As a romance author, I create perfectly imperfect heroes and relatable heroines, the realities of war, corsets and chauvinism cast in the delicious glow of fiction.
Why stare at the dirt, when you can look up at the sky, in wonder?
Of course, my eyes have to return to the ground when I trip over something, like my boyfriend.
We have been together for ten years, remain devotedly unmarried and sadly obsessed with our golden retriever. He is prone to bouts of depression (the partner, not the dog) which would be wonderfully romantic if it serviced an artistic temperament. The suffering poet is a favourite idol of mine; hand caught in tousled hair, dark eyes fixed upon a dead rose as if facing oblivion.
My lover is something closer to Eyor, the down hearted donkey from Winnie the Pooh. Even as a child he was the only character I could tolerate, Pooh being a pompous twat. I always loved the delightfully dismal bow tied around his flaccid tail, the long ears that drooped with each new disappointment. They were real to me.
Eyor cooked for me tonight.
I love escaping the kitchen; another hour at the computer in addition to the eight I indulge myself with each day. On the menu: chopped vegetables and red quinoa. Did I mention he’s vegan? And they’re all depressed, am I right?
We ran out of olive oil. So, the vegetables were steamed rather than fried, the salad without dressing, the quinoa like rubbery dirt with no sauce to forgive it. It was depression on a plate.
I made the mistake of raising my brow and asking if he’d like me to make a dressing. Oil from the jar of artichokes, soy sauce and a squeeze of lime—hardly gourmet, but at this point the windex on the bench was looking plausible.
This was met with stony silence. Food untouched, he stood up and went to put on a movie—some Belgian romcom about a little girl with leukemia and her suicidal mother. I decided to punish him by doing the dishes. Nothing depresses him more than my cheerful industry.
My smile wasn’t that forced; the kitchen was so wrecked it was funny. To use an entire IKEA catalogue in the process of bringing four ingredients together, badly, takes skill. I could see flecks of fresh herbs everywhere, though they certainly hadn’t made an appearance in the dish itself. Then, for the hundredth time, my bare foot crunched over a pile of dirt; swept up without being cleaned up, the dust pan and brush forgotten under the chopping board.
Never mind. I let the warm suds soak my hands, watched the quinoa disappear into the bubbles.
“Not now, babe,” he said, as if I was coming at his eyebrows with a pair of tweezers.
I imagined my romantic hero slowly and silently standing behind me, his hands over mine as they moved through the warm water.
I knew he would clean up tomorrow, that I should watch the damn movie.
“It will be nicer in the morning.” Chipper as a chipmunk.
He looked at me and grinned. “You’re such a b*tch.”
I tried to press my mouth into a line but failed. I can never keep a straight face when he gives me that I-know-that-you-know that-I-know look. It’s the same one that made me agree to a drink after work all those years ago.
“I know.” I laughed as he stood there, shoulder to the blue and yellow Moroccan tiles, watching me work through the dishes like the biggest fool in the world.
I realised then that imperfections, his and mine, were largely irrelevant. I love him because he sees me for the supercilious, condescending prig that I am, and laughs about it. Why he loves a condescending prig… I’ll never be entirely sure.
The bitter truth is, love isn’t written in the stars, it’s scratched into the earth with a big stick and blistered hands.
It may not be as pretty and it’s definitely not as romantic, but sometimes we just have to stop and stare at our own two feet, with all the wonder in the world.
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Editor: Jane Henderling
Photo: via the author