Recently – in that seduction of delights, Marks and Spencers’ flagship store at Marble Arch – a conversation between two women – they were probably in their late ‘thirties, early ‘forties and wandering around the aisles together. One of them was staring at the shelves and racks of clothes with that hungry look that some of us know so well – that look that says ‘Which of these things can I buy to change my world into a happier place?’ and ‘Will it make me look thinner?’ She was in her dreamland. But her companion was having none of it. Her companion had something to tell and by golly she was going to tell it. It seemed urgent, exciting – her voice was determined. I was hooked. With the fear of being outed as a stalker I wanted to hear whatever it was, too. Feigning a tremendous interest in the shoe range, I listened.
It began with the weather – the weekend had been cloudy but not cold and so she went to her wardrobe – Interruption here as said dreaming friend picked a pair of shoes off a shelf and started to put them on – requiring input from the woman whom we left approaching her wardrobe. Shoes rejected, the woman who went to her wardrobe, ploughed on. Wardrobe woman was not happy about this hiatus, but she obliged. ‘Very nice’ she said which actually meant ‘Hurry Up’. The shoes were replaced. The dreamer wafted on. The woman with the wardrobe rekindled her tale. Apparently she went to her wardrobe to get its help in the matter of what to wear that weekend day. And the wardrobe obliged. Why was it so special, I wondered? But, alas, at this point her companion only wondered if they should have a cup of coffee before proceeding. The woman who had been assisted by her wardrobe was in reluctant agreement. For she had a story to tell and it was not getting told.
I, in the tradition of all writers, wanted to eavesdrop having become very keen to know how the woman and her wardrobe made their harmony together and what drove the engine of this story she had to tell. One is not only a novelist, one is a woman – and – well – one is also a woman who has never had to take a cushion with her when approaching a long sit-down on a hard seat – one carries one’s own cushion – attached. Therefore both sides of me wanted to hear the next bit. The writer wanted the excitement of overhearing something new and important, the woman wanted to hear how you open a wardrobe and find happiness – which is what appeared to have happened.
Well – the next bit was one of those exchanges that we exchange – when one is saying and thinking about one thing, and the other is saying and thinking about something else. By the time I caught up with them and slid into an adjacent table, all I heard from the woman who had dreamed over the shoes was ‘…So she’s obviously in Australia’ – which set me wondering how the she in question – given the construction of that sentence – was being quite so obvious on that Continent? This word ‘obvious’ is an interesting bit of the lexicon – for it has about it a degree of disapproval and aggression – this use of the word in conjunction with the woman in question being ‘obviously in Australia’ didn’t mean that she was running around Cairns or Wagga Wagga wearing only a Sombrero and nothing else – it meant that somewhere along the line her whereabouts was disapproved of Why, I wondered, was there this disapproval? But we were not going to get an answer to THAT – Oh dear me, no. The woman with the open wardrobe did not rise. Australia and the woman obviously in it, was not getting a look in. ‘Yes’ was all she said. You could tell she was bursting, just bursting, to go on with her tale of clothes and the weather last weekend. I slid a bit nearer. ‘So there I was standing at the wardrobe wondering what to wear…’ Yes? Yes? I thought. Did the magical wardrobe suddenly throw a garment out at you? Did it speak? What.
‘And in the end,’ she said triumphantly. ‘I decided that I would wear jeans. Jeans!’
I waited. This conversation that I had been stalking had gone on for more than twenty minutes and the result? She wore jeans. I waited because I hoped that the woman who dreamed would respond by saying something along the lines of , ‘What – jeans – with your third leg?’ or ‘Surely not while you’ve got thrush?’ But she didn’t. She sipped her coffee, dreamily, as if she understood the weight of this statement entirely and just said. ‘Hmmm.’
The dreamer did not say what I wanted to say which was, largely, what the blooming heck have you kept us in suspension over something so boring as wearing jeans for? What is so amazing about that? I’m wearing jeans, half the population of London is wearing jeans – Why?
I had to get up, go to the counter, and purchase a doughnut to compensate. A manoeuvre which possibly has something to do with my not needing a cushion on the bleachers. Women, huh? And I’m not sneering. Oh no. Because that little exchange was an example of the fundamental desire in my sex to communicate. To keep talking. Even when, as is so clearly demonstrated by this empty conversation, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to say. Or, sadly, to overhear then write about. Obviously.
I’d like to send you a short story, for free – you just need to tell me where to send it