Mr. Verdome was one of those annoying characters who seemed to be good at almost everything. With an emphasis on almost, as he was not very good-natured, a characteristic which would have saved him on many an occasion, had he possessed it. He did have a talent for all kinds of useless things though: solving equations, painting, writing, poetry, and best of all, if he saw, lets say, a snail on the sidewalk, he was especially skilled at stepping on it with all his weight, and rubbing it flat down on the concrete floor.
His bad character had always proven to be a handicap, but especially throughout his old age, considering he was sixty-five and a bachelor. His hair had greyed, and his face appeared hollow under the cheekbones, as if he was sucking them in. The skin under his chin sagged to a worrisome degree, and considering his pockets did not sag to any extent, he had to do with his looks and personality alone. And since he hadn’t got either, he tended to walk around with the air of an unwanted stepchild. A quirk entirely unappealing to women.
Mr. Verdome had been alone for most of his long life. Since the day of his eighteenth birthday, when his parents gave not him, but themselves a present by kicking him out. And honestly, he had done, and would have continued doing, just fine on his own if it was not for a sudden desire for offspring. At the age of sixty-five, he was experiencing the same urges as a women during ovulation. Every time he saw a small child, around the age of one, he had to steady his breathe and look the other way out of fear he would leap up and grab it and hug it tight. Or worst still, change its diaper with a steady ease not even a mother possessed.
But he was a logical man too. A baby would never come, he knew, if he hadn’t a wife. He needed a wife, and he needed one fast. Preferably younger than he, wealthier, and better looking. Perhaps a brunette with a big set of eyes and a big set of... never mind.
Logically, he also knew (though he was unwilling to compare himself to the likes of a tramp) beggars could not be choosers, and at his rate, he would settle for just about anyone. As long as she was, in fact, a she, and resembled a she in every shape and form. He was, after all, one of those annoying types who felt the constant need to show his masculinity despite his tiny fingers and little feet. Or, perhaps, it was because of his overall feminine appearance that he acted as such.
It took Mr. Verdome several days to device a plan of action. Considering he had no experience to draw from, and no friends to ask. He had to do with his common sense alone, and since he had a lot of common sense, or so he claimed, he did what he thought to be the most common of all senses, which was to approach the very first lady he thought suitable and ask her out to dinner. The price of a meal was, after all, a small price to pay for a baby. His very own baby. A miniature version of himself.
So, Mr. Verdome planted his rather large behind on a bench in one of the parks near his house one afternoon, and waited. The weather was bleak. It would certainly rain. In short, nothing Mr. Verdome was unprepared for. He always carried an umbrella, even when the sky was cloudless. Actually, especially when the sky was cloudless. He mistrusted little more than a clear day. Especially a clear day in Amsterdam.
For several hours he waited, to the point wherein he lost all sensation in his left bum-cheek. After all, none of the women he had spotted thus far had tickled his fancy, not enough for him to lift himself up from his sitting position anyway. At around six-o’clock the grumbling and cursing started, something he was especially good at. Then, just as he was about to give it up, at six-thirty-five the unimaginable happened: as the rain cascaded from the sky, he sighted a woman of approximately forty-five, perhaps fifty years, running from one tree to the next, in an attempt to keep her hair dry.
“Madam!” Mr. Verdome shouted.
“What do you want?” she answered.
“I’m...” Mr. Verdome started, but broke off. What a rude lady. No “what do you want sir” or “how may I help you?” Calm down, man, he instructed himself. Think of the baby.
“I was wondering whether you'd join me for dinner?”
“Absolutely not!” she screeched.
Mr. Verdome flung his tiny arms up and was about to say something horrible to the poor lady were it not for a slight twitch he noticed in her left eye and a quick smile that played on her prune mouth.
“Please?” He asked, with a strange accent. The word left a bitter taste in his mouth. He solemnly swore never to use it again.
“Which restaurant?” she asked.
