This chapter cannot begin without a few comments concerning some of the names and characters to be found herein.
Seonaid MacQuoid is a combination of three interesting people, perhaps giving the lie to the fallacy that writers conjure their characters out of thin air, sui generis. Her Christian name is taken from someone whom I went to school with, someone who was kind to me when she had no need to be, whose kindness and support might have cost her 'status' as one of the 'popular girls', and whom I have always cherished the hope that her life turned out well. We lost contact as soon as we finished school, and now, thirty years later, it has proven impossible to reinstate that connection but still, this is my little memorial to her, even though this character has nothing in common with the real Seonaid other than a Christian name. For Seonaid's surname, I turned to Google to find rare or unique Scottish surnames, and this is one of the rarest of all, so rare, in fact, as to be on the verge of 'extinction'. Unlikely that it is to happen, but being away that million to one shots happen nine times out of ten (Pratchett) I would like to emphasise that I have no idea of the character, mores, and morals of the MacQuoids of Scotland, and my apologies if Seonaid's adventures prove shocking, but I have to call her something. With regards to the descriptions of the physical form of SMQ, these are based upon an internet 'model' who came onto the soft-core scene a couple or three years ago, and caught my eye for being adorably cute, but also for engaging with the camera in such a manner as to suggest she found the whole 'pout with your pussy open for all to see' a rather humorous and incongruous way to earn her money. Indeed, there are few 'sets' where she does not seem to 'lose it' or to look into the camera as if saying 'really?' with her yes. Regardless of my response to her, not long after she seemed to stop modelling, internet rumours surfaced, rumours reliable in that they were based on her real and unusual Christian and surname, that she (and her boyfriend) had died in a car crash. I hope not, and there is no real way to be certain, but it is from her that I have derived my inspiration for Seonaid's look, and also, to a degree, my imagined reason why she is no longer modelling.
So there you have it. SMQ is a combination of at least three different sources of inspiration, and now happily playing away in my subconscious as I try to channel her presence into this story, giving Simon a whole new set of joys and worries.
Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear, one of those precious September days that is closer to the summer and the autumn, a reminder of what has passed rather than what is to come. I conjectured that I might have perhaps as much as another fortnight of such days where it was warm enough to enjoy my pipe in the park whereafter the weather would change, a cold edge would come through, and it would no longer comfortable to pass my time in such an indulgent manner.
I breakfasted a la Bond, that is to say upon whole-wheat toast, Jersey butter and a choice of Tiptree's 'Little Scarlet' strawberry jam, Cooper's 'Vintage Oxford' marmalade and Norwegian Heather Honey. To this I had added a pair of soft boiled eggs – "three and a third minutes" - and two cups of strong but flavoursome coffee, sweetened with soft brown sugar and diluted with fresh single cream. Generally I skip the second coffee and the second egg, but after the surprise of the previous evening and the MMS from Jemma, I felt that my nerves required extra coddling.
It was fortuitous that I had breakfasted promptly and comprehensively for, not much after the clock had signalled 10am with a subtle chiming that never jangled the nerves, my mobile phone rang, the announcéd number known though rather unexpected.
"Hallo, Vernon," I said, the caller being Vernon Taft, Professor Emeritus, a sometime colleague and sometime acquaintance of mine, though it had been the thick end of five years since last our paths had crossed other than electronically.
"Morning, Simon. I hear they put you out to grass," he said with his customary directness, a characteristic that had traumatised and scandalised both students and fellow staff alike until one realised that Vernon was entirely without malice, he simply didn't feel the need to play the game of 'tact' – and so he didn't.
Knowing this, I allowed myself a chuckle before responding. "Indeed they did, Vernon, though they did so in such a way as to leave me wits enough to enjoy myself before senility overcomes me," I replied, Vernon being a little more than twenty years senior to myself and having been retired for the last decade or so. Consequently, quips as to our respective senility status passing in the manner of something of an expression of normality between us.
Vernon's own chuckle confirmed he too was enjoying our verbal jousting. "Quite so, Simon, though I do have my occasional visits from private students to keep me ... sharp," he remarked, referring to his careful but continual affairs with his students, his predilection being for the long limbs of swimmers, but of whom, sadly for Vernon, there were few who sought out the alternate ways to remunerate the costs of their receiving 'hot housing' for passing their physics classes. "And you, still the celibate aesthete?"
"You would be surprised, you would be surprised," I replied, unthinking, and surprising myself; I had not intended to say much of my students to anyone, much the less to Vernon whom I had always considered as being rather high up on the list of persons lacking the requisite circumspection for such personal revelation and confession.
"Oh?" Vernon asked, his tone curiously interested in a way I had not expected him to be in my affairs, and more than a little at odds to his habitual interest being merely for the sake of gaining more lances with which to seek to best me in our jousting matches.
"Oh indeed, Vernon. I've one student whom I am already engaged in tutoring, with another two organising themselves, one of them for this afternoon, in fact."
"Simon, that's not like you," Vernon observed, his tone still a curious mixture of interested and surprised. "In the past you have studiously avoided private tuition, or at least you did when you were a salaried professor. I suppose things change," he observed, his tone sliding into affected nonchalance. "Care to tell me about them?"
I was about to speak before aftershocks from my nightmare sprang to mind, and I realised that Vernon's offer might be more meritorious and even potentially more productive than he could possibly have anticipated; for all his faults, I had always found and considered Vernon to be the most trustworthy of confidants once he realised and accepted that some things were decidedly not for public consumption. We had, in the past, had several long conversations upon the topic of my divorce and in that he had proven to be a true, if rather eccentric, friend, his tactless comments oddly insightful. Consequently, I moderated what I was about to say to something rather different. "You know, Vernon, that might be quite a good idea. There are ... aspects ... of private tuition that rather new to me, and if you're free for dinner - my treat, of course - then perhaps you would be interested in hearing more concerning my ... challenges?"
Vernon chuckled. "Pretty, is she?"
I shook my head. Circumspection, with Vernon, was both unknown and unattainable. "Very."
"And that's a problem because ... because she's made some advances on you?" Vernon surmised.
"Simon? Has she?"
"Indeed, Vernon, indeed."
"And you're unsure how to respond," Vernon said, a question and a statement in one challenge.
"No? Ah, then you know how to respond, but that response is giving you problems."
"Yes," I said, risking no more by saying no more.
"She must be very pretty."
"Yes," I sighed. "Yes, Vernon, yes she is."
"In which case, I am afraid my call today probably won't help you."
"Oh?" I replied, worried my responses were all depressingly terse, something of a contradiction to my normally veracious loquacity.
"I had a call myself from someone last week who was looking for help with her English. Her story is quite surprising, and she's looking to cash in on it somehow. You know of 'Belle de Jour' and the one-time anonymous authoress?"
I sighed. The minor storm of interest in Dr. Magnanti's revealed nom du plume had been slightly distracting, if only to watch various academics and others who should have known better give their various and incorrect opinions as to whom they had decided she really was, prior, of course, to the final revelation. Remembering this, I worried over what Vernon was about to suggest. "She's not a prostitute, is she Vernon?"
"Not really, Simon, though her situation is a little more complex than a simple 'no' would suggest. But, Simon, please do allow me to reassure you that she is not a prostitute in any way, shape, form, or manner, but the story of who and what she has been is, after all, hers to tell, not mine," Vernon said, pausing a moment before asking. "Interested?"
.... There is more of this story ...