some days are better than none
Cooking for the Beasts
There was a man at the party who struck me as dressed for I don't know what: blazer, hankie in the pocket, pastel shirt and, of all things, straw boater. If it wasn't for that boater I would have said he was a perfect pig. A whisky bottle never left his side, and twice he sent our hostess out for ice as if women were no better than slaves.
Sandra is my work friend and she brought me here when I said my bank holiday plan involved baking a cherry pie. She would not hear of it. She told me she would come round and snatch the rolling pin from my hand. You're coming with me, she said. Meet Geoff, she ordered. We can get drunk, she insisted. Next thing I was sipping Pimms, watching the sun sink. There was an empty deckchair beside me and I recall how it groaned when Geoff sat down, and then I wished I was up to my elbows in flour. I think I said something daft like, it's lovely to have an extra day off. And then he looked down at his whisky, swirled the ice and said, “No reason why we shouldn't.” Then I said, a bit tipsy, “Oh I know there are two long weekends in May, but the rest of the year we have bugger all.” And I saw his pale eyelashes twitch as if he didn't like a woman to swear. Then I watched as he knocked back the drink and reached down for the bottle which was on the grass beside him and he topped up his glass with about three fingers, an awful lot. And a blackbird started chattering with alarm and I felt responsible and wanted to move, but could not since it would have been rude. “So what do you do?” I asked, even though I already knew. But he told me again he worked part time in law. He had a weekend place in Amsterdam. “Any particular reason?” I asked. So then he mimes taking a drag of an imaginary spliff. And when I said, “But you're a lawyer.” Then he said doing drugs in Amsterdam was legal. You could do anything there. He said he liked nothing better than to sit in his flat, telling me about some designer armchair he bought: just him and the chair and a view of the canals, plus a bloody great bag of weed, plus a bottle of wine, Mahler on the stereo. He sat there most nights till he passed out. I was repelled of course, but I began to think he was remarkable as we sat there finishing our drinks and the sky turned violet. Sandra wanted to know what I thought of him, naturally, and I told her quite truthfully he was interesting. But I wasn't going to fall in love with him. She really should have set the pair of us up and I waited and I waited. But she never said a thing. So I decided he was a little bit strange, and that so was she.
But we worked so closely together. Weeks later we were pitching for a feminine hygiene brand. Lots of sniggers about that, of course, but the presentation went well. Sandra and me made a pretty good team and she brought a bottle of Champagne for the train back to London. I remember looking out at the stacks of a power station. Despite being filthy, they were impressive, and I remembered what it was I liked about Sandra's brother. So I asked after him, and she went kind of quiet. Pylons zipped by while she struggled with a thought. Geoff was taking a brief sabbatical from law. She looked so sad I put a hand on her forearm, which made her flap her other hand in front of her face, trying not to cry.
“It's okay,” I said, “You don't have to tell me.” “He's not a bad man,” she said. “He's an idiot.” After that she said nothing more. I didn't want to push it. I thought I had my revenge.
A bit later I got an invitation to Amsterdam, not from who you think, but from Teddy and Ryan. The boys are a sweet couple and are always inviting me out and making a fuss. They are perfect gentlemen. When they asked me to come, only my first thought was Geoff, and my second thought was tulips. So I picked up some tulips the very same day. They were wonderful looking but very strange because they had no scent at all. None whatsoever.
