Sometimes it was a bell or someone calling out ‘Time!’.
Tonight, it was a buzzer.
Six dates down and four to go, they had eyed each other across the upstairs room of the club at the start of the evening. Instant rejection, poles apart. His emerging paunch, her make-up a mess. His ridiculous orange T shirt, the vast bulk of her earrings. The buzzer started everyone off again and now it was time for mutual aversion to meet face to face.
“Hello…” she offered flatly as he sat down at the tiny bar table, “Looking for love?”
He leaned back on his cocktail stool and took her in, including the ear-rings.
“Apparently. Aren’t we all?”
She smiled. More a grimace at a bad smell. “You don’t look the speed date type?”
He smiled back. More a bad waiter dismissal. “I could say you don’t look anybody’s type. But that would be so ungallant on a first date wouldn’t it?”
Menacing silence bounced between them for a few seconds while the rest of the room bubbled with excited who-are-you? conversations.
She started again. “So … give me the fifteen seconds overview then.”
He placed both hands on the table and she whisked hers off as if fearing contamination.
“OK. Divorced. Forty-two. No kids. Banker. Work in London. Flat in Docklands. Love Italy. Hate the countryside. Vote Tory and proud. Like blondes.”
He leaned back cryptically, demanding her response.
She sat up to the table again for emphasis and squeezed a quick slurp of gin and tonic out of a straw. “Very Daily Telegraph. Doesn’t quite fit with the orange outrage you’re wearing though.”
“Your earrings would fit a whale!’ he sneered. “Just get on with it.”
Flicking her blonde head a little to make the earrings tinkle a bit, she got on with it.
“OK. Divorced. Forty. No kids. Nurse. Work in East London with a flat nearby. Love dogs. Hate cats. Vote what I like and it’s no business of yours. Like nice men whatever colour hair they have, or in your case preferably with hair.”
A nerve had most definitely been touched. The same old vulnerability. A wayward palm began to reach longingly for his barren pate but he stopped himself to attack.
“Very Guardian. Very cheap and cheerful life. Bit out of your league coming to a place like this aren’t you? I mean, can’t buy many G&T’s here on those sort of nursey wages can you?”
She grabbed her glass as if to throw it at him but recognised at once how easily she could be goaded. An old weakness. She slurped again and counted to ten before coming back in kind.
“Eyes a bit blotchy. Nose a bit red. Listen Rudolph, suspect you can buy lots and lots of booze and put it away big time.”
Nail hit firmly on his bald head, he took an elaborate swig of his Scotch to demonstrate not caring less, although of course he most certainly did. Loudly exhaling potent alcohol fumes, he checked his Rolex.
“Lovely hearing your vacuous nonsense but why don’t we just sit here quietly and wait for the buzzer. Look you have a very nice man up next. Lots of hair and by the state of his jacket no doubt loves dogs. You never know, it could be marriage.”
The man at the next table was given a quick eye and a self-satisfied snigger from her opponent made her wince.
“Is that the magic word then? Marriage?”
She took another swig from her drink. “Possibly. Got it very, very badly wrong the first time so why should I give up hope just because of one rotten apple?”
The buzzer did indeed sound and like half the room he stood up and turned away towards the next introduction. But swinging back immediately, as if part of a familiar, well-rehearsed choreography, gently he took her hand as she offered it up to him and brushed her knuckles with his lips.
“We were rotten apples for each other, Baby!”
“Yes, we were. Rotten to the core.”
“Fabulous though. You and me. Unforgettable.
“Don’t make me cry.”
“I’ve cried a river.”
“So have I.”
“We’ll always have Italy.”
“I know. Italy. Still the best.”
He kissed her hand again. The taste of her skin was like a summer’s day in Rome. The touch of his mouth, the light across Venice.
“I know. Ti amo!”
© Keith Bradbrook 2020