by Alice Wooledge Salmon
‘You won’t object to Chablis? Biodynamic, of course.’
‘Of course! My first inkling, USA somewhere, waitress explaining “biodynamic” as “organic and then some!” Such a pretty girl. Forgotten the wine, the city, the state. Not the girl. So pretty.’
Moules marinière, Potted crab, Salmon fishcakes and saffron cream, Fish stew tweaked with herbs … . Corinne, roving IT and business powerhouse with currency-swollen attitude and new to the Board of an anti-knife crime charity, is wooing Luke. His clout from impressive sales of sharp-edged Gallic history should properly accessorise a woman ever-fearful that ‘French Canadian in London’ lacks the cachet of unmodified ‘French’. Luke is reflecting that his (overdue) CBE might be nudged by a further literary prize (never certain), a BBC series sicking French abstraction on British muddle (a shade too provocative?), or tactfully publicised aid to the victimised and the dispossessed. Modification: the London victimised and inner-city dispossessed.
He says, ‘Such plump, delicious mussels. As good as any I’ve scoffed. Mid-November, Antwerp and Brussels. More than once.’
She says, ‘Crab like this could capsize my life.’
A pause, as the pleasures of very good cooking and elegant wine percolate their effect.
Luke says, ‘Enlighten me. About GO!’, so Corinne describes the ‘caring’ intentions of Gangs Out!, its part in a ‘new generation’ of ‘micro-funded’ education and ‘performant support programmes’ for ‘vulnerable kids’ and ‘adolescents at risk’. She dangles weighty names, speaks of sponsored runs, GO! wrist bands and organic T-shirts, mentoring — while omitting to add that she mentors less since one ‘kid’ wondered, in a carrying voice, whether she’d ‘just arrived on your broomstick?’
Luke notes that despite Corinne’s beak-like nose and gelled ashen crop, the skin is, mmm, quite alluring, and the teeth, behind the crimson smirk, could be — well, yah, c’est possible. Corinne is both attracted and averse to Luke’s hooded drawl and emanation of brandified late nights, imagines dawdling her fingers through his louche waves and shifts her eyes from a waistline visibly expanded since his current book jacket snaps.
He says, ‘ “Fish stew with tomato and herbs”? Criminal understatement. This is … memorable.’
She says, ‘They tell the chef I’m coming.’
He thinks that if she talks on — in that nasal, sing-song voice — about ‘social media initiatives’ or ‘seeking a solution capability’, he’ll have to forgo pudding and be off. Still, all that post-post-feminist energy can be … rather exciting. And with Lucretia and the sprogs away for the week, might this just be a case of ‘Your place or mine?’
He says, ‘GO! Quite interesting. You make it sound … interesting,’ and deftly taps the back of her hand.
Corinne, always hungry, longs to finish with Cashel blue & pecan pie or embellished Chocolate mousse, but can permit no further assaults on her starved svelteness. The tiniest espresso, and, to follow, rumple her McCartney with this scary incarnation of Anglo-French cool? … chez moi? She lets a foot rest briefly against his.
Whoa! Let’s consider:
Corinne’s high-rise flat in Pimlico — unexpected quarter for a hyper-wannabe — is a claustrophobic stretch of bespoke metal, glass, and WHITE intensity, obsessively cleaned by Sri Lankan slaves all but obliged to lick the floorboards. She showers twice each twenty-four hours, dresses from a wardrobe despotically maintained, and writes terse notes (‘I will be grateful if…’) to her more relaxed neighbours condemning their choice of doorstep furniture and windowbox plants.
Luke, by contrast, dwells upheavaled in Camden. The path to his decaying terrace house is overgrown, like the gardens front and back, and behind unwashed windows, all is bohemian mess: books and papers in fetid piles, risky stairs beneath layers of Turkish carpet, beds rumpled and unmade, plastic dinosaurs littering the bath. One or two broken rosaries lie about, while unbriefed callers stare, shudder and place their feet, et cetera, with care.
Think better not?
Alice Wooledge Salmon is a Londoner who writes short fiction and sometimes lengthy essays.