[I wrote this story for my sister back in the early noughties, as a spoof on the romantic chicklit that flourished at that time. There are many, many in-jokes here, including quite a few lines taken from the script of that incomparable chick flick, Clueless.]
Bunty had ordered extra Japanese sea cucumber for lunch, bless him, in special consideration for my feelings. I cut it into slices and popped one over each eye. We sat outside at Vincenzo’s bistro on Densington High Street, as we were wont to do. Opposite us, a small table was marked Reserved – Prime Minister. Vincenzo’s had an exclusive clientèle.
“Simon really went too far this morning,” agreed Bunty, tucking into his pan-fried pigeon foot. “I know he’s an idiot, but criticizing your sandals? You have exquisite taste, Daisy.”
“He’s a rubbish kisser, too,” I moaned. Bunty winced slightly as if he’d cracked a pigeon bone, but said nothing, so I carried on regardless. “And I can’t believe it all happened in front of that dishy, delectable, drop-dead hunk who materialized today like a heavenly chorus of angels! My God!”
“Who would that be?” feigned Bunty.
“Didn’t you see him?” I asked, astonished. “Here – “
I snatched up my phone and cycled through the images. Gary winning Can’t Diet Won’t Diet. Gary and his own weight in hamburgers. Gary being kissed by Myleene Klass. Ah – Toby, looking slightly stunned in the lift.
“Toby O’Dash,” I said, texting the image rapidly with my thumbs to Tilda. “The new Regional Sales Director and the new love of my life. Wait till Tilda sees him!”
I held up the pic.
“What happened to Gary?” asked Bunty, fork halfway to mouth.
“Gary thinks an Alaia is what you say in Hawaii,” I said dismissively with a wave of my hand that knocked over my wine glass. “Toby looks like a cross between Colin Farrell and – what was the name of that guy who used to go out with your sister?”
“The Face,” said Bunty.
“The Face. Vincenzo? More wine, if you will. – Hello, Tony.”
Across from us, a besuited man had slipped into the reserved table and was quietly sipping a mineral water.
“I heard the new guy was Irish,” muttered Bunty. “I suppose all this Celtic charm has an effect on you, does it?”
“Aragh not at all, sure, ya leibide,” I said. Vincenzo was still pouring the wine into my glass and it had begun to overflow onto the table. I squinted up at him quizzically.
“ – That’s fine, Vincenzo, grazie,” said Bunty and looked at me. “You’re supposed to know when to say stop.”
My phone let out a tyrannical roar and I looked round, embarrassed. My boss Simon often thought it was funny to switch the message alert to Jurassic when I wasn’t looking.
Tilda had replied to the photo of Toby with one word: F$&%!
“I don’t trust the new guy,” said Bunty, as I got up to go.
“You’re only jealous,” I teased, and barely noticed him flinch. “See you tomorrow.”
“No drinks tonight?” he called, sounding almost disappointed.
“I’ve been invited to Jude and Selma’s,” I yelled back.
Selma Shire answered the door at six thirty covered in flour.
“Daisy!” she said, and kissed the air. “Do come in. Jude and Oscar are dying to see you!”
I stepped carefully over the random trucks and bricks scattered down the hallway of the Shire’s millionaire mansion. From the distant kitchen came a waft of home cooking and caterwauling. Jude, Selma, and I had been inseparable at Densington College of Arts and Media. It was only two years later that I realized Selma had been the canny one and had floated down the aisle with Jude as soon as they graduated. Jude had suddenly gone hard-nosed and taken a job in ‘the Cityyy’, and Selma had delivered Oscar.
“Sit down, Daisy dear,” cooed Selma. “I must say I adore your sandals. Jude’s father used to have a pair rather like those. Must be coming back into fashion.”
From nowhere something struck me on the nose. There was a sordid cackle.
“Oscar, I’ve told you not to throw,” said Selma, chopping spinach in a Bake Off! I’m busy apron. “So, how is life, my dear? Still working hard at that…job you do?”
