Tuesday, May 13, 2008
"How do you like your brandy, sir?"
"Any way at all,"I said.
The butler went away among the abominable plants. The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work showgirl uses her last good pair of stockings.
"I used to like mine with champagne. The champagne as cold as Valley Forge and about a third of a glass of brandy beneath it. You may take your coat off, sir. It's too hot in here for a man with blood in his veins."
... I stared at him with my mouth open. The soft wet heat was like a pall around us. The old man nodded, as if his neck was afraid of the weight of his head. Then the butler came pushing back through the jungle with a tea-wagon, mixed me a brandy and soda, swathed the copper ice bucket with a damp napkin, and went softly away among the orchids. A door opened and shut behind the jungle.
I sipped the drink. The old man licked his lips watching me, over and over again, drawing one lip slowly across the other with a funereal absorption, like an undertaker dry-washing his hands.
Working in the greenhouse at the weekend, glowing, as girls do, I was reminded of that scene in The Big Sleep where Marlowe first meets General Sternwood. I've no idea what sort of heat the tomatoes enjoy/tolerate but I wilt very quickly. Fast forward summer. I'm already looking forward to the cold winter mornings when I can steam up the windows with my tea and porridge.