LAST EDITED ON 08-05-04 AT 12:53 PM (EST)
It was at a party at the French Ambassador's official residence that I saw her. It was a swish affair, where the women wore ball gowns and tight hairdos, and the men wore expensive suits cut to hide their waistlines. It was at the time when the hors de'ouvre were just been served, and the second cocktails were being ordered. People were at their most energetic and emphatic, and the room was full of chatter.
But when she entered the room, a momentary hush descended. All eyes were directed her way. She instantly made all the other girls in the room seem dowdy, flawed, as wizened and over made-up as Madonna in daylight. As she made her way to the bar, there was a collective sigh that seemed to come from all the men present. Even the spoken-for ones, standing in full view of their wives and girlfriends, could not in that moment prevent themselves from watching the progress of this blonde apparition in a low-cut red dress, as the crowd parted respectfully in front of her.
Our eyes met. She was coming towards me. For a second I felt like Bush the day after his inauguration, experiencing a mixture of panic and fear as I asked myself 'What am I supposed to do now?'. But I got over it in time to smile slightly at the girl, acknowledging and respecting her instant local celebrity.
She smiled back a little, recognizing an ally. She came to my side at the bar. It was natural she would, as I was - while perhaps not worthy of this bewitching creature - the most imposing man in the room, with my fashionable suit and broad, athletic shoulders built by many days pratice on the range.
"Can I get you a drink?" I asked smoothly. "I already have the attention of the bar-tender." This may have been news to the bar-tender, but I suspected he was as stricken with the woman as the rest of us, and he was likely to be attentive. She asked for a Singapore Sling, in a sensuous and slightly-accented voice that somehow increased her attractiveness from its already stratospheric level.
I simply had to turn round to find the bar-tender. I passed on the girl's request, along with the order of another Scotch for myself.
While the functionary busied himself with the drinks, I introduced myself. "I'm Michael," I said to the woman, extending my hand.
Smiling again, she gave the hand a few Shakes. Her palm was cool and moist. "I'm Melisande," she said.
"That's a lovely name," I complimented her.
"It's French," she explained. "The ambassador is my father." She looked around the room. "I don't normally attend these functions. There are always too many..." A small frown appeared on her face. "Too many lecherous salopes."
I must have looked confused. She laughed and said. "It's French. It's not a good word."
"I'd guessed that much," I said, causing her to laugh again. "So why did you attend today?" I continued.
She dropped her head bashfully. "I saw a rather attractive man arrive, unescorted," she admitted. Then she raised her eyes and our gazes met again, causing me no less a charge than the first time. "It was you," she continued.
I was so transported by this declaration, I could barely think. Luckily, the drinks arrived before I said something stupid. I made a quick calculation. It was still a couple of months until high season. "So..." I began, placing her syrupy-looking cocktail in front of her. "What are you doing until August?"
This seemed to amuse her. "What happens in August?" she asked conspiratorily.
I couldn't quite believe she didn't know. "The golf season begins in earnest," I told her. "We could hang out and stuff until then, if you like."
And then she was gone. She left the room so quickly that I hardly even saw her go. The crowd opened and closed around her. I saw some of the men's faces light up as she came towards them, then fall again as she passed. There was another collective sigh as she left the room. Then, slowly, the chatter resumed and all was as it had been. I was alone again.
I sadly contemplated her untouched drink on the bar, so cheerfully attired with its jaunty little umbrella, so much at odds with my own feelings. Once more I found myself asking - why can I never meet anyone?
Edited to remove an extra 'I' that made it in there.