Ron says he has a tragic history with women. He goes through stages of blaming himself, of going on and on about where it all went wrong. How he drives the women in his life away with his attitude. Or he rants and raves about women, how it’s all their fault, like the whole gender is conspiring to break him.

He talks about it at work, over lunch, at the bar, on the long commute home; heck, he brought it up in a meeting once. As you can imagine, it gets more than a little frustrating. Originally, I felt sorry for the poor guy; I mean, it’s tragic, he just wants someone to love him. Who wouldn’t want that?

But when you hear him go on and on and on, day after day, about all the ones who got away, just unmoving, unending whinging? Well, even saints run out of patience and sympathy eventually, right? So one night, you find yourself sat opposite your co-worker in a bar and you start hearing this noise; it’s like a tearing, grinding noise? You have Ron to listen to, which is hard enough, and this gritty noise over the top of words. You thought it was someone dragging a bar stool along the beer sodden floor, but it’s not. And eventually, you clock on: that’s your teeth.

This idiot is sat there, ranting on about the great lesbian agenda, and you’re grinding your teeth in sheer frustration because this is all he talks about now.

This guy is so full of shit and this dull, self-deprecating conversation just never ends.

And I can tell you the names of these ladies that Ron has loved and lost—more than names, I have details, intimate details—names that match age, hair colour, eye colour, and smell, what was so great about her, things he misses about her. Abigail, 23, brunette, brown eyes, smells of orange blossom, she had the prettiest smile in the world; Ron misses the way she used to say, “Was everything alright with your meal, sir?”—He didn’t even date this girl; she was our waitress at the Christmas meal last year. Hazel, 27, blonde, green eyes, wore musky perfume, she was very kind and great with kids; Ron misses holding her hand—this girl he did date, for a month. Ivy, 25, black hair, blue eyes, smelled of clean bed sheets, she had an honest way of speaking; Ron misses watching her walk across to the photocopier—Ivy worked at our company for six months and he never plucked up the courage to ask her out.

These women and all the others are precious angels in one conversation over bagels in the morning, then beasts full of flaws and depravity by mid-morning coffee.

I wanted to be a good friend, but you have to understand: I was so bored!

So one night, I just snap. I say to Ron, “Stop whinging: what good does it do? If you want to win this woman back, go and do something about it. Just shut up, already!”

The second it was out of my mouth, I had this immense feeling of regret in the pit of my stomach. Oh shit, I thought, I can’t exactly take that back.

Only Ron doesn’t react. He just goes quiet. He doesn’t look mad exactly, but he is just staring at me with this really blank expression on his face. Then he nods his head once, then twice.

“You know, man, you’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right.”

Then he got up and walked out of the bar, coat and briefcase trailing behind him.

I didn’t hear from Ron that weekend. Usually, we’d end up meeting for a beer on Saturday night. But that weekend, nothing. Then on Monday, he skips onto the commuter train like a completely different man. He’s combed his hair, got on a new suit, and he seems more relaxed than I’ve ever seen him in the five years we’ve worked together.

“Hey Ron,” I say. “Everything ok?”

“Couldn’t be better,” he says. “Life is so good, isn’t it?”

And I don’t know what to think. I know this won’t last. Two thirds of the women he’s pined after over the years haven’t even given him the time of day. Hell, Chrissie from marketing thought Ron was engaged to this one barrister he had actually only exchanged three sentences with, for all he went on about her. If I ask, he’ll obsess. And it will be over soon anyway. No point in setting him off.

Only, a couple of weeks go by and Ron’s spirits stayed high. He was a different man at work: positive, helpful, cheerful. I mean, it was good, but it just seemed a little too good to be true. Most nights, he would head straight home instead of joining me or any of the other guys for a drink. And when he did, he’d stay for one or two, before dashing off like he had somewhere to be.

One night, it’s just me and Ron again; we’re on our second round and he starts talking about this girl he’s dating. Apparently, that night I told him off, he went off to see Betty (this waitress he’d dated for a week but obsessed over for six). He’d waited outside the café where she worked to surprise her. He was trying to decide what to say, when just like in a romantic comedy, he accidentally walked into the most amazing girl.

