Chapter Five

Thankfully I don’t have any time to think about my near-miss with Daniel, or who else Magda is going to try to matchmake me with, as the rest of the morning is consumed in a whirl of activity getting things ready for the gallery event.

There’s masses to do. True to form, Magda impulsively wants everything to happen right now and the date is set for this Friday.

This Friday?’ I squeaked in panic.

‘You want Thursday instead?’ was her reply.

And the scary thing was, I don’t think she was joking.

So while she clatters around the gallery on her five-inch heels, firing off instructions, I start organising. First things first, I draw up a list:

1. Compile guest list.
2. Send out invitations.
3. Write promotional material.
4. Book caterer.
5. Hire waitressing staff.
6. Hang paintings ready to exhibit.

See. I might not have been born with the organisation gene like my sister, Kate, but I’m not completely useless at it. OK, so I admit I’d rather have a paintbrush than a computer mouse in my hand, and yes, I still type with two fingers (oh, all right, then, one finger), and it’s true that until recently I thought a spreadsheet was that curtain-thingy on the bottom of the bed (apparently it’s called a valance, which quite frankly is a really stupid name for it. Spreadsheet makes far more sense), but how hard is it to write down all the things you have to do, then tick them off when you’ve done them?

Feeling rather pleased with myself, I look back at the computer screen and my neatly typed list. Actually, hang on a minute, rewind that thought. I have to do all these things? By the end of this week?


6. Panic.

But not right now. It’ll have to wait until later, as it’s lunchtime, I realise, seeing Magda’s head popping out of the back office to remind me it’s time to eat. Again. I swear I could set my watch by her. Bang on one o’clock she sends me out to Katz’s, our local deli, for her usual order of a pastrami sandwich on rye and matzo-ball soup. Though with her tiny size-zero figure and twenty-inch waist, I have a sneaking suspicion it’s Valentino, her Maltese, doing most of the eating.

Katz’s is a New York institution that’s been around for ever. For tourists and those new to the city like me, it’s famous for Meg Ryan’s faked orgasm in When Harry Met Sally. It happened right in the middle of the deli. There’s even an arrow pointing to the exact table where it was filmed.

‘God, I love that scene.’ Taking a ticket, I turn to Robyn, who’s just popped out between appointments to meet me with a set of keys she’s had cut for the apartment. She works at Tao Healing Arts, not far from here, in Chinatown.

‘Men don’t.’ She grins, also taking a ticket and following me to the counter, where, as always, there’s a long queue. ‘It scares them. Women who fake it are like the Tooth Fairy. We don’t exist.’

I laugh. When she’s not quoting Oprah, Robyn can be very funny.

‘Saying that, I’ve never needed to fake it.’

I stop laughing abruptly. ‘You haven’t?’ My voice comes out a little higher than intended.

‘Nope, not me.’ Shaking her head decisively, she leans closer. ‘I’m like a hair trigger.’ She snaps her fingers and I jump slightly.

‘A what?’ I ask in confusion.

‘You know, I respond to the slightest stimulation,’ she says cheerily. ‘What about you?’ She meets my eyes with that shiny, happy confidence that Americans seem to ooze from their pores.

‘Oh, um. Just a few times,’ I fib, pushing my sunglasses back on my head and flicking my hair about, like I always do when I’m avoiding. Well, I’m not going to admit I can’t remember the last time to little Miss Hair Trigger over here, am I? ‘You know, sometimes, when I’m a bit tired.’

‘Have you tried sensual massage?’ she suggests helpfully.

That’s another thing about Americans – they are always so completely earnest. With fellow Brits, this conversation would have already descended into lewd jokes and leg-pulling, like the recent afternoon I spent in a bookstore with Kate sniggering at the illustrations in The Joy of Sex. She was going to buy it as a wedding gift for her friends, but after seeing the pictures of the hippy guy with the long beard and skinny legs, she was scared it might have a detrimental effect on their love life. She ended up buying them a set of steak knives instead.

