Alexandra joined me at exactly half past eight, smiling. She took a thin and exotic-looking notes folder, bound in black leather, from her large travel bag. From the folder, which she opened and laid out on our coffee table, she took a shiny, black and gold Mont Blanc pen.
“Nice . . .” I said.
“Morning!” she responded.
“Still nice . . .”
“It’s kind of expected in the echelons of the legal profession,” she said, leaning forward to emphasise the point. “To operate with a good-looking set of tools.”
“That’s it?” I asked.
“That’s all you have to say about having the best pen I can think of, and an exotic leather folder to match?”
She sat back, stretching out her arm to take her coffee from beyond the black leather object in question, never taking her eyes from my grim face.
“Did we have a bad weekend?” she asked, quite reasonably.
“I can’t speak for ‘we’ but my wife and I had a lovely weekend.” I responded, flatly. “Did ‘we’ have a good weekend?”
She refused to rise to the bait. “Derek and I had a great time, largely prompted by my being in a wonderful mood that continued all week from the last time we did this!” She folded her crossed legs, sideways, and retreated. “Well, not quite this . . .”
“Derek?” I said. “Did I know about Derek? Some young and clever sod from another law firm, I take it?”
There was anger, now. “Well, now you come to mention it – double first from Oxford, rich parents, but despite all that . . . a lovely man.”
“You forgot young . . .” I said.
Ice. “And young . . . about half your age, if you must know.”
I let the silence build to an intolerable level, watching as she pretended to lose herself in drinking coffee, writing the time, date and what was probably the word ‘bastard’ in shorthand on the top of the blank page.
“I never could master shorthand.” I said.
“Would you like me to return some of the time you’re spending on me with some lessons?” she said, looking for a way back. “I could teach you one of the easier forms of speedwriting if you’d like something simpler.”
“I’d just mess it up,” I said. “But it’s lovely to watch you doing it so well.” I held her eyes as I said it, letting the slightest flicker of a smile play around the edges of my mouth. “Would you write something else for me so that I can see the grace of the movements, again?”
She was wary. “If you like; what?”
“Write: ‘this is how’,” I watched the words emerge from the fluidity of her actions. “‘The Type Four moves from admiration, to the melancholic consideration of what he knows he will never be able to achieve, despite it being the ideal for him . . . to the generation of hatred at the object of his jealousy in a contest that he knows is lost from the start’.” Half way through, she got it, and began to swear, sub-vocally; but, disciplined soul that she was, she carried on, until every word lay on the page, written in time, space and consciousness.
At the end, we both said nothing. There was a tear in her left eye.
“Didn’t think you’d be able to do that, again”, she said.
“What?” I had an idea what she meant, but wanted her to say it.
“Catch me off-guard like that – generate so much bloody emotion on a coffee table!”
“I didn’t, not really.”
“I don’t plan these. I just turn up and open us to what is present . . . in the hope that what happens will convey some of the vivid sense of it all.”
“Open us to the–” she looked around, at the pen, the folder, the expensive pad . . . and the coffee cup, now nearly empty. “– to these things?”
“No,” I said, gently. “To the arranger . . .”
“Yes,” I said. “The arranger of these things in our experience and in a way that lets something flow though them.”
She shook her head, letting the last of her anger dissipate. “Type Fours?” she said.
“Need a lot of help, especially from Type Threes, who can understand them really well, though find them incredibly frustrating – and Type Ones, on whom they dote.”
She took the cue, “The Type Two, Three and Four all sharing the same corner of the enneagram?”
Right on the nose. “Yes,” I said. Each of them concerned with the image of themselves in the world. The Four being full of pride and ego-inflation; the Three being the master of the get-it-done self-centric; and the Four being the ‘green with envy ‘I’ll never be good enough’ epitome of doom.”
I drained the last of my coffee and stood to go. “Coming?” I said, looking at my watch.
“When I’ve written this up,” she said, curtly. Repaying me, handsomely. “You go . . .”
I turned to leave. She caught me with the words, just before I reached the door, “Buy you one for your birthday?”
“A Mont Blanc?” I asked, turning back and smiling at her.
“Yes,” she softened. “If you really want one – if you promise you’ll use it?”
“Two,” I said, holding up fingers and catching a final surge of the moment, almost a sigh on the wind, like the slow motion image of a tennis ball hitting the sweet spot on a racket for that winning point.
“You don’t need two,” she said. “That’s greedy.”
“Not for me – the second one.”
“Then who?” she asked, puzzled.
“For Derek, of course . . . from you, but with my apologies for abusing his persona.”
She was laughing, the tension sliding from her with the relaxed movements of her shoulders. “It’s his birthday next week – you couldn’t possibly have known that.”
“I didn’t . . . that wasn’t the important thing.”
As the glass door swung shut, I could still see her at the table, chuckling; fingers clutching black and gold; and flashing with speed as she wrote. At the limit of my vision, they waved.