It’s the tone of voice when I speak to my insurers. ‘Is there anything else I can help you with?’ she says, dropping into the late-night register usually reserved for lovers. This is a shock, an expected shock, after her regional accent and cheerfulness—she finds my jokes funny, genuinely funny. We’re practically married after our lengthy discussion about off-street parking and my premium going up. ‘It’s a vibrant local community, diverse and exciting…’ I say, ‘but that does mean car windows will get smashed…’
‘Is there anything else I can help you with?’ she says.
‘There is so much,’ I say, and she laughs aware that our call might be monitored for training purposes. ‘Time is passing and my credit rating is zero but if you could believe in me…’
Pause on the line. Her breathing and mine, slowing to each other, wind through trees on the hillside and my mouth against her ear. In the silence we are growing closer. Every breath draws us together.
The opticians is a dangerous place for everyday acts of intimacy but with my glasses off I won’t be able to so easily see the Arab optometrist, her sleek black ponytail that bobs in her wake and says No NO YES YES! And I have no money. The best defence against desire.
She sits me in the chair, piping brightly about hereditary diseases and I smell almond butter on her skin.
‘Always keep a spare pair of glasses in the car in case of an emergency…’
She must have felt it too – the emergency in this consulting room while she drops green and red lenses into my frames. If you attune your breathing to someone else then boundaries are breached and the amoeba splits open.
Her breathing is deeper and her nostrils, tinged with fine red capillaries, widen. She’s been bred to highly strung perfection. I imagine her smashing up the tiled kitchen I’ve installed on our second date because I forgot to put fresh coriander in the humous. ‘Please take your glasses off…’ She’ll see me naked, obscenely so without black frames — not even a lover gets to see that — and she leans in close, too close, and my heart is pummeling my chest, a bruised and ruptured cranberry.
‘I’m going to test your eye pressure.’
‘Hang on,’ I say. If I can preserve this moment a little longer our pheromones will do the rest. We are lovers now, surely this proximity of scent and skin and her eye fastened on mine. I could lick her eyelashes.
‘Just a little jet of air,’ and the jolt flings me over the chair.
I buy everything she offers. Designer frames (two pairs), anti-glare coatings, a built-in chip that detects infra-red emissions from the human heart. We go upstairs into the shop, her silk blouse is pressed to perfection, her ponytail is so well oiled that it slaps against her neck. I keep close. What happened downstairs is the beginning of a new way of talking: naked, without glasses and with lemon coriander tucked behind our ears we’ll sniff each other out in her rooftop apartment.
‘My colleague will deal with the transaction…’
‘What?’ I say. How can she withdraw so quickly when we’ve said so much without saying anything at all. If something’s worth fighting for… Three men in suits stroll in, chatting loudly and whisk her off to lunch in a black BMW. My heart is contracting or is it growing stronger? I shuffle to the desk with my pointed blue designer frames, an idiotic pair of glasses – how could Yasmin be so cruel? They make me look like a confirmed lover of the Arts.
I take out my credit card, a month’s wages for what? For a moment downstairs by the eye-charts with words in an unpronounceable language that I’ll never master.
The girl is smaller, less confident. She wears a brace and glasses just like mine. ‘Good choice,’ she says and hands me the machine. I can’t move. She’s doing it too.
‘Would you like me to put it in?’
I cannot believe her boldness. This girl is reaching out to me in broad daylight and to cover my embarrassment I nod and shut my eyes.
‘I can pop it in now if you like…’