Still, I am an adult, not a teenager. I should be able to have a conversation about orgasms and sex without being immature and having to make silly jokes, I tell myself firmly. I mean, I’m not that childish.

‘It can really help get you in the mood.’

‘What? The mood for lurve?’ I joke, doing my best Barry White impersonation.

Robyn’s steadfast gaze doesn’t waver. ‘You know, I’ve got some Chinese herbs you can take for that.’

‘For what?’ I say, pretending to look at the menu, even though after six weeks of doing the lunch run, I know it off by heart.

‘Loss of interest in sex, lack of libido . . .’

‘There’s nothing wrong with my libido,’ I snap, then blush with embarrassment. ‘Thanks very much, but it’s fine, honestly.’

‘You know it’s important to get in touch with your sexuality,’ she continues matter-of-factly. ‘You Brits can be so uptight. You’re never going to come with that attitude.’

‘I do come,’ I gasp indignantly.

The queue of people in front of me turn to stare. I feel my cheeks sting beetroot. ‘It’s just been a while since I had great sex,’ I hiss defensively, shuffling forwards.

‘You and me both, honey,’ mutters a fifty-something waitress, barging past with a tray of matzo-ball soup.

‘How long’s a while?’ persists Robyn, looking concerned.

‘Oh, you know . . .’

Ten years, pipes up a little voice in my head. Ten years since Italy. Since Nathaniel. Since you had great, mind-blowing, knock-your-socks-off sex.

‘A few months,’ I say firmly. Well, that’s ridiculous. I must have had great orgasmic sex since then. What about Sean . . .? Or before that there was Anthony . . . Or even the fling with the Scottish guy on my holiday to Spain when I was twenty-five. I can’t remember his name, but I remember he made this really funny noise when we did it, sort of like a squeaking . . .

Oh God. It’s true. It’s been ten years. Ten years without an orgasm.

Well, not strictly.

‘Masturbation doesn’t count, by the way,’ says Robyn, interrupting my thoughts.

‘It doesn’t?’

The hope in my voice is audible.

‘Nuh-uh.’ She shakes her head, her eyes flashing with amusement. Then suddenly a thought seems to hit her and her face fills with comprehension. ‘Oh my God, it’s him, isn’t it?’ she says in a hushed voice. ‘He was the last time.’

‘Who?’ I try to play dumb. I’m terrible. Annie was my only good role.

‘The guy from Italy. Your everlasting love. The One.’

Put like that, it sounds more than ridiculous. It sounds pathetic.

‘Don’t be silly. He’s not my everlasting love.’ I give a scornful little laugh.

‘But you said—’

‘Hey, lady!’

Our conversation is interrupted by a loud holler and I glance up to see a sullen man behind the counter scowling at me. It’s the same sullen man who serves me every day. I’ve never yet seen him smile or heard him grunt more than a couple of words. He jerks his bald head. This, I’ve learned, is my cue to order.

‘One matzo-ball soup and a pastrami on rye,’ I reply. I feel a beat of pleasure. Gosh, listen to me – I sound like a true New Yorker. Pastrami on rye. To think that not long ago I was in M&S buying a sandwich from the Count on Us range.

The sullen man grunts and starts carving up big chunks of pastrami.

‘Oh, and a tuna melt,’ I add.

As you can see, my Count on Us days are long behind me. Tuna melts, I’ve discovered, are the most delicious things. Who would have thought melted cheese on tuna could be such a winning combo?

He scowls, scribbles something on a piece of paper, which he stuffs through a hatch, and turns back to the heap of pastrami he’s carved.

‘Thanks.’ I smile brightly and turn back to Robyn, who’s having trouble deciding what to order. ‘Look, I said a lot of things the other night,’ I say dismissively. ‘Like he married another woman, remember?’

She looks at me for a moment as if she’s weighing me up. ‘You know, if you’re unable to reach orgasm, it might be because you’re still in love with someone else,’ she says pointedly.

