‘Niecey’, he cried, hailing me with a silk umbrella. ‘Marvellous news! I’m getting married!’
Shocked, I hustled him into the café formerly known as Artisan, which is now three numbers (192? 197? 172? No, the 172 was a bus I used to get to school). Over a stiff glass of cloudy lemonade, I pointed out that he runs a dating agency for restless married people and is the embodiment of romantic cynicism. When this didn’t budge him, I recalled his own words, spoken after the dust had settled on the fourth of his exciting-but-better-duck-for-cover marriages.
‘You told me’, I said, ‘That if you ever teetered towards another nuptial bond, I should lock you in a wardrobe until the madness had passed.’ I threateningly waved a wardrobe key that I always carry.
‘Ah, the foolish fighting talk of my younger self’, Uncle A smiled, dropping the key into my lemonade, and ignoring the fact that he had been fifty-eight at the time. ‘It will be different with Emmanuelle.’
I was amazed Emmanuelle had said yes, given the unveiled contempt with which she mostly regards my uncle. He admitted he hadn’t yet asked her.
‘When we visited you last year’, he mused, and a flashback of the fracas outside the Charcoal Grill made me shiver, ‘Emmanuelle saw an item of jewellery she quite liked.’ This constitutes gushing praise from the austere French lady. ‘If I buy an engagement ring from the self-same shop, it will swing the deal.’
He drained his glass and stood. ‘Lead on, Niecey! This needn’t take long. I’ve a table booked at La Gavroche tonight. Bottle of Pétrus and bended knee. Done and dusted.’
I quailed at the size of our task.
‘Nonsense, Niecey – it’s a small town. How many jewellery emporia can there be?’
When I told him I had easily thought of nine, his face went the colour of his suit. We made a start, and Uncle A sifted through sapphires, and discarded diamonds. But when, after three hours, I discovered a new jewellery shop had pupped, where Laceys drycleaners once stood, Uncle A admitted defeat. He rang Emmanuelle for clues. As he spoke – his end of the conversation mere repetition of the word, ‘yes’ – he wilted and aged before my eyes. There’s no accounting for love in the Springtime.
‘She only remembers that its name had a z in it’, he said, straightening slowly. ‘And she said – but this can’t be right – that it sold leg-warmers. She must be going loopy, poor old girl.’
Watching Uncle Adultery negotiating with Tizz’s multiply-pierced and dread-locked sales assistant was a uniquely uplifting experience. He chose an amber ring that cost several noughts fewer than his budget.
‘Two bottles of Pétrus tonight’, he cried, jumping aboard a hansom cab and waving his handkerchief. ‘I’ll call you with the wonderful news tomorrow.’
That was last week. I’m still waiting to hear.
Beth Miller, 11th May 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com and in Viva Lewes magazine, June 2010.