by Ruth Bradshaw

The first time

A sushi place you suggest for a quick lunch after a meeting in the city, its reputation confirmed by a long queue outside. While we wait, we talk of my secondment to the Paris office and your frequent visits to France. I don’t mention that I’m hoping to enjoy the job more in a different location. You don’t mention the girlfriend you often travel with.

You’re called away before we can order but insist I stay. The sushi is too good to miss, apparently. Two days later, I write, “Congratulations! What a surprise” in the card that’s circulated to welcome your new baby.

The best time

A restaurant with white linen, silver cutlery and too many choices. The other diners as over-starched as the tablecloths. I shake my head when you suggest it. Walk you through the night-time streets to my favorite bistro. We’re squeezed into a tiny corner table with a friendly wave. One year in Paris has become two. We talk about the city and my time here and I tell you the story of my latest break-up. If you have a story too, you don’t tell it and I don’t ask.

No fish on the menu here. We eat roast chicken, drink good red wine. Halfway through the second carafe, I stop worrying about whether my leg is pressed too tightly against yours. When you move closer and kiss my garlic-scented lips, I want to believe I’ve finally got what I’ve been waiting for.

The last time

Three nights to ourselves in a tiny riverside cottage. We catch fish and build a fire outside to cook it on. Your arm around me, my head against your shoulder, starlight, an open fire, the river’s gentle music. It’s all impossibly romantic. I wait expectantly.

But when you open your mouth it’s not to speak. And for a while, the food, the fire, the stars are all forgotten until the smell of charring fish returns us to the present. I return home with a disappointment that reeks of woodsmoke and burnt food.

All the other times

Fish and chips in a camper van as the rain lashed down outside, the baby asleep on the front seat. A whole salmon the first time we hosted your family for Christmas. Tuna mayonnaise sandwiches on the beach, the children salt slicked and sunburnt, already begging for another swim. The white bait starter at the Greek restaurant round the corner from our first home. A Thai red curry you made as a surprise on my 40th, so hot we couldn’t eat it. The scrambled eggs and smoked salmon when you helped the kids bring me breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. There were so many times we could have eaten fish together.

Image by Matheus Bertelli via Pexels