Chic (adj.): a half-refurbished ground floor space in a former East German apartment block.
Austere plaster swimming with granite and silver adornments, dub music playing softly from speaker cones, retro phones converted into candle holders and pink shag in the toilets – Irving hated this restaurant. The food was overpriced and unexciting, the cocktails nauseatingly pretentious (anyone for a Strawbunny Chokehold?), and the patrons were invariably overdressed proles with huge teeth, or chihuahua hugging metrosexuals with their dress pants on backwards. That’s why, out of all the upmarket promi-troughs, it was Charlotte’s favourite.
In the corner sat Fransiska Weber, of Eurovision and anorexia fame. Next to her, a footballer whose name Irving knew only to be ‘Pig fucker’. A group of unshaven men wearing chicken wire glasses and woollen vests cavorted over a bowl of olives – clearly producers – and, as he stared at them, Irving ran his fingers over his own crop of facial hair and vowed never to shave his neck again. Charlotte had told him there were certain places one had to be seen in the city and Immer 88 was one of them. It was a time machine back into the 1980s which, sadly, had made a triumphant comeback in Berlin, legitimising every mullet and denim party dress ever worn in that bastard of a decade.
A thin man wearing a faded Sonic Youth t-shirt handed Irving a wine list.
“Big beer and a glass of Chardonnay,” Irving said without looking up. The waiter meandered away.
The only job requirement in this establishment was the rare ability to appear both obnoxious and disinterested at the same time. On the odd occasion, Irving had experienced the odd courtesy, mostly from new recruits who didn’t know any better, or who’d been trained on far away continents according to the motto: “the customer is always right”. These naive idiots were promptly re-trained and they either turned into exact copies of the scowling hipsters who had ‘mentored them’, or they were never seen again.
Charlotte was late as usual, but Irving didn’t mind. He’d established early on in their relationship that it was his job, no, his duty, to drop the right names to secure the appropriate table near the window, and make sure there was a wine waiting for her and generally act like her personal assistant in front of the restaurant staff until she arrived. Charlotte couldn’t boast world-wide fame yet, but among the Germans, particularly the Berliners, she was someone; she was geil. She was that girl from England with the accent and the large breasts who’d appeared on Großer Bruder, the German Big Brother and had sex in the pool with a teenage runaway glue addict. Her breasts alone had been sufficient to attract the attention of unscrupulous television producers, and soon after, she landed a regular role playing an immigrant prostitute in a daytime soap opera, one in which every season the characters would switch sexual partners like one big game of musical fucking chairs. It was disheartening for Irving who, despite being blessed with good looks and straight teeth, could never hope to achieve the same level of success with his own nipples.
There was a thud of someone struggling with the door and then a prolonged fluttering behind the heavy curtain that protected the restaurant’s patrons from the cold air, and Charlotte burst into the room shaking her limbs dramatically and cursing the weather. In such a crowd, noisy entrances were somewhat of a banality, and Charlotte had even admitted how much she loathed the artificiality of it all. However she still seemed disappointed when only a few heads turned to inspect her. Even the jack hammer cracks of her high heels as she strode across the wooden floor, and the fuss as she struggled to extract the chair from underneath the table failed to attract onlookers.
She scanned the room, frowned and then flopped her arms on the table. “What an absolute joke,” she exclaimed and then swallowed Irving’s glass of water in one gulp.
“It’s a joke alright,” Irving said.
“You don’t even have the faintest idea what I’m talking about, you turd crumpet.”
There are many things beautiful people can get away with just by virtue of their splendid symmetry – cheating, manipulation, lying – but Charlotte’s endowments, coupled with her impeccable broadcast-quality English permitted her to behave like arrogant cow and treat Irving with all the spite and derision one usually reserved for Nazi war criminals.
“Let me guess. Bad ratings.”
“Your make-up artist plucked one too many eyebrow hairs again.”
“You were passed up for a new roll?”
Charlotte blew a strand of blonde hair away from her nose. “Don’t worry about it.”
