The Man That Got Away | Audio
By Judith Field
After John and I split, I got a flat in a different part of town. Somewhere where I wouldn't have to see him with his new girlfriend. But with good mobile coverage. Just in case he rang.
The trouble was, I saw him in everything. I'd think, 'I must tell John about that'. And then I'd remember I couldn't. I'd go shopping and see things he'd like. So mostly, when I wasn't at work, I moped round listening to Judy Garland giving it all the welly she had, singing about the man that got away. I knew the words by heart.
"Get some stuff for your new place," Emma said over a coffee in the office we shared, "then you can have a housewarming do."
"I'm not in the party mood."
Emma put her cup down and leaned across my desk till her face was about six inches from mine.
"Now look, Holly. Forget that idiot John. Get on with your life and find someone new."
"I don't want to," I said, backing away, my eyes filling with tears, "there's nobody else like him."
Emma rolled her eyes. "I should hope not – one loser is enough. Just get some furniture, those chairs your landlord put in are falling to bits. And that sofa, the colour of baby poo! Try the For Sale ads on our Intranet."
There were lots of cars, and I'd have been sorted if I'd wanted golf clubs. Then I saw it.
"That's weird," I said. "Here's someone selling off the entire contents of his flat."
Emma looked over my shoulder. "Oh no, it's David Kadouri. You know, fit bloke in the post room. Tall, dark, all muscle. Typical, it looks like the only decent man around here is leaving."
I rang the number in the ad and arranged to meet David at lunchtime.
He was Israeli. He must have learned English from an American; the way he said my name – Hahlly - made something go thump behind my ribs. He'd finished his national service and his spell in our office was the end of a gap year before going to college.
"India – Thailand - Liverpool? Why?"
"You ask me that? The Beatles, the football..." We spent the rest of the break arguing about Liverpool's chances for the rest of the season.
I arranged to go round to his place that evening. Emma didn't need persuading to come with me, in case he turned into a weirdo away from the office.
He had an upright piano that he'd found on a skip. That was why he'd started trying to sell things weeks before he was due to leave, not much call for pianos. But the chairs had gone and a single table lamp stood in the middle of the floor. The rest of the furniture was too big to get up the winding staircase to my flat, but I took a few things for the kitchen.
"Now that's done, let's have a drink." David took some brown bottles out of the fridge. "Israeli beer! Sorry, someone's had the glasses."
"Not for me," Emma said, "I've got to go. But you stay, Hol." She winked at me. I don't know why she bothered. It was strictly business. He wasn't John.
We got through six beers between us. I found out that David had done his national service in the Navy and trained as a lifeguard.
"Some of them couldn't swim when they first joined up," he said. "You like swimming? I heard about a great outdoor pool – let's go, while the weather's what you call good!"
"Why, can't you swim either? It's OK, I'll teach you."
"I can, but I want to lose weight before I start showing my bits to the world."
John used to tease me about what he called my "too-sweet tooth."
"You look fine to me," said David, smiling at me across the kitchen table.
I felt my cheeks redden and my hands fumbled as I tried to get the cap off another bottle. Then I remembered something.
"I've got tickets for Liverpool this Saturday. Do you fancy going?"
"Kef! I mean, great. Your boyfriend won't mind?"
"I'm not seeing anyone." I gripped my beer bottle, trying to keep my voice steady.
David made Turkish coffee, and we chatted. He played "You'll never walk alone" on the out-of-tune piano and sang along, equally tunelessly. I saw it was after midnight. I was almost sorry that he didn't try to get me to stay. Not that I would, of course – but it'd be nice to know I wasn't completely repellent.
"OK, lehitra'ot. That's goodbye, see you again."
We went to the match. Then a film. Then a day out in north Wales. One day I passed a tourist shop, full of Liverpool memorabilia. I saw a lampshade with the team logo on it, and I thought of David. When I gave it to him, he gave me a throw that had the logo on it, to put over the "baby yellow" sofa. I learned how to say "great minds think alike."
"You're never going to have a party, are you?" said Emma. "Not that it matters now. You've got David."
"It's not like that. I've been telling him about John, it's really helping."
"You shouldn't talk to them about other men, they don't like it."
"He doesn't mind. It's so easy; it's just like talking to another girl."
"What? Didn't turn out to be gay, did he?"
"No, he didn't."
"Oh?" Emma raised her eyebrows and grinned.
I decided not to tell her about the frenzied kiss when Liverpool equalised. I just repeated that it wasn't like that.
"Really?" she said, "Anyone can tell he's mad about you."
"Well, he's going to have to get sane. I don't want a relationship and he knows it. We're just good friends. Anyway, he's off to Israel next week."
Actually, the bit about him not minding wasn't strictly true. One day I decided to do something about the droopy shoulder-length hair that dragged my face down and made me look miserable. David and I were going to the theatre after work, so I left the office early and went to the hairdresser.
