Before Piers could call and arrange a time to meet Angela he needed a story, a convincing background he could use for his colleagues, his secretary, and most of all G. He did not want to meet Angela for lunch, it would be over and then life would resume, he would return to his office and pretend to be involved in business and then take the train home, etcetera, etcetera and so on. He wanted a dinner, free of any other appointments hanging over his head, where the evening might create something fresh; and not because he partially considered bedding Angela, as he knew that was not likely to occur, instead, at this time he hoped for a few hours when he was enthusiastic about spending the time. At no time did Piers believe he was breaching his vows with G, nor in some way committing a selfish act, he was pursuing a friendship and that was all he saw in it, he said to himself. A discreet place, and the right excuse handed themselves to him with the possibility of a deal from an Asian business contact, who only another business partner knew of, and G have never heard him mention. A mysterious and unique deal would offer all the plausible background to be in the office or at a secret meeting location without having to explain his movements. It was relatively easy to take time in London to cement this deal and he could evolve a story to suit his needs. He thought of a quiet restaurant that would be suitable as it was intimate, the food was well prepared, with the right level of service, and these things would let Angela known the esteem in which Piers held her. How she ought to react and show him in return, did not enter his head. It did not seem curious to him that he was old fashioned, that he adhered to an outmoded form of courting, even friendship, with a woman. It was not in with the times: more casual, more equal at least in word and more spontaneous; all conditions Piers had never known, or if he had they had been extinguished since childhood by successive masters, the army, and the rigors of codified business protocols.
Piers met Angela a week later at the restaurant. He was there early, with a Tio Pepe, sitting at the table. He wore a suit and tie as though he had gone to his club for dinner; the tie looked regimental, club, or some other masculine association. Angela walked to the table and was immediately aware of how quiet the restaurant was; it was not full, but the place was respectfully quiet. Piers stood to greet her and extended his hand as they made a limp handshake which fell into mid-air in two shakes. She sat down and said, “Why is everyone so hushed?” He looked about and said he had not noticed. She said, “It’s like a retirement hotel in Bournemouth. It’s a waiting room to a priest, or maybe, God himself.” Piers did not understand, to him it was polite that no one was talking loudly, but it was true he acknowledged to himself, that the very low voices enforced a practice of tight-lipped restrained speaking which was unnatural and it made laughing, except as a dry smirk, impossible or else receiving the obloquy of the other people. Her comments made him uneasy and he ordered her champagne as the waiter hovered by his side. He leaned forward and asked how she had been which she deflected and said, “I had a message at the gallery; apparently a man had left his card and offered me a commission if I called him. You know anything about that?” He suddenly remembered that he had left his card as a subterfuge. “Yes I do actually, it came up with a client…” and he regaled her with a story of a client – the Asian one again – who needed a contemporary art piece for his new offices in Hong Kong. Whether it was true didn’t matter, not now, as it started conversation and allowed Piers to hear Angela talk about her art and to return to the impromptu lecture she had given him at the gallery on interpreting art. He listened to her avidly and enjoyed her company more than he thought possible, or had imagined, while he plotted the second meeting. It was a fulfillment after the weeks of trying to meet her again. Casually, he dropped allusions to the reading he had done on art in the intervening weeks, which Angela deferred to but was not much interested, as she knew the texts in most cases that Piers was quoting, but she thought it was respectful of him to make the effort.
They ordered in between the talk and he discovered that she was a vegetarian, and his instinct was to dismiss and scorn it but he suppressed his reflexive contempt and listened to her explain why she had chosen to eliminate meat. They were fine but reasons apart: it spoiled what he anticipated would have been a memorable meal to share over some high quality beef. The waiter had heard of vegetarians as an odd cult and was bemused as to what to offer in the place of meat as it was the centrepiece of the menu in every dish: salad and cheese might be acceptable, or perhaps, said with polished obsequiousness, a fried egg would be suitable. The waiter went to the kitchen and asked the chef while Piers was embarrassed and Angela said she did not mind in any case, she would take anything but not meat. Her intransigence made Piers bothered, uncomfortable: how bad can a small portion of meat be and she must have eaten it before? Or how else did she decide to stop? He upbraided himself for not having the intelligence beforehand, unforgivable as it threatened to spoil the evening. The waiter returned crestfallen and said the chef was unable to do anything and they ought to have booked at another restaurant. Piers looked to Angela to make another choice or else, to be more flexible, or preferably both, and be a little like the women he was accustomed to and accept what was given. It was not a hardship to eat good beef and she was being egocentric, as the cause of trouble.
Angela picked up her handbag, stood up from the table and said she would be happy to go elsewhere. Piers was shocked, he had never walked out of a restaurant and openly defied the waiter before, and could feel the eyes of the other people looking at him with seething silent politeness. Angela looked down at Piers who was still sitting: “We could go to another place it’s still early”, she said. The words did not form quickly in Piers’s mouth, “I, that is, this was a good choice I thought. Couldn’t you see yourself to having another chop at it?” he asked with a rising tone of childish appeal. She paused to consider her answer; she glanced at the restaurant and the other diners who were discomforted by anyone standing before they had had the pudding. The order of things had been upset. That made her mind for her, she said, “It was pleasant enough but not successful. A pity. My fault no doubt and if you blame me I can quite understand. Put it down to temperament, or having one, at the very least. Goodbye.” She walked out of the restaurant unhurriedly, a waiter held the door for her; she said thank you and the door closed behind her.
©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.