He, she, it

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ARABELLA:

My pasta sauce was a bit of a mistake. Perhaps too much water, but its nutritional content was not in any way lessened by an unorthodox appearance. However, Roland is always keen to score some moral high-ground-type points by triumphing where I have apparently failed. "Interesting," he said poking at his plate with a teaspoon. "Tomato-skins and ...?" Then he got up and put both hands on my shoulders, bore down firmly like an over-eager gynaecologist and whispered: "Why don't you let me cook you dinner?"

I sat transfixed with rage while he "threw a few things together" - i.e. dug out some festering muck from the back of the refrigerator and boiled it up with the latest foodie panacea, a corrosive black paste made from lumps called tamarind.

I particularly hate Roland in the kitchen because: 1) he has stuffed all the drawers with useless things like olive stoners, branding irons for singeing puddings, Easter egg moulds and many ghastly little trinketty objects useful only for cutting your hand when you're groping for a wooden spoon; and 2) none of these things are ever used - they're bought to be shown to his geeky friends after they've eaten everything in the building and are idly drinking Armagnac at two o'clock in the morning instead of washing up and going home like normal human beings.

However, I hate him most when he uses words like "comestibles" and wears a nasty "Isn't Life Wonderful" expression when cooking. Also, he has started to hold his head at a stupid angle to signify that he has immense patience and that I am absolved from the guilt of being only a girl and unable to cook because he's prepared to be Mr Wonderful.

I would have dropped Roland from a great height a long time ago, except that it is economically sound to share a house with at least one other person, and also the truly shaming fact that I do, on occasion, find myself physically attracted to him. Sometimes, admittedly, he is such an odious creep that I cannot look at him without fantasising about a rather crude and violent form of suffocation. He is so irritating. Could it be that I'm only really turned on by people I hate?

Even the threat of little Rolands, flashing their stamp collections at each other and banging on about football and potage au paysan hasn't worked terribly well as a repellent.

I was fizzing with loathing at his general smugness over the dinner last night (a smugness contrapuntal to the awfulness of whatever it was that unstuck itself from a piece of oven-to-table weaponry), and my consequent hate-generated vulnerability had even propelled me as far as Roland's bed. But as he groped tremulously under the duvet, I developed the most ghastly stomach ache due to severe food poisoning. Luckily I was awake and in pain all night. He behaved about as sympathetically as could have been expected; he retreated to his side of the bed, ignored me totally and fell asleep. Thank God for gastroenteritis.

ROLAND:

I think it's the differences between me and Arabella that make our relationship so strong. She is vivacious, quick-tempered and a bit of a scatterbrain; I'm calm, logical and predictable in the sense of reliability rather than dullness. She is a constant source of inspiration and stimulation to me, while I suppose she must see me as an island of tranquillity and good sense in her otherwise haphazard lifestyle. In this way, our differences paradoxically bind us together, and items that could be considered symptoms of incompatibility are turned to advantage.

Yesterday night, she farted in bed. I don't think it's something she has ever done before. It's probably because of the beans I put in the cassoulet I made from the Christmas goose leftovers. Audible without being raucous, pungent yet less than nauseating, it was a forgivable fart, yet by no means negligible. Yet she made no comment whatsoever, other than to roll over and turn the light out.

I was astonished, but said nothing. One moment she was lying on her back with her head propped up on the pillows, reading a novel by someone called Catherine Cookson, and the next moment she farted, closed the book and turned the light off. Had this been intended as some sort of literary criticism, I would have understood, yet she had led me to believe, from her frequent protestations that I was in her light, that she was actually enjoying the book. But her rectal eruption was, I am fairly confident in stating, quite independent of her reading.

Now I may not know much about the works of Catherine Cookson, but farting in bed is something on which I am something of an authority. Onions are my problem. I think it must be connected with some sort of enzyme deficiency, but they always result in a build-up of my bodily gases. One cannot, of course, keep hopping to the lavvy every few minutes at night. Quite apart from the inconvenience, it would disturb one's partner. So I have developed a technique for allowing the wind to escape silently beneath the blankets - it's really more of a mild breeze than a wind - then wrapping the sheets and pillow closely about my head and shoulders to prevent the odour escaping.

Arabella's silence on the matter over the past five years proves that I have mastered the undetectable bedroom fart. In our first year together, before my technique had improved, I must admit that farting was a contentious topic. Yet her wandering unpredictably between the spare room and my bedroom from night to night during that phase of our relationship left me unable either to plan my intake of onions or to practise my odourless expulsion technique in any systematic manner.

Perhaps I should offer her lessons. Although, as I said, there are advantages in our possessing generally complementary aptitudes, there are clearly some things that I cannot do for her.

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