‘Have you split up now?’
‘Are you being funny?’
People quite often thought Marcus was being funny when he wasn’t. He couldn’t understand it. Asking his mum whether she’d split up with Roger was a perfectly sensible question, he thought: they’d had a big row, then they’d gone off into the kitchen to talk quietly, and after a little while they’d come out looking serious, and Roger had come over to him, shaken his hand and wished him luck at his new school, and then he’d gone.
‘Why would I want to be funny?’
‘Well, what does it look like to you?’
‘It looks to me like you’ve split up. But I just wanted to make sure.’
‘We’ve split up.’
‘So he’s gone?’
‘Yes, Marcus, he’s gone.’
He didn’t think he’d ever get used to this business. He had quite liked Roger, and the three of them had been out a few times; now, apparently, he’d never see him again. He didn’t mind, but it was weird if you thought about it. He’d once shared a toilet with Roger, when they were both busting for a pee after a car journey. You’d think that if you’d peed with someone you ought to keep in touch with them somehow.
‘What about his pizza?’ They’d just ordered three pizzas when the argument started, and they hadn’t arrived yet.
‘We’ll share it. If we’re hungry.’
‘They’re big, though. And didn’t he order one with pepperoni on it?’ Marcus and his mother were vegetarians. Roger wasn’t.
‘We’ll throw it away, then,’ she said.
‘Or we could pick the pepperoni off. I don’t think they give you much of it anyway. It’s mostly cheese and tomato.’
‘Marcus, I’m not really
thinking about the pizzas right now.’
‘OK. Sorry. Why did you split up?’
‘Oh… this and that. I don’t really know how to explain it.’
Marcus wasn’t surprised that she couldn’t explain what had happened. He’d heard more or less the whole argument, and he hadn’t understood a word of it; there seemed to be a piece missing somewhere. When Marcus and his mum argued, you could hear the important bits: too much, too expensive, too late, too young, bad for your teeth, the other channel, homework, fruit. But when his mum and her boyfriends argued, you could listen for hours and still miss the point, the thing, the fruit and homework part of it. It was like they’d been told to argue and just came out with anything they could think of.
‘Did he have another girlfriend?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Have you got another boyfriend?’
She laughed. ‘Who would that be? The guy who took the pizza orders? No, Marcus, I haven’t got another boyfriend. That’s not how it works. Not when you’re a thirty-eight-year-old working mother. There’s a time problem. Ha! There’s an everything problem. Why? Does it bother you?’
And he didn’t know. His mum was sad, he knew that – she cried a lot now, more than she did before they moved to London – but he had no idea whether that was anything to do with boyfriends. He kind of hoped it was, because then it would all get sorted out. She would meet someone, and he would make her happy. Why not? His mum was pretty, he thought, and nice, and funny sometimes, and he reckoned there must be loads of blokes like Roger around. If it wasn’t boyfriends, though, he didn’t know what it could be, apart from something bad.
‘Do you mind me having boyfriends?’
‘No. Only Andrew.’
‘Well, yes, I know you didn’t like Andrew.