At this point, he just started gushing. It’s all the usual stuff, the same old speech. This girl is beautiful, in a classical kind of way and so cute, so cute she could pull off any outfit. She has this really pure sense about her. She’s kind of quiet and shy, but has a very straightforward way of speaking. And she has these big, gorgeous green eyes. Her hair is pretty short, but he has persuaded her to grow it out. She’s professional too, a junior police officer; although she is taking a little break from that currently. I smile and say that I’m happy for him.

“I think she’s the one, buddy,” Ron says with this wistful, puppy-eyed smile on his face. It’s a look that I’ve seen one thousand times before. But no matter; let him go on. Some people just can’t be helped; let the guy be a little loved up and happy for now.

So another fortnight goes past and Ron is still a loved up ball of sunshine. This girl really has been a good influence on him. On our walk to the train station after work, he suddenly lets out this gasp and dashes off into this little boutique on Edington Street. And I wait outside for him, baffled. Ron returns after five minutes with this dopey look on his face, and he’s clutching this fancy little shopping bag.

“Sorry, I saw this scarf in the window and it’s like it was made for my girlfriend! Want to see?”

“No, no, I’m good, Ronnie.”

The more I looked for it, the more I noticed that he was always picking up stuff like that, little trinkets of affection. One lunch break, I went out to pick up a copy of the paper and I spot Ron at the makeup counter of a department store. He was chatting with the sales girl over a rack of lipsticks. A month ago, Ron couldn’t have chatted to some shop girl or any woman so casually. He’d get tongue-tied and then angry because he was so nervous. But here he was, chatting and laughing, and eventually he came away with a lipstick.

“It’s our one month anniversary so I wanted to get her something special,” he explained on the train home.

“Are you seeing her tonight?” I ask.

“Oh yeah, we live together.”

Now this, I thought, he should have mentioned before. He’s never lived with a woman before, not ever. It must be really serious for them to get to this stage already. Hell, I couldn’t be happier with my girlfriend, but I couldn’t have moved in with her after just one month.

“Woah, when did this happen?”

“Recently,” he said. “Real recently, I know it’s soon, but when you know, you know, you know?”

Again, he’s smiling like this soppy self-satisfied smile.

“So when do I get to meet this amazing girl?”

Ron just stared at me for a second and then, seeming to recover, he said, “Of course, of course, you have to meet her. Why not come back to my place tonight?”

“Tonight? Are you sure she won’t mind me dropping in unannounced?”

“No, no, she’s a really laid back sort of person. Please, man, I want you to meet her.”

So when we reached our spot, we got off the train and headed down the main street. We live about four streets apart, so we usually go our separate ways when we reach the big bakery. I’ve been over to his place a handful of times, usually when we get turfed out of the bar. His apartment isn’t that different from mine. We both hate clutter, so it’s a basic living room, kitchen, bath and bedroom setup.

Ron was jangling his keys cheerfully on the walk over. The street lamps are never lit by his building. It can look a little spooky at night, especially as we have to walk up these creaky metal stairs on the outside of the building to get up to Ron’s. If someone else is coming down, you can’t see them, you can only hear them. It’s very ominous. Even I’ll admit I don’t like coming down here alone at night.

I waited patiently for Ron to unlock his door. It takes him ages to sort through his keys.  He’s always had more keys than me; guess he must have a safe or something.

“Ah, here we are! Finally,” Ron said, swinging open the front door. “Honey, I’m home!”

On stepping in, I couldn’t help but notice the huge change since I was last here. The place is a complete mess. There are clothes and bags and things all piled up on the floor, leading from the hallway to the living room. There was one good seat on the sofa but other than that, every square inch of the apartment was covered.

Guessing she isn’t much of a cleaner bug? Not saying she has to be, but I always figured Ron was.

“Honey, hello? Hellooo!” Ron called. He chuckled to himself. “Oh, don’t mind the mess. It’s been so hectic around here as of late. Come on in, buddy.”

