The Last Romeo: Single in the Supermarket
On February 1 2018, my life changed for ever (kind of) when I became a published author and the e-book version of my debut novel The Last Romeo came out. The paperback version would follow in May (this is a thing they do sometimes) and the real publicity would begin, but until then I had a “soft launch” into what it was like being an author. Eased in gently, you might say, if you’d never read a one-star Amazon review.
Anyway, to celebrate a whole year of The Last Romeo being out there, here is what you might call a deleted scene from the very first draft. It had to go for pacing reasons, but was originally from the first chapter, and features the protagonist James facing the reality of being alone for the first time in six years, now his relationship with the not-very-nice Adam is over. The finished book is no poorer for its exclusion, and it doesn’t give too much away, but I thought it would be nice to share. Maybe if you haven’t read it yet, it will persuade you. And if it doesn’t, remember: this part isn’t in the book anymore so maybe you will like the book anyway. In May, I’ll share another part that was mercilessly slashed from the final book again.
“Real life was outside. I had been outside before. Adam was there. Memories, cultural references, faint reminders – they were all there, waiting for me. It was time to act like a civilised human being again. Put some clothes on. Run product through my hair. Become reacquainted with concealer. Go to the supermarket. I sprinted down the stairs, pretending I wasn’t dreading my first lungful of fresh air as a single man, clutching the kitsch little drawstring shopping bag – an Adam purchase; I wondered if he would miss it.
The door from the communal stairwell to the street didn’t look sturdy enough to be protecting me from reality. Its paint – once white, I assumed – was flaking and it had a gap at the bottom wide enough for leaves to blow into the hallway, not to mention crisp packets. God not again, yet more torture from someone else’s maize snacks. When would I be free of crisp packets? Appended to it in yellowing tape were two signs, one handwritten and the other printed in very large, bold and red type. The first asked that you make sure you shut the door firmly to stop street drinkers getting inside, while the other implored you not to slam it. Were these signs from the same person? A never-satisfied phonophobia sufferer who desperately wanted the door to be closed but only if the noise it made hit an unattainable sweet spot? Had they stuck up “DO NOT SLAM THE DOOR” first, but run out of printer ink when it came to creating its follow-up? Or did “PLEASE INSURE (sic) THE DOOR IS PROPERLY CLOSED OR THE STREET DRINKERS WILL GET INSIDE” come first, and prove to be such a success that its writer wanted to make sure the sequel was even more impressive? Or perhaps the signs were from two warring neighbours, one of whom was perfectly fine to let the door swing open, and for the aforementioned street drinkers to treat the communal area like a speakeasy, just to annoy the other, who got their kicks from having an extra door between them and society. Either way, I was spending far too long thinking about this, and I knew why – it was the perfect way to delay opening the door and going outside alone.
The street looked less clean than it had when, a mere 48 hours earlier, Adam had heaved a box onto his shoulder and sidled past me wordlessly, to begin the long trudge up the stairs. The kebab shop sign glared out into the dusk, while a woman carrying a carrier bag bursting with what looked like family-size bags of popcorn and swigging daintily from a can of lager sat on the lone fold-up chair outside it. Seeing my ashen face and my tweedy jacket she pointed at me.
‘Well, good evening to you, Prince William,’ she cackled, before bursting out laughing and congratulating herself on her own joke. I looked up at the kebab shop sign, compromising both an illustration of a cone of very yellow chips and an actual photo of a kebab next to a box of chicken. The chicken was greyer than a hairdresser’s floor on pension day and the kebab looked like it had suffered some kind of major trauma seconds before the photograph was taken, sometime in 1989.
‘I refuse to eat anywhere with pictures on the menu,’ had been a favourite retort of Adam’s whenever I suggested getting a takeaway.
I’d been mildly excited at the thought of living over a shop, as it seemed like a very ‘London’ thing to do, like I was the long-lost final verse of Common People. I now realised I’d been an idiot, and was going to see out the rest of my single days in hell. Why had I ever come outside?
