When the play ended, I did my best to escape in case she accosted me, but just as I was about to scurry out into the street for a taxi, in spite of the relentless rain- even rain was nothing compared to her- I felt an umbrella prod me rudely in the back. My heart sank.
I turned to her with a polite smile and asked whether I could be of any assistance.
She beamed at me. “My daughter is really a big fan of yours, you know. I introduced her to your writing…I must say, it’s not nearly as sophisticated as Gerard’s, but it is quite charming. In parts,"
I glanced at the girl accompanying her and felt sorry for her. She was a washed out looking lady of about thirty years of age, though she seemed several years older. She had straw coloured hair, and faded blue eyes which looked as if they’d had their colour and vitality sucked out of them. She had, most unfortunately, inherited her mother’s large white teeth. She was extremely thin and weak looking…I suddenly envisioned a nightmarish childhood of too little to eat, because her parent was consuming all her meals.
“I’m so glad to meet you at last, sir. I love your books,” she said. Her voice, thin and weak and high pitched, resembled her person. She had none of her mother’s…let us call it, heavyweight…presence.
I was desperately looking for a chance to escape them. The rain had almost let up and just as I was on the verge of making my escape, she said it.
“How about a little dinner at Foyot’s? Just for old times’ sake!” Those teeth…those big white teeth flashed at me as she threw me a huge grin…but to me it seemed like a snarl. I stared transfixed at those teeth, feeling a familiar wave of horror wash over me. I had seen those teeth eat their way through salmon and caviare and peaches and champagne and ice cream, leaving me with an empty stomach and an empty wallet.
But I was spared. Her daughter smoothly interrupted here, and reminded her mother that she had promised to dine at Lord and Lady O’s that night.
Crestfallen, she looked at me and said she supposed that dinner would be impossible.
“How terribly disappointing…I would have loved to have taken you ladies to supper,” I lied smoothly. Inside I rejoiced in the fact that that fat old bag wouldn't be able to sink her teeth- those large white teeth- into my wallet. Not this time at least.
"But," she continued, with a little smirk, "I know my daughter would love to accompany you. Surely you wouldn't mind taking such a beautiful girl out to dinner, you naughty man!" I winced as she thoughtfully prodded my ribs with her umbrella. I looked at her daughter…with her faded hair and her faded eyes and her thin voice, and my heart sank as I saw her nod enthusiastically.
In a taxi some fifteen minutes later, I was telling myself that it couldn’t be so bad.
Though the daughter was so utterly emaciated, I scarcely believed her appetite would match her appearance. Not with such a mother. And after I'd gone through what I had with her mother, twenty years ago, I'd lost all faith in the delicacy of the female appetite. Even the washed out looking females.
Although we were both sitting in the same taxi, on the same wide seat, I had placed myself as far as I could from her. This was for several reasons. The first, and most irrelevant, was because she was her mother’s daughter. The second, was because she did not seem to have much control of the saliva emitting from her mouth when she spoke. She kept inching her way closer though, until I was pressed up against the car door. Wildly, I toyed with the idea of opening it and falling out but after a few seconds consideration, I decided that death was an extreme measure to take.
We pulled up at Foyot’s sooner rather than later, and ignoring the horrible memories of my last visit (I had not re-visited it since the time I took Her to lunch) I gallantly led her to a corner table.
Foyot’s hadn't changed much. Places like that never do. It was still the same expensive, luxurious and utterly pretentious restaurant it had always been. A waiter sidled up to us, and though he was not the same waiter who had waited on me previously, he had the same sly grin and knowing look in his eye.
Aha, his eyes seemed to say. You will be far less rich after this meal my friend, than you are at present.
I ordered a bottle of red wine for myself and asked her what she would like to drink.
“Water please, I'm not a big fan of alcohol” she said politely.
My liking for her suddenly increased, despite the gob of saliva that landed on my arm and I gave the waiter our order.
“As far as I recall, your mother doesn’t eat or drink much either,” I said, unable to resist this little barb.
“Only at luncheon,” she said, without a trace of humour in her eyes.
“I see,” I said, even though I didn’t.
The water came and so did the wine and I watched anxiously as she took a sip of her water. I half expected her to change her mind and suddenly decide on a bottle of champagne but she didn’t.
She just sipped the water and talked about the play we had seen.
“Are…are you quite sure you won’t have some wine?” I enquired anxiously.
Although, when I first laid eyes on her, it seemed to me incredible that this gaunt lady had inherited her mother’s voracious appetite, it now caused me some concern. Sitting in Foyot’s with the memory of The Other Luncheon lying heavily on my mind, I found it difficult to believe that there was no twist somewhere. I half expected her, if not to eat everything in sight, order the most expensive dishes on the bill of fare, and waste them. Anything, simply anything, to empty my wallet. Surely the tendency to spend the money of helpless writers ran in the family.
From what I could see, it didn't.
Nonetheless I was nervous and jumpy throughout the meal, barely touching my filet mignon. I am sure she thought me a little unbalanced because I kept staring at her teeth…it was dreadful of me, but they seemed to hypnotise me somehow…I just couldn’t get rid of the feeling that they would suddenly start eating and eating and eating. But they didn’t.
But nothing of significance occurred. She ordered pea soup and then some salmon…that certainly brought back some memories! However, unlike her mother, she seemed content to stop at the salmon. I managed to press her into ordering a coffee. I did this, not because I found her company amusing…but because my theory of her childhood being bereft of food was reinforced and I was beginning to feel sorry for her. The poor thing obviously hadn't had the chance to eat growing up with a mother like that.
After coffee, the waiter brought the bill of fare over and I glanced at it and heaved a sigh of relief.
Not cheap, for it was Foyot’s after all, but in no way close to The Other Luncheon. I could easily afford it.
I reached into my shirt pocket and felt around for my wallet.
Then I checked my trouser pocket.
It wasn’t there either.
Calm down, I told myself, it’s there somewhere. It couldn’t not be there!
By this time, I was frantically pulling out the inner linen of all my pockets. I even got off my chair and crawled under the table, in case it had fallen down there somewhere. My companion was watching me in bewilderment.
I stood up slowly and surreptiously brushed some dirt of my shoulder. There was no point asking her for money- I am, if nothing else, a man with pride and principles. I don't believe in making women- however big their teeth are- pay. Besides, I could see she wasn't carrying a purse. Stupid woman.
“You know,” I said, glancing at my gold plated watch, “I’m still rather hungry, and it’s not very late. If you don’t mind…”
“Oh, I don’t mind at all…but weren’t you looking for something?”
“Nothing of significance,” I replied, slowly beckoning to the waiter to bring over the bill of fare.