Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

'I wasn't at all sure that Mish was consenting, but now with this fresh, French, Jeremy business...'
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The Independent Online

Two days I'd been away, sorting out what Matthew refers to as "the very barest of essentials" (Sky dish with complete package) for our Dorset cottage. I returned to what I often return to. Matthew with his head in hands, psychotically, slowly, rocking to and fro. The speed of the rocking was a tiny bit slower than I was used to, but you'd have to have been married to a person for 17 years to have noticed the difference. I put it down to pangs. Matthew has just given up smoking, drinking and eating.

"Is it the pangs?" I asked and he stopped mid-rock, spread a finger so he could see through, looked at me more in confusion than in anger, replaced the finger over the eye – and recommenced the rocking. I ignored him, and, a couple of minutes later, he shuffled in an elderly fashion over to the table, sighed, tutted and handed me a piece of paper.

"No," he said, "it is not the pangs, although God knows I'd rather be coming off crack cocaine than worry about this." He bashed the paper with his forefinger aggressively. "It was under the windscreen wiper when I took Louis to school. Do you know, I much preferred our neighbours when they were killing each other in drive-by shootings to this."

I read the message. It said, "Man on Man Action? I am a 21-year-old French student living in the area. I'm slim and fresh and I'm looking for some extra cash to help me through my courses. If you wanna have some fun for a little bit of cash just call. Jeremy." And then there was a mobile number.

"Granted, it's a step up from window cleaning," I say, "but it's not that shocking, is it? I mean, just a young guy trying to pay his way through college. Bar jobs must be hard to come by." Matthew snorts derisively. "For heaven's sake, woman, do you think I care what some Gallic buffoon does with his fundament? I'm not worried about some rentboy manqué swapping his rear end for an astrophysics textbook."

"Then why on earth are you in this state?" I ask. "Because," says Matthew, pirouetting with anguish, "Louis was the one who liberated it from the wiper. And he is very confused."

"Ah," I say. "I take your point."

The timing could hardly be worse. Last week, Louis attended something at his school that has become known as "Puberty Day". Matthew and I were very grateful for Puberty Day, feeling it spared us from having to answer awkward questions, and we both completely approved. But while the areas covered seem to have been very extensive, what was not covered was the minutiae of gay relationships.

"And did Louis ask you what Man on Man Action and fresh, French fun was about?" I asked.

"Yes, of course he did."

"And what did you tell him?"

"I told him to discuss it with you."

We stared at each other until I said, "Well, I can't do it and, anyway, he's much too young to know about such things."

"No, nor can I," said Matthew, "but he keeps asking, and I am sure he will ask you when he comes home. We have to think of something to tell him."

"And we must do it together," I said.

"Oh, really?" said Matthew. "What do you propose? That we prepare a text, memorise it and speak it in unison like a very small Greek chorus?"

I shrugged and looked at him blankly.

"Although," said Matthew, "say what you like about the Greeks, they weren't too embarrassed to discuss this sort of caper." And then he fetched the whisky.

It came to me the morning after, in the car, driving home from school. "I've got it, I've got it!" I shouted, running down the garden path towards Matthew's office shed. "I have a brilliant idea. Come with me." And I led Matthew back down the path, fetched Miles, my beloved tortoise, picked up Mish, another tortoise who has been lodging with us for a while, and took them and Matthew back down the path, telling Matthew to stand and watch while I put both tortoises in a pen.

"This is dangerously thrilling," said Matthew. "I think I had better take a sedative in case it gets too much for me."

"Shhh. Just be quiet and watch." We stood side by side, watching the tortoises. For two minutes they did nothing, but then Miles started to move at surprising speed and when he reached Mish he adroitly mounted him and began to gyrate and give off little squeaks.

"Miles and Mish are gay," I said. "Or at least Miles is. I stopped putting them in together because I wasn't at all sure that Mish was consenting. Also, I didn't want Louis to see it, but now with this fresh, French, Jeremy business..."

Matthew clapped his hands together, and did a little skip. "Genius!" he bellowed. "I am married to a genius." And then he did the "We're Not Worthy" bow from Wayne's World and, muttering about my mighty intellect, returned to his internet poker in the shed.

The problem is that Mish and Miles have not, as it were, performed since. Whenever Louis is home from school I put them in together, and not a squeak. It's those giant pandas all over again.

Matthew has been looking things up on the internet and read that anchovies, liquorice, lard, scallops and dried insects might help. He is thinking of lacing the tortoises' water, but has no idea if the scallops should be sautéed or grilled. And anyway – how would we explain the liquorice and lard to Louis?