After the week from hell, I’d decided I deserved a bit of pampering and had ended up spending Saturday morning having my roots and nails done. Now I was in the Islington Slug and Lettuce, listening to Mia moan on about her gay dating agency, Out of this World, which, although it had only been in business for three months, was already on its knees. Since Mia was one of my oldest friends—we’d met at
“I don’t know what you’re complaining about,” I said. “I mean, for God’s sake, you’re going to be on Genderblast. Hasn’t anyone been in touch? They sounded very keen when I talked to them on the phone last week.”
“Of course they have,” Mia said sourly. “Some chirpy researcher called Gavin wants me to provide a guest for a taping of the show this Wednesday.”
“What do you mean, a guest? In my letter to the producers, I suggested you were the ideal person to go on. I mean, you’re gorgeous, gusty and gay. What more could they possibly want? ”
As she shook her head, her red ringletty hair bounced on her shoulders. “They don’t want me. They want a happy customer who can give an emotionally wrenching account of how they met their Mr or Ms Right through the agency.”
“So what’s the problem? Just pick out the prettiest, bubbliest girl you’ve matched so far.”
“Well I would, but I only have two girls on my books. One’s a Pilates freak without an inch of fat on her and the other’s a fatty who pigs out on chip butties. I don’t dare send them out on a date, because they’re totally unsuited to each other.”
“Okay, well, what about hot guys? The agency must be heaving with those.”
“Well, we do have an extremely nice bunch. But put it this way, none of them exactly combines the witty personality of a Steve Martin with the looks of a Keanu Reeves.”
“What about someone with Keanu Reeves’ personality and Steve Martin’s looks?”
“Not even that. I think we’re going to have to forget it, unless—”
She shrugged and picked a soggy slice of lime out of her gin and tonic. “Unless you think Malc’s up to it. He’s desperate to go on Genderblast, so he can meet the host, Helenka Smythe. He’s one of her biggest fans, apparently. You must know who I mean? She’s one of the most high profile lesbians in the entertainment industry.”
“I’m afraid I don’t.” I’d never actually watched the show, all I knew was that it was viewed by Mia’s target demographic.
“So, what about Malc? He really thinks he can do a convincing job of pretending to be a satisfied client.”
Mia’s assistant at the agency was the sort of homosexual the word ‘gay’, as defined by the dictionary as ‘joyous’ and ‘lighthearted’, wasn’t invented for. As well as wearing a permanent scowl, he also had a penchant for being rude to potential customers if they weren’t good looking enough. No wonder none of them stuck around to find true love! If Mia had any sense, she’d fire him. So what if he did have a backside like two firm peaches in a string bag? It didn’t make up for the fact that his face was decidedly horse-like and that he was wrecking Mia’s business.
As to the question of whether Malc should be let within a hundred feet of a TV studio, that was a no brainer. The answer was a definite no.
“I don’t know,” I said, as diplomatically as I could. “There must be someone else who could step in. What about all those babelicious friends of yours? Couldn’t they pretend they’d met through Out of this World?”
“You know how they feel about the agency,” she said, sucking on her bit of lime. “That it’s deeply naff. That if you can’t get a date off your own bat, you must be a loser. Which is ridiculous.”
I sighed, thinking they had a point. “Well, I suppose Malc can be funny, and he does have a nice bum, although since he’d be sitting down during the interview, we wouldn’t exactly get to see it. But I’m still not sure he’s up to the job. Look, how about we hold off until you have some genuinely satisfied customers. If Genderblast won’t wait, maybe I can get you on another show.”
“No.” She grabbed hold of my hand and gave me a pained, desperate look. “This is the perfect slot. Malc can pull it off, I know he can. I just need you to brief him a bit beforehand. What do you think?”
I gave a heavy sigh. “I’ll think about it while I get the drinks in.”
I shook my head as I made my way over to the bar. Mia was too damned idealistic for her own good. Just because she was madly in love with her posh girlfriend Imogen (a personal shopper at Harvey Nichols who had the shiniest chestnut hair outside a shampoo commercial I’d ever seen), she thought the rest of the world just needed a shove in the right direction. She’d jumped into this venture like a crazed cupid with a bow full of arrows and had sunk her savings into it without thinking too much about the nuts and bolts of the business. And while I didn’t want to put Malc on Genderblast, it was her only real opportunity to bring in new clients and save her company.
So, once I’d got in some fresh drinks, I carried them back to the table and said, “Okay, let’s do it. Let’s give Malc a shot.”
