I slide into the parking slot selected during my daylight survey of the prospective hunting ground. My quarry will be clearly visible when he walks up to the designated wine-bar. I have contingency plans to fade into the darkness if he doesn’t look as appealing as he did in his photograph. Thank God I had the foresight not to include one of myself. He won’t know who I am, even if he catches a glimpse of me lurking in the shadows. I couldn’t bear it if he was the one to turn away in disappointment. I look at my watch. Still ten minutes until the appointed hour. It seems like an eternity. I don’t know whether to sue Woolworths or Blogdate for reducing me to this state of teenage angst.
I fidget. It’s hot in the car. Perhaps I should sue summer, along with Woolworths and Blogdate. It was summer’s bare-legged, flimsy expectations which triggered my current crisis. I’d broken three zips trying to force my way into last year’s wardrobe. I had no option but to browse through Woolworth’s summer range.
I suppose it’s unrealistic to petition for a block-out ban on mirrors in changing booths but surely it would make sound marketing sense to at least dim the lights? My bedroom mirror is in a shady corner. I apply my make-up virtually in the dark. I sometimes feel quite trendy when I leave home but my confidence levels drop substantially once I reach the neon lights in Woolworths. Someone should explain to the marketing manager that sales would rise if customers were shielded from direct confrontation with their defects. Surely some enterprising engineer could construct a kinder mirror?
I remember sifting morosely through a pile of discarded options on the floor, brooding on which outfit looked the least awful. I still flinch when I recall the moment that I caught a glimpse of what I look like from the back. The user-friendly mirror in my bedroom doesn’t offer a backside panorama so this proved quite a shock. When did my bum reach those dimensions? Were those actually folds of flesh in the stomach arena? When did ripple become a thigh-related verb?
No wonder Gary rode off into the sunset. Even I can see his point.
I haven’t been short of sympathy over his defection. There’s mass sympathy from book club. If you consider the collected mass of book club, that’s quite a lot of sympathy. None of them is young and slender. They can all imagine similar defections by spouses of their own. The bridge ladies are equally outraged. They forgive me if I forget what convention we’re playing. Stayman, Transfers and Keycard Blackwood pale into insignificance in the light of Gary’s transgressions. My friends insist that I deserve more. And Gary deserves a good deal less.Gary is bald and belly-prone. Unfortunately, he’s also the CEO. He drives a Porsche and his credit card never bounces. He can finance trips to Mauritius and candle-lit dinners at the Mount Nelson. Who needs hair in those circumstances? A belly blurs in a five-star setting.
I‘ve become a professional lounger since my marriage broke up. It sometimes seems the only way to spend the day. I haul myself from the bed and make my way to the kitchen for yet another slice of carrot cake. I’m addicted to carrot cake. The lady at the home-bake puts one in a box the minute she sees me. I try to explain my excessive carrot consumption in terms of guests and tea parties but I think she knows the truth. I knew the truth myself when I slunk out of Woolies that day.
‘I’ve got to do something!’ I wailed to the first of the Concerned Callers who checked in to see if I’d managed to get myself out of bed. To my alarm, she agreed. I hoped she’d say something reassuring and send me back to lounge in comfort on my bed. She suggested a week’s retreat on a health farm. ‘Get yourself back in shape,’ she told me briskly, producing the number from her handbag like a magician. I bet the whole team of Concerned Callers could produce it on demand. They’d just been waiting for me to give them an opening. I packed my bags with some reluctance. I didn’t have the courage to conceal an entire carrot cake at the bottom of my suitcase but I sneaked in a Kit Kat. One can’t confront the lettuce regime entirely unarmed.
I must concede that the setting was very picturesque, nestled on a hillside which provided a variety of bracing uphill walks. I could immediately identify two distinct groups of inmates at the orientation session. One was focused on maintaining the perfection that had already been achieved. All members of this group were lithe and tanned with fully functional bodies. Their hair was sleek and high-lighted and they knew how to work all the machines in the gym. Changing booths held no fears for Group A inmates. I felt more at home with the losers in Group B. Many of us shared a cellulite crisis. We’d lost husbands, jobs and self esteem. We swallowed Prozac or fertility pills with one of the eight litres of water we had to drink each day. We looked bemused when we heard the sales pitch. ‘We are all integral thinkers,’ she told us. ‘We feel the need to bring ourselves fully into the experience of life. Expressing ourselves in mind, body, soul and spirit will bring us the personal growth we seek together.’ God knows what she was talking about. I was immediately certain I would fail the course I hadn’t thought any further than cutting down on carrot cake.
