The smell of boiled cabbage wafted occasionally from the kitchen to mix with the stench of my partner’s cigarettes.
The flat was spacious and expensively decorated.The nights were just starting to get longer and I yearned to be somewhere else doing something else with someone else.
On the last day of that relationship we were sitting watching TV as an acceptable alternative to talking, and a welcome alternative to arguing. I was well-over her, had been for six months or more if I’m honest, but I needed time to find another place and to get up the nerve to leave. I want to say I was trying to allow her the opportunity to change but the truth is I wasn’t. I couldn’t care less if she changed or not. I was just biding my time.
On that day though, our last day as it happened, as we were watching TV, a woman was being interviewed. She said that she was newly single after an unhappy relationship. She was determined to remain single for at least a thousand days.
‘That’s you isn’t it?’ my partner accused, ‘You want to be single for a thousand days don’t you?’
I said nothing. I made no response at all, keeping perfectly still, feeling the smoothness of the leather sofa, scarcely daring to breath. I had learned to give no sign, to give her not the slightest excuse for another explosion of rage. We had been arguing for months. I had even packed my bags a couple of times, but I had nowhere to go.
My partner was right of course. I decided right there and then that this would be our last day together. I could hear the sounds of the traffic over the din of the TV. I am lured by the bustle of the world outside. The next day I moved out, determined to be single for a thousand days.
I left a note, I explained my decision, and I jumped in a taxi with everything I, personally, owned.
My first morning in my new, more or less empty apartment was spent removing and un-friending her, her bloody family and all our mutual friends on social media. I emailed my good friends to say I would be back in contact in a few months.
On my first afternoon I went for a ride on my new bike, to check out the cycle route to work and just to be free and alone and have no one to answer to.
It was bliss. I felt a certain non-directional guilt at taking pleasure in being alone. This was it. This was what I wanted – to be young, free and single again. Ok maybe not quite so young as the last time, whenever that was, but the ‘free’ felt more free than it ever had done before, and the ‘single’ felt fantastic!
My first weekend as a single guy I cycled to the German club in Tempe. I spoke quite good German from a few years working in Berlin, and I liked to keep it up, but the main reason I went was for the bratwurst and the good German bier.
I locked up my bike and sat down. Everyone wanted to hear about my breakup and my new flat, and how it felt, and did I have any regrets and was there anyone else on the horizon, and NO, THERE WAS NOT. I told them all I was going to be young, free and single for a thousand days. And that was that.
I felt, rather than saw, a quiet girl with an enormous jug of pilsner sit down on the bench behind me. I felt her presence as a kind of gentle warmth on my back. I ignored her and spoke with my closest mates for a while. People got up to get drinks, people changed seats. After a while she ended up sitting next to me. I ignored her. Not pointedly of course, I wasn’t trying to be rude, but absolutely and emphatically. I was only about eight days into my thousand and I was enjoying myself.
Then someone kindly introduced her. Her name was Stephanie. She was from Berlin. She worked for some international conglomerate in an incomprehensible marketing job that nobody in their right mind would ever want to hear about. Cool, that was safe.
Then she spoke to me in a voice soft as silk on a summer’s night. She didn’t talk about work, she didn’t talk about herself. She didn’t offer vacuous opinions on topics she knew nothing about. She asked me about me. How come I spoke such good German? How long had I lived in Germany? Which city? What brought me to Australia?
I was attracted. I admit it. I was immediately attracted and I wanted to get away before she got under my skin. I had to get away.
I made my excuses, saying I had to meet friends for a cycle ride, and ran, or cycled away, as fast I could. I pedalled hard, clearing my mind of her, the cool breeze blowing away the sound of her voice, the warmth of her eyes, her scent. I renewed my commitment to my thousand days, in the process all but circumnavigating the city.
My week at work was busy, I spent the evenings collecting items of furniture I had ‘won’ on eBay, and arranging and re-arranging my flat. Life was clean, simple and good.
Next weekend I met friends for drinks at the Goethe institute. Some horrible modern German poet was giving a reading. Anyway, the company would be good. The night was fun, the poet wasn’t too awful and I had a few more glasses of wine than usual.
At some point I noticed that Stephanie was in the room. She did not approached me. She did not even catch my eye or give me a quick nod. Rude cow!
I ignored her, pointedly. I didn’t need her sniffing around, complicating my life.
A few moments later she was standing behind me talking with a not unattractive young man from Dresden who was in Australia studying reptiles. I could feel her eyes on me. I caught a few snippets of conversation.
‘…yes, there is a fixed ratio between the maximum size a reptile can grow to and the average ambient temperature.’
‘Fascinating. So Australia has bigger reptiles than Germany?’
‘Oh yes, and many more varieties.’
Oh for goodness sake! I turned and said:
‘Stephanie! What brings you to a poetry evening? I wouldn’t have thought it was your thing at all, all those nuances, and finer feelings.’
‘Oh, hi’ she said, ‘nice to see you again. This young man was just explaining to me about Australian reptiles.’ The young man turned and smiled nicely. On closer inspection he wasn’t that attractive at all. He had an overly large nose, small eyes and thin lips. In fact he looked a bit like a reptile himself.
An awkward silence grew, and grew, until even reptile-boy noticed and had the good grace to drift off somewhere.
‘It really is very nice to see you again’, Stephanie’s voice washed softly over me like a scented breeze. ‘Oh shit’ I thought, ‘here we go again’.
We got talking. She was attentive. She smiled at everything I said and gave every appearance of being interested. I drank a bit more and began to laugh loudly at my own jokes. We swapped numbers. I warned her I worked late every night and my weekends were booked for months ahead. I did not call her and was not expecting to hear from her.
The following Friday she invited me round to her apartment promising to make me a lovely home cooked supper.
Of course I went. Of course she turned out to be a wonderful cook. Of course …
I managed fifteen days as a single guy. Not bad.