Bunny Boiler by Chris Green
I hadn’t seen Guy Manson for nearly twenty years, so to find him in front of me at the checkout at Sainsbury’s was a bolt out of the blue. When I had last seen him, he and Sadie were moving to the Medoc in France. They had inherited some land. Quite a bit of land. Before his fatal accident, Sadie’s father, Gaston Chevalier, had been a name in the equestrian world, bloodlines and insider stuff. I got the impression that Guy was seduced by this opportunity for social advancement.
Over the years, I had thought of Guy occasionally, well, to be fair, more than occasionally. But only as a distant star in my firmament. We had had a tempestuous affair in our early twenties. I had nearly moved in with him before finding out he was also sleeping with my friend Natasha. But all this happened a long time ago. Water under the bridge. While I would not say that I had carried a torch, I had a soft spot for Guy.
I was not sure it was him at first and had to do a double-take. I did not want to embarrass myself. He had put on a few pounds and had a little less hair, but he still looked hunky in his tight-fitting Chinos and buffalo-check shirt. Perhaps he had taken up sports or started going to the gym. He had not been the sporty type when I knew him. We used to sit around and smoke dope in his flat and listen to The Joshua Tree and Appetite for Destruction. We went to see Gaye Bykers On Acid and Pop Will Eat Itself at a festival in Finsbury Park, I recall. Bands seemed to have more anarchic names back then. I couldn’t see either of these getting on Ex-Factor.
‘Having a party, Guy?’ I said, as he loaded his wine onto the belt. ‘Am I invited?’
He turned around and, for a second or two, looked spooked. You do not always recognise someone immediately when they appear out of context. I could practically hear the cerebral activity taking place behind those searching brown eyes as he struggled to identify me.
‘My God! Heather, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘Hey, it’s great to see you.’
‘You’re looking well,’ I said, looking him up and down, mostly down, I’m ashamed to say.
‘Well, you know,’ he said. ‘You have to make an effort. None of us is getting any younger.’
‘How’s Sadie?’ I said, as a follow-up, hoping the enquiry wasn’t being too transparent. My own long-term relationship with Pete was on its last legs. Of course, I wanted Guy to say that Sadie was history. That he was enjoying being a bachelor again, and could he take me out for dinner sometime? But this is not what he came out with.
Perhaps the bouquet of flowers he was unloading from his trolley should have provided a clue, but there could have been other explanations for these. I could not have known that Sadie had been in hospital. How the conversation might have progressed without my faux pas is hard to say, but I’m certain it closed its scope a little. He told me they had sold up in France when Sadie became ill and I told him I had two grown-up children, Charles and Eddie.
‘Eddie is a girl, by the way,’ I said. ‘Anyway, they have both gone off to university, to opposite ends of the country. To get away from me, I think.’ Did it seem like I was inviting him to come round, I wondered? I hadn’t mentioned Pete at all in the conversation.
‘See you later,’ he said all too casually after he had packed away his shopping.
Although on the surface, it appeared he couldn’t wait to get away, I liked to think this was to hide his embarrassment at feeling attracted to me. His body language told me he was fighting it.
I only had a few items, and I left the store just in time to catch a glimpse of him driving off in a black Audi. He had a personalised number plate, GUY123. An easy one to remember.
As Guy was shopping locally, I assumed he must live close by, but I didn’t imagine that I’d see the car again so soon. The following day, I found myself behind him at the London Road traffic lights. He did not see me in my grey Focus. He seemed to be playing with the controls of his in-car hi-fi or whatever men do to relieve their boredom when they are stopped at lights. I pulled the sunshade down. I could follow him to see where he was heading. I did not know what he did for a living these days, so I used my imagination about what he might be up to. I followed him several blocks keeping a discreet distance, during which time he was a film director, a stockbroker, a heart surgeon, a cabinet minister and a spy. Perhaps not a spy. Driving an Audi with a cherished number plate might not be good for undercover work. In fact, all these ideas seemed way off. Guy had always been an opportunist, a fly by night. I couldn’t see him putting in the hours for a professional career.
Along Albion Road, he signalled to pull in, and I dived in several vehicles behind. He got out, and a woman in a floral printed dress got out of a red sports car and came towards him. I was shocked to see how he greeted his new friend. A passionate kiss in broad daylight by the side of the road, and off they went off arm in arm. He was cheating on Sadie and with her only just out of hospital. What a cad! This must have been who the flowers were for. The lavish arrangement had seemed altogether too vibrant for a sympathy get well soon bouquet.
It is hard to explain why, but there is something attractive about a blackguard. Since time immemorial, women have fallen for absolute bastards, and it seemed I was no exception. Guy’s profligacy only added to his appeal. I was smitten. Maybe it was visceral or maybe it was hormonal, but I found I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I found it difficult to concentrate on anything. Several times a day at work, I forgot what I was doing. I could not remember who I was talking to on the phone and had to ask. My work colleagues remarked that I seemed distracted. What I needed was a girls’ night out. I told them I didn’t think that was what I needed. They laughed. My boss, Michelle, called me in to ask if anything was wrong. The enquiry over, the meeting turned into more of a dressing down.
