It has been a couple of days since Rochester first spent the night at Miss Underscore's. It is the dark and dank no-man's land between Christmas and New Year. Madam Noir is at Miss Underscore's for supper. She is seated at a candlelit kitchen table with a glass of wine. Miss Underscore is ineptly wrangling a bubbling Le Creuset pan of pommes dauphinoise from the oven.
Miss U: Fucking hell. Le Creuset must be responsible for more middle class injuries than any other company. Their logo should really be a woman swathed in a pashmina sat reading The Guardian in a wheel chair. (Miss U prods the potatoes with a knife). A couple of more minutes I think. Christ. (She struggles to heave the dish back into the oven and sits back at kitchen table).
Madam N: I nearly had a middle class injury today.
Miss U: What was that?
Madam N: I was dusting the top of the wardrobe whilst balancing on stool. I got my feet caught in the bottom of my Mavis Riley velour leisure pants.
Miss U: (laughing) I think that may well be more of a middle aged injury really. Why on earth would you dust the TOP of your wardrobe? The time you skidded on the tiled bathroom floor after over-applying L'Occitane foot cream, that was certainly a Middle Class Injury.
Madam N: As was the time you got knocked whilst smelling an expensive scented candle in John Lewis and split your lip open.
Miss U: My Aunty Margaret would have no truck with these middle class injuries you know. She always claims to have been born in an unheated wash house in February, while her mam was mangling sheets. Apparently her mam found time to make a roast beef dinner (including yorkshire puddings), swill the yard AND complete a 500 piece jigsaw, all between contractions. That kind of plucky woman would not be defeated by a Le Creuset pan. Or choke on an olive stone. Or garrote herself with a pashmina.
Madam N: Are you going to tell me about Rochester then? How was your night together?
Miss U: It was lovely.
Madam N: Was he better in bed than his brother?
Miss U: (outraged) You cannot ask me that! No comment.
Madam N: He doesn't strike me as the romantic type though. Come on, you've got to tell me something.
Miss U: Well, his bedroom activities did dislodge several roof tiles, but that was mainly the seismic vibrations from his snoring. I was seduced with pool and Ukrainian gin in a seedy pub. Even the oft promised Frazzles never materialised. Then, in the morning, well afternoon really, he wolfed the last of the bacon, swaggered into his black overcoat and demanded I drop him off at the Stadium of Light for the Boxing Day match. He's a cocky bastard, but oddly charming with it.
Madam N: Look at that smile on your face! You are smitten, I can tell.
Miss U: Shhhh. I'll carve the ham. (gets up). He did tell me about his poetry blog. I've been reading it today. Very odd. His latest is about Roy Keane.
Madam N: Obviously jealous of your passion for Roy.
Miss U: Apparently so. I shall recite it to you. (puts down carving knife)
'Roy Keane's a mardy quitter
He's just like Gary Glitter,
He takes it up the shitter.'
Madam N: (flatly) Hmmm.
Miss U: It's one of his more upbeat, life-affirming poems. He arranges all his poetry arranged into categories on the blog. The categories being: death, cancer, death and cancer, depression, futility, suicide, vegetarianism and lesbians. There is an infuriating lack of poetic tributes about my charm and beauty though. I surely am supposed to be his muse. I'm supposed to be P J Harvey to his Nick Cave, Sylvia to his Ted, Judy to his Richard. BUT there is nowt, not ONE poetic tribute. I'm going to try and get those potatoes out now.
Miss Underscore heaves the bubbling pan of potatoes from the oven. Her phone beeps.
Madam N: (Looking at phone) Awww, text from Rochester. Shall I read it?
Miss U: Go on then, this twatting pan will be the death of me.
Noir reads the message, an expression of hurt confusion on her face. Miss U, oblivious, starts serving the supper. She brings the plates to the table.
Miss U: (brightly) Here you go. What did the message say? (silence) Oh God, it wasn't anything obscene was it? He can be filthy.
Madam N: It says 'Enjoy your supper with rug-munching, moss-mumbling Noir.'
Miss U: (mortified) Oh fucking hell.
Madam N: Does he think I'm gay? What's he getting at?
Miss U: Oh God, just ignore him. He's daft. He's obsessed with lesbians. It means nothing. He has even claimed his 103 year old granny is gay. (resolutely trying to change subject) Have I told you about his granny? She sounds terribly formidable. She ran her own abattoir until she was 87. What she doesn't know about black pudding is nobody's business.
There follows and awkward silence while the two ladies pick unhappily at their meals.
Madam N: You know, my dander is up. I'm going to reply to him. (Noir starts furiously tapping out a text message.)
Miss U: (Head in hands) Holy fuck.
Noir slams the phone on the table. They continue to eat in an icy silence.
Miss U: (nervously) What did your message say?
Madam N: I told him I had read his message and I demanded to know why he thinks I am gay.
