"I don't blame you for wondering why," I said to Clive. I had to say something as the poor man was looking rather uncomfortable. Perhaps it was first-date nerves.
Or perhaps it was the way I was dressed.
We were already in Pizza Express by then, and I lifted up the veil and took off my hat. Black has always suited me you know.
The uncomfortable silence had lasted the whole time we walked down the High Road. But then it was difficult to make eye-contact as the veil was a bit thicker than I'd anticipated. And much later, when I asked him about Marlene Deitrich, it turned out he hadn't even heard of her. Clive it transpired, knows nothing about films. Somehow I'd got it into my head that Clive liked a femme fatale. Goodness knows I'm hopeless at flirting, but I thought I'd make something of an effort. Little black suit. Excruciating but gorgeous shoes and this filmstar hat with a veil. Oh and lots of rather scarlet lipstick.
I plunged right in and said that I had discussed him with Alison in Accounts at work. He seemed to liven up then. But not necessarily in a good way. I told him how in Alison's assessment -- that was her exact word -- he had the look of a person who'd agree to go out with almost anyone.
I told him that she had meant it as a compliment.
"Anyway" I said, "seeing as I am more than just an anyone I thought... Well I thought I might initiate something...."
"Alison said..." He said dully. He seemed to be missing the point and lagging behind somewhat.
The waitress appeared and after he ordered his American Hot pizza Clive appeared to notice something on his trainers, as he kept staring down at them. Yes he was wearing trainers. And I must admit the shell suit came as something of a surprise too. Not what you'd expect from seeing him around the building in that natty charcoal suit he wears.
So I soldiered on.
"I know," I said, "there are plenty of other things someone like you could be doing on a night like this. Like tending to your collection of carnivorous plants."
Clive brightened up a bit then. You see, it had paid to do my research. Apparently the carnivorous plants -- or "CPs" as they're known -- take a lot of looking after. It involves purified water, and long drives to Wales to visit a specialised nursery.
We ate some garlic bread, and I got my nerve up.
"I asked you here," I said, "because I've got something I want to say. You know I retire next week, and I know you're retiring in November and... Well the thing is," I said, "I've asked you out so I could flirt with you." I felt very brave as I said it. "I want some flirtation in my life," I said again as he didn't appear to have understood the first time.
The other day I read in my daughter's magazine that the key to successful flirting is listening. Asking open questions... That sort of thing. The problem was that Clive wasn't speaking at all. I'd been practising nodding vigorously and encouragingly for those moments when conversation with Clive might lapse. But the vigorous nodding begins to look like you've got a weak muscle in your neck if you persist in doing it in complete silence.
I had to do something.
"I never really noticed," I said, "the boyish way your hair falls over your forehead."
Yes I did. I did say that. It was marvellous. The fascination with his trainers wore off and he looked me in the eyes for the first time. I also chose this moment to remove a fairly large piece of garlic bread that had stuck to the front of his shell suit. Grooming they call it among chimpanzees and other primates, but according to my daughter's magazine itworks for people too.
"Some carnivorous plants are very attractive," he suddenly blurted out. "Unusual colours. Strange shapes. Beads of seductive stickiness to entice the insects. Sometimes it makes you think about the flies." His voice fell. "Such a strange way to go. Makes you think..."
It was a start, I suppose. I nodded encouragingly.
"I have always thought," he said, putting his fork down but keeping the knife, "that women are like carnivorous plants on legs."
"Have you collected any women?" I said archly. There was undeniably something going on. Something flirtatious. Yes flirtatious. I crossed my legs. Which are still quite serviceable I'm happy to say.
"Very few... I may have green fingers, but I don't have... I don't have pink ones."
"Oh Clive," I said. I took his hand and felt the nice sausagey ends of them. "Let me be your venus fly trap."
He rustled in his shell suit. The veiled black hat I had worn dropped off the back of my chair, and the pretty dark waitress stood on it. But I no longer cared.
"I have always wanted to bathe in your digestive juices, Betty," he said.
He moved his chair towards me and buried his head in my neck.
"Until I dissolve."
(c) Peter Kenny 2001