29. An Unwelcome Message
Bruce felt vaguely irritated. He had not particularly wanted to go out to dinner and had proposed that they should do so more for Julia’s sake than his own. What annoyed him was that she should not want to spend time with him in the intimate circumstances of a table for two at the St. Honor'e; this both angered and surprised him, in fact. Most girls – every girl he had ever met – would jump at the chance to go out to dinner with him, thought Bruce, and who did Julia think she was to come up with a counter-proposal? Watson Cooke? Bruce was at first inclined to say No, I don’t want to go to a party in Clarence Street at Watson Cooke’s place. But then, just when he had decided to say this, Julia arose from the table and said, “I’ll tell Watson that we can come. You’ll like him.”
“Who…” Bruce began, but she had left the room and the rest of his question – which was who was Watson Cooke – would have been addressed to an empty kitchen.
Bruce’s feeling of irritation lasted for much of the rest of the day. That morning he had to conduct interviews for new bar staff, a task he did not really enjoy, as the applicants were, for the most part, unappointable. It was not that they lacked experience – some of them had served in bars for years – it was just that, well, he had to admit it privately, it’s just that they were so unattractive. The women were such frumps and the young men so pale and… He could not find quite the right word to describe the young men, but unappointable would have to do.
In desperation he telephoned the agency which had sent the candidates over. “Those people,” he said. “Not much of a bunch.”
The woman at the other end of the line sounded puzzled. “Not much of a bunch?”
“Useless,” said Bruce. “Dross. Human dross.”
There was a silence at the other end of the line. Then, “I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand. Are you saying that they weren’t suitable in some way? Not sufficiently qualified?”
“Unsuitable,” said Bruce. “I wouldn’t want any of them cluttering up my wine bar. We’re a place, well, I suppose one would just have to say, we’re a place with a certain coolness. Do you know what I mean?”
“So you’re saying that all of those young people weren’t cool enough? Do I understand you correctly?”
Bruce laughed. “Exactement,” he said. “Haven’t you got anything better? My customers like to have somebody half-way presentable serving them. They don’t want to be served by somebody who looks as if she’s on day release from Edinburgh Zoo.”
Again there was a silence at the other end. “I’m not sure if I understand you.”
Bruce sighed. “Well, let me explain. You sent four men and two women – right?”
“I believe so.”
“So,” said Bruce. “Take the two women first. There was one called Shona, I think. Now, I don’t like to be unkind, but, frankly, she was pretty gross. I don’t know where she got her nose from, but… there are limits, you know.”
“Her nose? Shona’s nose?”
“Yes. Helen of Troy’s face may have launched a thousand ships, but Shona’s nose must have sunk a few. More than a few, maybe.”
Bruce heard the woman breathing heavily. Asthma, perhaps. But then, “I suppose she got her nose from me,” said the voice. “I am her mother, after all.”
Bruce bit his lip. “Ah,” he said. “Her…” He stopped; the receiver at the other end had been put down.
He shrugged. Some people had no sense of humour and he had never liked that woman, anyway; not that he had met her, but one could tell. The call, however, had unsettled him and the rest of the day was spent in a state of discontent. By the time five o’clock arrived, he was ready to go home and to tell Julia that he had decided that they would not go to the party in Clarence Street after all. Julia, however, was not in when he returned to Howe Street.
“It’s me,” called Bruce, as he entered the flat, throwing a quick glance at the hall mirror. Nice profile. “It’s moi.”
There was no reply, and Bruce, frowning slightly, walked through to the bedroom. Julia sometimes had long afternoon naps, which could last into the early evening, and he half-expected to find her on the bed, amidst scattered copies of the Tatler or Vogue, fast asleep.
There was no sign of her in the bedroom. When he went into the kitchen he saw a note on the table. He picked it up and read it. Julia’s writing was strangely childish, all loops and swirls. Gone to have dinner with P. and B. at some Italian place they know. Don’t know the name or where it is. See you at Watson Cooke’s place later on. Nine o’clock. Maybe later. Don’t arrive before nine as Watson’s coming with us for a bite to eat and we won’t be back until then, he said. Love and xxx’s Julia.
Bruce reread the note, and then, crumpling it up in a ball, he threw it into the bin. So Watson Cooke was going for dinner at… wherever it was, with… P and B, whoever they were. How dare she?
He went through to the bathroom, turned on the shower and stepped out of his clothes, throwing his shirt angrily onto a pile of unwashed laundry. She couldn’t even wash their clothes when she had nothing to do all day but sit about in the flat and read those stupid magazines of hers.
He stood under the shower, feeling the embrace of the hot water, shaking his hair as the stream of the shower warmed his scalp. I don’t have to put up with this, he thought. Julia is going to have to have one or two things explained to her, and he would do so that very night, after they came back from Clarence Street. She would probably cry – women tended to when you spelled it out for them – but he would be gentle afterwards, and she would be grateful to him, and it would all be back to normal. And tomorrow he would approach another agency to get the bar staff – attractive ones this time. He would tell them: Don’t send anybody who looks like the back of a bus. No uglies. Just cool, s’il vous pla^it.