"No, there is no first love," said The Flatmate. "First love has always been ruined. It's ruined from the second the cells begin to divide. Your first love is the umbilical cord, obviously, and someone – in my case my father – made quick work of that, ceremonially cutting it to set the precedent of the way he fucked with the rest of my life, dividing me from anything of sustenance and generally ruining any relationship I could even begin to put together. So then what? Moving chronologically? Was it my mother then? If so, we broke up long ago, but like a compendium of every bad ex-girlfriend cliché, she still exerts power over my life and somehow knows what I'm up to and is jealous, is basically the font of all jealousy, the template no one could live up to. People say the word jealousy – they don't know jealousy. The forbidden jealousy – the jealousy that somewhere a son might be breathing without thinking of his mother with each exhalation, and sending out a little novena in her name.
"The first girl I loved lived on the other side of a busy road in my town. I would run across the road, unbeknownst to my parents, just so I could walk repeatedly, with the same practised nonchalance, three or four times, past her front door, studying the minute detail of the bell knocker – as if it could whisper the secrets of her heart. Then I would tramp back through ditches and over the dual carriageway. And what happened? The house gave up no secrets. The doors never opened. She got older, opened a tanning salon and had children – each one now as brown as her. The husband: brown. Since then my mother has mined a deep seam of passive aggressive comments about tanning. 'I saw Sarah. You remember Sarah? I do worry about her moles.' Like she's worried about a mole in her life! Like she's ever cared about a mole! That was my first human love.
"So what other unspoiled territory is there? The first pet I loved? A lizard, dead within weeks. It hung around just long enough to teach me that I could love a lizard then... gone. Dead and then dispatched – flushed down the loo by a mother whose jealousy extended even to lizards, as if she saw in their scaly skin some reflection of herself and her own sinister modes of operation. She flushed it and we all know you can't flush a lizard in one go, which is what I said, and because she couldn't admit she'd actually chopped the carcass in two, in some petty jealous rage, with a knife she probably used afterwards to make the tea, she had to stick by her story, which is even worse in some ways. My father the chortler was chortling in the corner. Anything to add to the hilarious ruin of your child's formative years – that was his motto. A good dose of undermining laughter delivered in his weird, chinless manner.
"So there was my first love, my first animal love, slowly floating in circles while its love rival repeatedly yanked the chain, sending it down and then, I'm sure, in that fury she saved for only the pettiest battles in life, I can see her smashing the water with her fist, smashing the animal that could not be easily flushed, all that water splashing about like the D-Day landings, similar volume, similar hatred of the foreign – and it's name was Fritz! I nearly forgot. I was in love with a lizard named Fritz, a name I just liked and had plucked from a book. No one warned me it might not be the best name, all things considered, even though the sound of it was great: crisp, it rhymed with 'tits'. My father wouldn't say anything – it was just a joke to him, some filler in a pub conversation, because that's all my fucking childhood was – punchlines, weak, weak punchlines. And for her – my God, there she was, finally, Winston Churchill smashing Fritz on the beaches of Normandy or perhaps in a downstairs loo in Reading – it doesn't matter. It was all the same in her zero-sum view of the world because she had to win, you see, she had to crush rivals, and if that meant never speaking to one of my cousins because of a slight comment made over – and this is true – the consistency of her potato salad, so be it! Cut them off, bring up the Berlin wall, breeze block by breeze block, goodbye to that cousin. Tell her to fuck off is she doesn't like it thick with a bit of horseradish. And if my aunt said something she might perceive in her cold lizard brain to have some subtext of snootiness – Berlin Wall. The mothers of other people had Greenham Common and they would organize for CND and they would take back the night but what a bunch of silly cunts, you know, because it was my mother who knew the score, who knew the greatest battles were crushing the enemies that might have questioned your potato salad and smashing your son's beloved lizard, as if it were an evil green scaly turd, down the loo after cutting it up in the kitchen because even though she said she didn't, I would not be surprised. Why not bury it? Why not just bury it! Welcome to my childhood. If there was a path leading to crisis, Mum was already on it, racing ahead, because at least she knew she was alive. At least she know she was feeling something. And you know, I've never asked how Fritz actually died. I've never even asked. But it's late, isn't it? So yes, those are my first loves. Thank you for asking."
He finished his drink. The two Americans across the table stared at him.