“You’ve got lovely warm hands.” she told me right at the start. That was back when we were as good as married, but didn’t quite know it yet.
I remember the winter of 2003 as if it only just happened. Her rented house was a lovely little place made of Cotswold stone. It was in a new estate just springing up, being built and occupied all around us, beautiful but still becoming the thing it would one day be. People moved into the neighbouring streets and houses week by week and every weekend there was more – more life, more noise, more stuff. It seemed an appropriate place for us to begin. I remember the novelty of waking up in that bedroom, looking out of the window and thinking that this was the first of so many spaces we would share. I remember seeing the outline of her, through the steamed-up glass of the shower cubicle, and thinking that she belonged to me, whatever that might mean.
There were so many firsts that winter, and I remember them all. The first time we cooked together, the first time we danced round her little kitchen, the first time I read her shopping list on the whiteboard (“I ordered it from work,” she told me, “I thought it would come in handy”), the first time I realised I had thrown my lot in with a woman who made lists and was partial to a whiteboard. I remember dusting squid in salt and pepper and flour in a bag and frying it in a pan, I remember cavolo nero and cobnuts coming into season. I remember takeaways and strolls to the pub, I remember fireworks at the football club. I remember fireworks everywhere. I remember meeting friends for the first time and feeling nervous, meeting family for the first time and feeling more nervous still. I remember how much it mattered. I remember never feeling nervous when it was just the two of us.
Throughout all that, I remember how nice it was that she wanted my lovely warm hands anywhere near her, after years of them being surplus to requirements. It wasn’t just my hands that were warm, either: my thermostat has always run high. It doesn’t take long after I get into bed before it’s toasty in there, no electric blanket or hot water bottle required. In the winter of 2003 she used to rest her icy feet on mine, and I never once complained.
I didn’t realise then that my being in demand was a seasonal thing. When the mornings are gloomy and the hometime walk is studded with twinkling streetlights, I’m flavour of the month. I am someone to hold on to, something to luxuriate in. It’s always five more minutes, or turn round, or put your arm round me. When the alarm goes off and the blanket’s on the bed I’m the magnet that keeps her underneath it: me, and my lovely warm hands.
When spring arrives it’s a different story, and by summer I’ve completely lost my appeal. Come here changes to You’re boiling! and I want five more minutes becomes I can only manage five minutes of this. Closeness becomes a memory, a recollection of a different kind of warmth, suddenly dissipated.The saddest thing is that I don’t feel hot. I feel the same as I always did and everything as it was, except that bed has become a lonesome place. I stick to my side, and only head to hers when I’m called: I’ve learned, from personal experience, to keep my thermonuclear hands to myself.
One morning last week I woke up to find the duvet thrown off me and twisted out of shape. “I can’t stay long.” she said to me as she nestled against me. “You’re just too hot.” And I wanted to say “You used to love my lovely warm hands” but I thought better of it. There’s no point in telling anyone off for something they can’t help.
Besides, things are changing. Before too long my autumn clothes, my cotton mac and my pea coat, will be confined to the wardrobe until the spring. I’ll wear gloves again, and my breath will gather in the air like thin clouds. The windows will fog with condensation every morning and the grass will be sprinkled with frost. It’s already begun: the clocks went back this weekend and the towel rails were switched on overnight. There are consolations to dark mornings and darker evenings; my time is coming soon. When it does I tell myself that I’ll be magnanimous, not grudging. I will put myself at her disposal, like I always do, and I’ll remember the winter of 2003, all over again.