Who was he? She watched him sleep, his back to her, the top edge of the covers clamped in his armpit. Madre de Dios. Tiptoeing around the bed, she halted with each creak of the floor lest she wake him. On her desk chair hung her old cardigan that came halfway down her thighs once she slipped into it. Reaching for an open bottle of water by her laptop, she knocked over a Coca-Cola glass holding pens and froze while the stranger stirred and rolled onto his other side.
I had a present for you, he said, but I can’t give it to you now. Why not? Because it’s a present for lovers and now we’re not. I didn’t come here knowing, I just came like I usually do and when I got here I just knew I couldn’t do it any more. I’m sorry. I’m sorry too. Give it to me anyway, give it to me so I can remember how we were today. It’s not that kind of present, it’s not a keepsake, I’d have got something else, no I wouldn’t, why should I give you a present to remember me by? Don’t be angry. Please. Easy for you to say. It’s not easy you pig, it’s not easy, how can you say that, you’re the one it’s easy for, I have to go home every time, I can’t do it anymore, it’s like I’m two people, it isn’t fair to say it’s easy, you don’t have to be two people you bastard, what do you know about it. I’m sorry, look I’m sorry, it’s just all so sudden, I don’t know where I’m at. I know.
“Tell me, old man,” I said, “what is this thing with the nude girls of the Pamplona run.” The old man looked at me and looked at the drunk, slumped in the dust against the wall of the bar. “My throat is dry,” he said. I poured him a tinto. “This tinto is good, he said. “It is rough and it is strong, the way a tinto should be.” “The girls,” I said. “This thing with the nude girls of Pamplona,” he said. “It is a good thing. When you rise at dawn, and the sky is streaked, and the coffee is good and strong and the eggs are done the way you like them. And you eat before you set out to run before the girls. That is a good thing.” “Tell me about the girls,” I said. “The girls,” he said, “They are not like other girls. They are specially bred for the run, in the rugged foothills of Andalucia.” “What do they look like, old man?” I said. “Not like modern girls, the skinny ones with the small tetas. No. These girls are bred to have the big tetas, and that curve which real women used to have. And they have thighs like women used to have thighs. They have thighs that can squeeze the life from a man.”
So, ladies and gentlemen, please raise your glasses and let’s drink a toast to Leon and to the success of his new book.’ ‘To Leon! To Leon!’ Her voice was scattily loud, Poppy realized to her embarrassment, in contrast to the others’ muted tones, but this whole occasion had clearly gone to her head. Crazy, cocksure bubbles seemed to be coursing through her veins, as if the tepid, cheapo wine in her glass had turned into champagne. But was that any wonder when she was actually in the presence of the legendary philosopher she had admired since leaving school; seeing him in the flesh, at last, rather than on the dust-jackets of his seventeen prestigious books?
‘Keep the change,’ she told the cab-driver, her buoyant mood unaffected by his crabbiness. He had kept up a peevish monologue most of the way, irritated, apparently, by the traffic, London in general and Boris Johnson in particular. As she approached the heavy plate-glass doors of the restaurant, she could see Duncan through the lighted window, seated at a table at the front, engrossed in a sheaf of papers – an overflow of work, no doubt, since his job in corporate finance was even more pressured than hers in advertising. He dressed the part, of course - impeccable clothes, well-cut silver hair, general air of stylishness – a strong contrast to some of the oddballs she had dated in the last few years. Suddenly nervous about her own appearance, she peered at her reflection in the doors. Was the new swept-up hairstyle ageing; the figure-sculpting scarlet dress too blatant, compared with his understated suit?
Cinnamon. Honey. Cat. Lola. Who am I? Irina or Ava? I can’t remember. At first I serve drinks. Diet coke and apple juice. No liquor or beer. It's all nude. Only topless places serve alcohol. I wear a blue and white checkered Swiss Alps outfit. White knee socks. Black patent leather heels. Two braids. Girls dance. Men watch. I take orders for juice. I stop serving soda. Start giving lap dances in the back. And shower dances. I don't like being hosed down. I have a routine at Club Ecstasy. Go to 24 Hour Fitness at noon on Gower. Go home. Get ready for work. Hair in rollers. Shave legs. Dark eyes. Glossy pink lips. After a summer I move onto The Gentleman’s Club. Prettier girls. More money. More competition; Celeste with her little tanned bum. Big auburn hair. Fake boobs and black patent leather thigh boots. Beth. Blonde hair, boobs, long legs. Lily, the tiny Asian. Looks fourteen. Wears bobby socks, pleated school uniform mini skirts. Dusty with her nude splits, back flips and tricks on the pole. Taylor and her fishnet skin suit. Candy just walks out onstage nude with her bare feet and boobs.
Amy hated being Karl’s PA. She hated the way he said “let’s ramp up the PA system” when he was about to give her a pile of work; how he laughed at his own cringey jokes; how he always seemed to be buying a new Jacuzzi. The only good thing about working for Karl was that it meant Amy had time to do what she really enjoyed doing: writing. Not the sort of writing that started with a Dear and ended with someone else’s signature; Amy’s pleasure came from watching a scene unfurl on her computer screen. Casting characters, setting up positions, injecting dialogue. And… Action! Amy liked her stories to have a climactic ending.
She walked toward him, letting her skirt drop back down as she came past him into the narrow hallway and on into her small bedroom. She turned to him with an expression of innocence and said, “Am I attractive to you? “Silly question. Of course you are,” he said.
Flora is very small. She only reaches the elbow of her grandmother as they stand in the old, dusty shop. A string bag dangles from her grandmother's elbow. That's what she carries her loose change around in when she's out shopping, notes and coins tinkling and fluttering on the pavement behind her like Hansel and Gretel leaving a trail through the forest.
Birdie Wallace said he wanted to fight me for the hand of Ann Marie O’Hare. And it wasn’t as if her hand was mine to give. ‘He knows he won’t win me over,’ she said when I showed her the scroll. ‘But this will restore his self respect - he thinks.’ She was impressed by the trouble he had taken to write on parchment. ‘Is that blood?’ ‘Red ink.’ She said, ‘He’s humiliated that I left him, so he wants to thump the other man. It’s straightforward really.’ I had to grant her that.