"I like!" shouted David as I crossed the crowded lobby towards him. People turned and stared. He touched the fine fringe and wisps of hair that framed my face.
"Lots of short, soft layers. It's great. And all these choppy bits, they suit you."
"Thanks! Hairdressing another thing you learned in the Navy?"
"Three older sisters. You can't help picking up some of the words."
We found our seats.
"John liked long hair," I said.
Loads of men did. It might hang like wet string or make you look like you'd got straight off a broomstick, but if it was long it was like a dose of Viagra.
"Again John," David said. "That loser was always trying to make you fit in with him."
"Get lost, you don't understand. When you love someone, you want to please them."
"And compromise? Did he do any of that? You should have told him to lekh tiz'da'yen. That's worse than get lost, much worse"
"Shut up. You don't know what it's like to be in love."
David touched my hand. I felt that thump behind my ribs again. "You think?" he said, "I'll tell you something-"
"Look, if you're going to start on about one of your exes, don't bother."
"You just don't have a clue –"
The lights went down and the woman in the next seat shushed at us.
The play was good, but I couldn't take it in. As we got up to leave, I grabbed David's arm and used another word I'd learned.
"Slicha. Sorry. What did you want to tell me?"
He smiled. "Forget it – another time, maybe. Drink?"
David's leaving do was in the pub where John and I used to meet after work. There was going to be karaoke later, but for some reason I wasn't really in the mood for singing. By the time Emma and I arrived you couldn't see the bar for crowds and I had to push my way through to where David was standing.
"I've got something for you," he said.
"But we're supposed to be giving you stuff."
"I can't take this with me." He shoved a carrier bag into my hands. Inside was the Liverpool Football Club lamp.
"Thanks for a wonderful few weeks, Hahlly," he said. "I just-"
A colleague pushed between us and shoved a pint glass into David's hand.
"Tonight. I'm going to Manchester straight from here." He pointed to the backpack leaning up against the bar.
"What will you do back home?"
"Don't know, college doesn't start till October. Maybe take a beach lifeguard job for a bit."
"Nice work if you can get it, all those oiled-up babes."
A tide of people forced me to the other side of the room.
And then David's boss was presenting him with a farewell gift. Cash. They couldn't think what to get him. Should've asked me.
My mobile beeped. People turned and glared at me.
"Sorry, sorry!" I mouthed in a stage whisper, scurrying outside.
It was John.
He stepped through the front door into the living room. We stood in silence. He looked around.
"Nice flat. Liverpool sofa cover, matching shade, very ironic, very Holly. But let's just turn this naff little lamp off. Come and sit down."
I stayed on my feet and turned the lamp back on.
"Never mind the chit-chat, what do you want? Girlfriend dumped you?"
John put his arms round me. I stood motionless inside them, arms by my sides.
"Holly, I'm so sorry," he said into my hair, "I should never have left you. I was a berk, we're so right for each other."
He dropped his arms, took my hand and led me to the sofa.
Much later, he put his arm round my waist and squeezed. "Lovely Holly," he said, "I'm so glad we're back together. Those skinny girls, it's like hugging a bike."
"Those girls? How many have there been? I haven't been near a man." And now it was too late.
"Well, that was up to you, I never told you to live like a nun. But who cares about the past? It's just us now. Just one thing," he ran his hand through my hair, "grow it."
I stood up.
"John, you are so full of shit. Get your kit on and sod off out of it. No, I mean it. Right out." I grabbed his arm and, pulling him upright, shoved a wad of clothes at him. I opened the front door – who cared if the neighbours saw?
"What, because I don't like your hair?" he hopped up and down, pulling his jeans up.
"You just don't have a fucking clue," I said. "That's your trouble."
"Go round looking like a bull dyke, then," he said. "I'm glad I don't have to be seen with you. I'll tell you this for nothing; you're making a big mistake. I won't be giving you another fucking chance." On went the sweater. I pushed him outside as he was pulling it down over his head.
"Just - lekh tiz'da'yen!" I threw his shoes after him and slammed the door. David would have been proud of the way I pronounced the words.
Then I cried for a long time. But every time I tried to think of John, the image faded and his face was a blur. It was David that I saw. David and me in the Kop, hugging when Liverpool scored. David playing air guitar in front of The Cavern Club, singing in that tuneless, lovely drone. David kissing the tips of his bunched fingers when I finally plucked up the courage to take a swim. David, who smiled when he saw me walking towards him. And who got away before I could say lehitra'ot, see you again.
As I got off the plane, a boiling curtain of heat dropped on me. I blinked in the sunlight. There are eight beaches in Netanya. But I'll find David, I've got to. And when I do, I know just what words I'll use.