“Uhm,” Mr. Verdome stuttered as he struggled to remain polite. He could think of about ninety reasons why he disliked her. She had an incredibly large nose for starters. Almost as pronounced as her thighs which were now pressed tightly against her wet corduroy pants. She also smelled funny, though that may have been his dampened mustache.
“Le Place Colonial?”
He ate there once, alone, after he won a fair amount at the casino near Leidseplein. He was, after all, good at almost everything, and gambling was one of those things. Unfortunately, he was equally good, if not better, at spending.
The lady, who had warmed up ever so slightly under his presence, despite the rain, looked upon him with a newfound tenderness. She, like everyone else in Amsterdam, knew Le Place Colonial all too well, and especially its superb reputation and excellent French dishes.
“And why would you want to do that?”
Mr. Verdome eyed the lady. Excellent question, he thought. She was anything but a stunner. In fact, she was almost ugly. She resemble, to an extraordinary degree, a pumpkin. With the stem being her miniature head. But her voluptuous stomach was good for baring children, there was no doubt about that, and if he did not answer quickly, she was sure to walk on.
“Because,” Mr. Verdome said, raking his brain for something sensible to say, “because you are the most beautiful lady I have seen in all my life.”
A grand exaggeration, no doubt, but she believed him immediatly. She was one of those women who felt greatly underrated, and was now, for the first time, seen for who she truly was: a goddess. Surely he hadn’t phrased it with those precise words, but that was how she heard it.
She smiled, a very wide smile, much to Mr. Verdome’s horror.
The restaurant was empty when they arrived, but the waiter still made them sit at the bar while they checked their availability.
“This is how they get you to buying a drink. The French are sly as foxes, you can quote me on that,” Mr. Verdome told the lady.
She eyed him in much the same way a pumpkin-looking lady would. Not very intelligently.
“Two glasses of vintage G&M Mortlach, no ice,” she told the barman, with an air of expertise.
“Excellent choice madam,” the barman said, and gave her a wink. The lady was all talk from that point onward. At this rate she was not only a goddess, she was also winked at and eating at Le Place Colonial.
As soon as their glasses were filled the waiter scurried over to the bar and asked Mr. Verdome and the lady to follow him to their table. As soon as they sat the lady was up again, claiming she had to fix her hair in the bathroom, though really Mr. Verdome could not see the point. Patted down hair would certainly not fix her nose. When he was alone, Mr. Verdome snapped his fingers, signaling at the waiter like a madman. To his horror the menu did not show the prices, and he needed to set some things straight.
“What are, if you don’t mind me asking,” Mr. Verdome asked, somewhat politely, “the... er... cheaper dishes on the menu?”
“The cheaper dishes, sir?”
“Yes, indeed. You know these are hard times for most of us.”
“Of course, sir. I would suggest omitting the vinegar based dishes. The farmhouse chicken, for example, or our excellent broccoli soup as the lady is drinking a red wine...”
“Yes, yes man very well. But, expenses...”
It was too late. The lady had returned from the bathroom and was headed towards the table at an alarming speed.
“Away with you!” Mr. Verdome whispered at the waiter.
The lady had not adjusted her hair one bit. If anything, she looked even more bewildered than she had in the rain outside. She adjusted her zipper as she sat down.
“Now,” she said triumphantly, “I am ready to feast! Waiter, a bottle of Domaine Leroy Richebourg Grand Cru!”
Mr. Verdome cleared his throat, “I was thinking we could share a thing or two.”
“Share?” the lady looked appalled, “absolutely not. We shall feast.”
She raised her hand and called the waiter over again.
“We are ready for a feast!” she said. Mr. Verdome swore that if she said “feast” one more time he would pummel the menu upon her balloon-head.
“We shall have anything the chef recommends! ” she exclaimed as she threw the menu shut with a great thud, “we shall...”
“Hold it, woman,” Mr. Verdome warned.
The lady told a “humorous” story as they waited for the food to arrive. When it was finally over, Mr. Verdome said, “how amusing”, which the lady took as an invitation to go on telling another “funny” story, then another, and another, until their food materialized on their table. An enormous silver platter with a tiny octopus tentacle on an even tinier bed of mashed potatoes. Mr. Verdome thanked the waiter excessively nonetheless. Even a raw potato would be better than the lady’s pathetic attempts at comedy.
