She had found out about it by accident: they had been at a friend's barbecue. There were outdoor candles - the ones with citronella in to keep the insects off - and she had nearly wet herself with the unexpected pleasure.
Fortunately he likes it too, she is sure.
She is thinking about candle wax as she walks up the hill into work. The morning is sallow and undecided - the sky furrowing its brow as if trying to decide what to do with the rest of the day.
She is thinking about candle wax because she has just had a cold shower - one which was not supposed to be cold - and is wondering why the feeling of ice cold water on her back should feel so similar to hot wax on the soft skin on the inside of her wrist. She bites her bottom lip. It is a day like any other, so why should she be biting her bottom lip? She feels like a terror suspect, like she has got a secret something strapped to her chest, something that could explode in a red rain of liquid wax and bring down a happy death upon all the clever and stupid people of the Borough of Swindon. She fights it; sees herself in a shop window and things she looks ugly in her work suit.
The last time she saw him he had been drunk, singing a song from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. She can't remember which song.
She can bear to be away from him for about seventeen hours, plus however long she can sleep for. Not more than a day in total. After that, she can't handle it. It's not that she misses his company; she just gets bored with herself. But thankfully her work has become more enjoyable of late. It's quiet and she gets to email all of her old friends, trying not to mention him once, like she is testing herself, her mental strength. Opposite her window is a doctor's surgery. She sees the girls go in, have tests, come out. She used to attempt to work out what tests they had had, what the results were, by the looks on their faces. Now she looks at their cars - the ones who have cars - and tries to guess their jobs. Everyone has grown up in this town.
What is so special about today that she has to bite her bottom lip? She can't put her finger on it. There is an old brown dog tied to the bicycle rack outside the doctor's, next to the bike that has been there for as long as she has worked here. Probably much longer. She can't remember seeing anyone tie the dog up.
She works as a secretary for a chartered accountant. The office is on the ground floor of a handsome terraced property in the old part of town. In the front bay window is a sticker:
WITH A CHARTERED ACCOUNTANT
Her boss laughed for a week after he first put it up. She hasn't the heart to tell him that it is the probable cause of his recent downturn in business. The man is clearly lonely. He has a collection of cacti, for fuck's sake. He looks like a cross between Heinrich Himmler and Nicholas Cage; describes himself as a bachelor. Which means he was already an old man at heart when he started college. Now in his forties, she can imagine him retired, alone, in sheltered accommodation, unembarrassed about having to ask the nurses to clean up his faeces.
But he always lets her go early on quiet days, and today is a quiet day, so by four o'clock she is walking home between the rows of town houses. A band of rain creeps up behind her, falling diagonally between the terraces, not heavy but nonetheless soaking, the kind of rain that within minutes becomes offensive to every part of the body. With the onset of night quickened by the rain clouds, she notices the first flash of light and as she reacts by looking to the sky she hears a crippling boom, a sound that seems to be sucked along the maze of avenues, echoing at every corner. It takes her a few seconds to remember that it is the fifth of November. As her heart rate regains normality she stops to watch the fireworks that are now appearing with fierce regularity above the shining roofs. The rain comes down and the fireworks fizz up. Then they too come down, deflated, spraying their guts in a warm rain of light. She sees them as tears, and begins to cry with them. She sees this as the zenith of her life. For the first time since this morning she thinks about him, and why he hasn't called in two days.