A couple of weeks ago I overheard a woman telling another woman everything she didn’t like about the menu they were looking at in the window of a café. Some days later I read a few stories in Lydia Davis’s Varieties of Disturbance. Last Monday I had to outline my story for the Story-A-Week Challenge. I sat down, opened up my lappy and the relevant file, and began to think. I like to start with a title, I may eventually change it, but this working title acts as a kind of jumping off point. As I ruminated I remembered the woman who seemed to like nothing, and from that memory came, not just the title, but the whole story. I barely took a breath and it was done*. That’s not to say I didn’t tidy it up later: make sure the verb use was consistent, develop a few actions and/or descriptions to bring them to life, and change the ending which was, quite frankly, rather bitchy. But the original story remains intact.
What She Doesn’t Like
She can’t have a scone, she tells the waiter, unless he can assure her it doesn’t contain cream of tartar. She doesn’t like cream of tartar. He goes to find out and while he’s gone she tells us of the terrible morning she’s had: the cafe across the street had been unable to burn the bacon for her sandwich properly. She sent it back three times to be further burnt, but it returned every time not burnt enough. She left without eating it. Now she is in this awful position and may not be able to have a scone. We all hope there’s no cream of tartar present.
She is new to our group, new in town. Ali met her in the farm shop and, inexplicably, invited her to our Christmas gathering, where she’d been unable to eat the trifle I’d made. She doesn’t like fruit in puddings, and she doesn’t like custard. She also couldn’t even look at Kate’s Lemon Drizzle cake due to lemon being fruit. And she couldn’t eat the salad because it had been dressed: she doesn’t like salad dressing. I can’t remember which component offended her most: the oil, the vinegar, or the herbs. Perhaps it was fruity.
The waiter returns, no cream of tartar he says, frowning faintly with the seriousness of it all. Reassured, she orders a scone, not fruit, and not wholemeal. The particulate nature of wholemeal sticks in her throat. Also, she will need four tea bags in her pot, she can’t stand weak tea, and they must put the milk in a jug, she doesn’t like too much, or too little. (They always put milk in a jug, but I guess there’s no harm in making sure.) Her scone arrives, as do our cakes. She tells us each in turn what she doesn’t like about them. She takes a bite of the scone – we turn to her, suspending our coffee cups – detects cream of tartar, and calls the waiter over.
It’s not that I don’t feel sorry for her, Ali tells me she is lonely, and I do. Loneliness is one of the biggest problems old people encounter, it’s been shown that it damages their health. Mental and physical. She couldn’t yet be described as old but, still, I’d rather not contribute to the nation’s health problems. So I’m disheartened that I won’t be able to make our regular Slim’s Deli rendezvous next week.
Apologies to Lydia Davis whose brilliant work this is far too indebted to.
*Would that every story came as easy!