‘Lunch’ is a story from Anna Wood’s debut collection Yes Yes More More, published by Indigo Press and available at all good bookshops, including this one
The tablecloth is thick white cotton. Two wine glasses and cloth napkins, the sun shining in and everything crisp and sparkling. Frank is looking at the menu. He suggested the noisy noodle place on Greek Street but I didn’t want noisy noodles so we left before they took our order and we came here. The doorman smiled and said hello as we walked in. This restaurant is part of a hotel, in the middle of the city, expensive but not completely wanky.
Frank is sitting with his lovely face, right there. I used to imagine chatting to another colleague and mentioning Frank, in passing, describing his face as exquisite. “Frank is exquisite-looking,” I’d say, and cause a little stir around the office. I never said it though, out loud.
There are small wrinkles in front of Frank’s ears, because his face is drooping. He has brown eyes. He’s wearing a soft wool suit and shiny shoes.
“Everything is good here,” I tell him. “Well, maybe everything except the snails and bacon.”
I’ve already decided, I’m having the beetroot and curd and barley. No wine because it’s lunchtime. And in a bit of a hurry please because we want time for pudding too.
Frank is looking around, leaning back in his chair.
“This could be our place,” he tells me. Then he smiles. “You look really well, Annie.”
“The new job suits you.”
“Yep. How are you?”
“I’m alright. A bit surprised still.”
“Had you talked about it?”
“Yes, vaguely. I didn’t think it would happen so quickly.”
“Well, you know how it works.”
“Yes, I know how it works.”
I look at him and he keeps talking.
“I thought it might happen in a year or two. If we stayed together that long.”
“How many weeks is she?”
“Twenty. Twenty-two. It was the last time we had sex, actually.” A little laugh.
“Is she okay?”
“She’s over the moon.”
“You’ll love it too, I bet, once you have an actual baby. You’ll be a good dad.”
“Thanks. Thanks. Do you want children?”
“I don’t know. I’d definitely like a shag.”
“But you wouldn’t want a boyfriend,” he says. “I mean you wouldn’t want a boyfriend who felt trapped.”
“The two of you talked about it, didn’t you?”
“I thought it would take months for her to get pregnant.”
“And you thought she couldn’t get pregnant standing up. Or on Thursdays.”
“Don’t be clever.”
“But I am clever.”
“Snails and bacon,” he tells the waiter.
“And I’ll have the beetroot and curd. And shall we share a side salad?” I look at Frank.
“What about the broccoli?”
“Broccoli. Yep. And a jug of tap water please.”
“I’ll have a small glass of house red too,” Frank says. “You want one?”
“I can’t drink at home.”
“Well, I can, I just don’t like doing it. Kelly isn’t drinking at all and I don’t like drinking on my own.”
“But I’m not drinking right now either.”
“Well, that’s true. I’ve got this meeting after lunch, though, and it’ll be better if I’ve had a glass of wine first.”
“If we were in France now we’d both just be getting pissed.”
“Or if we were in America in the 1950s.”
“Or if we were just alkies.”
“Or if we were in the music industry in the 90s.”
“Then we’d be having chang in the toilets and drinking booze because we couldn’t manage solids.”
“Which would be a shame because the food here looks really good.” He is eyeing the huge pie being shared by the two men at the next table.
“See if you still think that when your snails arrive.”
“I only ordered those to spite you.”
“Brilliant. Well done.”
Right then his snails and bacon arrive, and his nose wrinkles.
“It does look a bit strange,” I say. “It’ll taste good though.”
“You can start, don’t worry, mine will be here in a minute.”
“You want a bit?”
“No thanks. I seem to have developed an allergy to shellfish. Do you think snails count as shellfish?”
“I doubt it,” he says. “Don’t risk it though, eh?”
My food arrives and Frank takes a slice of my beetroot. Then he says, “I know a lot of people at the moment who are breaking up, people with kids I mean. Lots of my friends.”
“One thing at a time.”
“I’ve only met Kelly once or twice.”
“She’s good. She can take care of herself.”
“And a baby.”
“And a baby, yes.”
“While you’re breadwinning.”
“While I’m stuck in meetings.”
“You could leave your job and stay at home with the baby while Kelly works.”
“Excellent idea. I’d love that. Shit and puke and screaming.”
“And that’s just you.”
“I envy you. Doing what you want to do.”
“Oh yes. Well, it is pretty enviable. Life is good.”
“You haven’t got yourself a young man though?”
“No, no young men. Just me.”
“Do you want to hear stories of clammy drunken trysts with work experience boys?”
“No. No thanks.”
I tear a piece of crusty white bread, stick it in some butter, put a bit of salt on it. Frank watches me.
“Maybe you’ll be pregnant this time next year.” Suddenly he looks like he’s going to cry.
“Maybe.” My napkin is still folded, next to my plate. “How’s the office?”
“Pretty great. Trevor has left, finally.”
“He was the only real pain in the arse there. I might have stayed if he’d fucked off a bit sooner.”
“I know. Well, I’m glad he’s gone. The new bloke is lovely, and really good.”
“It’s a happy situation all round.”
“And you’re enjoying those snails, after all.”
“I am,” he says, with this beautiful daft smile on his face. Then Frank has to go for his meeting. No time for pudding.
“Let me pay.”
“No, I’ll get it, that’s fine.”
“You can treat us next time.”
We head up the street, side by side, up to the revolving door of his office building.
“I’ll see you at Julie’s party next month maybe.”
“Yes, definitely.” He hugs me then he tucks his hands in his pockets. I turn to leave before he does.
The sun is still out. I dig out my ipod and head to the newsagents on the corner for a strawberry Cornetto.
(author photo: Grace Gelder)