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A Birthday Gift

Sue and Kathy were late, as usual. So was Petra. Emma was wondering whether to have a preliminary entree while we waited. Nibbling on a corner of the menu, she said, "Iím trying to think of something for Petraís birthday."

"Thatís not going to be easy," I said. "If Petra hasnít got it, it hasnít been thought of yet."

"But her one is always broken, chipped, never worked or slops oil all over the floor," Emma pointed out. "So what has she broken lately that most needs replacing."

"Her heart, Iíd guess," I said.

Emma glowed. "You mean, sheís got rid of Robbie?"

"He ran over her cat, and tried to blame her for it."

"Poor Petra."

"Poor cat. Petraís got another eight lives."

Emma counted on her fingers, enumerating Petraís ex-husbands and boyfriends. She shook her head. "Sheís down to two."

"Maybe thatís what she needs for her birthday. A liferaft for her swimming pool. Or a squad of lifesavers."

"Donít know any," Emma said. "But thereís Daniel. I could bring him to the party on Friday."

I looked at her long and hard. "Donít," I said.

"Donít what?"

"Donít matchmake. It always goes wrong."

Emma laughed. "That was Sue. Petraís already met Daniel, and she likes him."

"Why do you think that?"

"They were talking for over an hour at Kathyís party."

"Because nobody could be bothered rescuing her."

"But the way he was looking at her."

"She said he was undressing her."

Emma snorted. "Everybody undresses Petra, though I canít see why, because the top five buttons are undone anyway and she doesnít have a blouse that isnít see-through."

"Daniel talked for the whole hour about the epidemiology of phylloxera in the Ob river valley prior to the Russian Revolution."

"Oh."

"Itís his Ph.D. topic."

"Maybe heís a bit young for her," Emma suggested.

Sue pulled out a chair and slid into place, immediately looking as if sheíd been there for hours. Kathy thumped down, looking breathless. "Sorry weíre late," she said. "We got held up."

Emma looked over Sueís flawless decor and nodded understandingly.

"Emmaís trying to find a man for Petra," I told them.

"Not a hope," Sue said. "Thereís a world shortage. Of nice ones, anyway." She thought for a moment. "But if you find one, youíd better give me a look first. I can tell you if theyíd suit Petra."

"Did you have anything in mind?" Kathy asked.

"Itís got to be a hunk," Sue said. "To Petra, thereís only two kinds of men, hunks and wimps. And sheís not interested in wimps."

"Thatís not true," I said. "Petra thinks thereís only one kind of man. Wimps arenít men."

"But thereís nice hunks and horrible hunks," Kathy said.

"Show me a nice one," Sue said.

"Thereís Karl, and Alexander, and Joseph, and ..."

"And what do they all have in common?"

"Theyíre attached," Emma said.

"And likely to remain that way."

"What about Simon?" Kathy asked.

Sue winced. "He canít even grunt without forgetting what he was saying half way through."

"Besides, heís got a crush on Jason," Emma said.

"I think you ought to get her something useful," Kathy said. "Something more long-lasting, capable of providing comfort and affection."

"Such as?" Emma asked.

"A bottle of gin," Sue suggested.

"I was thinking of a teddy bear," Kathy said.

"Sheís already got one," I said. "That colossal pink panther that sits on the staircase. Itís so old itís going grey. And the black arm band has been there since Peter Sellers died."

"Kathyís right, though," Sue said. "The last thing Petra needs is a man."

"She needs to find herself," Kathy said.

Emma sighed. "Okay," she said. "Iíll get her a cat."

Petra wafted in, a foot off the floor, in a flurry of blond hair and a black jumper that would fit a five cent piece between each stitch.

"Iím bringing Alexander to the party," she announced.

Kathyís jaw dropped. "But heís married."

"So is everybody else whoís worth having. And if they think Iím going to wait until they get round to busting up of their own accord, then theyíve got another think coming."

Copyright © D.W. Walker, 1990


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