This is a serialisation of the novel ‘Marcello: Love in the City’. This week Marcello goes on a date with his work colleague, Charlotte.
We met up on a wet afternoon. It was strange seeing Charlotte in her casual array, she had dispensed with her pencil skirt and heels and gone for a many layered floral outfit. It wasn’t easy to see where the skirt ended and the jacket began. The overall look was mildly psychedelic.
“You look nice,” I said. “Boho.”
“Isn’t that what they call it? Boho.”
We were standing adjacent to Tottenham Court Road station. A sudden gust blew the drizzle into my face.
“Let’s just get out of this, shall we?” Charlotte said.
We headed into the nearest pub, an ill-lit boozer full of dour, middle-aged men.
“This is alright,” I said. “Its got character.”
She didn’t say anything.
We sat in the corner and babbled about how nice we both looked in our off-duty wear. I was wearing a vintage cowboy shirt and cravat. In my head I resembled the young Warren Beatty in the era-defining classic ‘Shampoo’. Jess had rolled her eyes at the claim – more like Quentin Crisp, she’d said.
Charlotte was equally brisk. “Warren Beatty, really? I would’ve said Woody in Toy Story.”
“That’s a good one,” I said, gently loosening the cravat.
My carefully chosen outfit suddenly felt like costume, as if I were about to clamber up the side of a garish float on carnival day. With forced zest, I shifted the conversation. We went on to discuss work – at some length. It was of course the common ground and was easy to flow across. Still, after a while, I felt the department-by-department critique was not conducive to romance. I tried to change the subject by bringing up family, that other conversational comfort zone. As Charlotte recounted the names, occupations and minor transgressions of her extended brood, I found my mind wandering. I wanted to be interested but my throbbing brain wouldn’t let me, and I struggled to absorb the minutiae of what sounded like a troubled clan. Charlotte’s brother, a former soldier, had recently emerged from prison where he had been unjustly incarcerated.
“I like the way you say emerged,” I said. “Sounds ominous, don’t tell me, he was sent to prison by a military court for a crime he didn’t commit.”
“Did he promptly escape to the Los Angeles underground?”
“Did he what?”
“It’s from the beginning of the A-Team.”
“Yeah, the TV series that is, not the film. Well, it could have been in the film as well, to be honest, I haven’t seen it.”
Charlotte’s eyes narrowed.
“Anyway,” I said. “At least you guys are close.”
She picked up her phone.
I said, “Not like my family, we’re pretty dysfunctional. I’m quite close to my mother, she’s all a bit arty. But I don’t really get on with my dad, well, step-dad. It’s complicated.” I sipped my drink. “Like Facebook.”
“Yeah. I get on with my brother though. We tend to wind each other up, but he’s a good guy.”
Charlotte waited for me to say more. I shrugged to show I had finished.
She said, “What does that mean?”
“What does what mean?”
She mimicked my shrug, adding a Gallic twist.
“Nothing,” I said. “Not a thing.”
“Going back a bit, I have to ask, have you got some kind of problem with the mentally ill?”
“The mentally ill? God, no. I was joking.”
“You were joking, really? That actually makes it worse. My brother served his country, you know, what have you done?”
“I was in the forces as well.”
She snorted and slammed down her glass.
“Oh, yes, I forgot. See much action, Popeye?”
“No, it’s totally relevant. Absolutely relevant.”
Outside, the rain picked up. I glanced at the clock and downed my drink.
Next time: The way men really talk about women.
You can read more of Marcello’s book on WATC here.
You can purchase his book here.