Blind Date - Sylvia Petter
[Other titles in English] [All other titles]
She told him when her diet book proposal flew. He
wrote back in support. When it landed and was retained,
he was the first she told.
Fiona loved French food. When a teaching job in
Lyons was offered, she couldn't resist. It was not long
before she needed a diet, but it had to be one with which
she could live. So she noted down all she ate and soon
had notes to fill a book. She tempted a publisher, no
lean feat in the day of diet miracles. But she had a
Snails as protein. She collected them in a wicker
basket after early morning rains lushed the banks of the
Rhone. The local chefs were only too happy to lift their
lids to the engaging young woman from England. They
showed her how to clean the snails, to sieve them three
times, four times, five, to scrape the muddy froth from
the top of the boiling pots. Not once did she hear
But it was not enough to trade the heavy garlic
butter sauce for parsley chopped in garlic broth. She
needed to know much more about the creatures that would
launch her book. So one day, from the University where
she worked, she posted a request for information on
snails and was directed to a Internet discussion group on
The only live molluscs Fiona had ever seen were
brown bearded barnacles on an English seaside pier. The
Tourism Department of the university had sold the hard-
boiled Lyons entrepreneurs the prospect of a new market:
handicapped tourists. Fiona worked with deaf-mute
Her students knew the trade, but had yet to master
English and computers. They would gather in her campus
office: "You can use the Internet for networking and
private correspondence," Fiona said. "You may even find
like-minded electronic pals."
For face-to-face encounters, Fiona chose the local
cafés. She coached her students in toning down their
sometimes exaggerated gestures, trained them to read
English lips of different accents and gave them clues:
"Body language is different in the business world. Read
it well, but take it with a grain of salt. Trust your
Her students saw she was one of them, not just in
her love of the city and its food, but in the way she
explored new possibilities with them. "The Internet is
great for research. You can find anything out there if
you just look. I even found material on *mollusca*."
They smiled. An English woman who loved snails. When
they ate out together, Fiona always ordered snails.
And it was the snails that introduced her to Yves.
When she posted her "snails" request, it was Yves who
directed her to *mollusca*. A computer analyst in Nice,
he loved all things English, especially the language free
of the diacritics that sprung from his native tongue like
tiny blades to twist a life of school dictations failed.
His hobby, though, was snails: studying and eating them.
"Snails belong to the mollusc family," he wrote.
"Snails in France are just common land snails of the
Helix species. But there's a magnificent specimen in the
London Museum." He told her about their habitat, their
nutrient value, their habits: "Snails have teeth,
thousands of them."
Nibble, munch, ...
She told him about her diet, about the book. She
told him how the snails had been the hook.
Yves wanted to practise his English and it was not
long before their conversations went beyond snails to
become a weekday 'Net chat of "getting to know you .."
Fiona told him where she worked, told him what she did.
She did not tell him that he would never hear her voice
other than through the tone of written electronic words.
She did not tell him she could neither speak nor hear.
"I'm six foot tall and thin, " he wrote. "My hair's
all there and it's dark brown, like my eyes. I enjoy my
food, particularly snails." The words grinned out green
Fiona giggled and straightened her glasses. "I'm
five foot six and slim now, but I like my food,
particularly French." She added a :) "How could I not,
living in Lyons?" She brushed her hair back from her
face. It was the sort of hair halfway between a crinkle
and a curl, a barley-sugar blonde that frothed about her
shoulders at the slightest hint of damp in the air. "I
have blonde curly hair," she wrote. "My eyes are blue, or
Weekends brought a pause to their chats. A modem at
home was beyond Fiona's budget since her studio of rustic
chic in the Old Town of Lyons was greedy for her salary.
I'll get one when the book's published, she thought,
popping a piece of Brie in her mouth. Nibble, munch ...
She leant back on the self-upholstered sofa, a glass of
table red in her hand and picked at the cheese.
Her mind ran through Yves' Friday message. "Bon
weekend," he'd wished. He had little respect for the
latest law demanding purity for his mother tongue. He
would sometimes delight her with whole sentences in
French made up of mostly English words.
Monday mornings always brought a note from him to
start the week. Sometimes it was late and then she would
feel a little tug in her chest at the empty shell. The
Net on detour, you never really knew... then a little
trip in her throat would tell her the highway was open
again as the words "message waiting" lit up.
