Mary walked slowly, aimlessly along the street. It was lunchtime, but she didn't feel like eating. Her restless thoughts had made it impossible to focus on her work, and she'd broken off half an hour earlier than usual. When did I change? Why? How? She tried to cast her mind back. Had she been happy with Josh? She'd thought so, to start with. He was a nice, smart guy, and they'd been a good match in the bedroom, too. But his mind had been on other things, she recalled. He didn't find me as interesting as his beloved French literature, did he? The bitterness of this thought made her stop still. Why was she so angry about Josh now? They'd parted on good terms, months ago. She still saw him from time to time, although they didn't talk much. Why hadn't she been interested in what he was doing? Nothing wrong with French writers. He'd be doing his exams about now - could he have used her support? Damn. Damn damn damn. She paced onwards, towards the river.
She'd lost boyfriends before, of course. Sometimes they dumped her, sometimes
she'd realise they weren't as good as they seemed and ditch them herself. She'd
slept with a few of them, but not as many as some of her friends might have thought. Annie knew different, of course. Annie had always been willing to lend an ear to Mary's man trouble. Ever since they'd met in their last year at college, in fact. She'd been there when Mary had split up with Josh, too. She'd been sympathetic. She'd helped Mary not to feel too angry at losing him. What's different this time? She knew one thing that was. Before, when she'd ditched or been ditched, she'd have been down the pub, as often with Annie as without, looking for someone new. When Josh had left her, she'd been too dejected to talk about it to start with. Although she'd told him that it was OK, that she understood, she'd been heartbroken. Am I getting older? Did I want to marry Josh? When she'd finally ended up back in the pub with Annie, they'd talked all evening without even trying to find Mary a new boyfriend.
Annie had gained a boyfriend of her own, met while Mary and Josh had been away on that unsatisfying seaside break. Lucian, his name was - a postgraduate student at St Martin's College. Handsome, and intelligent too. Mary had met him once or twice, and wasn't sure what Annie saw in him. He was pretty enough, yes, but so humourless. It didn't stop their evenings in the pub, though, because Annie and Lucian met up mainly at weekends. But Mary still hadn't worked up enough interest to look for another man. She and Annie had come to spend their time sitting and chatting about their lives, rather than just about the men Mary was interested in. Mary had visited her friend's flat for the first time, and seen her sculptures. Mary hadn't thought she liked modern art, but she had been struck by the grace of Annie's work, simple-looking forms made from shining metal rods. They'd gone to the cinema together, to see a Swedish movie neither of them had seen reviewed. It had been a love story, so Mary had enjoyed it less than Annie, but it had been good all the same.
She'd become almost comfortable being single, although she couldn't understand
why. Before breaking up with Josh, she'd thought herself to be at her most depressed when she hadn't got a man. Wait, though. Didn't I dump Jack when he didn't help me find a new job? I was as down then as ever. She paused, looking out from Waterloo Bridge over the grey, churning river. Incident after incident flooded back to her. My God. Tears filled her eyes, blurring her view of the murky waters below. I've been using them. Poor boys. She reeled, but steadied herself on the handrail. For just one moment, she saw a mental image of the plunge into the Thames. No. Not that. I've been learning to survive.
Mary stumbled into the little café and ordered a dark, poisonous coffee. She stared at it, blinking away her tears. Three and a half years. She sipped the bitter drink, and sighed, a sigh as much of relief as of weariness. I used them all. She clenched her left fist in anger at herself. Well, no more. I've coped since Josh left. She drank some more coffee, and tried to control her breathing. She'd have to get back to her office soon, for what would be a long afternoon's work. She couldn't turn up looking the mess she must be now. I need to talk to someone, soon. With trembling fingers she tapped out a message to Annie, asking her to meet up that evening. No details yet. How will I tell her? 'I've been using men as an antidepressant?' No. She sucked in her breath, and exhaled slowly. Her composure was returning, and with it, the realisation that although she was unhappy now, she was still clear of her former mind-numbing depression.
As she walked back towards her office, her thoughts turned again to her meeting with Annie that evening. As she'd been leaving the café, she'd got a reply. Annie would be there. Mary's spirits had lifted immediately, and now she felt almost happy. Being with Annie would make it all well again. My, how I love that girl. She stopped, suddenly, at the edge of a busy road. Oh my. And then a thousand thoughts, all at once. She stepped back, leaning against the concrete wall of an office block. Am I a dyke, then? She's got her Lucian, hasn't she? Can I tell her? Will she even understand? I've wronged her already. All those sorry confessions. All that time talking about my stupid love life. How could I have missed her until now? I've used her, too. Damn it. Damn me.
In the end, the truth came out slowly. To Mary's relief, Annie didn't run a mile when she finally confessed her feelings, and her regrets. 'Friends forever,' Annie had whispered tenderly. It seemed stupid to think, is that all? when she knew it was all she could really have hoped for, and wonderful in itself. Annie couldn't understand why Mary expected her to be angry at having been leaned on so heavily for so long. 'I'd do it all again,' she'd answered, and Mary had cried. The depression didn't come back, and Mary learned to live with Annie's passing references to Lucian. Let her be happy with him. She deserves it. And then, one evening, late, as Mary lay in bed, the phone rang.
"It's me, dear. I've got some news about me and Lucian."