I took off my shoes, leaving them by the front door, next to a box of neatly-folded blouses and followed Ron through the narrow hallway towards the bedroom. Sighing cheerfully, Ron tapped on the door.

“Darling, are you decent?”

He opened it a smidge, peeked in and then swung it open. Stepping inside, I spotted her sat on a chair in the centre of the room.

Well, I say sat, but actually, she was bound to it. The woman in the chair, Ron was right, she really was a looker. Thick red hair growing just above her shoulders, creamy pale skin, bit of a nasty bruise on her forehead. Huge green eyes filled with tears, one of them blackened by a bruise.

She was wearing one of Ron’s baggy football shirts; it hung nicely from her frame, the sleeves finishing just above her elbows, or rather at the stump where her forearms and hands had been removed. The same with her long, thin legs, which cut off just below the knee. Thick ropes bound her tightly to the chair.

“Hi, beautiful,” he said, bending down to kneel next to her. “Look what I picked up for you today at work. It’s just a little present, but I picked it especially for you, asked the lady at the store for some help.” He produced the lipstick from his jacket pocket. “Happy anniversary, baby.”

Her big, fearful eyes closed for a moment. She seemed to collect herself and then opened her eyes again. Her gaze was blank and cold.

“Want to try it on? I was told this sort of colour would be best for you.” Ron unscrewed the lid and began to clumsily apply it to her trembling lips.

“Woah,” he said, sitting back to admire his handiwork. “Wow, you look just, just beautiful, just perfect.” He clasped his hands together, delighted. His smile quickly faded as she stared up at him, dead eyed. Ron’s lip curled in disgust.

“You ungrateful bitch!” His hand swung out, slapping her across the face. The blow was hard and sent both her and the chair clattering to the floor. “Fucking say thank you! Say thank you!” He stamped his foot down on her thin torso, producing a grunt of pain.

Ron yelled out, frustrated and stamped down again and again.

“Ron, hey, buddy!” I reached out, grabbing him by the shoulders. “Ron, calm down! Like you said, like you said earlier, she’s the quiet type! It’s all ok!”

Ron took a deep breath, seeming to calm down. His shoulders were shaking in my hands.

“You’re right, oh God, you’re so right,” he said. Ron rubbed his hands through his hair, exhaling heavily. “Baby, you just know how to push my buttons.” He bent down to raise her and the chair back up. Her lipstick was smudged across her face and her lip bleeding. “Poor thing, look what you made me do.” He rubbed the blood away affectionately. “Good thing you were here, man. Hey, babe, this is one of the guys from the office. Say hi now.”

She looked up at me, met my gaze for a second and then quickly back down at the floor.

“She is so shy, so ladylike,” Ron said. He bent down to untie the ropes at the back. He lifted her delicately from the chair, letting her head rest against his shoulder. From this angle, I could see that her stumps were healing very nicely.

“Let’s go to the front room. I have some beers in the back,” he explained. “You won’t mind keeping my angel company for a few?”

“No, we’ll be quite alright.”

Ron placed her on the sofa’s one good seat, between two piles of clothes. I opted for one of the metal chairs resting against the wall. Ron kissed her forehead, waving loftily as he stepped out towards the back room.

The two of us didn’t speak for a few moments. I was trying to find the best way to sit and not overbalance the stack of books propped against my chair. All seemed to be love advice books, like How to Talk to Women. Guess Ron doesn’t need these anymore. I gave up trying not to overbalance the books as they gave way, spreading across the floor; I looked up at her with a smile.

“Guess you’re not much of a housekeeper, are you?”

I only meant it as a joke, but her eyes welled up with tears.

Then she said in a tiny little voice, “Please, help me, please.”

I blinked.

“Erm, sorry, what did you say, sweetheart?”

Then Ron appeared from the backroom with a six-pack. Her eyes fell to the floor, hardened but blank.

“Did you guys talk about me?” he asked playfully. He handed me a beer, before shifting one of the piles of clothes out of the way and curling up next to his girlfriend.

