"I don't know. I mean, if I'm with him, I can't be with anyone else. I do with him things instead of single things. We're going to the Screen on the Green tomorrow night to see some Chinese film. I mean, that's fine if you're sure about someone. That's what you do, isn't it? But if you're not sure, then it's just dead time. I mean, who am I going to meet in the Screen on the Green? In the dark? When you can't talk?"
I suddenly have a very deep yearning to go and see a Chinese film at the Screen on the Green -- the more Chinese it is, in fact, the better I would like it. That is another chamber of my heart that shows no electrical activity -- the chamber that used to flicker into life when I saw a film that moved me, or read a book that inspired me, or listened to music that made me want to cry. I closed that chamber myself, for all the usual reasons. And now I seem to have made a pact with some philistine devil: if I don't attempt to reopen it, I will be allowed just enough energy and optimism to get through a working day without wanting to hang myself.
"Sorry. This must all sound so silly to you. It sounds silly to me. If I'd known that I'd be the sort of woman who was going to end up sitting with married friends and moaning about my single status I would have shot myself. Really. I'll stop. Right now. I'll never mention it again." She takes a parodic deep breath, and then continues before she has exhaled.
"But he might be OK, mightn't he? I mean, how would I know? That's the trouble. I'm in such a tearing hurry that I haven't got the time to decide whether -they're nice or not. It's like shopping on Christmas Eve."
"I'm having an affair."
Becca smiles distractedly and, after a brief pause, continues.
"You bung everything in a basket. And then after Christmas you . . ."
She doesn't finish the sentence, presumably because she has begun to see that her analogy isn't going anywhere, and that dating and men are nothing like Christmas shopping and baskets.
"Did you hear what I said?"
She smiles again. "No. Not really." I have become a ghost, the comically impotent, unthreatening sort that you find in children's books and old TV programs. However much I shout, Becca will never hear me.
"Your brother's single, isn't he?"
"My brother's a semi-employed depressive."
"Is that a genetic thing? Or just circumstance? Because if it's genetic . . . It would be a risk. Not for a while, though. I mean, you on't get so many depressed kids, do you? It's a late-onset thing. And I'm so old already that I won't be around when they become depressed adults. So. Maybe it's worth thinking about. If he's game, I am."
"I'll pass it on. I think he would like children, yes."
"You know the thing you didn't hear?"
"When I said, 'Did you hear what I said,' and you said " 'No.' "
"He's my age, isn't he? More or less?"
And we talk about my brother and his depression and his lack of ambition until Becca has lost all interest in the idea of bearing his children.
Reprinted from How to be Good by Nick Hornby by permission of Riverhead, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright 2001 by Nick Hornby. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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