Phil’s dinnerparty was, she had to admit, a little disappointing. He’d arrived on time, winebottle in hand, been perfectly polite, commented favourably on her outfit (carefully chosen to fall between the stools of the overformal and the too casual), but the conversation had just not sparked, somehow.
That is, until her daughter had taken a hand. She’d been sitting there like a stuffed dummy all through the meal, as the two of them fenced delicately over his reluctance to reveal a single detail about himself, his work, his past, or any other detail of his existence on any of the three worlds.
In fact the only words she’d uttered up to that point had been “Call me Luce,” after introductions had been effected. Phil had never been particularly happy with this shortening of “Lucy” – it sounded too much like loose. Which was, however, the opposite of the impression the young girl gave this evening, tight and taut and unforgivingly woundup in her skintight adolescent uniform of g-string and shirt.
Her guest’s admission to having written at least one story, title unspecified, had at last spurred Lucy out of her lethargy, however.
“I just can’t believe that you’ve forgotten the name of your own story.”
“That isn’t what I said.”
“What’s it called, then?”
“What’s it about?”
“A Burmese woman?”
“No. A woman in Myanmar just before the collapse – when the junta was still in power, before the great estates were broken up.”
“Is she a politician?”
“No. To tell the truth, she’s mostly fascinated with her own arse.”
“She’s up her own arse?”
“Well, yes, I guess she is in a way, but the point of the story is that she has an obsession with her own arse – loves it, loves dressing and undressing it, displaying it, exercising it, sculpting it, and so on.”
“Was she based on someone you know?”
“Not particularly, I don’t think. Of course a lot of women are very body-conscious.”
“What about Mum? Do you like her arse?”
“Lucy! That’s enough.”
“Why? It’s a fair question. He’s told us he wrote this story about a colonial chatelaine who wanders round worshipping her own arse. It stands to reason that he’s got an interest in the subject. He’s probably been checking yours out since the moment you first met. Not to mention mine …”
“Lucy! Go to your cubicle!”
“But Mum …”
“Lucy, one more word and you’ll be grounded for a month …”
“Okay, okay. I was only making conversation.”
Standing up, the young girl flounced out of the room, taking care to bend over ostentatiously whilst kissing her mother good night, in order to show to best advantage her taut adolescent butt.
As soon as she’d gone, Phil began to apologise.
“What must you think of us? I really don’t know how she gets hold of these things.”
“No, she’s right, actually. I can see that the story does sound a bit … explicit when you put it like that. I guess the point is supposed to be that the central character’s obsession is a kind of mirror of her soul, of the soul of colonialism – self-obsession, self-creation. But choosing a woman and her body-image as your subject-matter certainly can give rise to a lot of misunderstandings. And you do have a very fine behind, by the way, in case you were wondering.”
“Well, no, I wasn’t, to tell you the truth – but thank you.”
“You’re sure? I mean, you really are an exceptionally attractive woman. I’d like very much to see you again under … more propitious circumstances. Maybe for a date? Dinner and a movie … something like that?”
“Come on. What do you have to lose? From what you were saying earlier, you don’t know so many people in this part of the grid. Neither do I. I’d really like to get to know you better.”
“To get to know my arse better, you mean …”
“Well, that too – but I was really thinking of getting to know you.”
“Look, I’ll be frank. I know that’s a bit unusual when this is the first time we’ve really talked, and this isn’t even a date. I’m a little frustrated that you won’t tell me anything about yourself. You’ve been fencing and evading all evening, and I don’t know why you would do that unless you really have something to hide. And if that’s the case, well, I’m sorry – you seem very nice, and I like you, and God knows I have been lonely living this far out from the city – but I just can’t get involved with anything mysterious or … illegal.”
“You’re afraid I’m on the run? Is that it?”
“And you don’t believe in my story?”
“Not really, no. I tend to agree with my daughter. I think you’re more interested in my arse than you are in that Burmese woman’s …”
“Touché. Well, I’ll tell you what. You’re pretty much showing me the door, so I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll answer each and every question that you have, as frankly as I can, on one condition.”
“Tit for tat. You’ve got to show me a bit more of yourself for every question I answer.”
“You mean tell you things about myself?”
“No, of course not – I mean take off an item of clothing for every question.”
“I think you’d better leave now.”
“Fair enough. I didn’t think you’d want to go through with it, but you can’t blame a guy for trying. And what you’re asking is not that dissimilar, really, although I'm sure you don’t see it that way. No hard feelings, I hope?”
“Look, it’s not as if I’m a prude or anything. I’ve been naked in front of plenty of men before – before my husband and after … but even if I wanted to show you my arse right now, you’ve got to remember that I’m a mother, too. What kind of an example would that be setting for my daughter?”
“Your daughter looks as if she can look after herself, from what I could judge tonight.”
“Okay, that’s it – you’re out of here.”
“All right, all right, I’m going – but I’ll be thinking of you and your sexy sweet arse … you can bet your bottom dollar on that.”