Saturday 20th August
Laura A. Anderson
Laura was the eight reader at Story Shop 2016, the daily Edinburgh International Book Festival showcase of up-and-coming writers living and working in Edinburgh today.
Her appearance was on Sat 20th August 2016 at 3 pm in the Spiegeltent.
Story Shop performances take roughly ten minutes and are free and unticketed.
The story she read
Laura A. Anderson is a writer with a Screenwriting Masters from Screen Academy Scotland, who won a place on Talent Lab 2016 at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Laura is also an emerging actor, a journalist, and a writer of games, stories and an upcoming novel.
You can hear the author read an extract of the story by clicking the play button on the photo above.
The story she read
Dinner with Audrey
a short story by Laura A. Anderson
It started, as so many things do, with an egg.
In this case it was a chicken’s egg, one of a pack of twelve (free range, obviously). I had it in my hand, perhaps in a looser grip than I should have, and I was about to bring it down and crack it into the pan when she spoke.
‘No, no, that won’t do at all, I’m afraid.’
I have a small kitchen, an Edinburgh tenement kitchen. There’s barely room for my spice collection, let alone another human being. If I’m doing the dishes and scrub too energetically, for instance, I can sometimes hit my elbows off the cutlery drawer.
Anyway, she was there, somehow, in that tiny space, squeezed effortlessly between the fridge and the washing machine.
She raised her eyebrows at the mess on the floor – I’d just dropped the egg, of course – and then gave a rather dramatic sigh.
‘Why don’t you clean that up, and I’ll prepare things properly.’
I nodded, becoming a meek and silent version of myself. I didn’t even ask her how she had come to be in my kitchen. It didn’t seem important, really. All that mattered was that she was there. She negotiated the space around me as I went to work on the floor with bleach spray and some cheap kitchen towel. While I was on my hands and knees, wiping up the mess and hoping it wouldn’t leave a clean spot, she bustled around the room.
I took in her clothing. Black ballet pumps, cropped black trousers, and a very fitted black top. I would never look as good in the same outfit. I dared to look up a little more. As well as the fabulous clothing, she was wearing a bemused expression.
‘Givenchy. It’s always Givenchy.’
I nodded, and stood.
‘This is the outfit I wore in Sabrina, of course. When I cooked dinner for Bogart.’
She watched as I threw the dirty kitchen towel in the bin, then waited for me to wash my hands.
‘Now, see. Two bowls. One for eggs, one for shells. Watch me, and try. This was something I learned on Sabrina, hence the outfit.’
She picked up an egg, held it like it was the most delicate piece of porcelain in the world, then brought it sharply down on the edge of the bowl. In one fluid motion she had emptied the contents into the first bowl, yolk intact and no shell in sight, and tossed the spent shell into the other.
‘It’s all in the wrist.’
I’m going to be honest, it took more than a few tries until I’d managed to imitate her wrist action. She was good about it, bless her. Flinched a bit, and handed me a spoon a couple of times so I could fish out bits of shell, but otherwise she just nodded encouragement. She stayed quite silent until I was on egg eleven.
‘You know, Bogart didn’t think I could act on Sabrina. We didn’t get on terribly well. It didn’t matter, though. I only had eyes for William at that point. Anyway, history has proven him wrong, I think.’
I nodded again, and felt something in my neck twinge at the repeated action.
The last two eggs cracked almost perfectly, and she even deigned to smile at me.
‘You’re making an omelette, I gather?’
I’d be making about five omelettes with that amount of eggs, I thought, but I didn’t say that. I just nodded, of course.
‘Then we need more ingredients.’
A quick rummage in the fridge produced a block of cheddar, which she glared at.
‘We need colour, darling. Make your plate look like a rainbow, a work of art, and you’ll feel good about what you eat.’
There was no real reply to this, but I took her quite literally for my second forage in the fridge. I picked items based purely on her colour theory: tomatoes, pesto, peppers, mushrooms, a red onion, and blueberries.
She pushed the blueberries aside without comment.
I chopped, she watched. She seemed more impressed with my skills here, and I refrained from telling her about the time I almost cut my brother’s finger off.
‘This is a small flat. You live like this, at your age? No children, no husband?’
These are different times, I wanted to say, no need. She knew the truth though, so I didn’t.
Sautéing the vegetables was easy enough, compared to the egg cracking, and she didn’t have many complaints there. She took over completely when it came to adding the eggs and making the omelette itself though. I put the grill on when instructed, and grated the cheese, but that was it.