Irving waved at the waiter who was leaning against the bar smoking. He acknowledged by holding up his cigarette to demonstrate to Irving how many minutes would pass until they would be served.
“I don’t know why we have to keep coming here.”
“I thought you liked it.”
“The crowd is vacuous, the staff is rude and the furry walls in the men’s toilets are covered in piss. Do you also have furry walls in the ladies?”
“Yes, but we don’t have the need to piss over the walls.”
“And I’ve had better food in a student canteen. Look at this, steak and fried onions. Does that say mining town bistro to you or what?”
“You mean the rib eye fillet with the red wine baby onions?”
Charlotte clucked and began rummaging through her handbag so violently that her elbows were making circles in the air. “I don’t understand why on Earth it would bother you to come here. You call the food unimaginative yet you have no hesitation in stuffing yourself full of it — you get to drink as much as you like and with never have to foot the bill. Why the hell are you always complaining?”
“You said you can hand in the receipts.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Look, Charlotte. I need to ask a favour.”
“Uh-uh,” she mumbled without raising her head.
“Mrs Koch threatened to show me the proverbial door if I didn’t come up with the rent money soon, I’m behind on my heating and well, I need a loan.”
That meant, go on, convince me.
“It will just be until next month. I’m going to ask Klaus for an advance and then just eat rice for the next two months until I pay you back.”
“How much is it this time?”
“Not sure. A few hundred.”
Or we could move in together. Into your two bedroom loft in Mitte that’s big and high enough for a family of Russian circus performers. That is what he really wanted to say, and if she hadn’t quite nearly snapped his head off with the abrupt rejection the last time he’d suggested it, he would have attempted to say it again.
“What’s wrong with you today?” he asked instead. “Have a fight with your makeup artist?”
“Get lost. You can just piss right off, Irving. Go away and crawl down that hole full of losers where all the losers are.”
Irving could have kept rolling with the low jabs — there were too many juicy ones that set her off, like whether she had she forgotten to ice her nipples on the set, or if the banana in her trailer had gone brown, or whether Quentin Tarantino had called her yet — but he kept his mouth shut. Charlotte was, after all, paying for dinner.
“All you ever do is criticise. Talk, talk, talk. I don’t think I’ve actually seen you do anything.”
“We leave the light on during sex!”
“If you call achieving orgasm your greatest accomplishment, then you’re more pathetic than I thought.”
“At least I’ve got that,” Irving said. He took Charlotte’s sunbed-brown hand and kissed it. She smiled, her blue eyes grew wider for a second before he pulled her hand away.
“Do you remember the day we met?” she said. “You’d recently arrived, you were full of ideas and traipsed about the gala and film premieres calling yourself a novelist. Ha! If Australia wasn’t so far away most of us wouldn’t have fallen for it. But I was sucked in. And now I can’t say anything because I’m the one who would become humiliated. Not you — the supposed author who can’t even write a shopping list!”
You’ve got me there. If everyone had breasts like you we’d all be living on moored yachts in the Mediterranean making pornographic films.
Irving shrugged and sipped his beer. One of the producers was at the bar. Irving noticed that he had shaved the stubble on his cheeks right down to the jaw line. The hair ran one centimetre wide until the corner of his chin where it swept up towards his nose, creating a fuzzy blond-grey bell around his mouth. The man was watching them. No, he watching Charlotte. That wasn’t unusual. Charlotte smiled at him, and, in a mock show of embarrassment, cast her gaze down to the table and pulled at her bangs.
“Don’t turn around,” she whispered. “But that’s Fabian Müller, the producer of Germany’s next top model.”
“Turn around? He standing across from me. I think he wants to come over.”
“How do I look?” Charlotte gasped and tried to catch her reflection in the window. The man let his elbow fall from the bar. He could have been a cowboy in a saloon; he had the bowed legs, the swagger, the steady glare, and he might have pulled it off if he didn’t look like such a twat. Irving extended his hand and offered the man one of his greasiest smiles.