‘What part of “he’s married” didn’t you understand?’ I say equally as pointedly.

She opens her mouth to protest, then thinks again and gives a reluctant sigh of defeat. ‘Jeez, that sucks. It was such a romantic story,’ she says sadly.

‘So is Romeo and Juliet,’ I reply, as we move towards the cash register, ‘and that didn’t turn out so well either.’ I hand my receipt to the teller.

‘That’ll be twenty-two dollars and forty-five cents,’ he says, ringing it up.

‘Haven’t we met before?’

In the middle of digging out my purse, I look up to see Robyn throwing a toothpaste-ad smile at the man behind the cash register. Well, I say man, but he can’t be older than about twenty. Gawkily tall with dark hair and a bum-fluff moustache, he smiles nervously.

‘We have?’ he asks uncertainly. He looks slightly afraid. As if he’s going to get busted for doing something.

‘It’s Harold, right?’

‘Um . . . no, it’s Anthony. You must have got me mixed up with someone else.’

‘Oh. sorry, my mistake.’ She smiles apologetically and turns back to me. The smile immediately falls from her face. ‘Damn, he was kinda cute.’

‘So you haven’t given up yet?’

‘Of course not!’ She looks astonished that I could even ask such a question. ‘If he’s my destiny, I’m not going to stop looking until I find him. Because if I’m looking for my soulmate, my soulmate is out there somewhere looking for me.’ Her green eyes flash with determination. ‘I know you probably think I’m crazy . . .’

‘No, I don’t,’ I protest a little too quickly.

‘ . . . but sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. Trust in the universe. Believe in the power of positive thinking and the laws of attraction. It’s like The Secret. Did you ever read it?’

‘No, I don’t think—’

‘Well, I did, cover to cover,’ she continues, ‘and I bought the DVD. It was amazing. Seriously. I made a vision board and everything.’

‘What’s that?’

Robyn turns on me incredulously. ‘You don’t know what a vision board is?’

‘Um . . .’

I feel like the time I was ten and in the school playground and someone asked me if I knew what an erection was.

‘ . . . not exactly,’ I try bluffing. ‘Should I?’

‘Oh my God. Totally!’ she cries, eyes wide. ‘A vision board is a visualisation tool that activates the universal law of attraction to begin manifesting your dreams into reality.’

‘Right, I see.’ I nod, not seeing at all.

Rather like when I was ten and asked my sister what an erection was and, after laughing her head off, she explained it’s what you called a penis when it goes hard.

Only I didn’t know what a penis was.

‘Basically, it’s really simple. You get a piece of foam board and you cut out pictures or words from magazines or wherever and you make a collage of all the things you want in your life,’ she enthuses. ‘It’s actually kind of fun. You should try it.’

‘Hmm, maybe.’ I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but really. A quiz in a magazine is one thing, but a vision board? My sister would have kittens. ‘Only it’s not quite my thing.’

‘Lucy, you’ve got to stop being so negative,’ she reprimands.

‘I’m not being negative,’ I protest. ‘I’m British. We don’t do vision boards or self-help books. Well, at least not in public,’ I add, thinking about the couple I’ve got stashed on my shelf.

‘Well, you should.’ Robyn clicks her tongue and looks at me pityingly.

‘Excuse me, miss?’

The teller is holding out my change.

‘Oh, thanks.’ Taking it from him, I put it back in my purse. ‘Sorry, but I just don’t believe in that stuff,’ I say, turning back to Robyn.

‘That’s your problem right there.’ She shrugs. ‘You don’t believe.’

Picking the takeaway bag of food from the counter, I hug it to my chest a tad defensively.

