Divorce diaries: Crowded house

Can a critique of someone’s interior decorating include the presence of their surly 20-year-old?

After three eyewatering months, I’ve succeeded in getting Ad Man to turn off the overhead kitchen light. I began subtly: casually leaning on the switch, lighting candles. Nothing worked. Ad Man would simply turn the High Output Wide Floodlight Bulb back on, and plough placidly through his blindingly lit tuna maki. If my Berlin years have taught me anything, it’s not to leave the house without dark glasses – you never know when you’ll emerge from a dingy underground club into broad daylight and find yourself surrounded by schoolchildren – but I never imagined I’d don sunnies for dinner.
Frankly, I defy anyone over the age of 40, even Kate Moss, to look halfway presentable under light so searing you could perform intricate surgery on your inside-out sushi roll. Every time I catch sight of my top-lit reflection, I feel like giving up: on dinner, on my relationship, and on the whole damn battle against age and time. It’s all very well to invent planet-saving, energy-saving bulbs – but can’t they come up with something that makes us look less like pterodactyls?
My friend Tiny – half-German, half-English, wholly helpful – chides me. “You’ve been in Berlin for years and you’re still pussyfooting around like a New Zealander! Germans don’t get subtlety. If you dislike something, for fuck’s sake just come out and say it!”
So, having finally come out and said it – “I can’t endure one more evening under your blazing naked bulb that makes me look 100 years old and chargrills the sushi” – I’m eating dinner and drinking riesling with Ad Man bathed in the gentle glow of tealights. He looks slightly puzzled and occasionally uses the flashlight on his phone to inspect what’s on the end of his chopsticks. But he doesn’t seem offended.
Wham! The door flies open, and in walks Ad Man’s son Axel, his huge dog Pluto trailing behind him. “Why the fuck are you eating in the dark?” He slams his hand on the light switch and strides, floodlit, to the fridge where he swigs Coke straight from the bottle. Part of me understands (it tastes better that way), while most of me hopes that Ad Man will admonish him.
Ad Man smiles tolerantly. “Futomaki, son? Shrimp tempura?” Although I admire him for finally stepping up to the parental plate, I can’t help wishing he’d left it a little longer – like until our mismatched romance has run its course. Axel, having arrived for “a night or two”, has now been around for three weeks – and his surly, smouldering presence is making me uncomfortable.
“Most of the time he treats me like his mother and completely ignores me,” I tell Tiny. “At other times he actually eyes me up.”
“Of course he does,” says Tiny unreassuringly. “You’re divorced, you’re sleeping with his father, you haven’t been given a key, and he sees you leave every morning in your clothes from the night before. You’re the resident whore.”
As the light blazes merrily and Pluto flops on my feet, I reach for my sunglasses and shovel pickled ginger into my mouth. Axel tells Ad Man there are no jobs out there for 20-year-olds with tattoos on their wrists, chips on their shoulders and Rhodesian ridgebacks glued to their sides. “So I’ll have to stay a bit longer,” he finishes. Ad Man nods sympathetically. “Mi casa es tu casa!”
“I’m going to bed,” I mutter from behind my dark shades, feeling like an ageing Greta Garbo, tired of men, bright lights, and life.
“There in a minute, dear,” says Ad Man absently.
As I extricate myself from dog paws, Axel gives a Coke burp and stares at me. “Could you keep it down tonight? I can hear everything you two do.”
Ferociously I dive into bed and call Tiny. “I’ve just discovered my inner German. I’m going to tell Ad Man I don’t like his son.”
“Oh, sweetie, you can’t do that.” Tiny sounds shocked. “It’s only okay with interior decoration, furniture and footwear. Not people.” He adds hopefully, “Is he hot?”
“I don’t know! He’s 20!”
“Discover your inner cougar,” advises Tiny. “It’ll make things easier.” Ad Man blunders in and I hang up. But instead of lunging for me, as he usually does, he creeps about, neatly folding his clothes.
“What?” I strain to hear; his voice is so low he could feature on a meditation app. “Why are you whispering?”
“Sorry.” He tiptoes to the bed and slips noiselessly between the sheets. “Axel needs his sleep. Night, dear.”
Words by Sarah Quigley
Photos by Getty Images

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