The World According to Bertie

Free The World According to Bertie by Alexander McCall Smith

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Authors: Alexander McCall Smith
past now, and I find that I have to struggle to fit everything in.”
    Domenica felt slightly embarrassed. After all, Antonia had shown no signs of living in her pocket, and perhaps it was rather unfriendly to make one’s concerns quite so obvious at this stage.
    â€œYou don’t have to dash,” she said. “I could rustle something up for dinner…”
    â€œVery kind,” said Antonia. “But I’ve made my own arrangements. You must come and have a meal with me some time soon. Next month perhaps.”
    There was an awkward silence. Next week would have been courteous; next month made her meaning crystal clear. And perhaps had added the belt to the braces.
    â€œThat would be very nice,” said Domenica. “No doubt we shall see one another before then. On the stairs maybe.”
    â€œYes,” said Antonia. “On the stairs.”
    Over the next few days, they did not see one another at all. It had been an awkward way of establishing the rules of good neighbourliness, but it had worked, and after a while Antonia found herself able to knock on Domenica’s door and invite her in for coffee. The invitation had been accepted–after only a moment’s reflection on what the diary for that day might contain. That content was nonexistent, of course, but one should only accept an invitation immediately if one is happy for the person issuing the invitation to conclude that one had nothing better, or indeed nothing at all, to do. And Domenica certainly did not want Antonia to reach that conclusion. She was sensitive to the fact that Antonia was writing a book, and therefore had a major project, while she did not. There was a very significant division, Domenica believed, between those who were writing a book at any time, and those who were not; a division just as significant as that between those actors who were currently on the stage and those, the majority, who were resting. For this reason, there were many people who claimed to be writing a book, even if this was not really the case. Indeed, somewhere at the back of her mind she remembered reading of a literary prize for such unwritten books, and of how the merits of those works on the shortlist for this prize were hotly debated by those who claimed to know what these unwritten books were all about.
    â€œWhat are you going to do with this flat?” asked Domenica as she watched Antonia pour boiling water into the cafetière. It was the wrong question to ask somebody who had just moved into a new flat, but Domenica realised that only after she had asked it. It implied that the new place needed alteration, which, of course, may not have been the view of the new owner.
    But Antonia was not offended. “A great deal,” she said, stirring the coffee grounds into the water. She sniffed at the aroma. “What a lovely smell. Coffee. Certain new clothes. Lavender tucked under the pillowcase. All those smells.”
    Domenica nodded. “Do you see smells as colours?” she asked. “Or sounds as colours?”
    â€œSynaesthesia,” said Antonia. “My father’s one, actually. A synaesthetic.”

16. Domenica Is Left to Puzzle a Petty Theft
    Antonia poured coffee into a blue-and-white Spode cup and passed it to Domenica. Her guest thanked her and carefully put it down on the kitchen table. The cup seemed familiar–in fact, she remembered that she had one exactly like it in her own flat, one which unfortunately had acquired a chip to the rim, more or less above the handle, just as this cup…She stopped herself. The cup which Antonia had handed her had a chip to the rim at exactly the same place.
    She reached out and lifted the cup to her lips, taking the opportunity to examine the rim more closely as she did so. Yes, there it was, right above the handle, a small chip in the glazing, penetrating as far as the first layer of china, not enough to retire a well-loved cup, but clearly noticeable.

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