Gerry from over the road has married his car.
‘It’s a beautiful colour,’ Julia tells him at the coronation party. ‘I hope you make each other very happy.’
‘Thank you,’ says Gerry. ‘It’s a burnt orange, the colour.’ Then a little smile. ‘It’s what I named her after, Siena.’
Even though his robust, fat cheeks and heavy brow make his eyes look like dice in a funnel, and even though he wears t-shirts with large Japanese kanji typography that never even rose to the ranks of kitsch, Gerry wears the pride of a pioneer. But, as is the case in cul-de-sacs, it’s simulacra: there have been a few headlines in recent months, other men proposing to their cars.
‘Men,’ Julia had said, when Gerry’s announcement went out over the WhatsApp group. ‘Men can have all their little weird therapies aired, absorbed and made normal. Marrying cars and holograms and algorithms of their dead wives.’
Julia had spun at me, a little wide-eyed, like a child adjusting themselves to a quaint-looking but aggressive fairground ride. ‘Fuck’s sake. No surprise that film was called Her and not Him.’
A little unfair, I’d thought, but nodded and let it go.
I’m a few drinks in now, so I say to Gerry, in a soft, conspiratorial tone: ‘Isn’t it a tad eccentric.’ I pause to let him think that’s the question, to which I know he’ll have pre-prepped answers. Then I ask — timing it just as he starts to say ‘Well, Sam’ —
‘that you named your wife?’
Underneath fluttering Union Jacks, next to an own-brand M&S palomino sherry trifle that’s snared a doomed bluebottle, and on top of a street sunken and scarred by record temperatures, Gerry pauses.
Ha! Eat shit, Gerry. ‘Well, Sam.’ He takes a slow sip of chablis — the expensive stuff we bought, not the vinegar he turned up with. ‘No, no, not at all,’ he answers. And he sketches something about the beauty of codependency — ‘I might have named her, but she carries me’ — and moves to the cheeseboard.
Not that I’ve put him off. He’s telling everyone about how funny she is, how she just gets him, how the child-detection function on self-driving mode is still a bit janky but hey no one’s perfect haha! and, ‘Oh, her voice, it’s just mellifluous.’ I want to call out the passive tense. I want to say: ‘She doesn’t have a mellifluous voice, Gerry. You gave her one.’
‘And, of course, she’s fully electric,’ he says.
So no exhaust pipes, and — as I know from googling it — her charging port is a byzantine structure of small honeycomb holes.
‘Which rules that out,’ I say to Julia later that evening, with a wink she doesn’t see.
‘Gerry,’ I also say to Julia later that evening, jabbing my toothbrush too close to her so that she tells me to piss off. ‘Gerry would have stabbed Caesar just so he could say he was part of it, but he wouldn’t have been first in. Or second or third.
‘He wouldn’t have been last, either, which takes a certain courage. He’d have been in the middle somewhere, with the deed already done, all swept up by proceedings, like, like fucking pollen.
‘Gerry’s not the kind of person to make history, Julia. At best, he’s the kind of person to help it along the way.
‘He’s the kind of person to bring national trends to the parochial and think he’s some kind of tip of the spear.’ I laugh. ‘Marrying his car. Of course he is. Fucking Gerry.’
As if without increment, I find myself in my silk pyjamas, table lamp on, book on Hannibal’s campaigns in hand.
‘It is a nice car, though,’ Julia says, looking out at Siena between the blind slats. Julia’s still in her party gear and I realise she didn’t clean her teeth. There are some bags by her feet.
‘I wonder if it comes in yellow?’