Prudence: Chapter 4c

Prince slides two Gallia Lagers across the bar.

Boyd and Ox are synchronised as they take them, swivel on their stools, and drink. They could be a pair of street mimes who have rehearsed the routine, although as comical as it is to see, as light-hearted as they can be, there remains that underlying sense of … well, what is it exactly about them? I’m unsure, although I have known them and watched them since they first appeared.

The crowd parts to reveal Constance emerging, regal and beautiful. She pauses before them, security’s presence keeping a tight perimeter around her. Boyd and Ox lift their Gallia Lagers in salute. Ox slides across to the next stool; Constance sits on the stool he’s just vacated. Very few people can show such familiarity with Constance. Boyd and Ox come across like mischievous little brothers that Constance indulges.

‘You know,’ Boyd says, ‘I’m not sure if our stock goes up or down when you sit with us.’

‘You’ve got a point there, Boyd,’ Ox says. ‘Women pass, they look at us – you know, it’s not like we’re ugly or anything. But then they see you.’

Constance listens patiently.

‘Then when they see you,’ Boyd continues, ‘they must think if she could stop to sit with these two guys, what hope have they got?’

‘Or maybe they think you have a claim on us,’ Ox says.

Prince appears behind the bar and offers Constance a Manhattan. She takes it without turning.

‘Thank you, Prince,’ she says.

‘These two spieling?’ he asks.

‘As always. But there’s a sense to their inanity if you know how to listen.’

The eyes of those around them linger on Constance. It’s not just her beauty that appeals, preserved as she is, but her stature. Many do mistake her for an icon, just a face with some minor marquee that is meant to impress on some superficial level. But closer, you can feel her authority, sense the gravitas behind her, and appreciate her presence. She is elevated in a way that many defer to her, and those who don’t, or who are outright impudent, learn the error of their ways.

One tall man at the bar has a vantage point directly into her cleavage. Boyd waves the man away. He scowls and it seems he might take issue. Boyd glowers at him and the man stops. He stares at Boyd, at the ubiquitous security, murmurs a hurried apology to Boyd, then returns his attention to ordering his drink.

‘You prefer I didn’t stop by and have a drink with you then?’ Constance asks.

‘No! No!’ Boyd says

He lifts his Gallia. Ox toasts it, holding his own Gallia there. Constance toasts them with her Manhattan.

‘You’re welcome any time,’ Boyd says. ‘Just like you welcome us every time.’

‘Whenever you want,’ Ox says.

Constance lifts her head and laughs. ‘You are my favourites – always have been,’ she says. ‘There’s no pretence about you. You are who you are. That’s why I love you so much. In another time, another place, I could learn to fall in love with either of you.’

‘You still could,’ Boyd says.

‘Prudence won’t allow it and I have so little a life of my own,’ Constance says. ‘An unfortunate reality.’

‘When you first started getting us in here …’ Ox says, but then he trails off and nods at Boyd. ‘When was that?’

‘Seventeen … eighteen years ago?’ Boyd says. ‘Maybe more.’

‘I think it was more.’

‘Time loses meaning in here.’

‘I think it was twenty.’

‘Or more.’

‘Well, whenever!’ Ox says. ‘I remember you had a couple of relationships. It’s only now that I think about it, that you stopped.’

‘That was before I became every bit the institution that Prudence is,’ Constance says. ‘When I still thought I could have a relationship in my life. Now, without intending to be immodest, I’m wanted because of my celebrity. Do you know how people want to come to Prudence just to be able to say they were here? That’s why I’m desired.’

‘Nonsense,’ Ox says. ‘You’re desired because you’re magnificent.’

‘That’s kind of you to say, Ox.’ Constance pats him on the thigh. ‘But do we ever know another’s true intentions? Or do we just accept what they tell us on face value? I’ve been here a long time. I’ve learned to read people. I’ve been hurt. Some have attempted to use me. I’ve grown smarter. That’s part of the reason I have you here.’

‘So when’s the last time you had a proper relationship—?’

‘Twenty-five years ago.’

‘That was quick,’ Boyd says.

‘I was in a long-term relationship the night Prudence was offered to me. We’d come to party – young, foolish, drunk, and stoned. The previous hostess had been given her notice. Management recognised me. They thought I was an ideal replacement, given my celebrity, and offered me the position – if I could clean myself up. I accepted. That was the end of my relationship. When I first began to work, there just wasn’t time.’

Teo strides through the crowd. ‘Constance,’ he says, ‘we’ve got a problem that needs your attention.’

Constance finishes her Manhattan, puts it on the bar, and slides from the stool. She holds out her arms expansively. ‘My life partner,’ she says. Then she kisses them each on the cheek. ‘Be good.’

‘Are we ever anything but?’ Ox says.

Constance laughs, pats each fondly on the knee, then allows Teo to lead her back into the sea of people. No sooner is she gone than Joy emerges from the crowd – Rupe still trailing behind her – and seizes Ox’s hand.

‘Dance with me,’ Joy says, tugging Ox from his stool.

‘Me?’

‘You.’

Joy drags Ox from the stool – Ox hurriedly handing his Gallia to Boyd – and leads him to the dance floor, leaving Rupe to stare after her forlornly.

‘You look like a man in love,’ Boyd says.

‘I’m in something,’ Rupe says. ‘Mind if I take this stool?’

‘Go for it,’ Boyd says.

Rupe sits on the stool, swivels, and finds Joy on the dance floor.

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