"A month to finish, I'll have to work flat out.
Forgive me if I speak of nothing else," she wrote.
Nibble, munch. She bit a leftover breakfast croissant.
"It's going to be published. The pressure's off. The
snails did it." Her fingers tripped over the keys.
Nibble, munch ... She bit a bite of Brie and baguette.
"The book's out!" She hit the exclamation mark. "Nibble,
munch," she mouthed.
She told him about Sarah, her childhood friend who
worked for the publisher handling her book.
"Fiona, they want you to do a signing at
Waterstone's," Sarah's fax rolled its tongue out on her
desk at home. "A Friday and a Saturday morning. It'll be
over by noon. You have to. It's promotional. I'll be
there. Don't worry. It'll be OK. Love, Sarah."
Fiona knew Sarah would calm and shield her at the
signing. Fiona preached to her students with the calm of
a lagoon, but in practice her gestures flooded her face
and shoulders like waves rippling, then almost crashing
with mounting emotion.
Nibble, munch ... I'll have to stop nibbling, Fiona
thought. She knew she had broken all the rules. She'd let
herself go. The waiting time between submission of the
final manuscript and publication had taken a load off her
and she had succumbed to between-meal tidbits. She'd been
taken in by the elongated shadow the sun cast in the
afternoon, ignoring the truth of the rounder one it cast
And now they wanted her to come to London and sign
copies. She'd have to get those pound off quick. They
were bound to show. No more bread and Brie. No more
croissant, no more éclair. She was the proof of her own
method. No more nibble munch.
"I have to go to London. To sign the book," she
"I'll be there for work. Maybe we could meet?" Yves
"But I'll be busy Friday and Saturday morning."
"I could wait in the London Museum - the Helix, you
"But I wouldn't be finished before the evening."
"Meet you in Soho, the Groucho Club."
the letters blinked. The 'Net was down. Too much traffic.
No, they didn't know when it would be up and running
Fiona reached for the last remains of carbs and
fats, but stopped midway to her mouth. I'll just not
turn up, she thought.
Fiona arrived in London on Friday morning. Sarah
was at the airport and stayed by her side all through the
signing. Sarah did the talking and patrons quietly
offered their purchases for Fiona's signature.
"Sarah, I can't go to the Groucho. He doesn't know.
I'd rather take the next flight home." She remembered
other blind dates when the guy lost his tongue and
stammered off on his way. And for those that weren't
blind, the hours stretched past initial shyness into
elastic bands of incomprehension, exhausting her nerves
more than her muscles. If only she'd told him. It could
have worked. He seemed kind enough. He had wanted to meet
Sarah left Fiona at the airport and dropped off the
remains of the promotional material. It was late, around
10h30. She was relieved to see the entrance light of the
publisher's and pretended to ignore the lanky figure on
the steps. As she took her keys from her beige leather
tote, the man pulled his hand from his pocket without a
word. Sarah froze. He held out a small white card. She
took it in with a glance. And then a smile melted her
Sarah ushered Yves to her office as he explained how
he'd waited at the Groucho all evening, how Fiona hadn't
turned up, how he was so worried. Sarah took a sheet of
creamy paper from the pad on her period desk and
scribbled wet inky words which she carefully blotted.
On Sunday afternoon the doorbell lamp flashed a
ring. Fiona opened the door. A tall thin youngish man
with brown hair and brown eyes stood on the porch. She
knew it was Yves. Her heart thumped. Her eyes raced over
his faded jeans, the white T-shirt, the cropped brown
leather jacket, the horn-rimmed glasses ... he'd never
mentioned the glasses. Her mind flashed in cadence with
her eyes as her fingers fiddled with the folds of her
Yves held out a box with a transparent top. Tilting
her head to one side, Fiona smiled and accepted the
chocolate molluscs as his fingers flurried perfect signs:
"We do have a common language, after all," they said,
their accent distinctly French.
Sylvia Petter is an Australian living in France. She has her own home page at http://www.sylviapetter.com.
Another short story by Sylvia Petter on this site. And another one...
You can read some of her stories as e-book at the site of Iumix.
Notice © 1998 IP and the author
[Intercultural Platform] [Introduction] [Literature] [Gallery] [E-mail]