When I got home, I found Constanza frying knackwurst in a pan. She was also simmering sauerkraut. The smell of it, as usual, made me want to heave.
I walked over to the huge ripped open food parcel, which was obviously from my mother.
“I see you took the liberty of opening my mail,” I said frostily.
“No Mummy, I opened it!” said Ivy, who was sitting at the terracotta tiled breakfast bar, tucking into a mound of knackwurst and sauerkraut. “And there’s another parcel from Flowerette up in your room.” It was at times like this that I wished Ivy didn’t have an advanced reading age.
Brian Mulhoon, product manager for Flowerette, kept sending me free samples of their product, as a thank you for all my good work. More like an insult really. It was fine, if like Tanya, you worked for cosmetics companies. But incontinence pants? What the heck was I meant to do with them? So far I’d been throwing them the trash. But that seemed like an awful environmental no no. I’d have to think of some better way of disposing them.
“Why do they keep sending you diapers? Do you wear them, Mummy?” said Ivy, while Constanza eyed me with curiosity.
“Of course I don’t. Only babies wear diapers.” I was going to add, “and old people,” but decided not to, for fear that Ivy might reply, “But you are old,” which would probably have had me bursting into tears.
“Mummy, do you know where babies come from?” said Ivy, making a squelching sound as she chewed her sauerkraut.
“I go upstairs,” said Constanza pointedly, hurrying out. I would have loved to follow her, but that wasn’t the sort of thing a modern parent did, was it? Just run out of the room and pretend you hadn’t heard the question.
Instead, I ran out into the hall, yanked open the basement door, and hurried down the stairs to look for Alistair. He could deal with the facts of life talk. Why not? I had to deal with everything else.
Downstairs, Alistair’s two roomed home office was crammed with Ikea computer desks, chairs and bookcases, not because he really needed that much furniture, but because he finds putting the flat packs together relaxing. It’s a harmless enough hobby, I suppose, but I do insist that he confines his creations to the basement. Because the thing is, I’m proud of the way I’ve done up my house. It’s tasteful, understated and steeped in history. And I didn’t spend years visiting auctions all over
“Mummy, I said, where do babies come from?” Ivy said, thundering down the stairs behind me.
“I know you did. It’s just that I’m sure Dad would be able to explain it so much better than I could.”
I pushed open the door to the adjoining room, where Alistair sat, leaning against a partly assembled desk, and talking into the receiver in a monotone.
“Yes, I have screw 15B, but I don’t have the Allen key that I need to screw in 15B. Yes, I understand that. You have very kindly supplied me with an Allen key for screws 13 and 14, but that Allen key is not suitable for use with screw 15B. Could I possibly trouble you to courier me over the Allen key for use with screw 15B?”
It didn’t take a genius to work out that he was on the phone to the Ikea helpline, a fairly regular occurrence, because the flat packs were frequently missing essential bits.
“I do appreciate that it’s expensive to bike over parts, but this project is one of some urgency, and … what? Yes of course I understand that you’re trying to keep overheads down.” And on and on he went, as he always did, wearing the customer service representatives down with his scrupulously polite voice, until they cracked.
“You will bike it over,” he said, having once again got his way. “Well, that is good news. Thank you so much for your help.”
“Alistair, hi,” I said, as soon as he’d replaced the receiver. “I need you to tell Ivy where babies come from.”
“Sure,” he said, beaming at her. “Why don’t you come and sit here, beside me. Now then, the first thing you need to know, is that when a special egg joins with a special seed, a baby is formed.”
“Oh. But where do you get the special seed?” Ivy asked.
Yeah Alistair, where do you get the special seed? I expected him to look as embarrassed as I felt, but instead, he coolly reached for a screw and an Allen key and held them up in front of her.
“Well, the special seed lives inside the daddy. Now, let’s pretend this screw with the hole on top is the mummy part, and that this Allen key is the daddy part. Now, watch as I put the two parts together,” he said, sticking the Allen key into the top of the screw, while Ivy stared at him with big saucer eyes.
Luckily, at that point, I heard my mobile ringing in the kitchen, and dashed up the stairs to answer it.
“Scarlett! I just got some good news,” Tanya said excitedly. “It’s totally a secret, but I’ve got word that Sachiko’s going to be in town next week. I’ve already briefed everyone I know to keep their eyes peeled. If they find her, they’re to ring me, day or night, and I’ll go find her. With my buckets of charm, I just know I’ll be able to convince her to do this campaign. I’ll be promoted at work and have the big office overlooking the King’s Road, rather than the bins round the back. This is it, I just know it!”