‘Blue Heaven is a niche PR company,’ she said. ‘We can’t have our representatives calling important clients Guy when they are not called Guy.’
‘Bad hair day,’ I said. ‘It won’t happen again.’
‘That was Vaughan Conti of Conti and Conti. This is a six-figure contract.’
‘Shall I send him an email to apologise?’ I said.
‘I think you should take a few days off to sort things out,’ Michelle said. ‘Go away somewhere to clear your head.’
With time on my hands, I found myself thinking of Guy more and more. I watched Fifty Shades of Grey on Hulu Classics and it turned into Fifty Shades of Guy. I fantasised about Guy taking me in the back seat of his car or roughly over the kitchen table. Sometimes he would tie me up and sometimes he would let me tie him up.
By tailing Guy, I discovered he lived in a barn conversion just out of town. There were few cars on the road, so even in the Ford, I had to keep a safe distance. I visited Grange Rustique to see what more I could find out. The salmon pink Mini that was always parked outside each time was presumably Sadie’s. Pete’s night vision binoculars came in handy. I could keep an eye on the place late into the evening. Sadie didn’t go out at all, but then if you are still convalescing, you would want to take it easy at home.
I also discovered Guy worked at a construction site. They were building a new block of bespoke luxury apartments called Kensington Towers, which the hoarding said would be ready for Christmas. He wasn’t a brickie or an electrician or anything like that. He went to work smartly dressed and seemed to come and go as he pleased.
While finding out his phone number was easy, finding him on Facebook proved a little harder. There were a surprising number of Guy Mansons. His profile picture showed him on the beach in a white T-shirt. It might have been taken a few years ago, but he looked good. I scrolled through the other pics. None of them showed Sadie. I was encouraged by this. I didn’t recognise the names of any of his 187 Facebook Friends. Sadie, it seemed, didn’t use Facebook, or any of Guy’s other social media, which was unusual.
I noticed Guy’s musical tastes had changed. He now liked Downtempo and Nu-Lounge. I listened to Thievery Corporation and De Phazz on YouTube and to my surprise, I liked them too. I had not heard much of this type of thing. It didn’t get on to Radio playlists, and Pete had not moved on from seventies rock. I found Guy’s other choices to my taste too. Cool jazz outfits with names like Ezra Collective and Nubiyan Twist were a breath of fresh air. These were hopeful signs. Soon we would be going to dimly lit jazz clubs and taking off to the coast for relaxing weekends.
Later on, depending on how things went, I might even get to boil his bunny. Although this was a worst-case scenario, I found myself looking up rabbit recipes on my iPhone. Delia Smith made a delicious rabbit pie, and Mary Berry a sumptuous rabbit stew.
I met my friend Azora for coffee. Azora was a psychologist. We had known each other for ten years. She knew I was prone to flights of fancy. She would be able to put my situation into perspective. Over cappuccino and caramel cake at Carluccio’s, I shared my news.
‘So you and this Guy were lovers twenty years ago,’ she said.
What was it that made psychologists repeat what you have told them?
‘Probably nearer thirty years, come to think of it,’ I said, calculating how long I’d been with Pete and considering Charles and Eddie’s ages.
‘And this old flame, this blast from the past, is still hunky?’
‘He’s divine. He’s aged well,’ I said. ‘He’s like that Italian actor, you know the one.’
‘Robert de Nero?’
‘No, no. Not him. The one who was in La Dolce Vita.’
‘Before my time, I’m afraid,’
‘And this Guy knows all about your ….. fascination.’
‘Not exactly, but he will soon. I think perhaps when we met in the supermarket he was just shy.’
‘He doesn’t sound shy. What about this other woman?’
‘I don’t know about her yet. I think that’s the next thing I have to do.’
‘My advice is to steer clear,’ said Azora, ‘but I’m guessing that’s not going to happen.’
Psychologist, she may have been, but Azora didn’t understand how I felt. So, I didn’t tell her I had made silent calls from my anonymous number to hear his voice.
Sadie was absent from Guy’s circles, but I could not see Guy’s new friend amongst his Facebook friends or photos, either. Maybe this one didn’t bother with social media. Or was Guy trying to keep their relationship secret? Perhaps she too was married. I phoned Blue Heaven and told Michelle I had taken a turn for the worse and needed a few more days off.
I bought large black sunglasses and a dark floppy hat and used the time to tail Guy. I became good at concealing the Focus in spaces between other grey cars. Whether they were marketed as wilderness, windspray, or evening haze, about half the cars on the street were basically grey. I also became adept at following two cars behind him once I had an idea where he might be heading. Tailing someone, it turned out, was remarkably easy. Whenever he stopped, I took photos with the generous zoom on the pocket Nikon I bought in John Lewis.
Several times, he left the construction site to go to an address in Chelsea Square. He stayed for two to three hours. I assumed he was visiting his new friend. Perhaps she wasn’t married. Or perhaps she was married, and they used this apartment as their love nest. I felt hurt, but at the same time, I felt excited. It was as if it were my own secret tryst. As if I were alone with Guy. I fantasised about what this would be like.
