expectations. Being “in love” is a contented kind of bored with each other. You’re not going to find someone who sets you on fire and is also a good idea and you know why? Because being on fire isn’t a good idea. It’s destructive. When anyone describes love nowadays they usually mean lust.’

I start laughing weakly and put my hand over my mouth so I don’t spray shards of nut.

‘What’s funny?’

‘Lower my expectations. I found Robin up to his plums in someone else. Lower than that? Should I start writing to lifers in prison? Dear Peter Sutcliffe …’

Even Esther snorts.

Milo says, while lowering a net trap full of pistachio shells: ‘Plum. Pluuuuums.’

‘Milo! Remember what we said about repeating things? Auntie Georgina was talking about plum crumble. Weren’t you?’

‘Entirely. That well known autumnal dessert, plum crumble.’

‘Crumble,’ Milo says. ‘Plum crumble. Plumble.’

‘Yes!’ Esther says, emphatically. ‘Plumble! Awww … Anyway.’ She shakes her head, gives a beatific Mum Mode smile. ‘What’s that Ewok called?’


I did say to Esther, once Milo had been given a thorough debriefing, surely it’d be worse if he was repeating the name of the Yorkshire Ripper. She was not mollified.

After we’ve sat in and are making monsters of ourselves over the roast potatoes – there’s some sort of witchcraft going on involving a semolina crust – a large vehicle pulls into the driveway. I see the man at the wheel get out and start unfolding a wheelchair. Moments later, the bulky, octogenarian form of Nana Hogg is helped into it.

Mark’s paternal grandmother is feared and despised in equal measure by Esther, due to her habit of being exorbitantly, lavishly rude. Esther claims she’s senile but I’m not sure she isn’t just cantankerous and decades into the Do I Look Like I Give A Fuck years. An outing from her care home is a chance of anarchy.

Due to a sense of duty and deference to her age, no one has considered not inviting her to Sunday lunches. Esther loathes her but I enjoy her hugely. Probably because, unlike everyone else, I don’t have a respectable façade for her to tear down.

‘I didn’t realise she was coming today!’ I say, brightly.

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