hotel, lights, neon

Part 4. A Proposal, a Refusal, and Harold Gives Some Advice

James and Magdalena as Alex and April, have left Falsetto’s and are now drinking at a secluded table in the lounge bar of The White Hart.  It is nine o’clock in the evening. 

James:         Now we can relax a little.  Now we can just take it easy with a pint of Guinness. No problems.

“A jug of wine, a loaf of bread – and thou

Beside me singing in the wilderness,

Oh, wilderness were paradise enow”

Magdalena: Well, well. A sip of Guinness and out pours the poetry! You are full of surprises!  No, I don’t think I’ll go for a jug of wine!  I’ll stick to gin and tonic. This is only my third tonight. But first I must go to the ladies.  Too much tonic, you know!

She leaves. Henry rushes in.

James:         So much for relaxation!

Henry:        It’s OK. Just your guardian angel checking in. Look, I’ve just seen Magdalena’s car outside.  She’s around here. I’m sure she is.

James:         Rubbish.  She would never be following me around.  I’m out of luck there, Henry.  She wouldn’t bother with me.  And if she did come in, it would be rather awkward as right now I’m with April, you see.

Magdalena: (She comes back as Magdalena and is carrying several books.) Ah, James and Henry! What a lovely surprise. You’re just having a drink together, are you?

Henry:        Er, yes. We come in here quite often … for a drink…together.

Magdalena: (Picking up the glass she left on the table and smells it.) And you like gin and tonic, do you Henry?  

Henry:        Gin and …?  Oh yes.  I drink it all the time.  Loads of it.

Magdalena:  Really!  How nice! Well, I can’t stay.  Have to dash off.  I have my drama class to go to. I love acting but I’m not very good at it.

(She gives James a book.)

Here, this is for you.  It’s that Spanish play I mentioned!  In translation. Read it!  And don’t take too long over it! I need it back soon.

(She looks at James, nods to Henry and leaves.)

Henry.  I’ll follow her. Something mysterious is going on here!  I’ve always rather fancied myself as a detective. I feel like Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe and Chief Inspector Maigret all rolled into one. Must go! The game’s afoot! Bye.

Henry rushes off in the wrong direction and then looks back at James, who points towards the door Magdalena has just gone out of.

James:         Now perhaps I can have a drink in peace. (Raises his glass to his lips.) 

Magdalena comes back as April.  She looks furious.

James:         (Seeing her expression as she approaches) Oh dear! There’s many a slip…

Magdalena: Who is that you were with?

James:         Er, that was my friend Henry!

Magdalena: No, that woman! The one with the books and all la di da!  The thin one!  The bean pole!

James:         Now, wait a minute, April. She is not all la di da!

Magdalena: But she is a bean pole.

James:         I did not say that.

Magdalena: But you kissed her.  I saw you.

James:         No, she kissed me, and there is a world of difference! (To himself) She kissed me?

Magdalena: You’ve ruined my evening!

James:         Look April. I bought this for you.  Here you are. (He gives her a box, which she opens. Inside is a necklace.)

Magdalena: Ah, lovely.  (She puts on the necklace.) It goes beautifully with my T-shirt. Well, the evening has suddenly taken a turn for the better! Here’s to us!

They drink, and drink, until both, having drunk far too much, leave the White Hart and, after crossing Queens Square, stop outside a hotel. James has had too much Guinness.

James:         (Singing)

I’m tired and I want to go home,

I’m tired and I want to go to bed.

I had a little drink about an hour ago

And it went straight to my head.

Magdalena: Well, if you’re tired and you want to go to bed, there’s a bed here.

James:         (Looking round)  There’s a what, where?

Magdalena:  This is a hotel, and we can get a room with a big comfortable bed.

James:         A what?

Magdalena: (Slowly and patiently.) This is a hotel.  In the hotel there are rooms.  And in each room there is a bed.

James:         Each room has a bed?

Magdalena:           Yes, each room has a bed, and we can have one room with one bed!         

James:         One bed.  (He looks at her) I cannot.  (Slurring each word) I have a headache. Not tonight, Josephine! A headache and …

Magdalena:     And…?

James:         (He sings)  

Everywhere I roam,

Over land or sea or foam,

You can always hear me singing this song,

So show me the way to go home.

And… there is someone else. (He slurs the ‘s’ in ‘someone’)

Magdalena:     (She too slurs the ‘s’) Someone else?  (Then she corrects herself) Someone else?   Not the bean pole!  Not the one with the books?  The la di da?

James:       She is not da di la. Da da li.  Anyway, there we are.  (With an effort at some dignity) Now we will make our way, we will make our ways, our separate ways, home.  Good night, Josephine!

Magdalena: (Shouting after him) April!

James:         Of course!  Good night, April!

(He goes, rather unsteadily.)

Magdalena: Well, well. Things are progressing. And at least I have a necklace!  And tomorrow morning I will also have a hangover!  Is it worth it I ask myself! Is it all worth it? It may be.

Magdalena at home, later that night.  She phones Ana.

Magdalena: Hi Ana.  I have had quite an evening.

Ana:  Do you know what time it is?  And we have to be at work in the morning!

Magdalena: Never mind the time!  Listen! I offered James a night in a hotel and he refused!  It’s infuriating! Did you hear me?

Ana:  Yes, I heard you.

Magdalena: Just think! Refused! Put down! Ignored! Cast aside!

Ana: All right, I got it the first time.

Magdalena: No puede ser!  No puede ser!

Ana:  Could you stick to English, please!

Magdalena: When I’m boiling over, then I go into Spanish!  It’s a very appropriate language for boiling over in!  And I’m boiling over right now!

Ana:  Anyway, two questions!  Who proposed the night in a hotel, April or Magdalena?