My spirits sank still more when I answered my wake-up call the following morning. Sally Sunshine was at the door with my early morning beverage. That day it was Epsom salts. The next morning she pitched up with parsley tea. I soon realised there was no hope of cappuccino at a health farm. Lunch and supper did little to improve my spirits. Day one featured lettuce, cucumber and two almonds. There was also a carrot. I dreamed of the home-bake as I munched my way stoically through it. They replaced the almonds with dates and pumpkin seeds the following day. I felt positively faint when I presented myself at the gym.
I hated the gym. Time virtually ground to a halt on the treadmill. After what seemed like an eternity, I sneaked a glance at the clock. 31 seconds had passed. I couldn’t believe it. The machine was obviously malfunctioning. I gave it a furtive kick to hurry it along. This was a mistake. I lost my footing and fell off in a loud disruptive manner. The perfectionists in Group A ignored my plight completely but a couple of fellow losers hurried to my side and helped me to my feet. ‘I did that on my first day,’ confided one. ‘I was so bored I tried to read a book at the same time.’ I moved on to the bike but I struggled to control it. The pedals whizzed around as if I was Lance Armstrong on the home stretch at the Tour de France. I pressed the plus sign but then I couldn’t turn the pedals at all. I am not gym material. It was even more of a low point than the almonds and dates at supper.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. We slouched around in toweling robes all day and even Group A abandoned make-up and hair-dos. I managed to squeeze myself into a costume and showed some flair for water aerobics. I positively purred during aromatherapy. I loved the head massage and gentle hands worked wonders with my feet and back. I lounged legitimately in my bedroom without the threat of a Concerned Caller on the horizon. The scale showed that lettuce and almonds were a winning combination. Seven kilograms were gone! An inspiration! They could hardly prise me off the scale. I felt as if I’d been promoted to Group A.
I was filled with purpose on release. I stuck religiously to my diet, determined to show Gary and his bloody bimbo a thing or two. At minus eleven kilograms, I was back in the market for men. One of my Concerned Callers suggested on-line dating.
‘I can’t do that!’ I cried. ‘What if I contact a pervert? Or a serial killer?’
‘Calm down,’ she reassured me. ‘You arrange a meeting in a public place. You can leave if you don’t like him…’
I logged into Blogdate. I spent several hours composing my sales pitch. Intelligent woman seeks interesting companion was my heading. I ticked all the boxes which made me sound the most interesting. There’s no need for complete honesty in a crisis. I had to summarize my charms in about thirty well chosen words. I decided not to mention the missing kilograms. They could be a delightful surprise when I met my quarry. I’m a well-read, well-travelled middle aged woman, given to eccentric calls at bridge. House work is not my forte. I hoped to sound bohemian. I still had reservations about peddling my wares on the internet but I was desperate for Gary to hear that I had found a lover.
Online dating turned out to be more fruitful than sipping an optimistic glass of a wine in a random wine-bar in the hopes that someone suitable might join me. The chances of that happening are zero for the middle aged. Trawlers at a pub are looking for firmer flesh than ours. But I was amazed at the range of possibilities that came up on my screen when I pressed the search button. There were some pub trawlers among them. My first hit called himself Cool Customer. Subtitled A hot prospect. Followed by at least seven exclamation marks. He claimed to be a raconteur of note with an interest in a feisty sensual partner. He admitted to a totally dysfunctional family and ticked at least eighteen different musical genres as his favourite. I deleted him when I got to his predilection for martial arts.]
But I liked the sound of the next one. Pinotage. Subtitled Unique to the Cape. I liked his face and the touch of grey at his temples. He claimed to be a wine lover with a sophisticated sense of humour and isolated jazz as his musical favourite. I began to imagine us at the Green Dolphin on a smoky summer evening. He’s an interior designer for an international company and recently moved to Cape Town because it’s the most beautiful city in the world. My addiction to Cape Town rivals my love for carrot cake. I liked the sound of Pinotage even more when he responded my email.