“Guten Abend, meine Lieblings,” Müller said, ogling Charlotte as he shook Irving’s hand. His grip was like a warm beef roulade. “Good evening, my darlings.” Fabian’s voice was higher and more feminine than his wardrobe belied. Up close Irving could see that his eyes seemed too far apart, leaving his small round noise swimming awkwardly in the middle of his face. “You are Charlotte Turner, nicht wahr?”
Charlotte nodded and fluttered her eyebrows with such intensity Irving thought she was going to fall to the ground in fits.
“I’ve seen you in Völlig zu Ende. I like your work.”
“Well all do,” Irving murmured. “And your name is?”
“Fabian. Fabian Müller.”
Charlotte leapt to her feet and offered Fabian her hand, while the other one continued to pull on her fringe. “We know who you are. It’s so fantastic to meet you!”
“And this is?” Fabian said and turned his nose at Irving as if he’d just smelled baby vomit.
“Irving Hart. He’s a novelist from Australia, aren’t you Irving?”
“I’m sure he is. Don’t you two young people make a fine pair. Why don’t you join me and my colleagues. We were just discussing what to do with our new season. You know, how it is. Nena want’s more money, Detlef is complaining that he wants to sit in the middle of the judges’ panel… it’s total chaos.”
“Detlef? Is that a brand of tea?” Irving asked.
“We’d love to,” Charlotte said through her teeth. “Irving?”
“I think I’ll stay here,” Irving said. “I’m working on a new idea.”
Charlotte shot him an evil look.
“Ok, you know where to find us if you change your mind.” Fabian made the shape of a gun with his hand and shot Irving in the torso before swinging around and sauntering back to the table.
“What the fuck was that?” Charlotte hissed.
“That. Just then. That was Fabian Müller! Producer, personality, the gate keeper. One nod from him and I could do anything I wanted.”
“He’s a tosser. It’s obvious.”
“No, you’re the tosser. I can’t believe it.”
“I don’t know how you put up with me,” he said.
Charlotte closed her eyes and Irving could see that she was repressing a ferocious explosion. “We’re not just here because of me, remember? Weren’t you endeavouring to meet some hotshot script writer to pitch your story to? Fabian could help your super struggling career too.”
She had to say that. She had to rub it in.
“So how is your novel going, Irving?” Charlotte pressed. “You’ve been working on it for, what, twelve months now? More? What’s it about again? A suicidal stockbroker? How thrilling.” Charlotte’s voiced growled over the sarcasm.
“It’s coming along. I’ve got a day job.”
“You mean that grimy bookshop you hang out at?”
“I work there.”
“With those dribbling no hopers. It’s almost as embarrassing as your apartment.”
“They’re not losers. Ulf is a highly talented and has a Masters in something or other.”
“He is a mongoloid with a halitosis problem.”
That was tame. Now comes the bickering phase. This always happened. They would begin their meetings with civilised conversation, invariably centred about Charlotte’s exploits, her desires and plans until she could find something to criticise, then he would become defensive and they would end up fighting to the point where both of them reached a suitable point of smashedness, after which they’d forget what they were arguing about in the first place.
“How would you know? You’ve only met him once,” Irving protested.
“Once was enough, thank you very much.”
“Oh, shall we talk about some of your genius friends. What about that Mensa reject, what does he call himself again? Black Tony? That DJ with the eyelid piercing that got infected.”
“His name is Schwarzer Ton and I wouldn’t exactly be judging him if I were you — he’s one of the best DJs in Berlin.”
“Oh, is that the coveted role where the main job requirement is to be fucked in the head?”
That was a shot too far and Irving knew it. One couldn’t revel in the inane flaws of celebrities in front of other celebrities like one could with normal people; it was like gossiping about a colleague dying of cancer in the tea room. Charlotte refused to talk about such things. She hated being reminded of the fragile and nature of her own universe. Her eyes welled and she began to sob.
Oh no, not again. He cupped his hand over hers.
