‘It’s only forty days.’
‘It’s the nights I care about.’
‘Man up! Focus on Day Forty-One. And I’m giving up cooking. You want to eat, you cook.’
‘I’ll tantalise you with tagliatelle. I’ll tempt you with tiramisu.’
‘Whatever. But no hanky-panky.’
Days One to Nine have been okay, if you like that kind of thing. Which I don’t. Constrained from carnal creativity, I’m cooking with a vengeance.
I pedal my cargo bike to Tesco Metro. An Assistant Manager, badged as Babs, spends ages finding my balsamic of choice. She has glossy hair and a tailored managerial skirt.
‘You bring a new meaning to customer service,’ I say.
‘Back again?’ she says that afternoon.
‘Keeping the basics topped up. Can’t let one’s stock cubes get out of stock.’
I give Marie homemade chocolate ice cream with maple syrup and my best George Clooney voice.
‘I suppose you meant give up sex with each other?’
She looks at me with the sniper-like accuracy of someone who knows me too well.
‘I wouldn’t recommend self-abuse. Not at your age.’
I serve us both seconds of lasagne.
‘More wine?’ I purr. ‘May as well finish the bottle.’
‘Such an obvious attempt. We’ve got another three weeks.’
I imagine her breasts dripping with a zesty orange ganache.
‘Just nipping out,’ I say. ‘Fresh basil is the key to successful pesto.’
‘Why did you have a shower when you’re about to get sweaty on your bike? And if you must have clean clothes every time you go shopping, I’ll introduce you to the washing machine. It’s a big white thing with a door like a porthole.’
At Tesco, the managers are in a meeting.
‘I can wait,’ I say.
‘I’m here to help,’ the slip of a girl offers, pointing to her badge.
Not the way I want.
‘We’re out of miso,’ I say, pulling on my cycling shorts. ‘Good thing I’ve discovered this little artisan deli.’
‘Funny how everything has a Tesco label,’ Marie says, reaching for a second brownie.
Her lips have a dusting of cocoa and I step towards her.
She jabs me hard in the chest, her fingers flat, like Bruce Lee.
‘Don’t get any ideas. Ten more days.’
I search for Babs in Desserts and Yoghurts before asking in Home Baking.
‘She’s transferred to the Superstore,’ the Here to Help girl says.
Nine miles is too far on my bike.
Marie helps unpack my panniers.
‘Not long now,’ she says, juggling a brace of King Edwards.
‘Careful with those. Gratin dauphinois tonight.’
I ride the ring road to the Superstore, but it must be Babs’s day off. At home I realise how much weight we’ve both put on, but I’ve promised an end-of-Lent roulade, so I get on with scrubbing my rainbow carrots.
Later, Marie reaches across and twangs the waistband of my Action Man pyjamas.
‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘I feel a bit full up.’