Jeremy Clarke

Happy families

A social leper tells you of his miserable existence

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I'm living with Sharon's younger brother Robin, in the house their Mum bought for them from her share of the divorce settlement. Other residents include Robin and Sharon's father, Jim, who isn't officially allowed on the premises and spends the night in his car; an extremely camp young man who says he is in love with Robin; and a gorgeous hippy chick with no formal education whatsoever, also in love with Robin. Plus two dogs. A tall black-and-tan mongrel, very polite, the ownership of which is denied by all, and a grossly overweight Jack Russell belonging to Sharon's father.

Sharon herself is no longer here during the week. Her social-work diploma course was failing her, so she transferred to one in London. She comes back at weekends, but doesn't sleep here. Generally she stays with Darren, aka Odd Job, who is the first (official) boyfriend after me.

My going to live in Sharon's house, when I've only just come off the tablets as a result of Sharon giving me the sack, has, in many quarters, been condemned as a retrograde step. I can see why. For months I've been trying to forget her, then I move to a house where everywhere I look are stabbing little reminders of her. Her battered old trainers in the porch. That spiky handwriting of hers on the notice-board. (Orange Post-It note: 'Risk is the balancing of desire with safety.') The dog-eared copy of The Ages of Lulu in the bathroom. I'm even sleeping on her futon. (She prefers a futon to an ordinary mattress. You can get more purchase on a futon, says Sharon.) In mitigation I can plead that I'm only staying till Christmas, then I'm back at the Buddhists' place. Furthermore, at weekends I'm elsewhere being Dad, so I rarely have to clap eyes on her.

I hear about her, though. Odd Job has taken to coming round during the week and boasting about their burgeoning relationship. To begin with he couldn't believe his luck and kept taunting me about how he and Sharon were 'going through the Kama Sutra' together. As you can imagine, this got in amongst me a bit. I tried telling myself that at the end of the day I'm not a cripple like him, but I would have changed places with him without a moment's hesitation.

Then, a few weeks later, he was sitting there telling me that he and Sharon were making plans for the future. I was less despondent on hearing this. Wishful thinking, that was all that was. Talk to Sharon about the future and Sharon reaches for her coat. Ask anyone. Once I heard Odd Job saying this, I knew his days were numbered. And so it proved.

Last week he came round in sombre mood, the peak of his baseball cap pulled low over his eyes. He'd been about to go through the Kama Sutra with Sharon again at the weekend, he said, when she'd received a text message that had distracted her from the job in hand. Later, when he went through the 'in box' on her phone he found lewd messages from a rival.

Going out with Sharon was turning him into an insecure wreck, he said. He didn't trust her for a minute. The woman seemed to have no limits at all. And she'd changed towards him. Utterly complaisant to begin with, now she verbally ripped him to shreds at every opportunity. He dreaded her weekend visits. Sometimes he was even scared of her.

This admission of insecurity from Odd Job surprised me. In our previous conversations the underlying theme had always been what a tough guy he was. He was always telling me about the time he 'took a chain-saw' to this person, or broke that person's limbs. He'd made the point so often I was beginning to suspect him of being the opposite of tough. And suddenly here he was, admitting he wasn't man enough for a trainee social worker on Slimfast.

I think the end came last weekend. On the Friday night Sharon was in the King Bill, all lit up and doing the rounds. Odd Job was following her around like a lamb trying to ingratiate itself with the wrong mother. I was there. It was horrible. But, better than this, at three o'clock in the morning Odd Job burst into my bedroom, shouting obscenities. When he saw I was in bed fully clothed and alone, the wind went out of his sails. 'Where's Sharon? Where is she?' he hissed.

I sat up and looked at him. Odd Job had been crying. He should have been glad, though. With a woman like Sharon you really do need someone else to take over the heavy lifting from time to time.