This story was first published in Marriage in the Life Span by PURE SLUSH BOOKS in August 2022. Copyright is held by the author.

“THESE BINOCULARS are brilliant!” I shout from the office balcony, to Kirsty, eating breakfast on the terrace below.

“Miles, you spying on Isa and Jack’s terrace again?” Kirsty stuffs another chocolate croissant into her mouth and slurps her coffee. “Don’t you have to go and work on the roof in Paradise or something?”

“I can’t hear you. I might be able to understand you better if you stopped stuffing yourself for a moment. Why don’t you go for a swim? Shed some of those French pounds …”

“Miles! Get off my back. Come on, I’ve got to work this morning.”

Yup, I think to myself, I pretend to work on the roof in our poisoned Paradise and you pretend to have a career in front of your 10-year-old PC.

“Paradise” is the name we gave to the house we’ve been restoring in the countryside. This place which we bought smiling and complacent ten years ago, is, of course, going for irony in a big way.

This ironic, satanic, symbolic, head-in-the-hands place for me and Kirsty. Our poisoned paradise. The symbol of our bitter, failed, ruined relationship.

I was 31 when I found Kirsty playing on a tennis court, all flapping white skirt and attitude. Back then I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life. A friend had a place in South West France and invited us down for a few days. That’s when we decided to stay and buy Paradise.

In Bristol, we hardly knew or saw each other, we were so pumped up with our own self-importance. It sort of worked like that. In a strangers-passing sort of way.

Down here we are confronted with each other and our love on a daily basis.

Maybe it’s all because Kirsty and I met when we were already in our thirties, shelled in, marked, experienced. We weren’t young innocents discovering life and each other and working out each other’s problems over the years. We have never truly talked about anything deeply difficult, disturbing. Bleeding out over the sofa to each other, exposing our dirty souls, our pathetic childhoods. This is not our thing.

“I can see Isabella’s pants.”

“What???” Kirsty’s up like a shot. Yup, the chocolate croissants have been stuffed in her mouth. Bottom leaping off one of our expensive North African cast iron chairs we bought when we actually had some money. Pounding up the stairs. Coiffured, 90s TV series style hair flying. Up to the window.

“What about Jack’s?” she asks, breathless.

“Probably doesn’t wear any.”

“Let’s have a look,” she says, grabbing at the binoculars.

“Don’t you have to work or something?” I say, holding the binoculars away.

“Miles, what the hell do you know?”

I adjust the focus a little and, as Kirsty grabs them from me, I look into her saddened, jumpy green eyes, starting to like their soft flirtation, the need to conquer me a little.

“Miles, you can’t see a bleeding thing through these things,” she sighs, looking through the binoculars, shrugging.

“Oh, give them here.” I grab the binoculars and re-adjust the focus.

Hand them back to her.

“Look, you old perv, I’ve got to work,” she says, but doesn’t move from my side. Or hand back the binoculars. She’s still not satisfied with our bitchy banter.

“No, you don’t. You’ll just put on all those old records of yours …”

“Vinyl, Miles. Don’t show your age. I knew you weren’t right for me when we went to a club and you called it a disco.”

I grab the binoculars back. The strap snags around her wrist. I tug on the strap until it snaps free.

“Miles, that really hurt,” Kirsty says, rubbing her wrist.

I watch her, as she wanders over to her desk, flicking at a pile of papers. I clap the binoculars to my eyes again.

“You know, I can see Jack stepping out onto the terrace.”

“Miles, shut up. I’m working,’ is the predictable response I was after. Followed by, ‘Oh, alright. I can’t concentrate, anyway.”

Kirsty shimmies back over. She does . . .  still  . . . shimmy. That was the first thing I ever noticed about her. Her shimmy. Shimmying around on the tennis court. In that white skirt. That little white skirt.

Sometimes I think I may still love Kirsty . . . . in my memories of her.

“Let’s have a look,” she says. So easy, so fleshy, so naive, so open, after all these spiteful years.

“He looks really unfit,” I tease.

“Give them here,” she says.

“I was just thinking about you in your little white tennis skirt.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Shimmying around the tennis court. I thought I loved you when I saw you that day.”

She looks at me questioningly, almost vulnerable.

“That was before you opened your mouth, of course,” I can’t help myself saying.

I hand the binoculars over to her. Of course, there is nobody on the terrace and if there were you’d see a dot. But we play. Waiting around, for a bit more hurt, before she spends her day listening to her old records, sorry vinyl, pretending to work, and I go off to Paradise.


Image of Jonathan Pett

Jonathan’s work has appeared in several anthologies, magazines and  literary journals, both in print and online. He has also written for the U.K. theatre (Royal National Theatre studio, London Fringe, Edinburgh Festival), TV (BBC, World Productions, Carnival Films) and Film (Scala Productions, Met Films). One of his films is currently in pre-production.