Phrase Error

‘Oh, suck my nipple, please’ said Amy.

It was spring at Great Secret Miss. In its progress across the street and up the outside walls, the late-afternoon sun had just reached the windows, and His Highness Sultan Qaboos’ benign face, in the large print that I had presented to Amy when the place opened and which hung on the wall opposite a similar representation of our Queen, was dappled by the beams venturing (if pathetic fallacy is permissible in relation to a bunch of photons) past the more or less Oriental junk in the window. The Sultan’s khanja, which he was fingering characteristically, was still in shadow. In about twenty minutes, I knew, it too would be bathed in soft London light.

Amy and I were sitting in the front room drinking and talking about green tea. Not surprisingly she prefers the Chinese varieties and whilst I agree that there are some very fine green teas from China I don’t think that anything can touch Assam Green, which is grown, of course, in northern India. Assam Green has a taste that is full and deep and as satisfying as a good red wine. Unfortunately it is hard to get hold of and I have had to resort to Kusmi Tea, from Paris, which is by no means cheap, largely on account of the packaging. Darjeeling Green can be found more easily but it is not the same thing at all.

Other people were lounging or working in the room. Some minutes before, we had been brought a bowl of the crispy things that taste of rainwater, but they were so far untouched. Three musicians were deep in conversation and two poets were rolling on the floor tearing each other’s hair out. I would report their names to you but they escape me; they are quite well known, I believe – for poets.

For all these reasons Amy’s remark surprised me. It was a robust intrusion into a moment of deep peace – poets apart. I allowed one eyebrow to arch.

‘Surely not,’ I said.

Our relationship does not admit of such things.

Amy reached for her iPhone. She has assembled on it a database of her own frequently used phrases, Mandarin to English and English to Mandarin, and she checked this. She coloured.

‘I’m sorry. It was an error. I meant, ‘Please refill (or refresh coll.) my teacup’.’

Let me make it clear that I do not blame Apple’s software for the mistake. As so often it was probably a case of ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’, or just Amy’s memory. Nevertheless one follows the conventions.

‘Bloody iPhone,’ I said, to spare her blushes.

‘Ah,’ said Amy.

I refilled or refreshed her teacup from the black iron pot, and we resumed our discussion about green tea.

I could not however help reflecting on what she had so innocently said. We all I suppose have our stock of frequently used phrases, although most of us do not hold them on our mobile phones. I sometimes regret that people use such phrases without considering the semantics of the component words. Politicians are particularly prone to this. At a more personal level I could not help musing on the circumstances in which Amy’s phrase had been required, and why, presumably after the event, she had jotted it down on her iPhone. I wondered on what private occasion she might have cried out, affectingly but erroneously, ‘Please refill (or refresh coll.) my teacup’.

I wondered to whom she had addressed the remark, whatever it was. Was it her husband in Kettering, if such a person existed at all: a matter of increasing doubt. Was it even one of the poets? They are passionate people, I’m told. As if to illustrate this, a clump of hair, with quite a big bit of scalp attached, flew across the room and landed in the bowl of the lovely crispy things that taste of rainwater. I recognised it as the forelock of one of the poets, a man, frequently and notoriously tossed but never before so radically. The names still escape me. They are both members of The Poetry Society, if that helps. I wondered what I thought about Amy engaged carnally with one – or indeed the other – of the poets. Was there the merest frisson of jealousy?

Not at all.

‘Do you see anything of Alfredo?’ I said.

What made me think of him?

‘Of course we agree,’ said Amy, ‘that add dead flowers a no-no.’

‘It is often a way to disguise that fact that the least tasty, and therefore cheapest, leaves has been used.’

‘Not often. I believe his rehabilitation as far progress as possible. Give him his own kefir. Off he goes.’

‘I hope he isn’t wasting it on Lesbia Firebrace, or the other one.’

Amy laid her hand decorously on my elbow.

Kefir is for the world,’ she said. ‘Even Lesbia Firebrace and the other one. We are only agents, you and I.’

‘Speaking of which,’ I said, and gestured vaguely towards the back rooms.

Amy summoned one of her girls, I took a couple of the crispy things that taste of rainwater, for, as they say in those advertisements on the television, the journey, and soon I was asleep, gripped by visions. They were unusually violent, but since this is not the sort of blog where we describe our dreams I won’t.

I emerged a better man. Amy was still there, proprietorially engaged.

‘And Augustus Sly?’ I said, affecting, as we like to do, she and I, that no time had passed at all. ‘Does he come around?’

‘Never. Never come here. He thinks Great Secret Miss is like magic toyshop. He thinks I am a metaphor.’

‘So you are, Amy.’

She laughed harshly.

‘I’ll have a fiver each way,’ she said.

‘No. Close but no.’

Out came the iPhone.

‘Sorry. I meant, ‘Speak for yourself, buster’.’

‘You have to laugh,’ I said.

‘Ha!’ she shouted.

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