I’M IN London, walking down Upper Street towards my son, who is waiting in Five Guys — a burger joint he’s recommended because it’s “munch”.
I’m with my younger sister, who’s pretending to be poorly; a pretence which has taken many forms today, including such dramatics as collapsing suddenly on any available chair like a puppet whose strings have just been cut, and sighing on the hour, every hour, each sigh being accompanied by statements like, “I just feel sort of weak, maybe it’s the humidity,” or “I’ve only had a piece of toast all day. That’s not like me.”
It’s 5pm now and I’ve suffered this carry-on since nine this morning; it’s important to play the long game if I want to win it — never mind the fact that my mother’s words from earlier this morning are ringing in my ears:
“Make sure she meets that date tonight. Though God knows online-dating must be absolutely ghastly — like being in Battersea Dog’s Home, waiting to be re-homed, I should think. You need to be firm with her. She listens to you. That’s what older sisters are for.”
“Get some orange juice from Sainsbury’s,” I tell my sister who’s lagging behind me by a good two yards, “we don’t want you fainting in Five Guys.”
“Stop walking so fast,” she says, “I don’t have my usual strength in my legs. And don’t talk to me about burgers and fries — I couldn’t eat a thing.”
“What about a salad then?” I say, pointing at a restaurant as we pass it.
“That’s Ottolenghi’s,” she says, speeding up a bit. “I’m not paying €15 for five dots of quinoa.”
At six o’clock, after she’s wolfed down a burger and half my son’s chips, she starts sighing again.
“I mean what do you do if you’re a 44-year-old gay woman, just out of a 10-year relationship, who’d like to meet someone, but is actually the sort of person who thinks that the best kind of party is the one you can have at home, in a pair of slippers, with a glass of wine and Netflix?”
My son picks up a chip looking utterly blank.
I pick up a chip and examine it; that’s exactly the kind of party I’ve planned for myself tonight, and I’m going to have it at 8.40pm. On the dot. Right after my sister has left to meet her date.
“I mean, I’ve dated on earth and I’ve dated online,” she continues, “and I know which way of meeting people I prefer.”
I examine another chip.
“On earth,” she announces. “Online dating makes me feel like I’m in Battersea Dog’s Home, waiting to be re-homed. And so far, I don’t even like half the people who’ve wanted to re-home me.”
“Have you been talking to Mum?”
“Yesterday,” she says, “why?”
7pm — and my sister is doing her collapsing-puppet thing again; right now, she’s in her apartment, drooping sideways on the sofa, turning over the pages of a magazine on the floor, with listless, feeble flicks.
“I don’t think think that burger agreed with me,” she says, rolling onto her back.
“You’ll be fine,” I say, wondering how on earth I’m going to get Netflix up on her flat-screen without asking how.
8.15pm. “I suppose I’d better get ready?” she says.
“Well if you’re meeting your date at nine...” I say, trying to think where she keeps her cosy slipper-socks.
8.40 — and my sister’s jangling her keys by the door. “Best foot forward,” I say. She gives me a stoical look. “You’re attractive and funny,” I say, “with a heart that runs 10 degrees warmer than anyone else’s. You are not a doggy waiting for re-homing.”
9pm. I text her: “Do you want me to meet you there at ten-thirty?”
9.05pm. “YES,” she texts back, “then if my date’s a minger, I’ll have an excuse to cut it short.”
10.30 — and I’m on a lesbian night out in London’s Wall Bar and Kitchen. The noise is absolutely deafening; like a gigantic flock of demented seagulls but notched up four thousand decibels.
11.30. My sister’s definitely not feeling poorly anymore — we’re in a taxi, five seagulls heading for Soho; she’s “totally up for going on somewhere afterwards”. But she’s promised me, when we get back, we’ll have the best kind of party there is: at home, in a pair of slippers, with a glass of wine and Netflix. Because that’s what sisters are for.
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