Culture / June 2, 2011
By Jared Vaillancourt
Miranda leaned back and ran her left hand through her messy black hair. The screen flickered before her, the text file opened and still blank. She took a deep breath and gritted her teeth, absently reaching for a pen to stick behind her ear. The glow of the streetlamps outside her window provided the only other illumination in her downtown flat, casting her olive-bronze skin into a strange shade of orange. She tapped the pen against her temple before shoving it into the space behind her ear.
“Bollocks, really?” Miranda muttered, her mother’s old “birds of the countryside” clock chirping like a sparrow as the arms reached midnight. The ancient – at least to her perception of technology – clock presided on a site of honour above the doorway between her bedroom and kitchen, and even with the oak door half closed she could still hear the thing as loudly as though it were wired to a megaphone. Nights like this one where she stayed up late to finish her articles were the worst, alerting her every hour to the calls of nightingales and storks that she was confident she’d forget in the coming weeks. As it sat, however, she’d have to endure the device until either exhaustion or liquor eased her to sleep this night.
She stood up and tiptoed over to her window, smirking briefly at the sleepy Edinburgh suburb as a gentle breeze wafted the sweet smell of baked goods up from the rich house at the end of the boulevard. Whoever lived there was always baking, creating a fog of perpetual hunger that lingered over the street like the rainclouds over the city this late into August. She’d become used to the smell by now, but after an evening sampling food at the new restaurant on the Royal Mile, she gently closed the window and locked it, lest her stomach think her nose was taunting it.
Miranda had always been an unimposing woman; her father was of Indian descent, his parents having migrated from the former Commonwealth colony when he was a little boy. Her mother, an English nurse, had more French in her than her obsession with nationality would have let on and thus Miranda had a curious appearance, with thick eyebrows and a wide mouth that she always felt was a touch too large for her face. She’d missed out on her mother’s vibrant blue eyes and inherited plain brown ones, and had a slim hook nose that seemed out of place with her low cheekbones. Looking at her reflection in the glass, she felt she couldn’t lay claim to any of her juxtaposed heritages.
Though, she mused, her new job was beginning to make her resemble an American.
“Now, let’s see…” Miranda whispered as she tiptoed over her low Ikea bed and resumed her fold-out seat before the computer. The Edinburgh Evening Newspaper had hired her as a food critic, taking her at a modest pay raise from The Telegraph in London. Her first few articles had covered popular pastry places and the famous Taste of Scotland dinner and show (although they didn’t serve the foreign guests real haggis, thank the good Lord), followed by reviews of miscellaneous niche pubs and bed and breakfasts. Her assignments had always been easy ones, or so she had thought; apparently there was more to critiquing food that saying whether or not one liked it.
“Original and in-depth”, Miranda repeated absently as she typed the name of the restaurant at the top of the page. Her editor was one of thousands seduced by the artistic and pseudo-intuitive trend that had come over with the likes of haute cuisine and refurbishment of older and much pricier establishments.
“If the food makes you cry, make your readers cry!” Miranda’s editor (now stylishly named “Zed”) had told her earlier yesterday. “If it makes you mad, get the readers mad! I’m overemphasizing, of course. Don’t – don’t make any of our readers mad.” He finished quickly. “Unless the food makes you mad!” Thus armed, Miranda went and had, if nothing else, the most expensive dinner of her life. Now all she had to do was write about it.
“The food at the new Delta – wait, scratch that,” Miranda muttered, deleting the sentence she had just started. “Hi everyone, it’s me again!” she whispered as she typed. Her habit of reading aloud whatever she happened to be writing had been irksome to her college professors and many a roommate, although her current salary granted her the luxury of not needing to endure the whines and complaints of the latter. Her new headline was the same one she started all of her articles with, and despite the occasional letter from some neo-conservative schoolchild pointing out that it was a constant waste of ink to continually print the same thing (she’d had many a quick quip to respond to that) she was dead-set on keeping it.
Her brief surge of enthusiasm at getting something on the page faded as she stared blankly at the screen. The meal had been extravagant, owing in no small part to her visit having been arranged by the newspaper and as such every staff member was in full sycophant mode. The wine list was open and waiting for her when she sat down, the bread in the basket at the centre of her table was still steaming and warm, and her entree was delivered short only of a fanfare. She hated going to places where her identity was established, but as this was the restaurant’s first week in business her words were required to determine the fate of the place. Something about that stayed Miranda’s hands.
“That’s it,” Miranda whispered as she leaned back. It seemed far too grandiose, too glorified a power for someone like her to hold. The fate of the restaurant, she mused, whether it stayed open or closed down and was replaced by maybe an indoor swimming pool or one of those fancy shops where they sold chocolate for the cost of a small car, was perched squarely on her shoulders. If she said anything even the slightest bit negative, their business would suffer. Or maybe it wouldn’t; lots of people could tolerate nitrous oxide-addicted servers if their service was prompt or handle a far too intimate atmosphere if the food was “all right”. Either way, whatever she wrote would hang over the place like a raincloud, something that never mattered to the niche market where everyone interpreted her reviews to fit what they already thought about each place. This new-found power was a tripe daunting, she mused grumpily.
A shower, a change into her plain yellow nightgown and a quick nightcap later and she was once again sitting before her computer, the one o’clock stork making its muted cries through the oak door she’d remembered to shut and lock. A little warmer from the scotch, she stared at her line on the screen. Whatever she wrote would be used by connoisseurs and restaurant-goers alike to forge their immovable opinions of the place. The worst part of all that was she really had no feeling on the subject whatsoever. Miranda blinked at the screen.
“Bloody hell, that’s it!” she whispered, and began typing feverishly.