Granted, it could have been an airport, say, or any
other point of departure for that matter, not necessarily a railway station.
Then again, I would not want you to go thinking that his choice had been totally
arbitrary, although he was, admittedly, no stranger to acts of random behaviour.
It did not have to be an overcrowded railway station, but it sort of made
It’s like this: your train is due to leave any
minute now. You look up from your book or paper—if you are reading, that is,
but I think we can safely assume that you, mon semblable, mon frère, are
reading at least one or the other, possibly even both, one after the other or
better still, simultaneously. You check the time on your wristwatch, the kind
that they advertise in The Economist and suchlike publications, something
Swiss or German with knobs on (the more, the merrier) which exudes manly
sophistication. Just as the Red Sea parted for Moses, the door slides open,
blissfully pneumatic, to reveal a stunning Mary Poppins—stacked, stockinged,
sorted—in a comely knicker-skimming skirt: entrancing entrance.
Being the proud possessor of a Y chromosome, your
eyes make a beeline for her A-line, zooming in on silken thighs,
NordicTrack-toned. While she fafs about with her umbrella (which will be left
behind, of course, accidentally-on purpose like), you are at leisure to
divide her putative weight in kilograms by her hypothetical height in metres
squared, thus reaching the satisfactory conclusion that the young woman’s Body
Mass Index slots into the ideal 18 to 20 range. Stocky stoccado, scatty scattato,
she click-clicks her way towards the only vacant space (which just so happens to
be facing you) aloft a pair of chichi cha-cha heels, whereupon her petulant
posterior takes a pew. As she crosses her endless legs with a hushed swish
whoosh, the bright young thong hitches up her skirt a notch, pinching the flimsy
fabric on either side of broad hips between manicured thumb and forefinger. At
this juncture—when you are about to abandon wife and children, sail the seven
seas or commit genocide because men cannot help acting on impulse—you notice
that those are tear-and not rain-drops irrigating her tanned, yet still
unblemished, features. Ever the gentleman, or simply embarrassed, you interrupt
your ornithological study and peer out of the window which, being in dire need
of a good clean, forces you to squint in the most unsightly fashion. Now is when
it happens. For a few split nanoseconds, another train pulling into the station
tricks you into believing that your train is pulling out.
Adam Horton—33, Caucasian, 5'6",
under-endowed, thinning on top—viewed this sensation as a perfect metaphor of
his stumbling through life like a sleepwalker on a treadmill, a pet hamster on a
wheel, or a commuter on the Circle Line. Hence the choice of a railway station
over any other leaving place. But which one? Paris offered un embarras de
Gare de l’Est was a definite no-no for some
obscure reason. Gare d’Austerlitz was likewise ruled out. Adam,
you see, had a passion for Waterloo Station. Watching the workers munching their
lunch-break baps at the bottom of the up escalator, eyes cast skirtwards all the
while, never failed to microwave the cockles of his little heart. Since
childhood, he had conceived of Austerlitz as a sort of counter- or even
anti-Waterloo; it was enemy territory. This still left Gare de Lyon,
built in the grandiose style—probably the most pleasing, aesthetically. Gare
St Lazare, caught between the red-light district and the posh department
stores, scored a few brownie points. Proust’s Lycée was close by, as well as
the Opéra Garnier (a fine example of architectural eclecticism) and,
more importantly, Marks & Sparks with its large lingerie section where Adam
often did a stint of lingering among the petticoats and suspender belts. There
was also Gare Montparnasse, where the muses hung out, free and easy. They
rode around like BMX bandits astride expensive Dutch bicycles, wearing a saucy
look on their freckly faces and precious little else, serpentine locks flailing
against the air. The area never failed to remind him of the time when he
micturated on the tomb of Jean-Paul Sartre after burying his late goldfish (Botty,
short for Botticelli) in the shadow of Baudelaire’s corpse. Such fond
In the end, however, he had plumped for Gare du
Nord which houses the Eurostar terminal. Adam’s grasp of French had
greatly improved over the past twelve months, but he was looking for a lady who
spoke the mother tongue. Besides, the word “terminal” had a certain ring to
it, the finality of a full stop.
The air hung heavy with Chaucerian expletives;
dropped “aitches” were strewn about his feet. Here and there, young men
sporting crew cuts were reading redtops from back to front. In the distance, a
posse of senior citizens was doing the hokey-cokey. If I should die, Adam
muttered, think only this of me: that there’s some corner of a foreign railway
station that is forever In-ge-land. And there she was.
Sweet Fanny Adams.
Sweet Fanny Adams and no mistake.
Although he had never actually seen her before, he
recognized her at once, and once he had recognized her, he realized he would
never see her again. After all, not being there was what she was all about; it
was the essence of her being—her being Fanny Adams and all that. As he walked
towards the bench where she was sitting pretty, Adam missed her already. Missed
“How do you do?”
“How do I do what?” The imperfect stranger
looked up from her slim, calf-bound volume and flashed him a baking-soda smile,
all cocky like.
Their eyes met, pairing off at first sight. The
earth moved, orbiting at half a kilometre per second around her celestial globes—a
couple of scalloped cupfuls with peek-a-boo trimmings—in what can only be
described as a new Copernican revolution. For the first time since Mrs Horton’s
belaboured parturition, when he was forcibly sprung off into the world, Adam did
not feel at the wrong place at the wrong time; he was back in the bountiful
bosom of Mummy Nature. As if to celebrate this return to the much-maligned
Ptolemaic system, a gaggle of gurgling putti glided overhead to the
strains of syrupy muzak and departing trains. All in all, it was an auspicious
overture, fraught with the promise of premise.