‘Not everything can be explained or understood, you know, Lucy.’ Tucking a shock of curls behind her ear, she looks at me beseechingly. ‘Sometimes you have to trust in the mysterious power of the universe, in a greater energy, in a spiritual force, in something bigger than you and me.’ Her eyes are shining and her face is filled with such conviction that for a moment I can almost feel my scepticism wavering. ‘You just have to believe. And I believe that in this big wide world, in all these billions of people, if two people are meant to be together, they’ll be together . . .’

As she’s talking, something flickers deep inside. The part of me that used to believe it too, that used to think that Nate and I were meant to be together, that in this big wide world I’d found my soulmate.

‘According to the laws of attraction, you attract what you think of the most. In which case, it’s just a matter of waiting for Harold to show up.’

But you buried that part of yourself a long time ago, I tell myself firmly, pushing the thought out of my mind. Remember?

‘So tell me,’ I say, turning the conversation around. ‘If you’ve been spending all this time waiting for Harold, how long has it been for you?’

Without missing a beat she rattles off, ‘Thirteen months, eighteen days and –’ she glances at her watch – ‘about ten hours. I tell you, Harold better hurry up and put in an appearance soon.’

Rolling her eyes, she says to the sullen man who’s still waiting to take her order, ‘Actually, forget the chicken. I’ll have what she’s having.’ And turning back to me, she laughs throatily. ‘I’ve always wanted to say that in here.’

Back at the gallery, I’m greeted by a pile of wooden crates and a carpet of white polystyrene balls that have escaped from their packaging and are spilling all over the floor. Standing knee-deep in the middle is Magda, flapping her arms around like a flightless bird. She twirls round when she hears me enter.

‘You’re back!’ she gasps excitedly. She’s panting slightly and her face is covered in a sheen of perspiration. Her golden beehive, however, remains pristine. ‘I have great news!’

Anxiety stabs. Oh God, what now? I’ve only been gone half an hour.

‘You do?’ I brace myself for what’s about to follow, which, with Magda, could be anything.

‘While you were gone, something wonderful happened.’

You took meatballs off the menu? Her son, Daniel, announced he was gay? Daniel Craig has finally discovered I exist and rung to ask if he could take me out for dinner in a limo? And yes, he’ll wear those swimming trunks for me under his suit?

OK, I admit, that’s a secret fantasy of mine.

‘A man came in and bought our entire Gustav collection.’

I snap back. ‘What? The entire collection?’ OK, so it’s not Daniel Craig, but it’s a really big deal. The Gustav collection consists of several large works by a German artist whose paintings sell for thousands of dollars.

‘Everything!’ Magda flings her arms wide. ‘It happened so fast. He walked in, looked around for a couple of minutes and then boom!’ Polystyrene balls fly into the air.


‘He said he wanted to buy it all. Just like that. He didn’t even ask the price.’

‘Wow.’ I try to imagine buying an entire collection of art without asking the price, but I can’t. In fact, I can’t imagine buying anything without first finding out what it costs. I even do a price check on shampoo before I put it in my basket.

Then again, I’m not someone who buys art. I’m someone who’s forever up to her overdraft limit, late on her credit cards and running out of money before the end of the month. I’ve tried to learn how to budget, but I’ve also tried to learn how to play the piano and I’m totally crap at both.

I mean, what exactly is ‘balancing a cheque book’? And why would you want to?

‘Gosh, that’s good news,’ I say, feeling a beat of relief that we’ve finally sold something.

‘And he paid with his American Express Black card,’ says Magda with the sort of hushed awe you’d use if you spotted Madonna in your local Starbucks.

‘Is that good?’ I ask innocently, perching on a stool and unwrapping my tuna melt.

Magda looks aghast. ‘You are single and you don’t know these things?’

‘Um . . . no. Should I?’ I ask, taking a bite.

She inhales sharply. ‘Loozy! How are you supposed to find a rich husband if you don’t know what to look for?’

‘I’m not looking for a rich husband,’ I reply, my feminist principles rising up in indignation.

‘Pah!’ She tuts dismissively. ‘Every woman is looking for a rich husband.’