The tentacle was superb, and so was their second course, a very small circle of beef tartar in teriyaki sauce, and their third course, one-tenth of a chicken wing. And though each dish would have made any normal mouth salivate, the more microscopic plates arrived at their table, the drier Mr. Verdome's became, the more difficult it was to taste anything. He felt as though the kitchen had emptied the day’s vegetables and meats onto their table alone. And the alcohol. At least two bottles of Grand Cru must have been poured, and half a bottle of whiskey. With every sautéed carrot and chicken leg the lady became louder and, in turn, Mr. Verdome became mute.
After the twelfth course, more or less, Mr. Verdome put his glass down and stared with a renewed interest at the remarkable pumpkin person who sat facing him. He was angry and he did not feel the least bite of sympathy. The woman did not inspire compassion. She was a fool. She must be a fool. A tremendous and absolute fool. Mr. Verdome had a sudden desire to embarrass her as badly and as violently as he could.
“Do you really think that I find you attractive? Even in the slightest?”
“But of course!” the lady exclaimed, “you said so yourself. You think I am a goddess!”
Mr. Verdome let out a squeal. Not even the thought of a baby could calm him.
“A goddess? Maybe you heard me wrong. Maybe I said goodness! As in goodness-gracious-me what a horrifying woman!”
The tips of Mr. Verdome’s ears felt hot. He really was rotten to the core, his parents had always said so. And, now, once he got started, he could not be stopped.
“A round, monstrous looking thing like you? A goddess? HA HA!”
The lady’s mouth had shriveled to the size of an almond, but Mr. Verdome had just gotten started.
“A goddess!” he laughed, as the waiter came with the wine.
“And you! You small, sour apple of a man! Away with you! Don’t you see we are conversing?”
“My apologies, sir,” the waiter said, pouring the lady’s glass with Grand Cru anyway. Unnecessary, as she seemed to be getting up, one giant palm on the table, steadying herself.
“Where are you going?” Mr. Verdome asked, with a hint of concern. His anger giving way to logic. He needed the woman to stay, for his baby that was. He could not bare it himself.
Through her tiny, almond sized mouth the lady managed to muster, “How dare you, how dare you!” She shook with rage.
“Please sit down lady, I am sorry. You hear me? Sorry.”
“Sorry? I am sorry! For wasting my time with the likes of you!”
Easy to say now, Mr. Verdome thought, after you ate and drank for at least three-hundred euros. Money he was not even sure he had!
The lady eyed Mr. Verdome for what felt like a very long time, to Mr. Verdome.
Then, with shaking hand, she grabbed hold of her hair and gave it a nice yank, so that the mope encapsulating her narrow face fell swiftly to the ground in one bundle, giving way to a short army cut.
Mr. Verdome squealed, then placed a weakened hand on his forehead.
“Excuse me,” she said, staring at him with her threatening, raisin eyes, “you may not think I’m a goddess, but I am a queen. The most beautiful, stylish queen of Amsterdam, of The Netherlands and all of Europe for that matter! Au revoir!”
She zigzagged towards the door, twisting her ankle twice before slipping into her coat and disappearing into the night.
Mr. Verdome stared out ahead of him for a long time.
After a while he got up, shaking with rage, fear, intoxication, who knows. Certain they would not make him pay after the misery he had endured, he walked over towards the door, and would have left without his coat, had it not been for that wicked waiter.
“Here you are, sir,” he said, handing him a silver platter with the receipt, smiling provocatively.
Poor Mr. Verdome, he was besides himself with rage.
“No, here you are, sir,” he said, and punched the waiter right in the jaw.
Before he knew it, Mr. Verdome was pinned to the wall, then kicked between the legs, where a hot stinging sensation erupted up through his spinal cord, into his head.
He laughed satanically. Through the throbbing pain he felt relieved. He could forget about his baby now. He would live on, alone, forever.