I've watched Neil Ayres' The New Goodbye go through a number of incarnations, and each time it's become a little bit stronger. Now, available from this week as an E-book, it's absolutely right. And it's wonderful.
With the sounds of cutlery and pans coming from the thin galley kitchen Vicente had disappeared into, Mila scanned a cheap CD tower of records. She found an R&B compilation and fed it into the player. The opening bars of Sam & Dave's Soul Man filled the apartment. In the kitchen, Vicente was dancing as he cooked and emulating the guitar fills as best he could with his terrible singing voice. Mila went to stand by the kitchen door.
'Ham, mushroom and onion. Hope that's okay.' He had already laid salad out on a wooden chopping block about a foot square: avocado, red lettuce, tomatoes, diamonds of cucumber and a handful of cress and some mint leaves, with lemon juice squeezed over it all. Mila hadn't eaten since breakfast and the smell of the omelette frying caused her stomach to growl. She drank a large mouthful from her glass in an effort to quieten it.
'Hungry?' Vicente said, teasing her with the fact this hunger would be satiated imminently.
'Peckish', she admitted.
'Here then.' Vicente flipped a browned omelette out onto the wooden block and picked up the neck of a bottle of olive oil and two forks wrapped in paper napkins. 'Let's go and eat.'
He carried the block into the lounge. Sam and Dave had given way to Nina Simone. Mila and Vicente sat on a soft and deep-seated sofa and Vicente set the food down between them.
'Thanks. So long as it tastes that way.'
They ate without speaking, each manoeuvring across the plate to meet in the middle at the heart of the omelette.
'Go ahead,' Vicente said.
Mila waved her arm to gesture for him to have it, but knocked the bottle of olive oil over. It had begun to glug over the skin of her thigh before Vicente had managed to right it. He held up one of the paper napkins.
'Here, let me.'
Mila didn't move, just let the towel soak off some of the oil from her skin and then massaged the rest in. Vicente pulled the towel away. The oil had soaked through to his palm. He put the paper down on the wood block and licked at his hand. Mila watched his tongue flick out a couple of times to caress the skin.
'If that works for you,' she said, upturning the bottle and letting the rich gold liquid pour out and run onto her lap, 'I'm sure it would work for me.'
Neil has a wonderful sense of tempo to his writing. It's always about the speed at which events happen, and he can slow a moment to a stroll through tender emotions. I admire his writing enormously and I think he deserves to be read more widely. So buy it now at an absolutely bargain price, and enjoy reading a story that's about the reality of being human.