Eel

eel

…I can’t believe that stupid bitch is wearing the same colour nail varnish! Kitty stopped herself. The ‘I can’t belie…’ coming out of her mouth was rewound and played back as ‘I can’t believe you made it on time! I mean you’re usually late.’ Kitty bit her bottom lip. It popped itself back out.
Lena swept her hair into a mane that flounced across the back of her head, over her shoulder and down her chest. It was all so Jerry Hall… she took off her pink cashmere jacket and placed it over the back of the seat Kitty had pulled out. Lena sat down, taking off her high heels and wriggling free her toes with matching nail varnish.
‘You like my nails, Kitty?’
If she was trying to annoy Kitty on purpose, she certainly didn’t show it. The way she said it made it sound like an honest question.
‘It’s the same colour as mine, Lena.’ Kitty’s lips went as flat as a pancake.
‘Oh really?’ Lena giggled and took Kitty’s hand and placed it down on the café coffee table. Kitty’s knuckles resembled the knots in the varnished wood underneath. Lena put her hand over Kitty’s.
‘Yes, now you mention it, I can see a likeness.’
Kitty pulled her hand from under Lena’s, their friendship rings clashing.
‘Kitty, what’s up?’
Any and everything that Kitty did, Lena just had to copy it. And do it better. ‘Oh nothing,’ Kitty said. She picked up her glass with melting ice from her café con yellow, and shook it around. ‘Why do you ask, Lena?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said, sticking her chin out and looking up at the ceiling. ‘You just seem a bit tense, that’s all.’
‘I guess it’s because people talk. Yes, I suppose it’s just that.’
Lena rotated her head to the side and looked down. ‘OK, I see, what have people been saying this time?’ Her digital watch read 2.34pm.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ replied Kitty, turning to stare out the window. The view could have been anywhere. Passing cars are the same no matter where you are. Umbrellas are the same shape the world over too – apart from in Japan. Kitty recalled her time in Tokyo. She was in a café, not dissimilar, and out the window were stylish ladies walking in the rain. They had umbrellas, but they were more like contraptions with shower curtains hanging off them, or mini gazebos. Each woman had her own sidewalk cubicle, floating along, weaving squarely, slotting in and out of fellow female cubicles. You could see them way off into the distance. They looked like a tetris game. Apart from that, this could be anywhere, Kitty thought – though it was probably only here in L.A where it was acceptable for your best friend to steal your boyfriend.
‘Go on Kitty, honey, tell me what’s going on in that sweet noggin of yours.’
Kitty’s glance turned back to the table.
‘People have been talking about you and Clyde, you know, my boyfriend?’
‘Oh honey I’m sorry. If you want, I’ll stop seeing him straight away…’
‘No. I guess it’s alright. I mean, we were only dating for a year. He did propose to me… but it’s not as if we were married or anything.’
‘Oh Kitty, you’re mad at me.’
‘Well…’
Lena stopped the passing waiter in his tracks by holding onto his empty tray. ‘I’ll have whatever she’s having. What is it she’s having?’
‘A café con yellow.’
‘That’ll do fine, lots of ice cubes, please.’ She panned back to Kitty. ‘So where were we? Me and Clyde.’
‘It’s OK Lena, I think I’ve found another boyfriend already.’
‘Already? Girl you move quick!’ Her eyes almost popped out of their sockets. ‘Well, aren’t you gonna tell me about him?’
‘It’s only a sort-of boyfriend.’
What it came down to was that Lena was just that fraction more beautiful, plus the fact that she had more fizz than a soda-stream. Men just found her more attractive.
The conversation paused. There was nothing worse for Lena than a silence, and she’d developed the antidote to bring any dead conversation back to life. She could keep any party going for as long as she wanted, until she had won over Kitty’s man, or had fallen face-flat on the floor from her heady mixes of dope and alcohol. Kitty would do all the fieldwork and the go-getting, and all Lena needed was a formal introduction and took it from there. Kitty had lost count the times she had fallen in love and Lena stepped in and stole it for herself. Ultimately, Lena would offer the man her candyfloss and a good ride on her Ferris wheel, then suddenly close down the fairground. Why Kitty was still friends with Lena not even she could answer. Maybe it was that the guys came and went, but only they had the same matching friendship rings.
‘Lena, I don’t know quite how to tell you this, but I don’t want to be your friend anymore.’
The waiter brought the tray, giving motion to the tension as he placed the café con yellow down on the table between them with a clonk. Kitty’s glass was empty melted ice. Lena’s was full.
‘What in the world are you talking about, girl! Are you feeling OK? Hello? Did you drink too much coffee or something?’
‘Alright Lena. This is the last time. If you steal my next boyfriend, we’re through! You can have Clyde. Just treat him well ‘cause he’s a nice guy. You don’t deserve a nice guy.’
‘Thanks for the advice but I dumped him already. He was just so needy.’
‘He’s not needy, he’s nice!’
‘Nice is needy, honey. Besides, he turned the bottoms of his jeans up on the inside.’
‘And?’
‘And? Trust me, a guy who turns up his jeans on the inside… well it speaks volumes.’
Kitty could only sigh.
‘How about we order one of those zero-fat banana pancakes? To share.’
Kitty nodded.
‘And tell me about this new guy? What’s his name.’ She might as well take the fork from the table and prise it out of her.
‘Randy.’
‘Randy? How sweet. And how did you meet?’
‘We haven’t met, I mean, in real life. We’re just at the chatting on the internet stage.’
‘Tell me more!’
‘Well, it turns out that his favourite food is deep fried eel. That’s mine, too. Can you believe that? Out of all the strange things to eat, we like the same thing!’
Lena forced a ‘wow!’ and tugged on the waiter’s apron. ‘A banana pancake, zero-fat thank you,’ she said, turning back to Kitty, ‘So tell me more about him.’
‘He’s intelligent, he knows so much about everything, and he’s got a great taste in music. And he is a master in Kung-Fu.’
‘Wow! He must have a fantastic body.’
Kitty stared at Lena with eyes of fire.
‘Don’t look at me like that! And don’t worry – I hate all that virtual love shit.’
‘Just as well.’
‘Pancake ladies,’ announced the waiter. How was he so quick?
‘I’ll have a side order of blueberries,’ ordered Kitty.
‘Me too,’ said Lena.

