He had lost count of the number of years they had been doing this…
The envelope, marked with a promo sticker from a fictitious low-budget garden show, had arrived a month ago. It contained exactly seven clues. And then the words ‘Dress to Kill’.
The rules were simple. Dinner would be served in the most unlikely location, chosen by the person whose turn it was…
The game had started decades before, when both were students at a polytechnic in the Midlands, struggling with funds that would not allow both rent and food. One evening, over a long drawn-out beer, they had vowed that, if they made it through their degrees without starving to death, they would meet annually, on the day of their graduation, to celebrate their survival… and, hopefully, prosperity.
He staggered along the canal towpath. The tuxedo was dripping with sweat; probably the worst thing he could have worn. But those were the rules. The smell of the most delicious food began to reach his senses about a hundred metres before he saw the boat. Spices… was it to be a curry? Or perhaps that was Thai? A fluke of the evening breeze or planned?
She was that meticulous.
Where he threw money at it, she brought ingenuity. As a logistics manager in a brewing company, she knew all about planning. They hadn’t done too bad, for working class kids with nowt.
They had fancied each other, back then. But somehow had never done the deed, though they once woke up in a deep embrace with a matching hangover – fully dressed and wrinkled…
It had to be one of the canal boats; and close now. The oriental smells were becoming all-consuming. It had taken him five hours to get there. Train, bus and foot. Cars were not permitted. Poor students didn’t have cars.
He looked up at the flash of black and silver, just to see her shoulders bend and disappear into the darker interior. He had been walking on auto, counting the drips of sweat dropping of his shirt onto the skin. The boat’s tiny garden astonished him with its neatness. There was a chair with an envelope. He took the latter and ripped it open, collapsing, gratefully, into the hard wood’s curves.
“Dinner is served,” it read. “But you’re overdressed. Look beneath.”
Muttering, he fumbled under the chair’s seat, emerging with a white cloth bag containing an oriental gown. He couldn’t resist a smile, but suppressed the giggle.
The rest of the words were explicit: “There’s a shower at the foot of the steps. Then dinner… Enjoy the champagne…”
He looked up. In the still evening air, he could actually hear the bubbles in the champagne flute. It suggested intense proximity, nearness.. something more, perhaps a final delicious wait?
It appeared that, after all these years, the rules had changed… He sat back down and sipped, in no hurry at all.
(Photo by the author)
©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.