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He didn’t respond, muted by a suspicion too casually made to his emotional revelation. She had a habit of speaking without censoring thoughts, or considering their impact.
‘With all the tenderness of a mallet,’ he thought.
She had received his words upon her tongue as a sip, as a thought libation. Then lowering her cocktail glass, leant forward and said, ‘In my opinion she was in on it.’
The waiter interrupted with mains. They had ordered the same dish, plaice with falsified something or other, and greens. Fresh caught that morning off the coast of Kent and hurried to the table by way of a buttery copper pan and high, blue, gas flame. The smell of the sea wafted upward.
A charred half lemon sat on the edge of the white plate, branded side up. The sommelier arrived with a buttery burgundy. Their cocktail glasses replaced by wine ones and the ambrosia gently poured. Meantime, the waiter returned with a bowl of chips, crisped to crunch perfection. The waiter and sommelier then retreated, leaving the small table cluttered, everything laid out before them, like facts.
With fork and knife, thus armed he watched as she began to peel back the skin of the plaice with a delicate precision until its white flesh glistened, perfectly pearlescent, exposed and fully naked.
‘You do that very well, darling.’
She smiled, ‘a skill learnt from personal experience,’ and continued, ‘Isn’t it obvious.’
She always went for the obvious, the most rational, and logical. ‘It was a matinee, yes?’
‘I don’t remember.’
‘Perhaps even late morning?’
‘I can’t remember. It was long ago.’
‘The point being it was probably, at latest, very early evening – you were there and alone with her.’
The facts assembled and reassembled, the crisp chips crunched and considered, the flesh savoured and the fish skeleton exposed. She eased the knife slowly under its ridge so she could separate it from the remaining flesh.
He had said it was a film on a young Italian castrato.
‘A slightly odd choice,’ she mused. ‘Hardly a Disney animation? You were alone with her. She was looking after you?’
‘Consider the set-up,’ she squeezed a few lemon drops on the remaining flesh, ‘nanny takes six-year-old charge to a film on castrato – sits him to her right side.’
He sighed, now wishing he hadn’t said anything.
‘When at the cinema one’s senses are heightened, the darkness deepens, sound becomes physical, the sense of an other acute. Don’t you think?’ She pierced the last potato and drew it to her mouth. ‘The man sat to your left side?’
‘And reached for your hand…’
He lowered his gaze and pushed his knife and fork together
‘She was in on it, knew him, I suspect she knew him.’
‘Let’s change the subject,’ he said.
Her plate was a graveyard of bones –
‘Yes, shall we get dessert? I could do with a little sweetness.’