I let out a deeply negative sigh, knowing the whole plan was doomed to failure.
Later on, with Ivy in bed, and Alistair still in the basement, I went to my en suite bathroom, poured lots of bubble bath into the tub and switched on the taps. As I took off my clothes, I smiled to myself. I was going to indulge myself with lots of lovely thoughts about Connor.
Walking over to the full length mirror that was set in the wall, I tried to look at myself, the way a stranger might, the way Connor might, on seeing me naked for the first time.
I had to grudgingly admit that my face looked years younger than my age, thirty-four. My blue-green eyes sparkled, and a smattering of freckles gave me the cuteness factor of a girl in her twenties.
My body wasn’t too bad either. Alistair called it amazing, which was nice of him, but that didn’t mean I didn’t feel self-conscious about the cellulite that patterned the backs of my thighs. My bum was a little saggy, as I’d had no time to go to the gym for the past few months, but at least my bust didn’t droop like that of some of the women I knew who’d nursed for months. I’d only managed two weeks, once the incessant pain of Ivy trying to rip out my nipples with her hard gums finally got to me. Looking at my perky breasts, I felt a wave of guilt that I hadn’t persevered more with nursing.
Swiftly brushing the thought aside, I sank into the warm bath, now almost overflowing with bubbles, and tipped my head back against a bath pillow. Closing my eyes, I decided that, all in all, Connor probably wouldn’t be able to find too much to complain about my body.
People think my slim figure comes naturally, brought about by a fast metabolism, when the reality is that I simply have an iron will when it comes to limiting calories. Alistair is always telling me I should indulge more, that I should have a chocolate once in a while, which is just plain daft. Doesn’t he know that one chocolate leads to another, and that before you know it you’ve got a flabby stomach and bat wings?
But not all indulgences are bad for you, are they? Some are calorie free and delicious. Like Connor, for example. I licked salty tasting sweat from my upper lip, as I thought about him sinking into the bath beside me, turning on the shower head and directing it between my legs.
The fantasy was so vivid, that I even found myself murmuring, “Oh yeah, that feels so good.”
Then, abruptly, a strongly accented woman’s voice brought my fantasy to a screeching halt.
“Scarlett, do you mind? But I am wanting to talk to you,” Constanza said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to be attempting to make conversation with your moaning, naked employer.
“Haven’t you heard of knocking?” I said, grabbing a loofah and placing it over my exposed breasts.
I was staring down at her copper coloured toenails, hoping she’d go away, when I got distracted by the horrendous state of the floor. My precious tiny silver and turquoise tiles, which I usually polished to a shine, were covered in a film of ground in dirt.
First forgetting to tend to Alistair’s shirts, then letting the floor get like this. Things were spiralling out of control. I willed Constanza not to have noticed, but as my gaze travelled slowly up her orange silk pyjamas and landed on her face, I noted that not only was she staring at the floor, but that her nose was twitching with disapproval.
“I am sorry,” said Constanza, her eyes still locked on my tiles. “Next time I will knock.”
And suddenly it hit me. There must be something up with Ivy, else she’d never have disturbed me in the bath.
“Oh my God, what’s happened? Has Ivy had an accident?” I said, clambering out, not giving a damn now, whether she saw me nude.
“Nothing is happening to Ivy.”
“Oh.” I swivelled round, feeling like an idiot. “Then what did you want?” I said, pulling on my bathrobe.
“You look tired,” she said.
“Is that what you came in to tell me, that I look tired?”
“I am just thinking that you work too hard and you not sleep so good. I think I will stop Ivy sleeping in your bed, yes?”
“Well, thanks, that would certainly help,” I said, wondering where we were going with all this.
Lifting her crucifix to her mouth, she sucked on it for a second, then pulled it out.
“I think I would like to clean. I am boring when Ivy is at school.”
“You mean bored?” She nodded. “I don’t know. I have certain standards.”
“I do good job. And wash clothes too. And your underwear, by hand, yes?”
It was terrifying, thinking of this girl handling my precious La Perla bras. But there was no doubt that there was an air of efficiency about her. Ivy was always smartly turned out these days, her clothes pressed and neat in her cupboard.
“Well, okay, if you like. I’ll pay you extra, of course.”
“There is no need. I love to service this family.” She gave me a meaningful stare.
“And do you also love to service my husband?” I almost asked.
As I crouched down on the floor and started to scrub, I realized with a jolt that I didn’t care if she did.
Oh dear, I think I’m cracking up. I feel perilously close to having a nervous breakdown. In fact, I think I actualy might be in the middle of one. Any advice?