'I'll get the beers,' she said. 'You find a table.'
He scanned the pub. The only available table was near the window. He said, 'Couldn't we stand at the bar?'
'Don't be daft. I won't be able to smoke. Plus it's annoying for people when they want to get served.'
He made his way to the window table, sat, and waited. Practical for once, he'd chosen this pub with care. In his experience, it was best to have conversations that might end in tears in the most public setting possible. Somehow, the fact of being observed by strangers acted as a governor on the volume and ferocity of the response.
And the location, near Senate House, was ideal. It was on her way back from work, so once he'd done the deed, he could disappear into the library, and she could make her way home. There’d be none of that awkwardness of having to travel together.
The only drawback was the graffiti. He'd noticed it on previous visits, but hadn't given it much thought. Opposite was a tall, narrow townhouse. The flat roof was painted in jaunty sky blue. Just below the guttering, in the same paint, somebody had written the words 'I LOVED YOU'. And now these words were making him nervous.
To distract himself, he rehearsed the reasons he was going to dump her. He had a list. Firstly, she didn't take him seriously enough. She was like this from the off. When they met, and he told her he was doing research on T.S.Eliot she'd said, 'Didn’t he write the lyrics to "Cats"?'
Yet, despite her piss-taking, she was far more interested than she let on. At the end of a day's research, he'd update her on his progress. He'd circle slowly round the bones of an idea like a bull-fighter with performance anxiety. She, in contrast, could smack an idea into place like swatting a wasp.
In fairness, she'd been more help than his supervisor, who was inert in the mornings, slurred and rambling after lunch. When he'd proposed researching the role of silence in Eliot's work, his supervisor had misheard him and thought he'd said science. For a moment he became almost enthusiastic.
The emphasis of the thesis had changed over time. It started as the meaning of silence in Eliot's work, but this raised the problem of determining meaning. Then it became the importance of silence, which only raised the difficulty of deciding what was important. He sometimes felt he'd have been better off if he had actually chosen to examine the role of science in Eliot's poetry. At least there was less of it.
Second on his list was the fact that their personalities were diametrically opposite. She didn't have an introvert bone in her body. He'd lost count of the parties she'd dragged him to. She'd disappear to mingle, checking back on him occasionally until he was properly settled in conversation with some other begrudging wallflower.
And she could be so pushy. She kept talking now about them moving in together. The worst of it was she was so pragmatic about it all. He'd say, 'I need to work out my feelings. It's not something you just make up your mind about.'
Angry then, she'd said, 'Of course it is. People make up their minds about crap like what car to buy, or what job to do. But when it comes to who they're going to be with, they come over all hippy.' She made sarcastic wispy gestures with her hands and put on a voice like Neil from 'The Young Ones'; 'Oh, I need to get in touch with my innermost feelings.'
He sighed, and looked up again at the graffiti. There was something intriguing about it. It was open to a number of readings, a number of guesses about its genesis. Perhaps it started life just as 'I LOVE YOU', then the author added the final D as a coward's way of breaking the news it was over. Or maybe the phrase, complete, was daubed there once the relationship was over - a last attempt to guilt-trip a leaving lover into returning.
Somehow, it all seemed so final, but so horribly unfinished. Surely there was more to be said. The situation demanded further explanation.
He felt an elbow dig into his side. She was here with the drinks.
'Shift over, dozy.'
He looked at her, moved a chair to make room for her.
'So,' she said, 'What was it you wanted to talk to me about?'
He looked at her again. 'Oh, nothing that can't wait.'