“I’ve done everything right,” she said in between heaving sobs. “I went to all the right parties, met all the people I was supposed to meet. I always turn up early to rehearsals and to their bullshit promotional events, I mean, what fucking more do they require of me? I’m going to be playing this silly whore for the rest of my life. How long do whore’s usually last in the job anyway?”
“Charlotte,” Irving said but he couldn’t think of anything suitably consoling to tell her.
“You have no idea how hard I work. You just sit on the sidelines looking pretty while I’m the one who has to maintain this image, twenty-four hours a fucking day.”
“I don’t understand, Charlotte. Why are we even together?”
“Because we had fun, once. We looked good together, but…”
There, she said it.
“Nothing,” she said and wiped her face with the napkin.
“I knew it. I’m just a monkey. A little furry monkey from the tropics that you can string along to your silicon parties just to prove how opened minded and artistic you are.”
Charlotte snorted. She looked extraordinarily cute when she snorted. “Get real.”
Behind the the group of producers were laughing, one of them was jeering at the waiter, who’d just left the table. Irving saw that Charlotte was gazing at the table.
“What a pile of buffoons.”
Charlotte drained her glass. “I’m going to the bathroom.”
She’s got coke on her. Where do these people get all this coke?
His eyes swelled. “Can I come?”
“Sorry, this is an express gravy train. Try and get our friend’s attention again. I want another drink.”
On her journey to the toilets Charlotte stopped to chat with a group of men in sports blazers and they laughed. One of them put a hand on her back and offered her a seat. Irving saw her shake her head and then whisper something in in his ear. “Oh that’s right,” Irving said to himself.
Only the worthy, or better yet, the seedy men pulling the string at the top of the broadcasting empire were eligible to share her coke. Not her boyfriend, or whatever he was, her semi-permanent date who had diligently stood by her side like a freshly cut carrot next to a rack of veal cutlets. The man wiped his mouth with a napkin and followed her towards the toilets. It was disappointing, and there might even have been a tickle of jealousy, yet Irving wasn’t completely naive. It was the nature of the industry. It would have been easy money to bet that she’d fucked her way to reach and stay where she was. Who and how many wasn’t terribly relevant but Irving suspected there had been somewhat of a drought during his tenure, evidenced by the fact that she’d been working the same role for more than two seasons now, in the same fictitious town, pretending to have the same variation on addictions and affairs and whatever the drug-fucked writers shovelled her way every week. He was certain of all of this, however he wasn’t afraid of the truth or the inevitable rejection. Though he knew he didn’t love her, her biological wealth made him feel successful. He felt that, by being able to say that he was sleeping with a gorgeous actress, her alphabetical rating aside, he’d actually achieved something real, something he could touch.
His gaze returned to the table. The waiter was dawdling in front of him with an expectant drawl.
“You wanted something?”
“Another white wine.”
“For now, yes.”
The waiter rolled his eyes and was about to leave when Irving took him by the arm.
“This girl,” Irving said and pointed at the empty chair next to him. “The girl I’m with. Do you know who she is?”
“Yeah. She’s the whore from Völlig Erledigt or something,” he drawled.
“That’s her. What do you think of her?”
“I don’t know her very well.”
“But, you know. What do you think of her?”
“Only that she’s always got good coke.”
That a gormless waiter knew such details about his girlfriend made Irving’s heart shrink.
“How do you know that?”
“Parties. Do you want another beer?”
“Wait, which parties? Dinner parties? Fancy dress?”
“Just parties, dude.”
“Get me another beer then,” Irving fanned away the waiter, who slinked off towards the bar.
“Tosser… I’m going to end it tonight,” Irving said to himself out loud, and then swung around to see if anybody had heard him, but they were all still guffawing into ridiculously adorned cocktails. He’d do it nicely, say it was his fault, that he didn’t want to stand in the way of her career, especially now, as she stood on the precipice of world-stardom and a potential Oscar nomination. Hmm, perhaps that was too much sarcasm. He didn’t want to make it too informal and ruin the finality of it all. But then what? What would become of him? He’d have his job at the bookshop, his stinking apartment, maybe, if he could come up with Mrs Koch’s rent in time and, if he capitulated to his father’s demands, he’d have assignments and exams to do on top of that. More clutter, more hindrances.
