65. From Hero to Zero in One Simple Word
“Bingo!” thought Bruce. He was sitting in the small restaurant over the road from Nick McNair’s flat in Leith, into which he had just moved. Then he thought: Julia Donald! That dim, dumb… zero. Yes, that’s what she was. She was a zero, a minus quantity even. And to think that she had me believing that her baby – her stupid zero baby – was mine, when all the time she was seeing Watson Cooke, the Watsonian zero in that Clarence Street dump of his. Number Zero, Clarence Street, EHZero ZeroYS! What a narrow escape. And they deserved each other, just as they would deserve all those zero nappies for that dim baby of theirs. No thank you! Not pour moi!
Now, at the table in the restaurant, with seven of Nick’s friends, Bruce felt much happier. There was a bit of an unresolved issue over the fact that the advertising agency for which Nick was working was owned by Julia Donald’s father, but Bruce was beginning to think of a way out and he would deal with that later. There would be plenty of time. For the moment he would have to work out how to respond to the woman on the other side of the table who was looking at him. More than that; she was giving him the look. And that was when he said to himself, “Bingo!”
There was a slight problem, of course, and that was that Bruce had not caught her name when they had been introduced. Shelley? Sheila? It was something like that. Well, that was not a problem, really. If you don’t know somebody’s name, thought Bruce, then ask them. It was an excellent chat-up line, in fact. What’s your name? is seriously romantic, he thought. It works every time.
He leaned across the table. “What’s your name?” he asked.
The young woman on the other side of the table smiled. She was undoubtedly attractive, and when she smiled she became even more so. “Shauna,” she said. “And you?”
Bruce returned the smile. “Bruce. Just call me Bruce.”
There was no need to add the “just call me” part, but Bruce found that it was another thing that worked every time. I work every time, he thought. It’s not what I say, it’s me!
“Do you work with Nick?” Bruce asked.
Shauna nodded. “Yes,” she said. “Now and then. I do shoots with him.”
She looked down the table and waved at Nick, who was seated at the other end. Nick winked back at her.
Bruce smiled. “You’re in an agency?” Everybody surrounding Nick, he had decided, seemed to work in some agency or another.
“Yes,” said Shauna, “but I’m strictly advertising. Nick shoots for PR people. I’m very specialised. Just soaps, moisturisers, things like that. I do ads for the beauty industry.”
“Great,” said Bruce.
“You might have seen some of my work,” Shauna went on. “Do you read the mags?”
Bruce thought for a moment. What mags was she talking about? The sort of magazines that Julia liked to read – those vacuous glossies?
“Sometimes,” he said.
Shauna was looking at him. “Let me guess what you do,” she said, propping her chin on her hands in mock concentration. “You’re a model, right?”
Bruce sat back in his chair. “Well…”
“I knew,” said Shauna. “I could tell. You can always tell the clothes horses.”
Bruce was silent.
“No offence,” Shauna said. “Some of my best friends are clothes horses.” She laughed.
Bruce bit his lip and looked away from her. He muttered something to himself, something unrepeatable. But she, too, had turned away and was talking to the man beside her, a thin man with a pair of round wire-frame spectacles; not a clothes horse, thought Bruce.
He looked about him. There was a man to his left, who was talking to somebody on his other side, but on his right was a woman, also attractive, but in a different way from Shauna. She, though, was engaged in animated conversation with the man on her right. Bruce looked down at his hands. He suddenly felt very lonely.
He rose to his feet and looked about the restaurant. A small sign at the far end of the room pointed the direction: a picture of a man’s hat and a pair of women’s gloves. Bruce crossed the room, leaving the noise behind him. He pushed open the door of the lavatory and stood in the small space before the basin. There was a mirror. He looked in it.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he whispered to the reflection. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
There was no answer. He reached out and traced the line of his chin on the mirror.
“Is this it?” he asked. “Is this all you are?”
He was suddenly aware of somebody pushing open the door behind him. He leaned forward to allow the person to pass.
It was Nick McNair. He was standing directly behind Bruce, and Bruce could see his expression in the mirror. He looked concerned.
“Are you all right, Bruce?” Nick asked. “You got up and charged out. You looked sick to me.”
“I’m all right,” said Bruce. “I just felt…”
Nick was staring at him. He shook his head. “You’re not all right, Bruce. You look really upset.” He paused. “Is it the splitting up? Is that it?” He reached out and placed a hand on Bruce’s shoulder. “Listen,” he said. “I know what it’s like. You feel all raw inside. You just do. And you just have to wait for time to do its thing. It will. Eventually.”
Bruce looked down at the floor. “I lied to you,” he said. “I said that I left her. It was the other way round. She chucked me out. She’d been two-timing me.”
“Oh dear,” said Nick.
“Yes. And her old man took back the car he gave me. And he’s Graeme Donald. Yes, that’s him. The guy who owns the agency. He hates me, you know.”
Nick was silent. He took his hand off Bruce’s shoulder. “You’re in a bad way, Bruce,” he said. “I suspected that you’d been chucked out. That’s why I offered you the room.”
“Why bother with me?”
Nick put his hand back on Bruce’s shoulder, a gesture that Bruce found strangely comforting.
“Because I’m a Christian,” said Nick.