K is throwing a few things into an overnight bag and I’m on the other side of the bed pretending to do the same, although really I’m just hanging around.
“Explain to me exactly what you mean,” she says, coiling the flex around some kind of hair tool, “by lunch.”
A doozer of a question. Not for the first time, I take a good long look at my fiancée.
“Something to eat,” I reply – an uncertain, questioning inflection finding its way into my voice, “in the middle of the day.”
She’s brushed past me and is gathering up small bottles and vials in the bathroom. No response.
“A light meal,” I call after her, “in the early afternoon?”
She returns with a bag of cosmetics and a faceful of scorn.
“I know what lunch is, you moron. I meant what did you have in mind?”
Once again she has me on the back foot. I hadn’t thought the suggestion a controversial one.
“I, eh, didn’t…I don’t really…” I drop the pair of boxing shorts I’ve been fidgeting with into my little case, “I just thought we’d…you know…we might…eat something.”
“In La Cañada?”
We’re off to Marbella for the night to meet up with E and N, a little family get-together I’ve been looking forward to. I’m not drawn to the place at all but it’s always family that takes us there and we always end up having a good time. One of the reasons I’m not particularly attracted is that, invariably, it provides an excuse for K to spend a few hours in the shopping mall on the main road outside town. Today is no exception. The name means ‘the canyon’ or ‘the ravine’ and is very fitting in the sense that both are things you can fall into and experience difficulty getting back out of.
“Yes, we could I suppose.”
“I wasn’t going to, to be honest,” she says, adding a glossy magazine to her shoulder bag and closing it. “Not really hungry.”
We’ve only just had breakfast. I’m trying to figure out how a person can cancel lunch on the basis of having had breakfast that day when the truth dawns on me.
“Wait a minute. Is this a not-eating-because-I’m-trying-clothes-on-today thing? Because I’m not at all on board with that.”
I do my best to look resolute. “At lunchtime, I will want lunch.”
She tosses her head as if to indicate how silly I’m being.
“Alright then, where?”
I know from previous visits that the centre has all the usual fast food outlets, a couple of Italians, a steakhouse, two or three fakey ‘mesons’, a bratwurst stand in the car park and a sushi place, so we have choices. Problem is, none of them appeal.
“I have to eat something, honey. That’s why they call it lunchtime.”
“King Burger?” she snorts.
Then something strange happens. Although I’m sure the suggestion left her mouth as a joke, it doesn’t reach my ears as one. The intervening space – the double bed and overnight bags, underwear, socks and toiletries – has breathed life into it. Like Frankenstein and the monster, or something.
“I’m not sure they have anything vegetarian on their menu these days,” I find myself speculating, out loud. I think my eyes may have glazed over.
“We’d have to check,” I actually hear her saying.
We continue to pack in a queasy, uncomfortable silence, no longer sure we know ourselves as well as we thought we did.
“They have onion rings, don’t they?” she asks after a minute or so, in the dreadful monotone of the reanimated.
A line has been crossed here. We are confronted with our own sordid lusts. I am pleased.
A dirty burger. And K is complicit. With her principles and such she won’t touch meat, but she isn’t above a bit of filthy fast food, it seems.
In the hour or so it takes us to get there we successfully avoid the issue. I brace myself for impact – K has decided that my life is deficient to the tune of precisely one cardigan, so I will stick with her as long as it takes to find it (I must admit I’m partial to a cardigan) and then I will leave her to her own devices, retreating to the English language bookshelf in FNAC and getting myself another Charles Dickens novel before taking it outside and having a beer.
When we walk through the glass doors it’s worse than I thought. The place is mental. Every orange-skinned expat in Marbella has squeezed themselves into their Ralph Lauren, emptied a canister of spray into their hair and come out to shop. Frankenstein indeed – you can practically smell the botox. The only thing louder than the tannoy muzak is the clink and chink of gold-laden wrists. Today, La Cañada can boast both the largest concentration of blonde hair in the south of Spain and the potential to reboot the Spanish economy, if only all that money weren’t going to disappear offshore, which it probably is.
I try to suppress my snarl and make a beeline for King Burger, mouth watering.
But it isn’t to be. Filthy fast food is just that – fast and filthy. It’s the only way it makes any sense. If you give yourself enough time to think about it, you stop yourself. We’ve managed to distract each other the whole way up here but when we get to the restaurant there’s a monstrous queue. Seriously, from the back you’d be hard-pressed to tell if it was a burger joint or an Elton John concert. Defeated at the final hurdle – I’d happily lurry into some borderline illegal quality meat right now but there’s no way I’m queuing for it. Way too much time to reflect. I feel empty – just as demeaned as if I’d had the fecking thing but without the grease.
The cardigan search is unsuccessful and I go straight to plan FNAC. I don’t know if it’s the gnawing, empty feeling but I buy the biggest Dickens I can find and take it outside. K, bless her, keeps it down to ninety minutes and when we meet up she’s bought nothing. At this stage, neither of us is willing to leave without some kind of result. We go cardigan hunting again, and half an hour later we finally get to the car with some shopping bags – K has a massive, double-sided scarfy thing and I have a thick winter coat and a rather expensive blazer which I insist on calling a sports jacket and which I believe is going to make me look like one of the Rat Pack. No cardigan.
As we make our way down into the town, the veteran K explains a thing or two to me and I slowly fill up with a whole new kind of horror. The blazer is “not very neutral” apparently and won’t “go with” any of my tops. I’ll “get away” with jeans, she says, but they’re “not ideal”. Therefore, I now “need” a couple of plain shirts, a pair of trousers…