The omelette, needless to say, was huge.
Once it was almost finished, she added the cheese and moved it to the grill.
‘Set the table, please.’
I did. I ran to the living room and tidied it up a bit, hiding the trashy magazines and my socks, sweeping all the bills into a pile and stuffing them into the sofa. I lit candles, because it was her, you know? Sounds silly now, but then so does this whole story. I didn’t think a bit of romance would do her any harm.
She came through to my living room just as I was laying the cutlery out.
It wasn’t Sabrina, now, but Holly Golightly, in the infamous black dress and tiara. I froze up. I’d definitely never looked that good in my entire life, and never would.
‘Sit down, then.’
I sat, took the plate she handed me, and waited for her to sit down too.
‘This seems like a very lonely room.’
I shrugged, as my passive nod didn’t seem quite right, even though this was the truth. We ate a few bites of the omelette – fluffy, tasty, perfectly cooked – then she did another of her grand sighs and stood up.
‘I had two children, in the end. I almost had a great many more. If you want them too, you need to think about that now.’
I stopped myself from replying. What I wanted to say wasn’t important, and she knew it anyway.
‘Your job, as well. You need to think about what you really want to do. Are you doing it?’
We both knew that I wasn’t. It seemed rather cruel of her to ask, in fact.
‘Sorry. I like to see people smile, though. It lights up the face, the soul, the life. What are you doing to make yourself smile? When did you last laugh? Laughter cures a multitude of ills, you know.’
I gestured rather pathetically at my bookshelves. Books made me smile, sometimes.
‘No, no. What about your dreams? What about the aspiration you had to paint when you were a teenager? Or last year’s desire to learn Italian? What about moving to Rome and working in a café? You wanted to do that for years. You had so many dreams, once, didn’t you?’
She had me there.
‘You could as easily work in a café in Rome as a shop here, you know. Nothing is impossible. The word itself is I’m possible!’
I’d read a quote of hers before which was very like that, and although I hadn’t agreed with it at the time, it did strike a chord that night.
She gave a small twirl. Holly Golightly with her black dress was gone, replaced by Eliza Dolittle in a bonnet. She started, rather randomly to my mind, singing ‘Wouldn’t it be Lovely’ and dancing around the room.
It was quite a sight and sound, as you can imagine. I was at the point of getting up and joining her when she suddenly stopped and gave me a strange, sad look.
‘You could still be alone, if that’s what you truly want to be. I love to be alone sometimes, to walk alone, to clear my mind. You can do that. You could allow yourself to love, too, though. I loved my Robert, although it took a long time to find him. I had two failed marriages by then, and so many disappointments, but my heart stayed open to love, and I’m glad it did.’
My stomach tightened up at this, and the urge to dance disappeared. She shook her head.
‘I think you need to be happy. It’s all that matters, really. Happiness.’
I found this statement quite hard to cope with, and instead of looking at her I stared at the remains of my omelette. A tear fell on the plate, and it took me by surprise when I realised it was my own.
A hand touched my shoulder. Her hand. She was older now, and not in character. This was her, Audrey Hepburn herself, truly, wearing a loose smock and headscarf. She still looked more elegant and sublime than anyone I’d met in real life, but I knew she was ill. The effects of the cancer and its treatment were writ on her skin.
‘You can’t let your world be defined by your losses, your mistakes, your fears. You know that. You should grow strong from them, learn from them, and move on.’
I tried to take her hand, but she shook her head and lowered her face until our eyes met. Her eyes showed her illness, and her beauty.
‘You can’t touch me. I’m not real. You need a real person to touch.’
She straightened up, and the lack of contact felt like a little loss.
‘Life is for living. Go, live.’
She walked into the hallway, and I ran after her. She wasn’t there, so I checked the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom. Nothing. She was gone, had vanished, left me all alone.
For the first time in a long time, I let the feeling of loneliness wash over me. I didn’t like it. She was right about so many things.
I went back to the living room, got my laptop down from a shelf, and switched it on.
While a price comparison website loaded details of cheap flights to Rome, I ate the rest of the omelette.
It was, all things considered, excellent.
(c) Laura A. Anderson, 2016
Part of Story Shop at the Edinburgh International Book Festival
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Laura A. Anderson reads Dinner with Audrey on 20 August 2016 at Story Shop during the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
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