Well, I thought he was gay for a start. That’s the main reason I was surprised when the boy popped back with a love note. I say ‘love’. I mean ‘mildly optimistic of a positive response in a moment of spontaneous endeavour’. Not sure that’s love.
‘The boy’ had just bought a book from me about testing your cat’s IQ. It’s a modern classic. It shits all over Tolstoy apparently, but he looked a bit embarrassed about it. He joked that he didn’t even like cats. I joked back that maybe he could perform evil tests on them instead then, like Mengele did on twins in Nazi Germany. You know, the standard sort of charming exchange you have with total strangers. He laughed, paid, and left. For my part I instantly regretted my contribution to the banter. You shouldn’t make jokes about thrusting cats into Nazi Germany style laboratory tests. Not on Christmas Eve. It’s too leftfield. It’s not what Jesus would want. It’s not what anybody would want. There are concrete reasons why the Nazis were so unpopular. And feline algebra exams in gas chambers is just one of them.
Half an hour later the boy returned, inched slowly up to me, left a note on the side then scampered off. I was selling someone a guidebook on Prague, no doubt making some witty repartee about how funtimes it was for Czechoslovakian dogs during the occupation, so sort of just smiled politely to one side at him. I didn’t think much about the note until a good while later when I read what he had written. On a Clintons receipt. It said “Hello. You really made me smile this morning. Give me a call or text? P.s. I’m sorry, I feel like a fifteen year old boy, but just had to do it!” and then his name and number.
Well. If I’d known sick jokes about turning kitties into bunker chic standard lamps were such a turn on I would have used them years ago instead of doing all that ‘getting to know you’ smalltalk, blushing, mumbling, and tripping over my own feet.
I nearly fell over. (Old habits die hard.) Was this young scamp really initiating a potential romance? Was this a joke? Was he hiding round the corner waiting to burst out and laugh in my face, to teach me for casually hurling Persians into Petrie dishes for the sake of a bit of bookshop light relief? Could he not see I was a 35 year old divorcee who hadn’t had time to do her roots? OF COURSE HE FELT LIKE A FIFTEEN YEAR OLD BOY. HE PROBABLY WAS A FIFTEEN YEAR OLD BOY.
Ok, so he could have been about 25 at a push. He was ‘a bit trendy’, and wearing one of those saggy hats that boys wear that look like they are stowing a small family of possums at the back of their head. You know the ones. The ones that permit them to think they don’t have to wash their hair for a fortnight. Could he not tell that were we to embark upon a relationship it would swiftly descend into a constant cycle of me going “OOH, LOOK OVER THERE,” before tearing the hat from his head and washing it just as he’d achieved his optimum level of boy-head skank-musk? Is that what he wanted from me?
I folded the note away and put it in my pocket. I might not have had any intention of actually contacting him, but I at least wanted to analyse his handwriting at closer quarters for signs of psychopathia. There had to be some reason why he was picking me out for this attention and it can’t just be my very funny jokes about stitching pussies together for gestapo trench coats. Unless he was canvassing all the shops in the high street and trying his luck. For all I know he might have been fluttering his lashes at Audrey, 57, manager and hot-flush queen of Wallis too. (She probably would have run after him and mounted him with a sprig of mistletoe between her teeth before he left the shop. She’s a game girl, Audrey.) (N.B. Audrey is fictional.)
I showed a gal pal the note and she mischievously said “You should text him. Go on a date. You never know.” And I thought, she’s right. You do never know. But also I thought – you do know though, actually. You do. As you get older you do know some things. It’s one of the benefits. You accumulate a wearying number of bad experiences that if you are canny can rebrand as ‘wisdom’. I knew that there was no future for me and this fresh-faced note-writing skank-haired possum-storing cat boy. I knew it the moment I barely glanced at him. I knew it the moment I had no chemical impulse to text him a winky emoji. It was just not meant to be. I might be dead good at jokes about cats, but I am no cougar.