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Sweet Fanny Adams and no mistake.

Although he had never actually seen her before, he recognized her at once, and once he had recognized her, he realized he would never see her again. After all, not being there was what she was all about; it was the essence of her being, her being Fanny Adams and all that.

As he walked towards the bench where she was sitting pretty, Adam missed her already. Missed her bad.

'How do you do ?'

'How do I do what ?' The imperfect stranger looked up from her slim, calf-bound volume and flashed him a a baking-soda smile, all cocky like.

Their eyes met, pairing off at first sight. The earth moved, orbiting at half a kilometre per second around her celestial globes-a couple of scalloped cupfuls with peek-a-boo trimmings-in what can only be described as a return to the much-maligned Ptolemaic system. For the first time since Mrs Horton's belaboured parturition, when he was forcibly sprung off into the world, Adam did not feel at the wrong place at the wrong time : he was back in the bountiful bosom of Mummy Nature. A gaggle of gurgling putti glided overhead to the strains of syrupy muzak and departing trains. All in all, it was an auspicious overture, fraught with the promise of premise.

'Adam,' said Adam, extending his right arm.

'Margarita,' said Margarita, giving it a hearty shake.

Still reeling from that initial, blinding smile, let alone the handshake, he struggled to regain his composure. 'Have you read The Leaning Tower of Pizzas by N.E. Tchans ?'

'Is that the one which ends with an epic battle between gangs of pre-pubescent herberts bouncing around on orange space-hoppers ?'


'No, but I read a review at the time.'

'Well, it's all about this Mr. Soft Scoop geezer, right, who comes from Italy and settles down in South London where he falls in love with a girl called Margarita.' She was fiddling with her umbrella, a faraway look on her face. 'Like you, like.'

'Oh, I see, yes. Sorry, I was miles away.'

'I know : that's the attraction,' he sighed sotto voce, before getting a grip on himself. 'Anyway, you should check it out some time-if you're into lolloping lollipop ladies, lesbians from Lisbon, the romance of ice-cream vans, that kind of thing.'

'Sounds right up my street.'

'I see it as a contemporary footnote to Dante.'

'Talking of contemporary feet, mine are killing me.'

'Dying on our footnotes are we ? One footnote in the grave, eh ? How long have you got left ?'

'Long enough to grab a bite to eat-or so says my chiropodist.'

'There's an Italian just round the corner that might tickle your fancy.'

'Sounds great. I feel like a pizza.'

'I'm not surprised, love, with a name like that.'

Adam caught a fleeting glimpse of the dark, gaping twilight zone between Margarita's parted thighs as she uncrossed her legs to get up. That topsy-turvy Bermuda Triangle twixt skirt and stocking exerted a gravitational pull of such magnitude that he was sucked in, there and then, never to re-emerge. He picked up her bulky suitcase, l'air de rien, but in his mind's X-ray eye he could see her neatly-packed unmentionables. He was big on smalls was old Adam Horton.

'Heavy, innit ?'

'It's a burden I feel I've been carrying all my life.' He turned to face her, fair and square. 'This may sound potty, but you are the hollowness inside. At last, I have found my sense of loss.'

'I'm flattered,' she said in Estuarine undertones, blushing a little. Her dimpled cheeks resembled two squashed cherry tomatoes, only bigger. 'I always like to be of assistance to strangers.'

'After you,' said Adam, bowing theatrically and showing the way with her suitcase like a truncheon-toting gendarme stopping the traffic for pedestrians. He could not help noticing the shaft of light that fell on Margarita's top bottom-proof positive that the sun shone out of her behind-before leaving the station, hot on her high heels.

They repaired to a small, dingy restaurant nearby (which Margarita praised on account of its 'atmosphere') where Adam poured out his heart and a couple of cheap, albeit potent, bottles of plonk. Whining and dining, in medias res.

'We are all post-Denis de Rougemont.'

'Couldn't agwee maw,' said Marwgawita, making a mental note never again to shpeak wiv her mouf full. Frankly, she did not have a clue what he was going on about.

'We are the first generation to know full well that love doesn't last, and yet we cling to the ideal like shit to a blanket.'

She turned up her already-retroussť nose. How more retroussť can it get ? he wondered.

'Maybe it's just me. The whole thing's very Oedipal, I know.' Adam cringed at his attempt to laugh it off.

'I could spank you, free of charge, if you think that might help.'

'I'd rather not if it's all the same with you,' he replied rather primly, his flushed face a slapped-arse crimson, 'but thanks for the offer. Might even take you up on it some other time. Except . . .,' Adam paused for effect, '. . . there won't be another time.' He sighed, staring into his bowlful of miniature bow-ties, topped up their glasses and cleared his throat. 'Love stories are like fairy tales . . .'

'Aren't they just,' she interrupted, a trifle too eager.

'. . . in that we know the end from the start. Only it's not and they lived happily ever after, is it ?'

Tears welled up in her belladonna eyes.

 'You know, someone should write a different kind of love story for the new millenium. It would start with the foregone conclusion and work its way back towards the unknown : how it all started in the first place.'

 'Will you write this new-fangled love story ?'

'I'm writing the first pages even as we speak - with your assistance, of course.'

I like to be of assistance.' She smiled a wet smile. 'So that's it, then ?'

'Yes, in the beginning is our end.'

Margarita seemed in a hell of a hurry all of a sudden, even her nose was running. Where is it running to ? he wondered. To by-corners Byzantine, I'll be bound, and wondrous Wherevers, to the end of the earth, at the end of its tether. Then he shrugged-to himself and at it all-because it did not really matter anymore, it really did not. Whatever : yeah, right.

She had relieved him of a burden, that much was clear. In the circumstances, it did not really seem appropriate to give her a hand with the luggage, it really did not. The suitcase constituted a clear case of unsuitability, plus he could not be arsed. There was that too.

It was raining when Margarita stepped out of the restaurant. Adam watched her amber umbrella disappear from view, a Belisha beacon of hope on a dimmer switch. He scribbled a few words on the paper tablecloth. D'elle, il ne reste que ces tagliatelles.

The door slides open-which is where you came in. You assess her golden-delicious breasts as if you were picking apples on a market stall. You think that a man should never trust a woman who offers him an apple, let alone two. You think that this woman's tits are perfectly identical, for Christ's sake. Like bookends.

God knows what happens next. God - and you.

Andrew Gallix is 30. He lives in Paris where he teaches at the Sorbonne.

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