“Adam,” said Adam, extending his right arm.
“Margarita,” said Margarita, giving it a hearty
Still reeling from that initial, blinding smile, let
alone the handshake, he struggled to regain his composure. “Have you read The
Leaning Tower of Pizzas by N.E. Tchans ?”
“Is that the one which ends with an epic battle
between gangs of pre-pubescent Herberts bouncing around on orange space-hoppers
“No, but I read a review at the time.”
“Well, it’s all about this Mr. Soft Scoop
geezer, right, who comes from Italy and settles down in South London where he
falls in love with a girl called Margarita.” She was fiddling with her
umbrella, a faraway look on her face. “Like you, like.”
“Oh, I see, yes. Sorry, I was miles away.”
“I know: that’s the attraction,” he sighed sotto
voce before getting a grip on himself. “Anyway, you should check it out
sometime—if you’re into lolloping lollipop ladies, lesbians from Lisbon, the
romance of ice-cream vans; that kind of thing.”
“Sounds right up my street.”
“I see it as a contemporary footnote to Dante.”
“Talking of contemporary feet, mine are killing
“Dying on our footnotes are we? One footnote in
the grave, eh? How long have you got left?”
“Long enough to grab a bite to eat—or so says my
“There’s an Italian just round the corner that
might tickle your fancy.”
“Sounds great. I feel like a pizza.”
“I’m not surprised, love, with a name like that.”
Adam caught a fleeting glimpse of the dark, gaping
twilight zone between Margarita’s parted thighs as she uncrossed her legs to
get up. That topsy-turvy Bermuda Triangle twixt skirt and stocking exerted a
gravitational pull of such magnitude that he was sucked in, there and then,
never to re-emerge. He picked up her bulky suitcase, l’air de rien, but
in his mind’s X-ray eye he could see her neatly-packed unmentionables. He was
big on smalls was old Adam Horton.
“It’s a burden I feel I’ve been carrying all
my life.” He turned to face her, fair and square. “This may sound potty, but
you are the hollowness inside. At last, I have found my sense of loss.”
“I’m flattered,” she said in Estuarine
undertones, blushing a little. Her dimpled cheeks resembled two squashed cherry
tomatoes, only bigger. “I always like to be of assistance to strangers.”
“After you,” said Adam, bowing theatrically and
showing the way with her suitcase like a truncheon-toting gendarme
stopping the traffic for pedestrians. Before leaving the station, hot on her
high heels, he could not help noticing the shaft of light that fell on Margarita’s
top bottom—proof positive that the sun shone out of her behind.
They repaired to a small, dingy restaurant nearby
(which Margarita praised on account of its “atmosphere”) where Adam poured
out his heart and a couple of cheap, albeit potent, bottles of plonk. Whining
and dining, in medias res.
“We are all post-Denis de Rougemont.”
“Couldn’t agwee maw,” said Marwgawita, making
a mental note never again to shpeak wiv her mouf full. Frankly, she did not have
a clue what he was going on about.
“We are the first generation to know full well
that love doesn’t last, and yet we cling to the ideal like shit to a blanket.”
She turned up her already-retroussé nose.
How more retroussé can it get? he wondered.
“Maybe it’s just me. The whole thing’s very
Oedipal, I know.” Adam cringed at his attempt to laugh it off.
“I could spank you, free of charge, if you think
that might help.”
“I’d rather not if it’s all the same with you,”
he replied rather primly, his flushed face a slapped-arse crimson, “but thanks
for the offer. Might even take you up on it some other time. Except ...” Adam
paused for effect, “... there won’t be another time.” He sighed, staring
into his bowlful of miniature bow-ties, topped up their glasses and cleared his
throat. “Love stories are like fairy tales ...”
“Aren’t they just,” she interrupted, a trifle
“... in that we know the end from the start. Only
it’s not ‘and they lived happily ever after,’ is it ?”
Tears welled up in her belladonna eyes.
“You know, someone should write a different kind
of love story for the new millennium. It would start with the foregone
conclusion and work its way back towards the unknown; how it all started in the
“Will you write this new-fangled love story?”
“I’m writing the first pages even as we speak—with
your assistance, of course.”
“I like to be of assistance.” She smiled a wet
smile. “So that’s it, then?”
“Yes, in our beginning is our end.”
Margarita seemed in a hell of a hurry all of a
sudden, even her nose was running. Where is it running to? he wondered. To
by-corners Byzantine, I’ll be bound, and wondrous Wherevers, to the end of the
earth, at the end of its tether. Then he shrugged—to himself and at it all—because
it did not really matter anymore, it really did not. Whatever. Yeah, right.
She had relieved him of a burden—that much was
clear. In the circumstances, it did not really seem appropriate to give her a
hand with the luggage, it really did not. The suitcase constituted a clear case
of unsuitability, plus he could not be arsed. There was that too.
It was raining when Margarita stepped out of the
restaurant. Adam watched her amber umbrella disappear from view, a Belisha
beacon of hope on a dimmer switch. He scribbled a few words on the paper
tablecloth. D’elle, il ne reste que ces tagliatelles.
The door slides open—which is where you came in.
You assess her golden-delicious breasts as if you were picking apples on a
market stall. You think that a man should never trust a woman who offers him an
apple, let alone two. You think that this woman’s tits are perfectly
identical, for Christ’s sake. Like bookends.
God knows what happens next. God—and you.
©2000 Andrew Gallix
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