“So,” I say to my son Ryan and my friend Hayley over breakfast in Neukölln, “I have never received one love letter. Not one person ever wrote me a love letter. Not one.”
Hayley looks quite shocked – in fact she looks fairly horrified – the last time I got a look like that off of her was when I told her that my boyfriend doesn’t eat pussy – but Ryan just laughs at me.
“Never, Mummy?” he asks.
“Never,” I say.
“Not even from my Daddy?”
“No,” I say. “Your dad did buy me a flower once, though. A hyacinth. But he never wrote me a love letter.”
“And not from Pete?”
“No,” I say. “Never.”
Ryan grins maliciously. “That’s so funny – I am just a young kid, I am only eight years old and I got a love-letter once! Remember, Mum, I told you about that?” He shoots Hayley a suspicious look. “I can’t talk about it,” he says. “I don’t love the girl back. She’s not my girlfriend. She just wrote me a love letter. She loves me. I don’t love her. But, Mum, isn’t that funny? I got a love letter one time – and I am just a kid – and you are so old, and you never got one! Even though you’re so old – like, really old – like you have been alive for years and years and years where you could’ve got a love letter. And you never got one!”
“Yeah,” I say, and sigh sadly.
“I gave you a cut-out red heart once,” he reminds me. “For Valentine’s Day.”
“Yeah,” I say, and sigh even more sadly.
“You must’ve got one once,” says Hayley. “I’ve had millions. I’ve thrown half of them away, but I kept the rest in a suitcase. I think you’re either lying or you’ve simply forgotten, you know, coz you’re not a very romantic person yourself.”
“I think I’m not pretty enough,” I say.
“It’s not your prettiness level,” says Ryan. “Your prettiness level is okay. It’s something-else.”
“What?” I ask.
“You smell bad,” he says. “You stink a bit. Your mouth stinks and your body stinks, too.”
“Oh,” I say. “Right.”
Hayley tuts disapprovingly. “Don’t talk to your mother like that,” she says. “Your mother doesn’t smell bad.”
“I was just trying to be helpful,” says Ryan, before getting up to go and play in the Spielecke.
“What do you think’s wrong with me?” I ask her, once Ryan’s gone. “I think I’m not feminine enough. It’s my legs. I have these sturdy, chunky, tree-trunk legs. And blobby sausagey arms. There’s so much of me. I’m so solid and chunky. People think I don’t need love letters. I guess people only write love letters to fragile, thin, wispy people.”
Hayley sweeps her hair back from her face like she’s Jennifer Aniston in a shampoo advert in the late 1990s.
“You must’ve had a love email,” she says.
“No,” I say. I look down at all the cheese and salami and ham and stuff. I always think I want to go out for brunch, but once I actually get there, I find it kind of depressing. All that forlorn ham, the miserable Schinken. That cold slimy feeling in your mouth. Whenever I eat brunch I feel slightly depressed.
“Ryan’s dad must’ve sent you a love email,” she says.
“No,” I say.
“Pete must’ve sent you a love email,” she says.
“No,” I say.
“He must have done,” she says. “You’ve been going out for a million years. Even the most unromantic man in the world would’ve sent you a love email now. Just out of boredom.”
“I think he once sent me a message on Facebook that said: ‘I miss you so much, when I get back to Berlin, I am gonna fuck you ragged. You won’t be able to walk for a week.’ He’d been away. I think he’d been to Manchester, helping his Mum sort out all his old stuff for when she sells the house. So he sent me that message on Facebook. I think he wrote: ‘I can’t wait to fuck you again.'”
“Oh, well,” says Hayley. “That’s got to count for something.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I guess it does.”