From somewhere in the dining room wafted the wet stench of fish and coriander. Irving covered his nose as Charlotte returned. She sat down and rubbed her teeth with a handkerchief.
“Did you get the job?”
“Let’s see,” Charlotte said and flashed a mischievous smile. All traces of previous emotions had vanished.
“Did he say anything?” Or was he too busy trying to get a grip on the toilet door while you were undressing your CV?
“He said I was exactly what he was looking for for next season. He really wants to shake up the whole reality television audition scene. He thinks I’ve got judging potential.”
“I’d have to agree with him.”
“And he gave me his card. I think this might be it, Irving. Fabian said he’s going to talk to the networks about me.”
“Was that after you fucked him?”
“After I what?”
“I asked, was that after you have sex with him in the toilets?”
“No, shit. No! How desperate do you think I am? We just did a line together, that’s all. He might have given me his number, but it’s strictly professional. It’s just the way things work.”
Charlotte began adjusted her bra and pulling her hair back as if she was preparing to leap up and start jogging.
Here it comes. She’s going to say something eventful.
“Irving, I think you’re right — it’s not working.”
“Really,” Irving said and stood up.
“Yes, really. You can be such a jerk sometimes. Where are you going?”
“I’m going to introduce myself.”
“What? No, Irving.”
“You said I should pitch my idea, well now I’m going to.”
Charlotte grasped him by the wrist and tried to draw him in. “Just leave it, Irving. Come on, have another drink.”
But Irving pulled himself from her grip, picked up his beer and approached the four men all of whom were still cackling over the bowl at the centre of the table, which was now filled only with olive pips.
“Gentlemen,” Irving said dipping his voice as low as he could. All four men turned to him, seemingly confused that someone had dared interrupt their quest for the last olive.
“Hello,” said the one who’d accompanied Charlotte to the bathroom.
“I’m with that lady over there near the window — Charlotte Turner.” Irving raised his glass to Charlotte, who refused to look at him, but had engaged in a conversation with the dreary waiter “Some of you may know her.”
“Oh yes, you’re the cousin she was telling me about,” said the man.
The cousin? “Ah, yes. She told you about me?”
“Yes, just now. You haven’t come to beat me up about it have you? She’s a talented lady your sister,” the man said and looked over to Charlotte licking his fetid moustache. “Bit of an airhead, but she might just have a huge career ahead of her.”
She did fuck him, the troll. I knew it.
“Not at all, I just wanted thank you. You know, for giving her a chance.”
The table laughed and all gave him conspiratorial winks before returning to their pips. Irving walked confidently back to Charlotte. She shooed the waiter away and looked expectantly at him.
“What do you mean, ‘nothing’?”
“He said to say that you’ll go far one day.”
“Did he really?”
“He also said to say that he has a vile case of gonorrhoea and you should get checked.”
He hadn’t expected the slap and didn’t have time to brace himself. Charlotte’s hand caught him on the ear, her ring slashing at his lobes, and sent him crashing sidewards. He stumbled and fell to the floor, dragging the tablecloth and all the cutlery, condiments and empty glasses with him.
“You bastard loser. I never want to see your face again.”
“Not even, you know, as fuck buddies?” Irving smirked and wiped the balsamic vinegar from the side of his face.
“Get out!” Charlotte screamed and then went to join the producers leaving Irving on the floor. He lay there for a few moments until he felt the gazes shift from him. The waiter helped him to his feet.
“I’m alright, you drone,” Irving said and detached himself from the waiter’s limp hold. Without looking back at Charlotte and the producers, he picked up a bread roll from the floor and left.
“That was easier than I thought,” he said as he exited through the curtain into the winter night.