Coincidence or not, when Sylvia Browne, that fraudulent psychic from The Montel Williams Show, walked on to give a reading of two Puerto Rican former lovers who were squabbling over the paternity of their daughter, vibrations sent my phone in second-long repeated fits across the coffee table. I saw Melody’s name and number clearly. She was touching base, a phrase she’d made unbearable from overuse. Never mind. I’d already seen this episode of Montel anyway. It had been repeated in the early nineteen nineties, when the influx of American networks raised the picture temperatures on gloomy English screens, and all those gaudy reds and oranges of Hollywood had me California dreaming of a world I really thought existed. That was the summer when our satellite dish arrived, when every night revolved around the adult channel fifteen minute previews that I’d stay awake to watch till midnight, bug-eyed and bristling with adolescent sexual intent.
“Hello my little chicken foot.”
“Owen? Owen, are you at home right now?”
“I’m watching TV. You after something?”
“Just touching base.” Traffic in the background, both human and mechanical, betrayed a brimming urgency. “Well, actually…” The line was bad – the price for all this prodding and swiping in place of good old fashioned analogue communication. “Have you got access to a computer?”
When facing Melody, a liar fights a losing battle. Answer honestly and you’ll confirm what she already knows, and she already knew, through periodic speculation, guesswork, cynicism, and the time she caught me, Kleenex at the ready, perched on top of the grab bar in the bathtub, that I’d have my hummus encrusted MacBook cooling by the window following a matinée of Ebony Betrayal.
“Give me a second to fire it up,” I said. “Right, what was it you wanted?”
The brakes of a London bus responded, followed by a bicycle bell, some acrimonious words. “Not your right of way on zebra crossings!” flew over the top of them.
“Some idiot nearly ran me over. He didn’t even look.”
“In future, if it happens again, let them make the slightest contact then go to ground. My dad did it once and got a bit of compensation out of it. Plus, that’s one less cyclist out there taking liberties.”
“I’m not about to follow your father’s bad example, am I? Look, I haven’t got much time. Can you forward me the tickets for Dubrovnik?”
“The tickets for Dubrovnik.”
“You’ll find them in your inbox.”
“When exactly…can you remember the airline?”
“British…” I typed the letters in the search field. “Mmm…nothing coming up. You sure I booked them?”
“Yes. You paid for the flights. Remember?”
The search button filtered nothing on page one. On page two I reached the emails from late February. Today it was the 29th March.
“Leave it with me. I’ll send them to your work address.”
“I’d prefer it if you sent them to me now, please.”
The growing pressure at my end offset the busy London traffic.
“Fish cakes and broccoli for dinner sound okay?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
I’d use the faltering reception to cover my escape.
“Sorry, what was that?”
“I said don’t change the subject. Have you managed to find them yet?”
“Hello? I’m sorry, Melody?”
“I’m still here, waiting. Can you hear me?”
“Owen, I can hear you. Stop pretending.”
“Melody, the line is really bad. I’m sorry but I’m going to have cut you off. I’ll call you back.”
I ended the exchange to find the Puerto Ricans bickering intensely on TV. Apparently, a three month baby girl, Aurora, sleeping sweetly in a carrier cot backstage, was likely to have been conceived while sucker boy Alvaro was away on his yearly winter money-maker trawling halibut in Maine. In one revealing moment just before the ad break, Concita flinched when Montel said the DNA results would be revealed as soon as we came back. Nowhere to run to, sweetheart. Not in front of a live television audience.
The result, as I remembered it, was settled in Alvaro’s favour, which in turn persuaded me to settle things with Melody. A text would do: Forget Dubrovnik. Wasn’t a must see destination for me anyway. How about we look at Montenegro for a long weekend. Depends if you want a beach stroke inner city combo or the old medieval shindig. Or somewhere else completely random. The beaches in Oman are said to be exceptional. Good luck at work.
Eventually, she texted back. The Middle East? With everything that’s going on? You hear about what happened in Tunisia?
I couldn’t let this lie. Tunisia’s not in the Middle East. We’ll chat about this later.
But without a Sally Jessy Raphael or a Montel there to regulate proceedings, it would never be a civil dialogue. Melody and I, while stable at the elemental level, are volatile in compound form (which doesn’t prove that there was ever any chemistry between us by the way, including on the night we met, lost barflies hovering at Polly McNamara’s birthday party at The City Pride in Farringdon. Cupid can’t have had his shooting goggles on that day. Perhaps the heavens hurled a faulty bolt of lightening. Or was it ineffective pheromones, a misalignment of the constellations?)
Which is why I didn’t want to point the finger. Not unless you count the finger that I’m fond of pointing at myself.