I swallow hard. ‘None of my boyfriends has been rich,’ I retort in my defence. ‘In fact, with my last boyfriend I paid for everything!’

Hah! So there.

Magda’s expression is incredulous. ‘And you think this is a good thing?’

Put like that, I can feel my feminist principles faltering slightly. ‘Well, it . . . um . . . gives you independence.’

See. I knew there was a good reason not to date a rich man.

‘Independence?’ Magda bats the word away like an irritating fly. ‘What is this independence nonsense? What are you, an African country?’

My cheeks colour.

‘You need to forget about all these silly things,’ she continues firmly. ‘You need to forget about romance and chemistry and the size of his—’ She breaks off and crooks her little finger.

I can feel my cheeks, which are already red, deepen in colour. I’m not used to having these kinds of conversations with my boss. Rupert and I used to talk about London property prices and what happened on EastEnders.

‘You need to look for three things.’

‘I know, I know, personality, good sense of humour—’ I begin reciting, but Magda interrupts with a snort of derision.

‘What is this? eHarmony?’ She pulls a face. ‘No, no, no. It’s very simple. Credit card, watch, shoes.’

I watch with bemusement as she counts them off on her fingers.

‘Number one: credit card. No Visa or MasterCard.’ She wrinkles up her nose as if there’s a bad smell. ‘Only American Express. And no green!’

‘Why? What’s wrong with green?’ I ask, before I can stop myself.

‘Because you want black,’ she says firmly. ‘Black has no credit limit. Black is perfect for when you want to go shopping at Bergdorf Goodman.’

I open my mouth to tell her that I’ve never been shopping at Bergdorf Goodman, but then think better of it.

‘Two: watch.’ She pauses. ‘Rolex or Cartier are both excellent.’

‘What about Swatch?’ I ask, glancing at my own. It’s bright yellow plastic and I’ve had it for ever.

‘A Swatch is a four-storey walk-up in Queens,’ she warns darkly.

‘Oh, right.’ I nod and quickly cover mine with my sleeve.

‘Three: shoes.’ She folds her arms and fixes me with a beady eye. ‘What shoes did your last boyfriend wear?’


‘Crocs,’ I venture gingerly.

Magda looks like she’s about to have a heart attack. ‘The plastic gardening shoes? With the holes?

I feel my cheeks redden with shame. And I wasn’t even the one wearing them.

‘They must be hand-stitched. Leather. And Italian.’

I don’t think I’ve ever even met anyone who wears hand-stitched Italian leather shoes. Well, apart from Rupert, but he’s gay. Hence his love affair with Pat Butcher.

‘What about love?’ I volunteer. ‘Shouldn’t that be on the checklist?’

‘Trust me, if you find a man with all three, you will fall in love with him,’ she instructs, and reaches towards a painting hanging on the wall. ‘OK, now help me. We need to pack these quickly. He wants them delivering today.’

‘Today?’ I glance at all the packing boxes, my earlier excitement deflating slightly. ‘Can’t he wait until tomorrow?’ I feel a tweak of irritation. Who does this guy think he is, coming in here with his black American Express card, thinking he owns the place?

I glance at our now almost empty walls. Saying that, I suppose he kind of does.

‘And I want you to go with the delivery and make sure it gets there safely,’ continues Magda, ignoring my last comment. ‘I would go, but I need to visit my aunt Irena. She’s moving into a nursing home. It’s a good one, not a bad one. I say to her, “Irena, this is costing more than my apartment on Park Avenue.”’ She rolls her eyes. ‘Anyway, you must go without me. Alone,’ she adds darkly.

Suddenly it registers. She’s trying to matchmake.

‘Oh, no, Magda—’ I begin protesting, but she doesn’t let me finish.

‘Number four: wedding ring. He wasn’t wearing one.’ Her eyes twinkle mischievously, and looking very pleased with herself indeed, she passes me a roll of bubble wrap.

You're the One That I Don't Want