It was raining again in Oostende, a bone-chilling drizzle that blew in from the North Sea. Pulling up my coat collar, I slipped and nearly fell on a wet cobblestone street enroute to the bistro. The outside of the tiny building was painted like a mural in gay colors with a large eye across the gable roof. It looked out of place in this cold gray city known for its busy shipping port.
I went inside and shook the rainwater off my coat as I looked around the room. There were only a handful of customers in the place and I immediately spotted Delphine sitting alone at a table. She was a young British woman I had been corresponding with via email for a few months. She always ended her her emails with "Love, Delphine," which intrigued me. It was a customary farewell to a person who was emotionally close, but I was nearly a stranger to Delphine -- just another chat junkie on the World Wide Web.
Delphine looked exactly like the photo she emailed to me. Winsome was the descriptive word that came to mind. She was thin with short brown hair, dark eyes and a pretty face. She glanced nervously in my direction when I approached her table.
"We finally meet," I smiled.
She gave me a limp handshake and I took a seat.
"You look older than I imagined," she said.
"I get that a lot. Do they have a decent house wine here?"
The waiter brought a carafe of white wine and two glasses. I filled our glasses and took a sip of mine, nodding my approval.
"I like the mural on the outside of the building."
"Please don't say it looks picturesque. I might throw up."
I laughed. "Well, I wouldn't want you to lose your breakfast, but it certainly stands out."
"Where are you staying?"
"The Glenmore Hotel."
"You must be loaded."
"It's not that fancy."
"I suppose your wife is at the Glenmore thinking you've gone shopping or something."
"I told you I'm divorced."
"All married men say they're divorced."
"But I am divorced. Really."
"I suppose anything is possible. So you're a fiction writer, huh?"
"Two novels and a short story collection published in the past five years."
"Hmm. That's very impressive."
"Not as much as you might think. My last book didn't sell worth a damn."
"What have you been doing in Belgium?"
I grinned at her. "Did you actually read any of my emails?"
"Of course, but I forget things easily. You'll have to be patient with me."
"I visited the Ardennes."
"In southern Belgium. How long have you lived in this country?"
"Five years. You're staring at me."
"I can't get over how French you look for a British girl."
"My father was born in Lille, France. What's in the Ardennes?"
"You didn't read my emails."
"Don't get angry. Pretend we never corresponded."
"I went to Bastogne."
"Never heard of it."
"It's the scene of a pivotal engagement in the Battle of the Bulge."
A blank stare from Delphine.
"You know, World War II when Nazi Germany tried to conquer England?"
"I wasn't born yet."
"Nevertheless, it still happened. You can take my word for it."
"Now I remember. You told me your father was in the Army."
"He was one of the soldiers called the battling bastards of Bastogne."
"Your father was a bastard?"
"Not literally, it was just a nickname. Never mind."
"Were you in the Army?"
"I suppose you were wounded in battle."
"No, but I didn't return with all my f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact."
She made a harump sound. "You didn't have to spell out the word."
"It's a line from my favorite short story about war. Salinger wrote it."
"I assume he's an American author."
"You've never read J. D. Salinger?"
"I'm not terribly fond of American writers."
"When I get home, I'll email you an address where you can read some of his writing online. He's very good."
"You went crazy after the Vietnam war?"
"Not really. I was just depressed."
"I was in a Flemish nuthouse once after I slit my wrists."
I grimaced. "That's sounds a little too radical."
"Not radical enough. I'm still here. I've decided to let someone else slaughter me. Among the weird people I hang out with, he won't be difficult to find. It will be a sort of roundabout suicide."
"That's a mouthful of horseshit."
She smiled feebly. "Charming image."
"All you have is your life."
"It's not much."
"If you throw it away, you're a damn fool."
"You're so confident you confuse me."
"I wasn't confident at your age. Nobody is. It comes with experience and maturity."
"I've had plenty of experience, but I'm fucked up beyond repair."
"Where are you originally from in England?"
"I was born in Leyton, a Godforsaken ghetto in East London. I lived there with my grandparents and they were malicious. I loitered a lot, stuff happened and I was placed in a home near Leicestershire. More shit happened there, kinky staff and all that."
"I love the way you gloss over important facts by saying shit happened."
"You know what I mean."
"I can guess."
"My father showed up eventually and took me to the French city where he was born, Lille, a very friendly place with big avenues and so forth. I lived with him for two years. It was a good time and I miss the incestuous swine. Then my mother showed up and took me back to London. Her boyfriend was sleazy and I ran away when I was thirteen. I met a Flemish ex-boxer named Patrick at a festival and he took care of me for a while. But he was alcoholic and short tempered and that's why I slit my wrists."
"Because shit happened."
"Don't be sarcastic. It's not fun to get beat up."
"I know it isn't."
"The nuthouse had a kinky night nurse and I met Christopher there. We had a great time with all the gregarious nutters and I made a lot of friends. It was the best time of my life."
"Don't you think that's rather sad?"
"Having the best time of your life in a nuthouse."
Delphine smiled with a faraway look. "You have no idea."
"Where's your mother now?"
"I don't know. She may be alive somewhere, probably out of her head on crack and being fucked up the arse by some dodgy Romanian porn director. My father is very much dead, bless the incestuous swine. But I do miss him sometimes."
"You've said that twice now. If your father molested you, why do you miss him?"
"He used to lick my minge with his French tongue and make me tingle all over."
"You like to shock people, don't you?"
Delphine smiled coyly. "Are you shocked by the way I talk?"
"No, I just wonder why you feel it's necessary."
She kept smiling. "Did I tell you I returned to hooking a month ago? My clients are okay, they're into pretty straight stuff and they're loaded. I just hate it when they talk too much."
"You quit your milk bottle job?"
"It didn't pay enough money to keep a dog alive. I don't mean to brag, but I'm quite amazing in sex. I give ferocious blowjobs and I come very easily. When I fuck, I go on for at least four hours. I love it up the arse, I like it with girls, I like it tied and
gagged and spanked. There's no one in my life that I haven't had sex with. The only ones I don't like are Flemish fishmongers who pay for it. They want blowjobs, but they also want a listening ear and affection and I can't always give it. I'm a whore, not a saint."
"What do you and your boyfriend do for entertainment?" A naughty look from Delphine. "Aside from that."
"In the summer we go to the beach and the rest of the year we have the forest and the dunes. We cycle to the Netherlands, we listen to dodgy britpop songs, we play card games, we get pissed."
"You must never get bored."
"I crave boredom and wish I was a hermit. My life is very wild and overwhelms me if I let it. Sometimes Christopher and I hardly see each other at all, like yesterday and today. He hasn't come home, but I stopped worrying about him a long time ago. He's very tough."
"Does he have a job?"
"He's a rentboy now. He doesn't like the hooking since he has to fuck really repulsive middle-aged clerics."
"That's some life you describe."
"You mean not respectable. Haven't you learned yet there's no such thing as a respectable life? There's just life."
"I guess I missed that lesson."
"You're making fun of me, but I know what I'm doing. Everyone wants to fuck me. It's not that I'm the most beautiful girl in the world, not even the most beautiful girl in this wretched coastal town -- just the randiest and wildest, the one who looks underage and helpless. Men love underage minge."
"How old are you? Tell me the truth."