Miss U: Listen, it's just that you're single, and you have been for. . . a while.
Madam N: . . . for years, you can say it.
Miss U: Well, yes. I've told him it's your choice. That you like to be independent. He just doesn't get it.
Madam N: No, he presumably thinks that what every woman wants is to swoon over some hairy oaf who's idea of a romantic night is to pick his feet in front of Match of the Day.
A longer, even more excruciating silence follows. The phone beeps. Noir reads the message, her expression softening from volcanic fury to a wry smile. She reads the message.
Madam N: 'Dear Noir, hello flower. I have never met you, so I have no idea if you are a lesbian. Miss Underscore is always telling me that she believes you are in love with her. You know what Underscore is like. Sometimes it is easier just to humor her, isn't it? She can be exhausting work at times.'
Miss U: (smiling) Buffoon. Oh God, don't be upset about it. It's nonsense really.
Madam N: (decisively putting down cutlery) Actually, there is something I wanted to talk to you about.
Miss U: What's that?
Madam N: You know I've been having guitar lessons?
Miss U: Yes. You don't seem to be getting very far. Six months of lessons and you can't even strum Kumbaya.
Madam N: I know. My teacher's called Diane.
Miss U: I'd demand a refund from her.
Madam N: I suppose I should. (pause) Diane's gay.
Miss U: Is she?
Madam N: She's dead canny. I bought her a life-sized cardboard cut out of Pink from EBAY for Christmas.
Miss U: God, that's rather lezza. I wonder if Pink joins in her bedroom activities, or is she just a passive observer from the bedside.
Madam N: Hmmmm.
Miss U: Is Diane very, you know, lesbian?
Madam N: What do you mean?
Miss U: Well, on the lezza spectrum, from, you know, 'porn star lipstick lesbian in negligee' to 'darts player crossed with a bull mastiff lesbian', where does she fit?
Madam N: She's very pretty actually. She's a good friend.
Miss U: What does she do, apart from teach the guitar really badly?
Madam N: She works in a valve factory. (pause) We're seeing each other.
Miss U: Seeing each other . . . what . . . you mean. . . you're . .
Madam N: (taking a deep breath) Yes. We're together. You're the first person I've told. I'm really happy.
Miss U: (incredulously) What?
Madam N: Yes, it's true.
Miss U: (Screaming) HOLY FUCK YOU"RE VENETIAN! I can't believe you didn't tell me! How long has this been going on?
Madam N: It's been a few months now. I'm sorry. It just all happened so suddenly.
Miss U: OH MY GOD - YOU HAVE SEX WITH A WOMAN!
Madam N: Yes.
Miss U: And how is it?
Madam N: Well . . .to be honest, it did take some getting used to.
Miss U: (nodding knowledgeably) I can imagine. It must be like learning a new skill. Like . . . . carpentry or motor vehicle maintenance.
Madam N: But now it's wonderful. And I am in love.
Miss U: (genuinely moved) Aww, how lovely. How did it start?
Madam N: We had a walk by the sea in Hartlepool one afernoon. I actually made the first move.
Miss U: WHAT! I assumed she'd seduced you.
Madam N: No, we walked along the coast, she was eating a battered sausage from the chip van.
Miss U: A battered sausage? What did you have? Sorry, that's not important, I am too easily distracted by the thought of fried food. Carry on.
Madam N: I was too nervous to eat. We got back to the car and I could sense something in the air.
Miss U: Was it the sausage?
Madam N: NO. I just grabbed her and said 'Right, let's get this over with.' And then we kissed.
Miss U: Hmmm, it all sounds more Barbara Windsor than Barbara Cartland.
Madam N: It was romantic to me.
Miss U: Awww, I bet. I can't believe it has been going on all this time and you never let on. Have you learnt ANYTHING on the guitar.
Madam N: (smugly) NO. Not one fucking chord. I was going to tell you tonight anyway. It felt like the right time. I can't believe bozo Rochester had figured it out.
Miss U: He is the Magnus Magnusson of lesbians. He is going to be unbearably smug after this. I can't believe you're having earth moving sex with a woman. A woman of the FEMALE gender.
Madam N: It is so much better that with a man. The earth moves, as they say. With men of the male gender I find you're lucky if even the headboard moves.
Later that night, Miss Underscore is loading plates into the dishwasher. Her phone rings.
Miss U: Oh my God Rochester, SOUND THE LESBIAN KLAXON, Noir is OUT. . . . Yes! . .Yes! . . Yes! I'm in shock Rochester. . . Her guitar teacher. (pause). What do you mean 'what rhymes with Noir?' (petulantly) YOU CAN NOT WRITE A POEM ABOUT NOIR WHEN YOU HAVEN'T EVEN WRITTEN A POEM ABOUT ME YET! THAT IS JUST NOT CUNTING FAIR!