I've spent the best part of 20 years listening to Marcella, through her time at drama school and her blossoming as drama queen. Her world is an uncomfortable hybrid of Mills and Boon and Stephen King. There was the fixation on Leo, who's one of the straightest gay men in the universe, has never shown an iota of interest in women, though he led her on by paying for her meals, hugging her and letting her call him at three in the morning. She planted herself starkers in his bed one night, and now we can't ask them to the same things in case she throws a scene ("I felt so humiliated. You have no idea").
There were the three years of hysteria and monthly blood tests after she spent two condomless weeks with a hopeless - and very public - junkie ("but I lurved him. You don't understand what it's like"). Everyone who's known her more than a year has had to turn out in the small hours to rescue her from some roadside because she's gone out without any money and had a row with her popsy ("These thing never happen to you"). Imagination plays a large part in Marcella's life. Shame she can't put it to some lucrative use.
We're in one of those pretentious drinking clubs in Soho ("Would members please remember to switch off mobile phones while on the premises"), being ignored by waiters while we cram into the corners of a pair of sofas. I've handed over her birthday present, an eggshell porcelain bowl, and she's said what a pity it is it'll get broken so quickly. I'm drinking red, Marcella is drinking mineral water and periodically clutching her stomach to remind me about the food poisoning she got from a lobster two weeks ago. Marcella has had more shellfish poisoning than Mickey Rooney's had wives.
This week, it's the birthday blues. She has spent the anniversary, she says, alone and desolate. "Well why," I ask, "didn't you ring anybody?" "I was supposed," she replies, "to be being taken to dinner at the OXO tower and then to Paris." "What happened?" "He let me down." "Who?" "Sven. That man I told you about." "Which one?" A small pulse of irritation is starting up in my temples. "The one I met in Waitrose on the King's Road. You know. He took me for coffee and he said he'd love to take me to Paris. And I told him it was my birthday soon."
"Marcella, did you really think that some guy would take you to Paris because you'd had coffee with him in Picasso?" Marcella jerks her chin upwards. "I," she says, "keep my promises. It was awful. I waited all week for him to call, and he never did. He ruined my birthday."
"Why didn't you call someone else? Why didn't you call me?"
"I couldn't," she replies mysteriously. Then she starts to fiddle with her eye. She wants to change the subject, so she's going to engineer another drama. She digs in her Harvey Nichols bag, pulls out a handkerchief, rubs the eye harder. I offer her some eyedrops. She tosses her rich black hair several times, says something about catching my diseases and accepts them. Then "Aagh! Ooh! Aggh!" she doubles up, kicks the leg of the advertising exec next to her. "Oh, God, that hurts. That's agony. Aaagh! I think I've scratched my eyeball!" I sit back, refusing to be drawn in. Marcella thrashes around a bit more. "What have you put in those?" "Darling, if you stop rubbing bits of mascara into it, it'll stop hurting."
She shrieks at this. "I have to get out of here." Flings herself from the sofa, reels through the room toward the loo, banging into every table she passes, covering her eyes to make it look as though she's crying. Everyone glares at cold-hearted old me. I down my drink and line up another.
Five minutes later she's back, looking pale but courageous. "You have no idea," she says, "how much that hurt. Why did you give me those things?" "I thought they might help, Marcella. You were making such a fuss." She clutches her stomach. "Oh, God," she says, "Oooh God." I offer her a Rennie. "This is food poisoning, not indigestion!" she snaps. "If you've had food poisoning for two weeks, don't you think you should see a doctor?" She straightens up, says in a small voice: "I'll see how I feel in a day or so." Pulls another grimace of ill-treated agony.
There was a time when I would have congratulated Marcella on her bravery, patted her arm, but you get tired after a while. Or maybe it's part of the maturing process: once you've seen some really awful things, the made-up ones make you impatient. "Huumph," I say. "Well, let me know if there's actually something wrong, won't you?"Reuse content