We flew because it was cheap and quick. On the plane, Teddy bought a stuffed animal, for the hell of it. In other words, the journey just flew by. We were booked in the same place, but I was on the top floor with a bigger room and the boys began to call it the Princess Suite. So then the name Princess kind of stuck and that is what they called me all weekend. We had plenty of jokes like that, like when Teddy spoke to the stuffed animal, and Ryan would slap it so hard it flew in the air. We laughed so much people must have thought we were mad. That afternoon we did a walking tour to the boys' annoyance. The canals were pretty but there was such a chill and it got so tiring having to stand on all those corners with our guide, who spoke perfect English. Teddy and Ryan went into deep hypothermia, poor things. But then this American lady just kept asking questions, and every question seemed calculated to show off just how much she knew about history, which was more than me and definitely more than the boys. While I was hating her in silence, my eyes wandered up to the apartments all around. I thought of Geoff in a flash, and I could just picture him in his special armchair, watching. And I could feel him gaze at me, as he drew on yet another of his fully legal spliffs. It really was a fab weekend. But I kept imagining Geoff was everywhere we went. He was in the Italian restaurant we ate in that night, he was walking past the bars we sat in, and he was even in the Van Gogh Museum. Except he wasn't. But as I gazed at my favourite painting, Starry Night, I wondered what he got up to. When I was a student, I had this as a poster, and it really took me back to being just a little bit tipsy and making wishes on the stars. But I could not work out what Sandra meant when she said he was an idiot, because he struck me as a very clever man. My Teddy and Ryan were idiots. It was agreed to have one big night on the Saturday, but the boys were quite naughty, because they took some pills. Then they made me eat a hash cake, just to get into the swing of things. I told myself it was a normal cookie, because I do like baking. I even thought of asking for the recipe and it was all fine till we walked off into the night. Then it all got too bright and too loud. We got to the club and I refused to dance and I insisted on drinking soft drinks. There was a song I normally like, but the hash cake was making me totally queasy. “Tomorrow, we'll do whatever you want,” said Teddy. And I said: “We're visiting the Anne Frank House.” Both of them kept saying, “Of course, darling, of course.” Then there was some whispering and the boys took it in turns to leave me for a while. I don't know what they do at these clubs. But the next day over breakfast, I found out. Teddy and Ryan were both in a funny mood and were talking about something called The Throne. I said, “If you're going to give me all the gory details, just tell me already.” Like all good boys, they wanted to confess. But their story that was enough to make me wish I'd never asked. The nightclub had a secret basement. God knows how they find out about these things. But they were so amused by the so-called Throne that I let them go on. They said it was pitch black, which figured because the whole place was dark, with one room lit up by a slow pitched strobe which let them see a special seat chained to the ceiling like a swing. There was a man there in a biker jacket, strapped in, with boots on, and nothing else. He was big guy they said, wearing a tiara. He was in a total stupor and there was a queue of men waiting in line to, not to put too fine a point on it, bugger this poor chap. Teddy and then Ryan joined the queue, the animals. Anne Frank House was terrifying. To think of that poor girl up there all alone in that darkness and to be trapped there for months and years only able to listen as Gestapo trooped through the house in their boots and to know that as soon as you were caught you would be packed on a train to a concentration camp where you would catch some hideous disease and be killed by it. I'm sorry but it's just unspeakable and I find I still cannot bring myself to forgive the Germans and I think I must to some extent also hold it against all the people in continental Europe, including the Dutch, and of course the Italians. I was quite upset after that. See, I know enough about history. I told the boys I needed a nap and we went back to the hotel and instead I had a long bath and washed my hair and dried it and put on the lovely white fluffy gown which came with the room and sat at my dressing table, brushing out all of the knots and the tangles in my hair with an anger that I did not quite understand. Looking in the mirror and I looked at a face in which I could not see what I was looking for and then set to with a vengeance with all of the make up I'd brought with me, which wasn't much because I don't normally wear much of the stuff. I was still putting eye shadow on when the boys were at the door. They kept knocking and calling for me “Princess! Princess!” Ryan was shouting: “Open up, we know you're in there!”. But I made them wait.
I'm pleased to report that we won that account for the sanitary towels, but at work they seem more pleased by the business we're doing with a second rate football team. At the next agency party, Sandra and I were watching the guys, smoking cigars, and we had to laugh. Then Sandra told me she was trying for a baby and I'm happy for her, really. I don't think I'll ever have a baby.
But then she started mentioning her brother and told me stuff I didn't want to know. She said Geoff had been a regular with two or three prostitutes. Did you know prostitutes work under assumed names? I find that weird. Sandra said, he found it easier, said he was into whips and stuff. She was pissed, I think. What she needed to tell me was that one time her brother chained up a hooker for a whole weekend, and the girl had taken him to court. She said the legal system is geared towards prostitutes over there, and Geoff was lucky not to get in serious trouble. But of course, he hasn't really got away with it. He worked on until he was asked to resign. Then he ditched the flat in Amsterdam. He was ready for the 9 to 5, she told me, making it sound like jail-time. But I thought when Geoff settles down, he could make a suitable husband. Perhaps he is also ready for women who aren't prostitutes. Perhaps he wants a kid. Teddy and Ryan are still their usual terrible selves. I know how they live and I worry it will make them ill. But they say, “Don't worry about us, Princess. We're fine”. So I bake for them to show them how much I care. I know Victoria sponge cakes change nothing, but I like pulling nice things out of the oven. I like being able to do that.
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