They finished their pancakes.Kitty didn’t want to leave on bad terms. She kissed Lena on the cheek, forgave her and went back to the day job she kept telling herself she would one day leave. Lena followed her steps ,her eyes squinting, until Kitty had gone out of sight. She checked around to make sure Kitty hadn’t forgotten anything and counted slowly to ten.
‘Right!’ she said, rubbing her hands together, reaching for her briefcase. She was a record label executive (in daddy’s company), keeping herself as busy as possible without really doing much. She took out her notebook to check her schedule for the rest of the day. Just a contract renewal to deal with. More importantly, she fired up the internet. She keyed the following words into the search box – “deep fried eel” singles, L.A, love, Randy, settling down into her spongy seat as she scrolled through.
Kitty couldn’t concentrate at her work. She kept thinking about Randy, counting down the time she would get home and turn on her computer. She would tell him about her day and more about what she looked like. Auburn hair and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffanies came to mind, but she wanted to show more modesty. I’ll tell him I chew the end of my pencil, she decided as she drew squiggles in her notepad, waiting for the next client to call. I’ll tell him about the lousy job I’m doing and how I really want to be a fashion designer.
Lena was a master at gist. She could read whole pages in seconds, simply paying attention to key words that grabbed her gaze. In the time it took to eat her melon sorbet and lick the bowl with clinks of her pierced tongue, she had Randy’s profile up on the computer. There was no photo, which irritated her. She would demand one before they took it any further. For a split second she wondered if Kitty had his picture and kicked herself for not asking, although she couldn’t help admit the intrigue he was putting her through by not having a picture for her approval. It was unbearable and she just had to know more. She would tell him about her job as record label executive and invite him to come and meet some of his favourite musicians. She made a wish that he was good looking and had a job as she pressed ‘send’ with her contact details.

*****

RANDY: So nice to see you again

KITTY: I missed you. You didn’t turn up.

RANDY: I did, but… I was a bit late. Did you wait?

KITTY: Yes

RANDY: I didn’t see anyone, so I left

KITTY: Dang! Can I be honest with you?

RANDY: Sure

KITTY: I was a bit upset

RANDY: Me too. Listen, I was thinking about cooking up an eel. Would you like to come over, say Friday?

KITTY: Randy I’d love to

RANDY: My condo overlooks Santa Monica. Bring a cardigan, it might get cold at night on the roof garden.

KITTY: Would you like me to bring anything else?

RANDY: Just bring your good self!

KITTY: lol, I will. Randy?

RANDY: Yes?

KITTY: I can’t help feeling that I’m connected to you. I mean I know we haven’t met, and that’s what makes it all so strange

RANDY: I know, I feel it too

KITTY: You do?

RANDY: I guess when you come round on Friday that’s when we’ll find out if what we feel is real…

*****

RANDY: You hang out with Amy Winehouse?

LENA: Yes, from time to time. And Beyoncé. And you?

RANDY: I only know her from her music. I don’t hang out with anyone famous, but I have a few artist friends and actor wannabes, which I guess is not that unusual in LA

LENA: You’re so sweet, Randy. I can’t help feel an attraction to you – and I haven’t even seen you!

RANDY: I don’t like to put my pic on the net

LENA: I bet you meet loads of women on the net

RANDY: Not really

LENA: I’d love to meet you.

RANDY: Me too, but I’m kinda busy at the moment

LENA: What, you mean you’ve got another woman down the hall and you seem to want me anyway?

RANDY: I’m sorry I can’t talk right now. Was that a Joni Mitchell line?

LENA: Why can’t you talk? Too busy talking to Kitty? Forget her, honey

LENA: Randy?

LENA: Are you there?

Randy has left the chatroom.