Each time Guy visited Chelsea Square, the front door would be opened by the entryphone mechanism and I could see suspicious movement behind a window on the ground floor. After this, the Venetian blind was drawn. On my third visit, I crept up to the window and peered in through a small gap in the slats.
What I saw was not what I had expected to see. Guy was in a steamy embrace with a different woman. This was not his new friend, this was a new new friend. The man was shameless. Just like he had cheated on me all those years ago, he was still cheating. He was cheating on his cheat. My shock at my discovery, however, was tempered with excitement. If I planned things right, I figured I could be next. After I had followed him back home, I booked myself in at Wax Factor for a complete beauty treatment and Hair Today for a style overhaul. Next time he went to the supermarket for his wine I would be there in my finery. He would be unable to resist.
After my hairdresser, Aria, had told me about her holiday in St Lucia, she asked me if I had any holidays planned and we got into a conversation about Guy.
‘It’s a shame you can’t take a course in being a mistress,’ she said. ‘Then you’d be able to see how to get the best from the situation.’
I told her I didn’t think I needed a course. I knew what I was doing.
‘A friend of my brother’s says he thinks of women like library books,’ she said. ‘He takes one out for a couple of weeks, returns her and takes another out.’
‘Then I’ll need to make sure that Guy wants to renew me,’ I said.
Aria told me to be careful.
At the supermarket, Guy was putting the Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon into his trolley when I surprised him.
‘I prefer Merlot,’ I said. ‘Had you thought of that?’
‘Heather,’ he said. ‘Wow, babe. You look fantastic. Are you going somewhere nice?’
‘Only if you’re taking me somewhere nice,’ I said.
He seemed to fiddle with some loose change in his trouser pocket while he thought it over. ‘I can’t right now,’ he said finally. ‘But we could meet up for a drink later, if you are not doing anything.’
I was not doing anything. I gave him my number. I had already written it out on some scented notepaper.
We went out to dinner and before I knew it we were spending long weekends away, during which he took me to clubs I thought I was much too old for to listen to music I thought I was much too conventional for. We made out in ways that I had never dreamt possible. One time, he even took me to his house. I said I did not think it was a good idea. What about Sadie? He just said that it would be all right. At the house, the salmon coloured Mini was gone and there was no sign of Sadie. I wondered where she might be. Had she gone away perhaps to convalesce? Had she even been in hospital? It was not that Guy lied about her during any of our clandestine meetings, he never once mentioned her. The only time that he had spoken about her was in Sainsbury’s that first time. Each time I brought her name into the conversation, he changed the subject. He did not mention any of his new friends either and, of course, I could not tell him I knew about them. He never referred to our relationship of old, or to Natasha, who he had dumped me for all those years ago. The past, it seemed, was taboo.
Azora phoned me. I suspect that she had an inkling that I hadn’t followed her advice.
‘How’s it going?’ she said. ‘How’s Marcello Mastroianni shaping up?’
‘It’s going well,’ I said. ‘Everything’s fantastic between us. Guy opens new doors for me.’
‘I’m pleased to hear that,’ she said. ‘As you know, I had my doubts.’
‘But it looks as if Pete might be moving out,’ I said, giving her something to work with. Psychologists don’t like it if you don’t have a problem. ‘We haven’t spoken for days and he’s packing things in boxes.’
‘Haven’t spoken for days!’ she repeated. ‘Packing things in boxes.’
‘We haven’t been happy together for years. My affair just gave us the excuse to take the next step.’
‘But your Italian stallion is married too, isn’t he? What has happened there?’
‘It’s a mystery. He doesn’t talk about her,’ I said. ‘It seems a little odd, I know, but he doesn’t acknowledge the past at all.’
‘Sounds dangerous to me,’ she said. ‘I do hope you know what you are doing, Heather.’
‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘I’ve got it all under control.’
Towards the end of our third weekend away, an idyllic couple of days in Southwold, I sensed Guy was nearing his boredom threshold. Not only was he eyeing up all the girls on the beach, but he was also making secret phone calls. On our last night there, he disappeared in the middle of the night and the next morning at breakfast refused to say where he had been. He smelt of an unfamiliar perfume. It confirmed my suspicions that I was dealing with a pathological philanderer. He was always moving forward, planning ahead. To my chagrin, when we had gone to the house, there had been no sign that he kept rabbits or pets of any sort. I also felt it was unlikely that I would get another invitation to Grange Rustique. I had to think of another way to wreak my revenge.
The billboard wasn’t originally my idea, but I was surprised by just how many bunny boiler websites there were to offer suggestions. Revenge was big business.
Working in PR, through my creative contacts, it was easy to get a forty-eight by fourteen feet design made up. Guy was so narcissistic, photos of him were plentiful. I was further spoiled for choice, as I also had an array of secret shots of him. I chose one of these. A black and white caught off-guard head and shoulders shot of Guy. To frame it, I selected some other pics of him I knew he would hate. I set some text in red Helvetica Bold to run across the collage.
Starring Guy Manson
Coming to Your Screens Soon
Within forty-eight hours, I had billboards up across five counties. Best of all, I managed to pay for the entire set with Guy’s credit card.
Copyright © Chris Green, 2022: All rights reserved