Miranda had agreed to come round to Declan’s for dinner because she couldn’t think of anything better to do. Miranda and Declan worked at the same school, she taught French and Home Economics, he taught Science and P.E. The staff room rap was that Declan was a bit of a sleaze and that he tried to seduce women with Burgundy, Bolero and badly cooked chicken, in a botch of a sauce. By all accounts he assumed that both he and the chicken were Supreme. Miranda wanted to be the judge of his culinary skills and whatever else was on offer. She was bored, she supposed, like her teenage students. Whatever.
Miranda had a pile of French comprehension marking to get through. She pictured herself at a table with a conciliatory desk lamp at 3am making furious red pen markings after extricating herself from….well all was still imagination… but some late night liaison with a man with all the necessary parts in working order. She had appetites. She would come out from a day of teaching sewing, one carefully arranged hand stitch after another and feel the urge to rip her clothes at the seams and roll naked over the bonnet of the headmaster’s car. Or after a period of pummelling and kneading dough she would imagine the meat of a man’s solid flesh under her fingers or between her… well you couldn’t think about that on the way back to the staff room, as you went down the corridor with lines of transitory school kids keeping left by the wall. It was all she could do not to leg it past them and give a whoop, fist thrust into the air. But she put her passion into French class, in the intense articulation of those rolling rs, in the low round baritone of her accent, an echo of a Seine-side stroll or the dark cavern of the Moulin Rouge.
Declan’s flat was dim when she arrived, it was late October and the relief of the mid-term break was looming. He played the Bolero on a scratchy 45 – the real deal.
The only bolero she understood was a short jacket with long sleeves that went over the top of other things. Also known as a shrug. And a shrug was an indispensable part of her non-verbal wardrobe. She used it when he asked if she liked his flat, although she nodded when he offered wine.
The decor had an 80’s theme, predominantly black and white with red splashes. His was a world of dimmer switches and frothy cappuccino makers. She expected to find a Knight Rider poster on the back of the bathroom door when she popped in. When she re-emerged he perpetuated rumours of Baked Alaska for later so that was the melting taken care of. Now it was time for dripping and dipping with skewers, there were some assorted raw vegetables and a gloopy cheese sauce. Cheesy. He grinned and raised the Burgundy. Miranda feared for the evening. She didn’t like the way he fondled his fondue.
Later he modelled himself on that experimental chef Heston Blumenthal and blew up a quails egg by torching it en situ. She gave him marks for inventiveness but none for technique.
The egg reminded her by association of ‘Bird’s nest soup’, a Chinese delicacy she’d seen a programme on recently. It was made out of nests that were built out of saliva by cave swiftlet’s during the breeding season.
The soup was said to be an aid to digestion.
Perhaps it would help him swallow the bile of his arduous and unremitting indenture in the teaching of 12 to 18 year olds the beauty of Bunsen burners and somersaults.
Bird’s nests were also beneficial to the libido.
They ate the Chicken Supreme, more gloop this time flavoured with tarragon. He knew his herbs.
He played the Bolero again. She told him it was by a French composer, Ravel. ‘I know’ he said and his irises displayed a flicker of wit.
Two bottles of Burgundy later they sat on the floor in front of the sofa. He confided his desires. ‘I always wanted to be a Home Economics teacher’ he said, ‘But I didn’t have the nerve, so I ended up in Chemistry and Physical Education’.
‘Mmmm’ she said, tracing his hairy wrists. ‘Have you ever tried bird’s nest soup?’
They could never afford it on a teacher’s salary.
They talked into the night and the pile of marking at home on Miranda’s desk, shifted and settled. Declan and Miranda discovered a shared admiration of Christopher Reeve and a pathos for the irony of his demise against the glory of Superman. But they had both enjoyed Somewhere in Time, his gentle time travel movie with Jane Seymour, although the theme tune was Rachmaninov rather than Ravel. Miranda rolled the ‘r’s on her tongue. And when she was done, Declan kissed her and it was very good. She put her hand on his shoulder; he placed his on the small of her back. They ate the baked Alaska in bed.
They might build a nest yet and feather it with staff room anecdotes and culinary conundrums. In her back garden she’d seen a nest torn apart in the night by ravens. But Declan tasted of Burgundy and the Bolero on perpetual replay in the sitting room was heading to a crescendo. He stopped kissing, leaned back a little, looked into her face and smiled. Gosh, Miranda thought, there’s just one thing, chicken shouldn’t go with Burgundy. She opened her mouth to tell him but he sealed her gastronomic quibbles with the most ravenous of kisses. Did it really matter? If she could convince him to forgo the fondue, anything was possible.