Friday night came with the slow inevitability of the next orbit of Haley’s comet. Kitty tied her hair up with chopsticks. She had it all planned in her head – the deep fried eel. They would sit down for dinner and she would pluck them out from her hair and start eating. That’s when he’d laugh and sees both the funny and sexy sides to her in a double whammy. She took a taxi to his condo in Santa Monica and buzzed. The door clicked open and she called the elevator. She entered and pressed for the ninth floor. It gave her time to check her lipstick. The ninth floor was low-lit with non-descript paintings on the wall and yakka plants pointing the way to the sunset with their spikes. The door for apartment 9C was already ajar, and Kitty stepped across the threshold.
‘What the hell are you doing here?’
‘Hi honey, I thought he’d cancelled you,’ replied Lena on the sofa, flicking through Randy’s seventies soul vinyl collection. Kitty dropped her handbag.
‘I have a date with Randy and you have a date with my fists if you’re not careful.’
‘Huah huah, where d’ya get that line from? The internet?’
‘Lena you are such a mean cow!’
‘Listen honey, as always, the guys prefer me in the end.’
‘I know why you’re doing this. You are just insecure.’
‘Is that what your shrink tells ya.’ She slid the sleeve out of the record cover in her hands. It was Teddy Pendergrass.
Kitty didn’t know what to do, but her long leg did, as it shot up and her pointed foot kicked the record out of Lena’s hands.
‘You’re in big trouble now,’ said Lena. Kitty kicked again. A flick of the ankle that slapped her toes across Lena’s nose. ‘Right bitch,’ said Lena as she stood up and pulled Kitty by her leg onto the wide cream cotton sofa. ‘You’ll pay for that!’
‘No Lena, you’re gonna pay for all the boyfriends you’ve stolen and all the times you’ve copied me.’ Kitty closed her eyes and waved her arms towards Lena’s face. Lena managed to grab onto a flapping wrist and hold it tight.
‘Right, this is it!’ Lena huffed as she twisted Kitty’s hand, causing her arm to bend, and under excruciating pain, Kitty had to succumb and twist her body around so that she was horizontal and face-down on the sofa, while Lena positioned herself on top of her.
‘Calm down Lena and we can do this the nice way.’
‘Who you calling Lena? You’re Lena and I’m Kitty.’
‘Now now Lena, I’m Kitty. I’m the one with the date.’
‘You’re such a…such a…’ Kitty had no words. She simply sobbed her mascara into the cream cushions.
‘Now, this is what happens. I pretend to be you, Kitty, and have my date with Randy. Meanwhile you get the hell out of here and we’ll talk it over in the morning. Got it?’
‘No!’ cried the real Kitty as she flipped herself around, gripping onto Lena’s boobs and yanked them, span her around and pinned her down on the sofa.
‘Kitty!’ Lena laughed. ‘I didn’t know you had it in you.’ Kitty was straddling Lena on the sofa and full of rage. She took the chopsticks out of her hair and pointed them at Lena’s throat.
‘Come on Kitty, you wouldn’t do that!’
Kitty pressed the chopsticks further into Lena’s neck and wasn’t deterred when she started to choke. She was going to put Lena on a skewer, she was going to stab into her best friend’s windpipe, and at that second of her life, she didn’t care.
‘P–sss…. he–p…. m–ee,’ Lena begged as Kitty saw that this time she was for real. Lena’s pupils were dilating and foam was starting to build up and bubble out of her mouth. Kitty held the chopsticks firmly at the jugular. Just a small push and they would surely poke their way through Lena’s noodle veins. Lena’s head was swelling up and in the silent struggle they both heard a noise coming from another room.
Kitty released the chopsticks.
‘Do you hear that, Kitty?’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘What is it?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Can you smell fish?’
‘Yes.’
They both got up off the sofa and followed the sound – click and bleeps and sizzles.
‘It’s coming from in there.’
In there was the kitchen. Kitty went first, opening the door a little to fit through the gap, stepping into a large kitchen with frescos on the walls and ceiling lighting that was too bright.
‘Look Kitty! There’s something deep frying on the stove.’
Kitty walked over to where Lena was standing, and there, in a yellowy pool of oil, an eel was frying away.
‘Randy? Where are you? Lena, have you seen Randy.’
‘Yes. I mean, no. I haven’t seen him. Have no idea how he looks. And you?’
‘No.’
‘Jesus girl, anyone with a bit of sense would know that you have to see the photo first.’
‘I just thought things could be different.’
‘Well Kitty, you don’t think enough. That’s always been your problem. Anyway, Randy? RANDY?!’
‘Where is he?’
‘Do you think the eel is cooked yet?’
‘RANDY?!’
‘RANDY?!’
The eel was crisping nicely at just the correct temperature.
‘I’m over here,’ came a voice.
‘Over where?’ said Kitty.
‘Here?’
‘Well I don’t see anyone,’ said Lena.
‘I’m here, on the breakfast table.’
‘Randy?’ Kitty was perplexed. I can’t see you my dear.
‘I’m in here.’
‘Where?’
‘Inside the computer.’

Rob Plews

Illustration by Marie-Pascale Hardy.www.mphardy.com

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