Things she’d described as ‘ghastly’ (arse, not ass) since she sat down: the taxi driver speaking to her; the bald patch on the old woman who had done her pedicure; the smell of the ‘poor person who must have been lost’ in Waitrose; her soup; the glass of wine she’d just been given for free after complaining that her soup wasn’t ‘soupy’ enough; the sun; the parasol brought for her to block the sun; the shade; the waiter being ‘Polish or Uzbekistani or whatever’; the ‘overtly phallic’ spouts on the teapots; socialists.
I did my best to concentrate on reading as my subconscious formed thoughts of dragging her down some dark passage and showing her just exactly what ghastly (ass, not arse) meant. I ordered another coffee, politely, and turned a page, though I wasn’t really taking in words anymore.
She sipped her wine, making sure to pull a face with every swallow, and looked towards the trees which lined the park opposite. A small boy wearing a cape and mask was weaving between the trunks as his mother chatted to a friend. She screwed up her nose, no doubt appraising the scene. Her top hung off one shoulder and the shadows which formed made her long pale neck look devastatingly elegant. I refocused on my page, determined not to give her the satisfaction of seeing me look. Or worse, adding me to her list.
I had just succeeded in immersing myself in a full paragraph when her voice cut through the air once again.
‘Hey, you! Garcon, herr, Manuel, whatever,’ she clicked her fingers. I kept my eyes low so as not to see the waiter’s discomfort. ‘I’m sorry, this wine is just too ghastly, do you have something else?’
She’d drunk two-thirds of it.
I heard just the right amount of attitude in the waiter’s voice and coughed back a smile. Fortunately, she didn’t, or she chose to ignore it. I looked up slightly and, as she turned her head away from the waiter, she caught my gaze. Her eyes were emerald green and actually glistened in the sun. The moistened lips which she’d pushed into a pout all but lifted me involuntarily from my seat.
I looked to my coffee, almost cricking my neck with the abruptness of the movement. In my periphery, I saw the waiter return with new wine and casually wondered just what he might have added to it.
I wasn’t looking, but I could tell the word was directed at me. I ignored it but it was swiftly followed with an insistent throat clearing and I acquiesced. I lifted my eyes to see her smiling at me, it looked like a promise and a threat.
‘What did you buy me, you ghastly little man?’
I pretended to myself for half a second that I could just walk away, but we both knew that wasn’t how this worked. I reached into my jacket pocket for the freshly procured half-dozen grams of metal and rock that would weigh on both my credit and my conscience for months to come.
I watched as she opened it, and waited for her review.