by H.St Vincent Beechey
‘We are just good friends.’ Bonnie had said it again in her endless efforts to justify her position as my companion.
‘Damn it Woman’ I growled, ‘Is there no end to your cliches. And besides, what gives you the idea that I’m friendly towards you? You have dragged me away from my home and got me traipsing round the world at enormous expense. We are spending half our life waiting around in airports and the rest of the time rushing past tiresome scenery on our way to somewhere else. And now you keep raising our personal relationship with perfect strangers-No, let me qualify that; We do not Have a relationship, especially in the Women’s Weekly sense you are at such great pains to deny. Secondly, I withdraw the expression “Perfect Strangers”. In my experience, Strangers are seldom perfect, they are only strange.’
Perhaps at this point, I should explain Bonnie. After accidentally winning $6,000,000 in a lottery, having, in a fit of aberration, bought a ticket (my first and last, I can tell you!) I found there was a strange condition attached to my prize. For one year, I would receive the paid services of a suitably qualified Personal Assistant. This, I believe, was to counter the bad publicity incurred by the spectacular stupidity of some previous winners who had come to grief from the acquisition of sudden wealth. For one year, Bonnie would, as she phrased it “Be at my elbow so that I wouldn’t put a foot wrong” I was stuck with her.
We were on a world trip. Don’t ask me how she achieved this. Bonnie rode roughshod over all my objections, and I must admit a grudging admiration for anyone who can do that. Her bright professional smile and incessant good humour seemed to armour her against my most trenchant efforts to resist her plans on my behalf.
‘I’m only trying to help you!’ was her battle cry. And despite my bitter opposition, she dragooned me into taking the trip.
‘Anyone would think I was taking you to the Dentist,’ she pouted.
‘Don’t talk to me about dentists’ I retorted. ‘They are rapists!’
‘Why Charlie,’ she sounded shocked. ‘How can you say such a thing! They are highly skilled professionals and perform a necessary public service.’
‘Anyone who enters any of my bodily orifices is a rapist.’ I was insistent. ‘And that goes for doctors sticking Paddlepop sticks down my throat, too. And,’ I added, ‘barbers clipping nose hair.’ I grumbled myself into silence.
‘Oh, You!’ said Bonnie.
‘So this is Venice; looks a bit damp.’ And it did too. ‘Tell you what, You go and look at it for me. I’ll be fine here in the hotel, I’ve still got three chapters of this book to read.’
Bonnie threw her hands up in despair. For the first time in our acquaintance, she looked dispirited. I even felt a bit remorseful. ‘Never mind Bonnie, you go off and enjoy yourself. Who knows, you might even find yourself a nice Italian millionaire; then you could live happily-ever-after and I could go home.’
Bonnie’s big blue eyes (slightly exophthalmic, I always thought) filled with tears. She looked really disheartened. ‘But this is Venice, one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world. Don’t you even want to look at it?’
‘I’ve seen the postcards. Some clever photographers have gone to a great deal of trouble to make Venice look its best camera angles, dawns and sunsets, the works. Why reinvent the wheel, and besides, I’ve got a travel book in my baggage somewhere. I can look it up in that. That way I will get an ideal Venice, why risk disillusion?’
‘Sometimes, Charlie,’ her perpetual smile was missing for once, ‘Sometimes you are just too much.’ I watched her leave with an odd feeling of concern. I shrugged it off and wandered into the ornate lounge. I pulled my paperback from my hip pocket and settled down for a good read.
Northern Italy led us inexorably to the Alps. By now we were travelling by train. I liked trains. I would have preferred steam trains to the powerful diesel engines that hauled us up mountains but nevertheless, there was something nice about being able to negotiate the narrow corridors of a speeding train. It was certainly preferable to being strapped into a flying cinema auditorium.
‘You should have told me about trains, and mountains, Bonnie,’ I said accusingly. ‘For once, the scenery looks better than the photos.’
Bonnie had been looking dispirited since Venice but my remark raised a wan smile. ‘Glad you like it, Charlie. Glad you like something at last.’ She gave me an odd look.
‘Well, don’t just sit there. Come and look out this window. Look! When we go round these curves you can see the other end of our train! Come and look!’
‘No, Charlie, I’d rather read my book.’
That was something I could understand, but I had an uneasy feeling that she was being sarcastic. I dismissed it, and looked out at the amazing scenery. ‘Oh, Bonnie.’ I said, ‘These mountains are really great. Thank you for bringing me,’ Inexplicably, she burst into tears. A local couple sharing our compartment looked at me with fierce disapproval.
I was a bit concerned about Bonnie. Where I was just getting my second wind, she seemed to be running out of puff. There was a listlessness about her. I couldn’t account for it. She was a fit young woman, well, youngish, and when I asked she said she wasn’t sick. She should know, I suppose. I tackled her about it.
‘What’s up with you?’ I said tactfully. ‘You are mooning around like a wet week. You need cheering up. There is a dance in the hotel tonight, why don’t you go. You’ll have a good time. The place will be full of young ski instructors. I’m sure you packed a dance dress for the trip. And I must say, you scrub up well. You will have a ball.’ Despite my encouraging words, the silly woman burst into tears. It was becoming a habit.
‘There, there,’ I consoled her, making ineffectual dabs at her wet cheeks with a reasonably clean handkerchief. ‘Tell you what, I’ll take you there myself. I might even try to dance with you if you don’t think it will queer your chances with the ski instructors.’
This raised a wan smile. ‘Now, go and doll yourself up and we will go to dinner first. Leave it all to me. I’ll get the roses back into your cheeks one way or another.’
The evening was surprisingly enjoyable. I ordered champagne with the meal and the food was first class. At the dance I danced with Bonnie.
She turned out to be a very good dancer. By definition, anyone who can dance with me must be good, but she even made me appear good. For once I forgot my anxiety about remembering which foot did what. With Bonnie, somehow, the music took over and I forgot I was “Doing Dancing” She was smiling again, but it wasn’t the bright professional smile of old. Her smile now was softer and more reflective and I became conscious of the fact that I held in my arms a beautiful and desirable woman.
It must have been the champagne, after all, as Bonnie so often informed people, we are just good friends.
© Copyright H.St V.Beechey July 1996