Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Ages of man : IV

(attempt at a vivid description of a minor character who will appear in only one scene, vaguely in the manner of Dickens.)

After the previous night's exertions, Edward and George surfaced too late for breakfast at the hotel, and set forth in search of a greasy spoon cafe recommended to them by the ineffectual girl at reception. They eventually located it, through a process of elimination, by walking in the opposite direction to that in which she pointed them, and then finding it across the street from the petrol station to which it was allegedly next door.

Taking seats at the only vacant table, it was immediately apparent that this was a very popular establishment. Unending legions of worried-looking waiting staff charged about the place carrying vast platters of cholesterol. Each of them paused at their table just long enough to insist on taking an order for tea. Edward expected being given a cup of tea from each of half-a-dozen waitresses, which George rather liked the sound of. They found it difficult to maintain conversation over the most penetrative voice imaginable, which belonged to a small lady in an apron barking orders at the cholesterol legions; the Napoleon of grime. At once nasal and gravelly, with a distinct Irish burr, her voice was clearly audible from behind the kitchen door. Mrs O'Neill was unquestionably the proprietor of the cafe; any attempts to imagine her boss started and ended with Zeus, and even then there would be a power struggle. She was very short and slender, but her sheer presence would stop armies in their tracks; she would stride into a war-zone to tell them to keep the noise down. They would. She patrolled around the cafe, ensuring good order and making light chit-chat with her customers. At least, she believed it was light, and she was genuinely trying to be friendly, but a barked interrogation as to George's satisfaction with his breakfast elicited no more than a whimper. He would happily have rubbed his stomach and made yummy noises before a plate of fresh turd if Mrs O'Neill were watching; happily this was not the case, because the food was genuinely excellent. She clearly ran a very tight ship; customers were left in no doubt that they would get exactly what they wanted, generally before they ordered it, but this was not a place to linger, particularly if one wanted to keep one's hearing. Some eating establishments hire cocktail pianists to add quiet background music; Mrs O'Neill could hire a military marching band.

2 comments:

Tris said...

I'm enjoying this writing quite a lot, but there was one thing that irritated - the phrase "Napoleon of Grime" seemed shoehorned in.

Indeed, later in the piece we discover that she runs a very tight ship - Grime doesn't seem to fit this at all.

A fondness for wordplay I can just about understand, it just doesn't seem to fit here.

Liche said...

A fair point, 'grease' to 'grime' is too much of a stretch. I like the joke, but this is probably not the best place for it.