You can learn a lot about a person in an email relationship. I found myself hovering around the computer. I logged in far more often than necessary. I could hardly wait to see if the new message was from Pinotage. We speedily progressed to first name terms. I deflected the possibility of meeting for as long as possible but I knew he’d stop e-mailing me if I didn’t agree. I spent at least an hour trying to choose an outfit which looked as if I just threw it on in a casual yet elegant manner.
And here I am.
And my God, it’s him! I recognize him as soon as he gets out of the car. Even the car is exciting. It’s some sort of low-slung Beemer. He’s taller than I expected, casually dressed in denims and a brand-name jacket. It looks like a healthy bank balance is also part of the package. We haven’t discussed anything as sordid as finance in our emails. Maybe he’s keeping the French villa as a delightful surprise. Like I’ve done with my vanished kilos. I run a brush through my hair and take a deep breath. I’m good enough I tell myself as I lock the door behind me and stride with confidence towards what could be my destiny.
‘May I buy you a glass of Pinotage?’ I smile enquiringly as I slide into the seat beside him at the bar. I register an approving smile as his eyes flicker over me.
‘You look as promising as your emails,’ he tells me. ‘You’ve been so evasive that I was beginning to think that you were a figment of my imagination!’
‘This is my first move into technology,’ I confess. ‘It seems as if I’m having beginner’s luck!’ I add flirtatiously. I haven’t said anything flirtatious for several decades. I feel flushed with success as he laughs appreciatively and orders a bottle of chilled white wine.
We clink our long stemmed glasses and the evening is officially in progress. I’m amazed that it’s so easy. We’ve covered the small talk already in our emails. It feels as if we’re old friends. The evening flies by in a morale-boosting until I introduce Camps Bay into the conversation. We’re discussing the various charms that Cape Town has to offer.
‘Camps Bay is one of my favourite places,’ I confide. ‘I always feel as if I’m in heart of the Europe when I sit at a pavement café with a glass of wine, surrounded by strangers with German accents. I try to force myself to get up early so I can watch the play of light across the sand when the sun comes up.’
‘We’re definitely kindred spirits,’ he nods approvingly, picking up the hand I’d carelessly left lying on the table. I’m aware of the texture of his tongue as he kisses my fingers slowly, one by one. ‘Those are two of the reasons why I bought my apartment in Camps Bay. The view of the beach is amazing. You must come and have a look. I’m a maestro when it comes to whipping up a sea-food salad,’ he adds suggestively.
I feel my stomach muscles clench in panic at the prospect. I visualize an up-market penthouse. No doubt it features an up-market bedroom. With a king-size bed…
I can’t go. I don’t want to take my clothes off. The missing kilograms aren’t enough to rewrite the script I’ve followed all my life. I was married to Gary for twenty years. He knew me in the days before droop and sag entered the physical equation. I’ll never be cast in Sex and the City. I’ve never had a one-night stand. I don’t think I’m brave enough to face the possibility that Pinotage won’t call once he realizes that I’m less casual and elegant than my outerwear suggests. I’m scared that I’ll start to need him; that he’ll reinforce the doubts that Gary sowed when he left me.
I decide to pre-empt him before he follows Gary into the sunset. I turn down the suggestion of a night-cap in the pent-house. The following day, I send a cowardly SMS claiming the return of an old relationship. The Concerned Callers gather like vultures, eager for details. We decide to adopt a feminist approach to my future. Why, we ask, must it include a man? The Concerned Callers are interested in travel, books and movies. More importantly, none of them want to go to bed with me…
Ironically, it’s the internet that confirms my change of direction. I check out my emails for the fourth time that morning to see if Pinotage has perhaps sent an anguished plea for me to reconsider my decision. But there’s only one new message. It’s a piece of spam entitled Fairy Tales, printed in a feminist shade of pink. Once upon a time, a girl asked a guy ‘Will you marry me?’ The guy said no and the girl lived happily ever after. She went shopping, dancing and drank martinis. She never had to cook or entertain his friends and she gobbled down slabs of chocolate without ever feeling guilty.
It’s a tired old joke. I think it’s been floating around in the ether since the day Al Gore invented the internet. It doesn’t deserve Road to Damascus status but at that moment, it seems like a coded message from my guardian angel. I add carrot cake to the list of the options offered and set out at once for the home-bake.
But I don’t delete my blog-site. Just in case I change my mind….