Through the restaurant window I watched Barbara Cartland walk by dragging her trout. Her pink hair glowed incandescently in the headlights of the cars that crawled by in the not-so-rush-hour traffic. Barbara’s bouffant halo reminded me that I had forgotten to buy shampoo on the way home from work. My fingers automatically reached up to smooth my errant locks. My hair was a permanent catastrophe.
She had the trout on a lead, which was attached to a hook through its mouth. It had clearly been out of the water for some time, being quite dead. It bounced stiffly along the pavement, glassy eyes seeing nothing, three feet behind Barbara’s pink fluffy slippers.
The waiter came to take my order. I chose the cheapest curry – plain dal with just a few chapattis. I couldn’t afford my usual feast of bhajis, pickles, naan and deliciously rich mushroom madras, having to get the vacuum cleaner repaired before my landlord notices it is broken. I was cleaning up at the playground last weekend and tried to hoover up some broken glass near the bottom of the slide. Unfortunately it completely devastated the guts of the machine. It was just trembling, the brush wouldn’t spin and there was a distinct absence of suction. It will cost me a fortune! At the time I was concerned about how I would be able to clean up the rest of the playground, but I needn’t have worried. Barbara appeared dragging a dead fox. She had evidently found it at the roadside – its front half was squashed flat. It turned out to be a very practical tool. It was rigid, enabling us to use its front half as a shovel and its rear as a brush. In no time at all we had cleared all the litter from the area.
The waiter brought me my meal. Although it wasn’t as spicy as my regular dish, it was hot enough to make me take my jumper off. I folded it neatly and placed it carefully on the chair beside me. The appliquéd face on the front smiled up at me and I smiled back. The baby-blue mohair sweater had been a gift from the Queen Mother, and she’d had the picture of herself put on the front. It was like always having her with me and was a great comfort to me on days like today.
I scooped up a mouthful of dal, eating slowly, determined to savour this small treat. The chapatti was light and soft, fresh enough to melt into the thick lentil broth as I chewed. As I ate I watched Barbara disappear round the corner. She hadn’t seen me here and would be wondering where I was. But I won’t be joining her for a walk this evening.
I lost my mackerel today. One minute he was there behind me, skipping over the grass. Then we hit a bump and he must have become unhooked. I didn’t notice he was gone until I stopped to cross the road. He was so light on his fins, bobbing along barely touching the ground. So graceful! So… elegant. I turned back to look for him but with no success. All I saw was a black Labrador disappearing into the trees across the park. My mackerel was gone. As I wiped my bowl clean with the last scrap of chapatti I sighed. Soon I would have to go home to my empty house.