Rose, my septuagenarian neighbour, knocks on the door.
“We’re going out for lunch” she announces.
“Lovely” I say “When?”
“You mean today?” I ask stupidly
“I do” she says with the patient air of one addressing a child or a company clone behind a reception desk.
“But it’s eleven thirty”
She looks me up and down “Well I guessed you’d need work. Let’s just hope that we have enough time”
She brushes past me leaving the scent of Guerlain in her wake “Come along and show me your wardrobe”
Meekly I follow her upstairs.
Two hours later we’re sitting at a table on the terrace of a smart local hotel sipping chilled Chablis.
“It’ll do” remarks Rose eyeing the pale blue dress I have worn only twice in five years both times to a wedding (FYI: Neither marriage survived but that’s hardly the fault of my dress, is it?)
“However” continues Rose “There is still room for improvement”
“There is?” I queried because I thought I’d cleaned up pretty well.
“Considerable room but you’re coming along”
“Good to know” I say.
“Some women prefer lunching out to dining out” observes Rose as she takes in the menu “And I’ve never understood it”
“Why? What have you got against lunch? I mean we’re here, aren’t we?”
Rose continues to deliberate between the sea bass and the lamb and its only when we have placed our orders with the waiter that she responds.
“It’s when you ask such questions that I assume you are either very naïve or very young and in this light, I can clearly see that it can’t be the latter”
Now this hardly seems fair. I may not be in the first flush but I am nearly four decades her junior. I’m about to point this out when I realise that Rose has the kind of beauty and elegance that the passing of the years can’t fade or even blur. Instead I say
“Then tell me… you know you want to”
“The reason is candle light. A woman always looks her best by candlelight. Or in stage makeup. I was nearly thirty when I played Juliet… but then Romeo was forty-five. I gave the performance of my life of course and he gave himself a hernia whilst climbing up the balcony. Oh, the vanity of men”.
I had to agree with her there.
My salmon is delicious. And the pistachio ice cream and coffee torte that follows it even better. I sit back comfortably and gaze out over a view of hills and scudding clouds and, far off in the distance, the long thin needle of a church spire. Its early May and the sun is out. I’ve taken off my jacket and the air feels soft on the skin.
“This is great” I say “In London I used to nip out regularly for lunch but since moving here I…”
“Firstly” Corrected Rose “Never nip anywhere. Even the word lacks dignity. And secondly, it’s because you don’t know anyone locally. You need to cultivate some acquaintances”
“I know you” I reply.
“Many people think that they do…”
She smiles enigmatically and there’s clearly a story here but to be perverse I decide not to take the bait.
“You are definitely more than an acquaintance Rose”.
And it’s true. I may only have met Rose a few weeks ago when I moved in next door to her but her eccentric charm and occasional waspishness feel to me as familiar as if I’ve known her for years.
“A life in the theatre is very social” She takes a sip of wine “There are always parties and dinners. Really quite tiresome at times. One is always surrounded by people. Agents, the company and crew and of course the audience… one’s fans”
She puts down her glass “But you… let’s get back to you”
“Yes let’s” I agree “Writing for a living is solitary by its very nature and sometimes I do miss popping in to the various magazine offices and chatting and having meetings with editors…”
“You and your nipping and your popping…” Rose shrugs.
Ignoring her I continue “But living out here I…”
“Living out here” Rose cuts me off “You need to make an effort to meet people”
“But I do meet people when I’m working on a feature” I protest.
“Ah but you are observing them. That’s not the same thing as getting to know them on a personal level. It’s not the way to make friends.”
A cloud passes over the sun. Its chilly suddenly. Rose’s gaze is searching and there’s a slight pause before I ask
“What do you suggest I do then?”
“I’m going to give that some serious thought” she says “In the meantime, may I suggest you refresh your wardrobe?”
I look down at my dress.
“But you said you liked it”
“I said it would do”
I explain about the weddings.
“Rest assured” Rose is adamant “That dress could have had nothing to do with the breakups. I, on the other hand, once had a gown… it was cut on the bias with a sweetheart neckline… that I know for a positive fact ended at least one marriage, two budding engagements and a long-term affair between an ageing Leading Lady and her much younger co-star”.
Smiling rakishly at the memory she signals the waiter for the bill.
TO BE CONTINUED