Magdalena: April, of course.  Magdalena wouldn’t have done that!

Ana:  Perhaps she should!

Magdalena: I’ll ignore that. And the second question?

Ana:  You wouldn’t have spent the night with him, would you?

Magdalena: Of course not!  That wouldn’t have been fair to me. I mean to Magdalena, to me! I wouldn’t supplant myself.  But I wanted to be the one to say no.  What an evening! He said he had a headache.  What an insult! Just think!  A man getting out of it saying he has a headache!  Ridiculous! Gender neutral language is OK up to a point but this is taking it much too far.  Then he said there was someone else.

Ana:  Perhaps he was being faithful to you. I mean your other you, to Magdalena.

Magdalena:  Shall I give him the benefit of the doubt?

Ana:  Yes, do!  Then we can both get some sleep!

Magdalena: She’s gone! Well, well.

(She sings happily)

I’m tired and I want to go home,

I’m tired and I want to go to bed.

I had a little drink about an hour ago

And it went straight to my head.

Two days later James goes to Magdalena’s house to return the book.  Her father answers the door.

Harold:   Ah, James.  Do come in!  I’ve just called to see Magdalena but she’s still not back so I’m just hanging around really.  

James:     Well, I’ve just come to return this book.  It’s Magdalena’s. 

Harold:   Ah good.  Enjoy it, did you?

James:     Hardly understood a word! 

Harold:   Really? In Spanish was it?

James:     No, no! This is the English translation! 

Harold:   Sometimes the translation is harder than the original, you know!  Years ago I took the decision never to read anything in translation!

James:     That was very brave!  So, if you read everything in the original, how many languages do you know?

Harold:   None at all!  Just English!  And I’m beginning to forget that!

James:     But you said you never read…

Harold:   That’s right I don’t!  I never read anything in translation and it’s saved me an awful lot of time over the years.  Pottering about in the garden and watching cricket are much more interesting.  You use up fewer calories watching cricket than being asleep!  Did you know that?  At least, you used to.  Now cricket has become so dramatic with Twenty20 and all that! Hitting sixes and fours every other ball, not at all the cricket I used to know!  But at least gardening still goes more or less at my pace, you know. (A thought strikes him) But even gardening has changed. There are so many hybrids and cultivars and whatnot today. I don’t understand a word of it! Oh dear. Everything goes at such speed. Everyone is in such a hurry! In my day…Well never mind about my day! The less said about my day, the better! (Looks at Magdalena’s book) Anyway, what’s it about?

James:     I really don’t know. I was totally lost. I could never understand who was who! There’s one woman pretending to be another woman and she completely fools the man she’s in love with.  And then this man loves one of these women but not the other but, of course, they are both the same woman!  And it all takes place in Madrid in 1600 and something! It’s not my sort of thing at all. I don’t know why she gave it to me!  Very confusing!  What’s more, it would never happen in real life! Never!

Harold:   Well, forget the book for the moment. It’s got nothing to do with what’s happening now. Look James, I don’t want to interfere but I have been thinking.

James:     Oh dear!

Harold:   About you and Magdalena, you know!  I think your trouble is lack of courage!

James:     Lack of courage?

Harold:   Yes, you have to believe in yourself!  You have to take the bull by the horns!   You have to grab the nettle!

James:     The bull!  The nettle!  That’s not very complimentary to Magdalena, but I think I’ve got the point! But it’s not that easy. She’s far too clever for me!  We have a normal chat, and by the time I think of something sensible to say, the moment is long past!  Apparently there’s a phrase for it in French!  It’s ‘L’esprit de l’escalier!’

Harold:   Ah, there you have me, I’m afraid.  If we start going into French!

James:     It means ‘Staircase wit!’

Harold:   None the wiser, James. Sorry but I’m none the wiser.

James:     Well, it means that you only think of the witty thing to say when you have left the party and you’re going down the staircase on your way out.

Harold:   So French parties are always held upstairs then?

James:     Well, I don’t know about that.  But that’s not the point.  What it’s saying is that anyone can say clever things later on.  What matters is saying them at the right moment, in the heat of the conversation.

Harold:   In the heat of the conversation!  Yes, that sounds very French.  But, with Magdalena if you can’t think of anything at the time, you could email her afterwards or… whatshisname… Whats App her later on.

James:     Oh that would be marvellous!  ‘Hi Magdalena, Here is what I really meant to say 40 minutes ago, when I was tongue tied, when I was looking down at the floor and when I said nothing.’  You can imagine her reaction to that!

Harold:   Yes, I can, actually! It is just how she looks at me sometimes. But James, being clever isn’t everything.  She is clever enough for both of you.  What matters is never giving up!  ‘Faint heart never won fair lady’, you know!

James:     I wish you wouldn’t come out with all these sayings.

Harold:   But they’re true, you see. They have stood the test of time!

James:     Yes, I know they’re true.  That’s why I wish you wouldn’t come out with them!

Harold:   When I was your age, I persisted.  I wouldn’t take no for an answer.  I kept on and on like water wearing down a stone.  I think that Magdalena’s mother accepted me out of tiredness.  She saw I wouldn’t go away and so she took the least line of resistance.  Best thing I ever did, though.

James:  Water wearing down a stone, eh?  Thank you, Harold.  I wish we’d had this chat earlier.  You’ve helped me a lot.

Harold:   (surprised) I have?  Well, that’s good.  Never give up!  ‘Nil desperandum’.  My old school motto, you know! ‘Nil desperandum.’ ‘Never despair!’  Well, good luck then!

James:     Goodbye Harold.  Water wearing down a stone!  That’s good.  That’s very good! (He raises his fist as if he has just served an ace on match point.)   Right!  On with the campaign!

(James goes out.)