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The Wastrel and Her Wine

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At a table for two outside the Ristorante Barbarossa, Rupert sat alone, sipping water from his glass and watching the cars as they passed by.

A tall, handsome waiter approached. “Are you ready to order, sir?”

“No,” Rupert said, smiling up at him, “I’m expecting someone. She’s running a bit late.”

The waiter nodded and walked away, and Rupert checked his watch. He looked around impatiently, tapping the tabletop with his four right digits. His glass gently vibrated – he gazed at the water as it rippled against the ice.

Ten minutes later, a bus pulled up in front of the station across the street from the restaurant, and the sole passenger to step out was a woman in her sixties; clad in a white belted dress and shiny golden four-inch high heels, she crossed the street with nippy, dramatic movements, waving at the cars and flashing them quick synthetic smiles. As she moved closer, Rupert watched her progress with veiled disdain, running his eyes over her false blonde locks and the flecks of grey that resided underneath; her oversized amber sunglasses with ocher stripes along the rims; her magenta lips, inflated by all the paint; her thin, bony extremities, wrinkled and tan and dotted with dark brown spots. She tripped on a crack in the pavement and stumbled forward; Rupert began to stand, but she straightened up and shot him a large, tacky grin, gesturing him to sit back down.

“Where were you?” he asked as she slid into the adjacent seat.

“Sorry,” she said with another one of her tacky grins. “I took a little too long in the shower.” She slid her sunglasses to her hairline and sipped her water.

Rupert pursed his lips. “That’s fine. Happens to the best of us, I suppose.”

“Oh, it certainly does,” she said, lowering her glass. “So how are you, Rupert?” Her voice was raspy and mature.

“I’m well, thank you. Let’s get straight to business, Ms. Hedgecock, since we’re running a half an hour late and I have to be out of here by seven thirty.”

The woman batted her eyelashes. “Call me Barbara.”

Rupert inhaled slowly. “Okay, so Barbara–”

“Barbs would also be fine,” she continued. Then after a moment: “Or Barbsie.”

“I think I’ll just stick with Barbara, if that’s alright.”

“Good by me,” she said playfully, still smiling.

Rupert scratched his head. “So Barbara, you came to me last November and asked me to manage your finances.”

“Yes.”

“Right. But the problem is, it’s difficult for me to do so when you’re spending so uncontrollably.”

“Uncontrollably?”

“Yes. This month, your bill from Neiman-Marcus was higher than the cost of plumbing for your entire house.”

Barbara clasped her hands together and placed them under her chin. “Ah yes,” she said, “I bought a few things there.”

Rupert drew a quick breath. “Yes, I’m aware of that. My point is, it’s virtually impossible for me to handle your expenditures when you appear to be more concerned about the latest summer fashion than the functionality of your toilet. I mean, what’s this,” – he pulled a paper out of his suitcase – “a ten-thousand dollar fur rug of Iberian lynx? Why did you buy that?”

“Oh, it was limited edition! Only five of those in stock, and it perfectly complimented the color scheme of the guest bedroom.”

Rupert rubbed his eyes. “Okay, but see, that’s not practical spending. You can’t afford to make purchases like that right now; the payment from the divorce settlement was negligible, and any way you slice it, this is borderline irresponsible.”

Barbara nodded, her chin splitting into wrinkles against her fingertips. “I understand.”

“I’m glad you do. What you need to do now is put that understanding into effect.”

She sat up slowly in her chair. “I need a drink. Where’s their wine menu?”

“I don’t know. Listen for a second.”

The waiter came over. “A drink for you, ma’am?”

Barbara shot him a toothy smile. “Oh, hi. I’ll have a sauvignon blanc, please.”

“Anything for you, sir?”

“I’m fine, thank you.”

He nodded. “I’ll be back with your sauvignon blanc, ma’am.”

Barbara’s eyes remained glued to the waiter’s rear end as he strode into the restaurant. When he disappeared inside, she turned back to the table, sucking in through her teeth and groaning, “I need to get laid.”

Rupert blinked.

She pulled a pack of cigarettes and a lighter out of her pocketbook. Removing one from the pack, she wedged it between her painted lips and lit the other end.

Scrunching his eyes, Rupert muttered, “It’s getting late.”

Barbara pulled the cigarette from her lips and blew smoke into the air. The end closer to her was coated with magenta. “Late already?”

“Yes, it’s just about seven thirty…” Smoke drifted into his nostrils; he coughed.

The waiter returned with Barbara’s wine. She smiled, inspecting his face as he poured the drink into a crystalline glass. Rupert looked on in disbelief. When the pouring was finished, the waiter placed the bottle on the table and reached into his chest pocket for his pad.

“Are we ready to order?” he asked.

“Give us a minute, please,” Barbara told him.

“I really need to get going,” said Rupert when the waiter was gone. “Do you understand what you need to do now?”

“You’ve already asked me that,” she replied with a crooked smirk. “No more exotic rugs, right?”

“No more exotic anything,” he said. “Keep the extraneous spending at a minimum, pay your bills–”

“I get it, I get it.” Barbara took a sip of her wine and stood up with a chuckle, dropping her cigarette on the ground and stomping it out with her foot. She set her sunglasses in place. “I’ll be fine, I assure you. Thank you for your council.” With short, heavy steps, she trotted over to the sidewalk, her high heels clacking against the cement. When she reached the curb, she turned and looked back at him. “I’ll call you in a month or so.”

“Yup,” he responded wearily.

She stepped into the street and tripped again on the crack in the pavement. Her four-inch heel split in two; she stumbled forward, and neither the waiter’s sudden cry of warning nor the breaks of the bus speeding toward her could save Rupert the loss of his most careless client.




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