“You’re not going to eat that, are you?”
I watched the tableau unfold. The rolled slice of Dutch cheese was just an inch from my mouth when she stopped me. I was grateful she had, because, in my half hour of cheesy construction, the previous evening, I had mauled it somewhat, with my fingers and my wife’s borrowed cake cutters, and didn’t really relish the prospect of eating my explanatory creation.
“Why not?” I exclaimed, pretending to look hurt, and letting the cheese slice unroll onto my carefully prepared napkin.
“You’re not allowed to eat food not bought on the premises, dummy!”
And then she saw the unravelled slice and giggled. I love it when Alexandra giggles – she lights up a room and the relaxed behaviour is in such contrast to her normal legal manner.
“What’s that?” she asked, through bouts of laughter, now so loud they were making everyone else in the coffee bar look up from their drinks.
“It’s a piece of cheese full of holes,” I explained innocently.
Her laughter hadn’t stopped. “I can see that, but you’re never that simple . . .” She sucked in some much needed air and stopped the cackling, hissing at me, “What is it, really?” There were tears running down her cheeks.
“Well, its a cheesy slice full of holes.” I was maintaining the innocence very well in the face of her uproarious provocation.
“I can see that . . .” she took some much needed coffee to calm herself. “Okay, you want me to decode it?” she added.
“Well if you can?”
She threatened to crack up, again, so I stepped in to help. “On one level it’s a slice of cheese, which I now thankfully don’t have to eat. On another level it’s–”
“–A kind of enneagram.” Her breathing calmed, remarkably quickly, as her razor-sharp mind focussed on the object she had so recently found hilarious.
It was lovely to watch.
“Okay, Mr Cheese has brought us a circle of nine sets of holes; each hole in its set is smaller than the other, with the graduation from larger to smaller going inwards – towards the centre of the circle.”
“Its a kind of cheesy perspective.” I added, not being particularly helpful.
“Quite literally, by the 3D look of it?”
“Yes,” I said. “There is meant to be the feeling of ‘descent’ in there.”
“From where we are now.”
She sipped some more coffee. “Oh I see, so we’re at the top of a cylinder thingy, and the world” She paused again. ” . . . The real world falls away beneath this upper layer, which we therefore assume has some falseness in it?”
She was stunning. “Exactly so!” I said, smiling broadly into my own coffee, so as to disguise it.
“Well let’s see . . .” She was getting her teeth into it, now. “There are nine ‘things’ and I know that there are nine ‘sins’, although you – stubbornly – haven’t mapped them all out for me yet!”
“Perhaps you haven’t deserved it yet?” I knew that level of challenge would fire her up. “Anyway, we needed the cheesy thingy to make sense of the whole.”
She sat back and looked at me, adversarially, over the rim of her cup.
“None of this is going to be easy, is it?”
“You don’t like easy – you don’t respect easy!” I said, with complete honesty.
Her face lit up. “It’s full of holes–” She finished her coffee with a giant swig. “You never waste things, so something else is full of holes–” She drank from an empty coffee mug. “–my knowledge?”
“Yes,” I said. It was time to be helpful in a more obvious way. “We’ve darted around the enneagram on bits of paper and I’ve done that to let you to find our own way into it. But now we need to be a bit more structured about this truth machine.”
“And now, you’ll tell me what the Nine is?”
“I’m sure you’ve already looked it up.” I said. “In fact, I’m sure your office has several books on the enneagram scattered across its leather chairs.”
“But?” she asked, now taking on as much false innocence as I had ever mustered in her presence.
“But that’s not the same as insight, is it?”
“No, dammit, and you know that!”
“So, when you come back to me with a real insight into what the Nine is, I’ll confirm it . . .”
“And until then?”
“Until then, you’re having the time of your life figuring it out!”
She was already standing, looking at her watch.
“Can we fill in the cheesy holes next week?”
“Some of them – here, you can make your own cheesy thingy!” I passed her the piece of paper I had been keeping on my knee. “It often helps to draw it; I think we can graduate from napkins, now.”
With a flash of a smile, she was gone; looking as happy as I’ve ever seen her…
Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee is usually published on Thursdays.