There are two things I learned at university that have served me better than any of the literary knowledge I picked up. Firstly that being skinny and distracted and heartbroken is a wonderful way to pull a great quantity of men, although the quality will be poor. Also that if someone’s nickname is their own name prefaced by “weird”, the weirdness is not a matter of opinion. They are fucking odd.
Suzie was a friend of a friend, and although she imagined her love life to be as full of intrigue as the French Court in the seventeenth century it was mainly conducted through Gumtree personals and behind the back of Burger King. I was freshly broken up with and spending my evenings alternatively pouring myself into tight dresses and pouring tequila down my throat and weeping into uneaten bowls of cereal and hugging the three bar fire “because that’s the only hugging I’m ever going to do, ever again”. Winters as a student in York could get pretty bleak - even if you were in a loving relationship, you wouldn’t get laid because it was always too damn cold to take any of your clothes off. You had to make do with eating pies instead.
Anyway, I was lurching around the second worst nightclub in Europe (and other clubs that were even worse than that) like a nymphomaniac zombie, determined to get myself snogged into oblivion. York was small, and I was running out of options. And Suzie (who kept track of her conquests by way of an Excel spreadsheet) wasn’t my first choice of drinking buddy but she was well connected. “I’ll call Weird Dave, you’ll like him” she announced over own brand gin.
“He was kind of stalking my friend for a while - he’s still really into her. But you’ll like him.”
It did not sound promising. But then, maybe one day we’d laugh about how we met on a rainy Yorkshire night as we clinked champagne flutes from the deck of a yacht, celebrating our wedding anniversary. When he arrived I had glazed myself with gin. My skin was a human Barbour jacket of booze and no matter how awful he was I was not going to get rained on. And I smiled and laughed and giggled and did stupid shit with my hair and performed a pantomime of A Girl Having A Lovely Time, because if I looked like I was OK I was fine. We went to the terrible club, where he bought me a single red rose. “You are revolted by this because you are heartbroken NOT IN YOUR RIGHT MIND” I told myself sternly in the toilet mirror. “This is NICE. This is ROMANTIC.” And then I took him home with me because I couldn’t think of a good reason not to.
We kissed until we collapsed into the pillows and I told myself I was a woman of the world embarking upon an erotic adventure and not a clueless 22 year old being groped by a stranger wearing a chain from Elizabeth Duke.I stretched back and my hand connected with something under the bedding. The battery compartment of my vibrator. Weird Dave would either be freaked out or fascinated by it and I couldn't be arsed to discover which. So I pushed it away from the point of discovery and listened to it land under the bed. It made a satisfying scuffly sound.
Weird Dave stopped sucking my chin. In the darkness, he looked alarmed.
“What was that?”
“The noise. I heard something under the bed.”
If I was a bit less pissed I’d have ignored it, but the gin made me reckless. Necessity is the mother of invention.
“Oh. That’s a squirrel.”
“Yeah, they live...under the floorboards.”
“But haven’t you told your landlord?”
“Mmm..yes, but he lives abroad. And they might be protected by some conservation thing.”
Suddenly he stopped going on about guts and guns and looked at me tenderly through the flickering candlelight. “There’s something I want to tell you. I’ve only ever hit three girls before.”
Weird Dave’s body was (unfortunately) still in my bed, but from that point on his mind was up a tree, surrounded by furry things clutching acorns. I bet he dreamed of squirrels that night.
Because I was a moron, instead of feigning amnesia when I booted him out in the morning I gave him my number and agreed to meet him the following week. Even Suzie was surprised. We sat in a riverfront bar drinking crisp white wine, watching enormous feathery snowflakes float past the window into the dark. It would have been deeply romantic if he had stopped telling me about wanting to join the army, because it was “the natural place for a man. Men are meant to kill.” Suddenly he stopped going on about guts and guns and looked at me tenderly through the flickering candlelight. “There’s something I want to tell you. I’ve only ever hit three girls before.”
I still have a bruise from where my jaw hit the table.
Apparently during one attack he and the victim were both eight, another was some playfight that went wrong and the third girl looked like a boy, but I had heard enough. I muttered something about a 9AM emergency seminar that I had only just remembered and ran out into the snow. The weather was too bad for buses or taxis to get onto the roads, so I walked the two miles home. And even though I was wearing predictably stupid shoes and the ice was sliding inside my toenails and around my bare ankles, I was happier to be developing near fatal hypothermia than to be in a bar with a mad man. I had made good my escape.
For the next few days Dave rang and texted incessantly and being cowardly, I ignored him. When I thought of a good excuse, we could talk. Maybe I could pretend that I was going on some kind of last minute French exchange programme and was leaving for Paris that minute. I could get my housemates to surround me when I was on the phone and make pretend Eurostar announcements.
One morning, less than a week later, I was disturbed by some banging on the door. “Maybe it’s bailiffs”, I thought, turning over lazily. I had a feeling that one of the housemates had spent our British Gas bill money on some laughing gas instead. I snuggled into the duvet and wondered if the door was going to be kicked down, but the banging kept going. After about ten minutes I got up to investigate, just as the other housemates started shuffling into the hall.
I can’t remember who opened the door, but it swung on its hinges to reveal a middle aged man who was a little taken aback to see five twenty somethings in pants and nighties rubbing their eyes and looking hostile. We were similarly surprised to see that he was wearing a fleece emblazoned with the words ABC Pest Control. He was stood in front of a matching van.
“Is Dave here?” he asked. “He rang me about sorting out the squirrels.”
Now was not the time to explain. We gave him a cup of tea, told him he had the wrong postcode and sent him on his way. And then my phone rang.
“Ah, Dave, hello. There have been some misunderstandings. There were no squirrels, and I don’t think we should see each other...”
“And I’m moving to France.”
“And as a keen conservationist I find your suggested squirrel solution unspeakably cruel. Goodbye, Dave.”
So I suppose the most important thing I learned during my degree is that the best way to leave your lover is to lie. And it's better to be discovered in possession of a plastic rabbit than to deal with the consequences of pretending it's an imaginary squirrel.
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