“I had to kiss my boss this morning,” I said, rubbing my nose.
“Fancy,” said Selma. “Oscar, come and talk to Daisy, there’s a good boy. He can get a bit cranky,” she added, “But a few kind words will usually put him right.”
Oscar’s mean mug appeared from behind the sofa. He had a mop of blond hair and small black eyes like a stoat.
“Who that?” he said, pointing an accusing finger at me.
“That’s Aunty Daisy who’s come to visit you,” said Selma, calmly stirring lentils. The Shires were vegetarian, except at birthdays and Christmas.
“Where Uncle Daisy?” asked Oscar grouchily. I looked round for any bottle of wine within reach.
“He’s bright as a button, I’m afraid,” smiled Selma to me. “There is no Uncle Daisy, Oscar. Daisy isn’t married yet like Mummy and Daddy are.”
Oscar and I stared at each other like two Wild West bandits. I could hear the twang of a guitar and the whinny of a horse. I stuck my tongue out at him. Ugly kid. Oscar screeched.
“Mummy, Aunty Daisy stick tongue at me.”
“Nonsense, Oscar,” murmured Selma from inside the oven, “Why ever would Aunty Daisy do such a thing?”
Oscar was in the middle of doing a vicious baboon impression when Selma turned round.
“We do try and keep him off the fizzy drinks,” said Selma, rapidly crossing the kitchen to admonish her son. “But I worry about Olenka sometimes.”
“She’s the new au pair. From Estonia or somewhere godforsaken. I said we could manage without one, but Jude was adamant.”
The front door banged.
“That’ll be him now,” said Selma.
“Evening all!” said Jude, whipping off his tie with devilish fervour and flinging it against the old stone wall. I tried not to blush. Jude had always been seductively handsome. He was followed by a mealy-mouthed man I didn’t recognize who was clutching a bottle of wine for dear life.
“Daisy, this is Edgar,” said Jude, with a heavy wink. “A colleague of mine, works in IT. Had a free space in your diary tonight, didn’t you Edgar? The more the merrier in this house, we always say.”
Edgar looked at me through his owlish spectacles and said nothing.
“And Edgar, this is the lovely Daisy I was telling you all about this morning,” said Jude. “She works in – an office.”
Edgar sniffed and took out a ream of tissue from his sleeve, still holding the wine.
“Coming down with a cold?” I asked him, sympathetically.
Edgar stopped mid-sniffle and stared at me.
“No,” he said, and blew his nose.
“Jude, dear,” said Selma coolly. “I think Olenka’s been feeding Oscar sugar again.”
“I do tell her not to fret,” said Jude to me in a stage whisper, whisking his grub-like son up to the ceiling. “How’s my boy? Big and strong, eh? Just like his dad? How about a sit on your Aunty Daisy’s knee then, eh?”
I shifted in my seat as Oscar’s maggot face grew nearer.
“Ah – he won’t like strangers,” I said hastily to Jude, who frowned.
“Nonsense. Oscar’s the friendliest child in Densington,” said Selma from the stove.
“Daisy is in denial of her maternal feelings,” said Jude to Edgar, who sat motionless on a stool. “She’s afraid that whatever baby Gary gives her will be the first in the world with a beer gut.”
This got my goat.
“I ditched Gary last night,” I snapped. “And I am not in denial of anything.”
“Edgar, your luck’s in,” called Selma.
“What Daisy secretly craves,” added Jude, “Is a nice, comfy hubby to snuggle and a whole tribe of babies to mother. Isn’t that right, Daise?”
”Just like us,” said Selma.
“Do you know how many Gucci belts you can get for the price of one baby?” I trilled.
“All that Edgar needs, on the other hand,” continued Jude merrily, “Is a nice, sweet wife to snuggle and a whole tribe of babies to bring out his masculine virility. I know it’s in there somewhere, eh Ed!” and he thumped the man, who snorted.
