IN THE AFTERNOON
The summons came by way of a telephone call Tuesday morning.
“Bali, Stephanie Mendleton here for Patricia Weybridge how are you? Ms Weybridge would like to invite you for afternoon tea Friday 7th at three thirty, Jonathans. May I make a confirmation with you?
“Oh yes,” I replied “Excellent I look forward to it.”
“Bali, just a note. Expect Patricia to be late; however, I suggest that you be specifically on time ok. Just a heads up that all.”
I appreciated the “lookin’ out” and conveyed my gratitude to Stephanie before hanging up. Tea with Patricia: editor, maven, and renowned troublemaker. I began to feel light headed with the thought of all that sugar to be consumed not to mention cream, clotted and dense. Gosh I should eat beforehand as a preventative measure and arrive full in order to best control myself at the table. We’ll drink tea, perhaps a cocktail or two then dive head first into platters of expertly assembled desserts. And when I am obviously giddy with delight she’ll go for my jugular veins with one clean Chanel red clawed swoop! I feel a slight urge to call her office and decline the invitation but that would be pure cowardice.
I love Jonathan’s, the fact that it’s drowning in pomp and formalities, only adds to its slightly frayed charm. Patricia is absent as to be expected. I sit dwarfed by an enormous banquette and soak up the atmosphere. Thirty minutes after my arrival in she bounds expertly put together reeking of perfume and a complexity of other vices.
“Bali dear please excuse my tardiness won’t you, mayhem at the office as usual,” she says in a voice that fills the entire establishment. Before allowing a response on my part she beckons the waiter and proceeds to order a dizzying array of items that are forbidden consumption for most. “My goodness how many years has it been since I last saw you?” she asks “I must say you look rather well, dating anyone—no. I should get down to business.
You know how much I admire you, your work to be precise. It’s really quite remarkable what you produce with incredibly meagre resources, such perseverance you should be commended. I am sure you are well aware of the generous support we have shown your work over the years.“
“Well yes, “ I replied “And I must say that….”
“Oh think nothing of it dear,” she interrupts “all in a days work. Now on a serious matter, if I may speak freely with you that is. Surely it’s time to stop tinkering around hmmmm. I have a proposition for you. We, well “I” am in need of a particular eye at the office, someone to work in rather close contact with to best interpret/convey my work. I know we don’t know each other so well but I was instrumental in your mother securing her papers of legal residence. Oh what am I saying that was so long ago now. Wonderful woman your mother like no other,” she spoke with a mouth full.
“Yes. We, my family and I have always been so very grateful to you Patricia surely you know that,” I answered truthfully.
“I should get to the point,” she continued “lest I leave here a stone heavier,” she cackled. “My eyesight is deteriorating, rapidly. I have been able to camouflage my condition at work successfully so far but I am afraid that I shall be unable to continue the deception much longer. I require a second pair of loyal, trustworthy eyes to put it bluntly; and, considering how we are practically family.”
I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. “I, um no, I cannot help you Patricia I’m sorry; I wish I could honestly, but I have my work, and believe it or not I’m doing rather well at this point.”
“Doing well,” she mocked, “such a subjective term don’t you agree?”
“What is this Patricia, you expect that I should feel indebted to you? Didn’t my mother work her entire life indebted to you completely broken towards the end, cleaning your floors on her knees? I don’t “owe” you! I don’t owe you Patricia.” The tears flowed I couldn’t stop them. I felt so small and insignificant, so very stupid. It’s true, had it not been for her generosity I would be the inhabitant of some Third World toxic wasteland with afternoon high tea a mere fantasy. Patricia Weybridge is a trap and I the ensnared fool.
“Monday 9am sharp shall we say then?’ she responded matter-of-factly.
I nodded “yes,” in defeat.
“Good,” she answered firmly “more tea dear.”