I went to the shop where my friend suggested I’d find what I was after. ‘Excuse me’, I said, ‘but I’d like to buy a wolf.’
‘I’m terribly sorry’, said the pretty young shopkeeper, ‘but we’ve just sold the last one. He’s to be married to a nice Indian girl from Tooting Bec.’
‘I was hoping he’d be able to give me lectures on recent cultural events while I sat in the bath and shaved my legs,’ I said.
Her eyes were kind. I could see she wanted to help. ‘It just so happens,’ she said, ‘that I’ve got one fish left. He’s an expert on international development and sustainable aid. He might know a little about opera.’ I bought the fish.
We stopped off at a newsagent on the way home. The fish wanted to get the Financial Times. ‘Can you believe all these journalists going on about MPs expenses, when they’ve fiddled their own accounts since time immemorial?’
Arriving home, I ran a bath. I gestured to the bench in the bathroom and invited the fish to discuss the legacy of post-colonialism in Southern Rhodesia. The fish said, ‘you do know it’s now called Zimbabwe?’
The fish sat down on the bench, sipping a glass of Chablis. He snapped open the FT and explained, slightly muffled behind the salmon-coloured pages, that he didn’t want to see me naked. I slid into the bath and arranged the bubbles to cover my modesty, not wanting to offend the fish.
He lowered the newspaper and asked casually whether I had a cigarette he could pinch. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I don’t smoke.’ He folded the FT and looked at me in the bath, as if what I was doing was in some way ridiculous. Finally he said, ‘a drink is too wet without a cigarette’ and poured the Chablis down the sink.