“I see a pattern here!” said Selma, turning to me. “Do you like it?”
“No,” I said.
“Lentil stew is served,” said Selma, ignoring me and ladling brown vegetables into a soupy mush on my plate.
“Christ, not this again, Selma,” muttered Jude. “We’ve got two guests on a hot date and you serve up the same old baby food.”
“Shall we open Edgar’s lovely wine?” asked Selma brightly.
“Actually, I’d really rather you didn’t,” said Edgar, shoveling lentils into his mealy mouth as Oscar began to wail in the corner. I caught myself staring at him and he muttered, “Well, what do you expect? It’s nearly nine pounds a bottle.”
“How’s the er…job thingy going, Daisy?” asked Jude. “Same as ever?”
“I had to kiss my boss this morning,” I said again. Edgar got a lentil stuck in his teeth, and Oscar began to scream.
“For Christ’s sake, Selma!” snapped Jude. “Olenka would look after him better than you.”
“Fine!” said Selma, straightening up. “Then I’ll get bloody Olenka!” She stormed out of the kitchen and began to yell for the au pair.
“So when’s the wedding?” asked Jude, brightly. I looked at him in disbelief.
“We’re not getting married, I told you,” I said. “Gary and I are over. Finished. Finito.”
“Daisy, how old are you?” asked Jude, putting down his lentilled fork.
“You can’t ask a lady her age!” I replied, shocked.
“Who said you’re a lady?” muttered Edgar.
“What I mean is, you’re hardly in the first flush of youth any more, are you?” elaborated Jude in a stern voice. “It’s about time you stopped messing about, Daisy, and pulled yourself together and got hitched. Look at me and Selma. We did it.”
Selma returned like a thundercloud, followed by a sulky blonde teenager who draped herself artfully over a chair and sat bobbing Oscar on her knee.
“I’m sure Edgar’s making sensible plans,” said Jude. “Edgar, how’s your love life?”
“Dead,” said Edgar, and carried on munching noisily.
“Join the club!” said Selma tearfully. At that moment, Oscar began to pummel Olenka with his fists.
“Olenka – don’t shake him,” said Selma, standing up.
There was a barrage of Estonian curses and all hell let loose.
“So anyway,” I asked Edgar, desperately, as a toy gun flew through the air and smashed above my head, “What do you do after work?”
Selma started crying as Jude grabbed the child off Olenka, who was sticking her fingers up at them both.
“Dowland,” said Edgar.
I couldn’t hear through the screams.
“Dowland,” shouted Edgar. “I listen to the works of John Dowland every night, specifically the slow, somewhat tortuous third movements of his 1557 Lacrimae Sanguinae and the later Mortus Lentus Mad Certaincum, which translate as Blood-Laden Tears and Slow But Certain Death. Usually with a coffee. What do you do?” He looked at me. “Hang around on street corners?”
Jude began to shout in what sounded like fluent Estonian. Oscar screamed a descant over the top.
“Close,” I mouthed, “I’m a kissagram, actually.” I brandished my mobile. “Excuse me – a client’s calling. Got to go.”
Five seconds later I was shivering outside on the pavement staring at my phone.
There was only one person I could call.
“Lucky I wasn’t doing anything else this evening,” said Bunty as we drove through the city night.
I sat in the back with my head in my hands and my teeth chattering.
“Where do I drop you?” asked Bunty eventually. “Fintan’s? Tilda’s? I suppose Gary’s is out of the question.”
“I have nowhere to go,” I said, with a sob.
“Well, alright what?”
“Just for tonight. You can have the spare room.”
Miserably, I watched the city skyline glitter in the distance. What had happened to my life? No fiancé. No shoes. Paired off with a freak by bickering friends. Just as well good old Bunty was around.
I snuffled, and leaned foward.
“You remind me of my old slippers,” I said, tickling the back of his neck. “Old and haggard, but always there in a crisis.”
“Get lost,” he said.
[Chapter 3 to follow!]
© Joanna Rubery 2017