Proofread (one upon a time) by B4Lurker.
Any faults that remain are my own. Any examples of idiosyncratic punctuation and free indirect discourse are intentional, even after my editor suggested they might be improved by their removal.
The Friday evening after the classical concert was just beginning, and I had my book for the night on the table beside me. Having concluded my latest affair with Paradise Lost I had now moved on to a rather erudite edition of Dante's The Divine Comedy. Like the Milton, I had read it many times before, and was returning to it once more for the sheer indulgent pleasure it afforded me. Some might think it something of a cliché, for a former English professor to be reading an edition of Dante that not only had introductions by five different commentators and the almost obligatory chronology of Dante's life and influence, but also both footnotes and endnotes. I cared not a jot for such considerations. Dante's world is a long way removed from our own, and unless you are an expert in Renaissance history and culture, you positively need such an edition if you are to appreciate the thirteenth century mind as fully as it is possible for someone in the twenty-first century.
I had had that edition for so many years I couldn't at that moment recall when I had bought it, but it had seen me through untold classes and even, on one glorious occasion, been of assistance in the supervision of a doctoral candidate whose love of all things pre-modern surpassed even my own. She had done well, obtained her Ph.D., and was now burnishing her résumé in an American university.
I picked up the Dante and simply held it for a moment.
It was not an exaggeration to say that I loved that book.
I had just poured myself a small glass of Johnnie Walker Green Label, set my pipe and its accoutrements on the table beside me, and opened my book at the bookmark –
– when my mobile phone rang.
Setting aside the opportunity to curse the impositions of technology, I picked up my phone and was surprised to see the caller was Mrs. Sandra Maclean.
I will freely admit that I am not at all the most technically minded of people and positively refuse to convert to ebooks, not least because I consider part of the pleasure of a book is the physical presence that somehow unites the reader and the writer in the collaborative act of text. However, this wilful selection of which aspects of technology I choose to make a part of my life does not in any way mean that I am a Luddite of any stripe. I know my way around my mobile phone sufficiently well enough to programme the names of regular (or expected) callers into it.
Hence Mrs. Maclean's caller's identity.
As I let it ring three times, manners dictating that one should always allow a phone to ring at least three times and never more than five, I frantically sought some credible reason why Mrs. Maclean would be calling me on a Friday evening.
I could imagine many, but could be certain of none, so of course there was no available choice for me other than to answer.
"Mrs. Maclean," I said as I answered, cautiously optimistic, having at least convinced myself that her call probably had nothing to do with Trudi's behaviour the previous night. Undoubtedly she would have called me long before now if that were the case if she had known. Probably.
Or perhaps she did know but was choosing to allow it to continue for some unknown reason. I thought not, but I filed the notion away for further consideration, later, but soon.
"Please, it's Sandra," Mrs. Maclean pleaded good-naturedly. "Or are you Professor Armitage tonight?"
"No, not at all, and probably never again, experience and age being more expensive than youth when it comes to the employment of professors. So ... Sandra ... to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?" I flattered.
"Well, two things really, Simon. Firstly I wanted to thank you for taking care of Trudi last night," she said.
My heart skipped a beat. Did she know? Surely not, or there would have been flashing blue lights and an interview with members of Her Majesty's Constabulary.
Regaining my composure, I carefully ventured, "It was nothing, Sandra. In fact, I rather enjoyed the evening."
It was true, I had enjoyed the evening. Hopefully Sandra would take my reference as being to the concert and not the after-show of a progressively naked Trudi, images of which flashed distractingly through my mind as I spoke.
Sandra chuckled, confusing me for a moment. "You enjoyed it? Really?" she asked doubtfully, worrying me all the more as to the context of her comments. Thankfully she pressed on and set my mind at rest as she explained, "I, well, to tell the truth, and please say nothing to Trudi about this, but I find youth concerts are generally not very good, so I was glad, no, not glad, but pleased, yes, pleased that last night worked out the way it did, Trudi going to her concert and I being able to attend my work's meal. But I suppose it must have been good like you say, because Trudi's been bouncing round the house full of energy ever since. She always gets a little 'high' after a performance, but never like this. Were we ever like that? But anyway, that isn't what I phoned for-"
"-I was phoning to ask what your plans are for Sunday lunch, Simon?"
Being a bachelor, I confessed to having none beyond the extent of my own culinary skills, omitting the mention of pipe and whisky. Sandra, I suspected, would be less approving of those.
"Splendid! If that's the case, and if you are interested, would you care to join Trudi and I for lunch on Sunday? It's nothing special, simply roast beef with all the trimmings..." The line went silent a moment, before a slightly tentative Sandra continued, " ... oh! You're not a vegetarian are you?"
"No, Sandra, I'm not," I reassured her, being a firm believer that vegetarianism is not something for which the human body was suited for, having seen many sallow self-confessed vegetarians pass through my classes over the years. True there were some people and some cultures that it suited, but not the British and certainly not I. "Are you sure it's not too much trouble?" I asked, picking up the conversation and going through the formality of asking, even though we both knew it was not; why else the invitation?
"Not at all Simon. So, could you make 1:30?"
"Of course," I said. Still playing the role of the civilised guest, I asked, "With Trudi being too young for wine, would some white grape juice be acceptable? Nothing as ghastly as Schleur, but there are some bottled grape juices I know that I drink myself..."
"Grape juice? How thoughtful, Simon!" Sandra gushed, making me wonder how often she entertained. Not often, certainly not recently, I thought.
"So, Sunday at 1:30," Sandra confirmed. "And, oh yes, I almost forgot, it's quite informal so there's no need for a tie, unless you want to, of course," she added, the afterthought obvious but politely done, the hint given that a tie was not expected.
"I shall keep it in mind, Sandra. And thank you for the invitation. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Simon," Sandra said, and the line went dead.
For a moment I sat there, looking at my phone.
What was going on?
Trudi was seemingly still full of excitement, and I dared not imagine what else, as a result of all that had transpired Thursday night.
Was it all just yesterday I reminded myself?
I was sure that some of her energy must surely be because of her concert, but I was equally convinced that her game of 'show and tell' might have more than a little to do with that too.
And now an invitation to Sunday lunch?
With a smile, I exchanged my mobile phone for my glass of Green and took a sip of my whisky, indulging myself as I relished the taste as it rolled over my tongue, filling me with the warmth and peace that always comes with a whisky. Idly I wondered what it is that people find so attractive about getting drunk and being unable to enjoy such small but important pleasures. I concluded that they and I lived in different worlds.
Setting such musings aside, I instead returned to the question of the invitation to Sunday lunch. I was, after all, nothing more than a newly retained English tutor whose supposed purpose was to improve Trudi's already very good marks towards perfection, thereby assisting her entry into Cambridge. Perhaps Sandra's motivation was nothing more than a simple 'thank you' for services rendered last night, I thought wryly, Trudi had already more than repaid any detail, real or otherwise.
And yet I couldn't help but wonder if there might be something more to this invitation, that Sandra might be seeking to inculcate me into that most elusive of positions, that of a 'friend of the family'. It was not, I felt certain, an attempt to avoid Trudi's tuition costs, both because my charges were more than reasonable and also because I had no sense that Sandra was either so mercenary when it came to her daughter's education nor in need of cutting such small expenditures, especially as Trudi's lessons had yet to be translated into higher grades.
I had already agreed to attend, of course, but even if the acceptance had been less firm, still I would have had no other choice than to attend, to observe and thereby to learn the reason for the invitation.
More intriguingly, I reflected on the possibility that depending on how matters progressed on Sunday, this invitation might result in an obligation on my behalf for a return invitation.
.... There is more of this story ...