“Oh yeah,” I said. “But you’re right, Ron, she really is quiet.”

“I hope you didn’t tell her any stories of my exploits,” he said, chuckling to himself.

“No, no, you’re safe there. Hon, your boyfriend’s a real great guy, a real stand-up guy.” I settled back into my chair, taking a sip of my beer.

“You don’t mind me drinking, do you, baby?” Ron asked, slipping an arm around her shoulder, his hand trailing down to meet her stump. She flinched as his hand touched the thin, reddened skin that covered the bone. Then she meekly shook her head. Ron kissed her hair.

“So, Ron tells me that you’re taking a break from police work?” I tried.

She looked like she hadn’t heard the question. Her eyes were cloudy, her chin pressed against her chest.

“Oh yeah,” Ron said, cutting in. “I don’t like the thought of my girlfriend doing something like that. Anything could happen to her.”

“Definitely, it’s a dangerous world out there.”

“She isn’t much of a housekeeper, but we both feel safer keeping her here,” Ron explained.

He started going on about something, cooking for two, how happy they were here. His girl’s eyes got all misty and red again.

Being in love can be pretty overwhelming, I suppose?

I just kept noticing the way the joint of her knee curled into nothing. I wondered what he used to make the cut.

“You know, man,” Ron said brightly. “I never would have plucked up the coverage to meet a woman like her if not for your pep talk that night at the bar.”

Ron squeezed her shoulder gently. “Babe, I don’t like to kiss and tell, but I did have a past before you, chased a lot of the wrong women.”

“Got to break a lot of eggs, Ron, buddy,” I said, chuckling.

“No, seriously. You made me realise what’s important. Baby, you should say thanks to my friend here. It’s him you have to thank for our domestic bliss.”

And you know? It was the weirdest thing. For a second, she was looking at me with real anger in her eyes, like she wanted to hurt me.

“Ron, your happiness means the world to me.”

But he was frowning. He glared down at her.

“Baby, say thank you. You’re being rude.”

If anything, her jaw looked locked up tight.

“Don’t be rude, say thank you!”

“Ron, the little lady has gone shy.”

“Yeah, yeah, but it wouldn’t kill her to say fucking thank you for this, for once! Would it kill you?” He grabbed her face, squeezing her cheeks hard. “Would it fucking kill you?”

Her voice hardened as she muttered, “Don’t know. Would it?”

There was a pause. Ron’s eyes met mine. Then we started to laugh. I remember how the tears brimmed in my eyes as I laughed and laughed. How Ron doubled over, slapping her on the back. How that sent her awkwardly toppling into one of the piles of clothes.

That set us off laughing again. How we laughed and laughed as pairs of socks and packets of underwear rolled around on the floor. As I downed the last of my beer, still catching his breath, Ron sat her back upright.

“Ron, I have to head off, the missus will be worried. But this has been so much fun,” I said, getting to my feet.

“Sure thing, thanks for coming round.” Ron got up, clasping my hand firmly and shaking it. “We should get together, the four of us sometime, for dinner or something?”

“I’d love that. And it was lovely meeting you, sweetheart. Look after Ron for me; he’s one of the good ones.” She didn’t reply. She just stayed where Ron placed her, those cold green eyes on the floor.

Ron stood, waving from the front door as I descended the creaking metal stairs.

On my way home, I couldn’t help but feel a little proud. A few months ago, I would have avoided coming back for beer like the plague. It was usually an invitation that involved an evening of listening to Ron whinge and then sat awkwardly while he cried into some previous flame’s nightdress. But look here: he actually took my advice!

And she seems great! Bit on the quiet side, but great. He’s a changed man and so happy. I guess there really is someone out there for everyone.

As I climbed the steps to my own apartment, I almost wanted to pat myself on the back. No more listening to Ron’s whinging every day. This will improve my commute completely! I’m glad for the guy. I mean, who doesn’t want to be loved?

I slipped the key into the front door.

“Honey, I’m home!”