Photo by Deryn A. Walker
Brindley Hallam Dennis
The Writer's Secret


I am Marcel Dupree, sommelier at the Charrow Bay Hotel, until recently. No matter.

I tell you what happened. It was incroyable!

We had put them in the table called Alcove, a charming table, with views over the lake. Not cramped, but tres discreet. The mirror on the wall it makes it seem bigger than it is. Pardon? No matter. Monsieur BHD, it was he, and his lovely wife. The Director of Wine, Rico, he has said to me, look after them, he is a writer. I tell him, I have never heard of him. No matter. They are having Suisesse Soufflé of Stilton, Spinach & roasted Onion. They are drinking Nyetimber, a sparkling English wine, an appropriate choice, a choice of discernment. It could be champagne! I, a Frenchman, admit this.

They were nearing the end of the first course. I had stepped in to replenish the glasses. I was watching the lady at the table called Window, the table behind me. I was watching her in the mirror behind them. She was inviting my gaze. What breasts. They were magnificent! No matter.

Then it happened. From the knee of Monsieur BHD, slipped the table napkin. I had begun to pour, but I dipped, to catch it. I am nimble for my build. He too leaned down to reach beneath the table, and for an instant we make the tableau immobile. I am poised only inches from his head. He has a bald patch. I could kiss it, if I wished. But no, I am looking. Quelle Horreur! There, in the middle of his pate, it lies, unmistakeable. Unbelievable. A small, round hole, no bigger than the ten pence piece. I cannot help but stare. It is, how you say, transfixing. And why? Because there is nothing inside. Pas du tout. He is entirely empty. It is like looking into a cave, into the sky, into deep water. The glass it is overflowing by now. The Mrs. BHD she gives a little scream. I look down. The table cloth is running. We flip into life. The tableau is no more. I am apologizing, dabbing with my cloth. For a moment there is chaos. The Nyetimber, it drips to the floor. No matter. Order is restored. But I cannot get it out of my mind, the sight of his head.

He has a hole in the top of his head, I tell Rico. Bald, he says. He has a bald patch. I know the word. Mais non, I tell him. Speak in English. It is the rule, when we are on duty. No, I say. He has a hole in the head. Rico frowns. We do not speak of the paying guests in this way, he says. But he is empty, I say. There is nothing beneath the skin. Breathe on me, he says. What? Breathe on me. He thinks I have been drinking. Moi! Marcel Dupree. He leans in close. I breathe. I wish that I had taken the garlic with my croissant. Have you been smoking? He asks. You think I have been on the wacky baccy? I am outraged. No matter.

I return to my duties. They are ready for the main course. He is having Best End of Lamb with braised Shoulder, Dauphinoise Potatoes, Artichoke Puree, and Tomato and Thyme Sauce. I am serving a Ch.Haut Marbuzet 85. It is à pointe, but it will not remain so for long. Consequently it is very reasonably priced. This pleases Monsieur BHD very much. The woman at the table called Window is leaning forward over her dessert. She implores my eyes, but there is no time for mirrors now. I must see that head again. I must peer into its hidden depths. The empty bottle of the sparkling wine is upside down in the ice bucket beside the table. I pour the red. I ask, is everything all right? Madame? Sir? It is all fine. He suspects nothing. He does not know that I have seen. I go behind him, as if to make adjustment to the light, but I am looking. It is true. There it is, that hole. And beneath it, there is nothing. Absolutement nothing in his head. He is bereft of stuffing, of any kind.

Then, a movement, catches my eye. It is in the mirror that he looks at me. He knows I have seen. I turn, too quickly. The ice bucket in its stand. Collision. Catastrophe! It falls. I dive for it, like Didier going over for a try. I catch the bucket in my fingers, but it is too late. The ice spills. It shoots out, across the room. It engulfs the woman with the marvellous breasts at the table called Window. She screams. Rico appears by my side. It is disastre! He sends me from the room.

No matter. I, Marcel Dupree, will rise again.

That Monsieur BHD, the unknown writer, he sends me a message, wrapped in a five pound note. Your story, it says, is safe with me, but is my secret, safe with you?

Oh, I doubt it very much, Monsieur BHD. I doubt it, very much.