The phone rang while I was staring at a blank piece of paper so I answered it immediately. It had barely had a chance to start its electronic imitation of a ringing bell for the second time before I was barking “Hello?” into it, anxious to be drawn away from the writer’s block that was plaguing me.
In all fairness though, it wasn’t entirely my fault that the muse had abandoned me and was lounging around on some other writer’s couch, her cigarette dangling loosely from the corner of her slightly slack, over-lipsticked mouth, her dress falling indiscreetly off one shoulder and her mussed hair covering half her face in a way that would have made the head-chef at Borridges bite through his wooden spoon and declare a fifty-percent off special for the next hour. The restaurant that I’d been sent to the previous evening was as dull as the soup they served and as tired as the meat in the main course. I’d struggled to stay awake through dessert, and the food sat heavily both in my stomach and on my mind. I had to write about this? Pigs would have rejected it as swill, but even if I were brutally honest and said so, it would only increase business to that miserable hole from people curious to see if things could really be as bad as I’d described. The only fitting review for it was utter silence, the damnation praise whispered in far corners where only the wind can hear it. But handing in a blank piece of paper (again) would irritate my editor to the point where my pay-cheque might find itself similarly blank and depressingly unsigned.
“Oh,” said a voice at the other end. It was tinny and echoey, it sounded like its owner was somewhere cavernous, possibly fornicated. My thoughts were swept away in an instant to a grand dining room, four stories high where trapeze artists – all french, dressed in form-fitting leotards and possessing moustaches that would take people nostalgically back to the nineteen-twenties despite their having not been born till the nineteen eighties – swung back and forth above the diners as a prandial display of excess that would have delighted the noble heads of Europe. “Oh, hi! It’s me!”
I contemplated, for a moment, the idea that maître’d’s might be so accustomed now to my presence in their dining rooms that they expected to be recognised simply by voice and background noise, and reluctantly concluded that that probably wasn’t the case.
“Me who? Is this about a reservation?” I asked. Perhaps I had another dinner (on expenses) waiting for me that I could write about instead of the Limbo I’d endured yesterday.
“Oh you silly! Reservations are for Indians! It’s Brandy!”
I suppose it’s sexist and old-fashioned but it wasn’t the name that finally brought the face to my mind, but the repeated, breathless exclamations. Well, that and the realisation that she was serious about the Indians. It was the Blonde. Only it wasn’t, it was the Blonde before the Blonde. The ex-Blonde, though that makes it sound like she changed her hair-colour, or the pre-Blonde, but again we have the hair-colour-change problem but in the other order. “The Blonde I was dating before the current Blonde” is better, though not perfect, and rather a mouthful. Calling her the “other Blonde” could only land me in more trouble than I’m probably in for referring to girlfriends as “the Blonde” in the first place, and the apparent tacit admission that I date women based on their hair colour alone (I don’t). However, the Blonder might well do, as the current Blonde at least knows better than to assume that Reservations mean Indians.
“Hi Blondie,” I said, my mind still trying to reconcile what I should be calling her.
“Brandy, silly! Hi, look, you still eat food, right?”
“Yes,” I said, wondering where this conversation could possibly be going. “I’m not dead yet.”
“Oh hee, hee, hee! You’re still so funny! Look!” (I resisted the urge to turn my head and look out of the window) “I’m working at Laboutrou now and Jim! He’s the sales guy! He’s funny too! Jim found out that I know you! Hee, hee, hee! He asked if you would come and review us! Isn’t that funny?!”
“Sure,” I said. “What time’s dinner?”