I’d set foot in many a supermarket solo, of course, buying things last-minute or sneaking over to the small Tesco for another bottle of wine at 9:30 pm while Adam stayed behind and cued up another playlist or boxset.
‘We don’t have to drink it all,’ we’d laugh as we poured, knowing our heads wouldn’t hit the pillow until every drop was drained. But this felt different because now, for the first time, shopping for one. I stood watching the automatic doors open and close for a while – the shoppers came out, heaving huge bags of shopping to their cars, or gambolling out carefree and happy, carrying just a leek or a pack of beers, rushing home to someone or something that wasn’t my flat above the kebab shop. A security guard with a thin moustache was looking at me suspiciously so I went inside and grabbed a trolley. Whoops! Force of habit. A basket should suffice. Shopping for one.
If you needed confirmation we lived in a society obsessed with being partnered up and having children, head to a supermarket. Shelves upon shelves of reminders you’re all alone – colossal family packs, two for the price of one, suitable for freezing, 50% extra free. Everything geared toward having someone at home waiting for you, to cook for you. I picked up packs of poultry or vegetables like an explorer, gazing at them in wonder. What would I cook now Adam wasn’t coming through the door anymore? I couldn’t make stews or casseroles or risottos. Not for one. Who would I talk to while I chopped, measured, pot-watched and stirred? Who would take a forkful and tell me ‘Mmm, lovely’? or, more likely in Adam’s case, ‘The bottom of the dustbin is going to appreciate this far more than I ever would’. Nobody, that’s who. I had never realised how much I’d needed Adam’s approval – even over something stupid like a bacon sandwich – until that moment.
I wandered over to the ready meals, my basket bumping against my thigh. I didn’t really eat ready meals; I found myself heavily influenced by hysterical magazine articles and bloggers who screamed about there being more sugar in a prefaced lasagne than there was in 17 cans of Coke, and Adam had a personal trainer who could smell additives and saturated fats at 20 paces. Adam and I had occasionally got a ‘pierce and ping’ dinner on a Friday night, when we were too knackered, but usually curries – ‘A curry is a curry,’ Adam would say, ‘they’re bad for you anyway’ – and we’d do star jumps the next morning. But now ready meals were my life. Things you rarely see in the world anymore. Lancashire hot pot. Liver and onions. What the hell was a Cumberland pie? I settled for a deathly ill carbonara and headed for the checkout. Placing my shopping on the conveyor belt was a sobering experience; it looked like a New Year’s resolution. A huge bag of salad I knew would go off without being opened was the very last thing I unpacked. The assistant surveyed my shopping sadly and began to scan.
I looked up from packing to see her searching for the code on an overlong cucumber. Catching me looking, she waggled it at me and cackled.
‘Quiet night in?’ she screeched, before sending it hurtling down the conveyor to me, collapsing into fits of laughter.
Back in the flat, oven on and a text to Bella to tell her I’d been outside at last.
Well done. How was it?
Awful. Why don’t supermarkets
sell anything for single people?
All chicken comes in packs of 4.
Freeze it.I have a capsule
wardrobe of 5 meals. Stir fry.
Grilled chicken and rice.
Sometimes I make a batch
and freeze them.
A capsule wardrobe of meals?
You sound like someone who sits in the
quiet carriage of a train in yoga pants
doing pelvic floor exercises.
Fuck you. I like quiet carriages.
The supermarket made me sad.
Full of couples.
Yeah but you didn’t want to be in a
couple anymore and they’re all probably
dead miserable on the inside.
Drew and me went to Tesco every
Wednesday and had a massive row
in the car park every time.
I wish this cheered me up more
than it does. I don’t suppose you
Sorry I can’t. You need to practise
being on your own.
I am. But I’m all you’ve got.
And at that moment, she was.”
The Last Romeo is available all over the place. Google “Justin Myers The Last Romeo” and select your preferred retailer. Amazon reviews really help with algorithms and sales, so if you feel sufficiently moved, please leave one. Thank you to everyone who has read and/or supported the book so far! x