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Short Story: Sushi Bar
By Chris Whitley
Baby Lemonade has a long willowy figure, thinner than sliced rainbow. She's a mellow buttercup-babe. I sit looking into her wide blue eyes listening to the ping pong music, while we wait for our food to arrive. When her tiny fly like meal arrives it's as colourful as a tray of kids toys.
From the next table two horse-faces stare irritatingly at Baby Lemonade like pains in a doctor's waiting room – their bodies seem to eat the edges around themselves like human black holes.
Out of nowhere, as if by automagic, Anna the Hat shows! She’s called ‘Anna The Hat’ because there is an absolute herd of Annas here, and because she wears a stream of bizarre hats. Like the one she’s wearing now -- a green affair that looks like something between a tower and a ship with veils that swoop down the tower walls. The horse-faces are now transfixed by Anna's hat – almost copulating with curiosity.
I didn't get a chance to introduce any one -- Anna was already in full swing. I only manage to say hi. Anna can talk over you, through you, and around you. She is rapid with the minimum of pauses, going from one item to the next with her unzipped inteligence up and bristling. Her great skill is her concentration -- an ability to focus just on what she wants to say, while ignoring and putting any interruption out like the garbage. With a glow-worm at work in her head she lowers her eyelids behind her thick black spectacles, continues talking, and simply disappears people.
‘I saw you sitting here through the window’ -- then she starts going on about a reading she's organising, and how she like me to read something.
‘If you could do about thirty minutes of your more agreeable stuff -- well people are expected – one doesn’t want to break their poor soft balls, or they’ll slag us off, or worse, write nothing at all.... I have the Two Pauls – you haven't seen them, ok a bit over the top, but well... And Mac-Scot is bent on doing some of Ginsberg’s Howl – can you imagine -- in his Glasgow growl. I said I'd get back to him. I won't invite Bernard Holt – I’m sick of those dreary reflections, and his mundane monologues on just about nothing – and his insistence on wearing that silly white suit of his -- like some bloody whimpering angel of angst.’
Baby Lemonade is holding up an inside-out-roll between her Chinese knitting needles, which look like extensions of her stick arms. I watch her in her relaxed calm demeanour as she examines it closely with her large blue inviting eyes, as if it were something she had just dissected. Satisfied, she puts it slowly in her small lived mouth.
I’m going to do my word clusters, and some new flashes I have up my sleeve.... The Morgen-Rot boys are mad keen, but I’ll limit them to ten minutes each – all that shouting can be a bit intense, to say the least – enough to split the ears of the poor groundlings – they frighten the life out of some people. I’ve pencilled it in for the seventeenth of next month, which is a Sunday – do you think that’s a good night? As good as any, I would think.... I would really like you to look at something I’ve been working on -- I’m blocked’ (in a Beatrice Potter moment she becomes a large full stop). ‘It’s an argument between the past and the present. I first thought about doing the past and the future, but then wrote the future as an imaginary friend of them both – do you get it?'
The smiling Japanese waiter tried to approach her to take her order. But without a comma she simply lowered her eyelids, and waved him away with wand like fingers, wiping them in the air as if to clean them. He fell back – retreating behind the counter, as if it were a barricade, looking totally Plutoed. Her words now fell into a rhythm coming from the kitchen.
Chop, chop-chop, chop....
'I’m going to ask Prudence to sing a couple of songs -- Prudence Dali? You know her -- the New Zealander -- does those Maori songs down at the End Club. Ho! And John Stone will read from his new book 'England Dreaming.' Have you read it? He really sticks it to Blighty. Are you still working on that book of yours? I swear you’ll never finish it....'
Chop, chop, chop....
From the corner of her eye I see she is watching Baby Lemonade bathe the colourful designs in a small bowl of soy sauce, she watches like one watches a conjurer hoping to catch sight of the slight of hand involved.
Trays of the gaudy colours were arriving at the tables of the customers sitting in the green hazed Zen-garden-symmetry. The smell of ginger wafted in the atmosphere. The two horse-faces were still trying to put us in some kind of box. My soup was one of the arrivals. The waiter looked nervously at Anna in her towering hat. Her sudden raised voice seemed to dismiss him again as she said, 'Did you read my piece in the Page? Terrible photo.... I dropped a lot of names, yours included, but they didn't pick up on any of them in the article. The bastards really cut it.'
She said she had missed me at the poetry meetings. But she understood why I had stopped coming – that the gatherings were often uninspiring or downright boring. I sipped at my soup, and squeezed a smile of agreement between her fleet fire.
I returned my attention to Baby Lemonade as she, matter of factly, poured two cups of green tea from a doll's teapot into the tiny teacups. It was as if she were in another world, as if I were an observer looking into an aquarium watching a new exotic exhibit display its unique behaviour.
Finally, the spell was broken when Anna quickly stood up to leave. 'I'll email you the gig date,' she said. She tried to catch Baby Lemonade's eye, nodded, then went off at an egg-trot out of the door, topped in her hat, like a travelling show that leaves a silence in its wake.
Baby Lemonade never broke her stride. Neither of us spoke. There was nothing to say. It was as if Anna had never been there. She raised another sushi specimen between her dexterous sticks, smiled slightly at me before delivering it into her wonderful, petite, blood-red mouth.
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