<p>Agatha Christie finally arrives and the most shocking thing is that she isn’t in black and white.</p>
Listen to Greer read ‘Breaker’
“As a get-to-know-you activity – an icebreaker,” the tutor adds significantly, “we’re each going to go around and say our names, then who we would have a dinner date with, if it could be anyone in the world, living or dead. It can totally just be based on who you think’s hot if you want!”
Well, shit. In the grand total of eight hours we’re going to be in the same class together, I won’t connect with one of these people. Yet we have to know who everyone fantasises about, apparently. The light coming through the Venetian blinds is too bright. I tap a fingernail against my coffee to the tune of a song I don’t recall the name of, maybe something by The Beatles.
The first person starts. Ryan Gosling. Emma Watson. Of course.
It’s my turn so I tell them my name and nobody will forget it, because they won’t remember it to begin with.
“Agatha Christie,” I say. “She disappeared for eleven days in 1926 and I want to know where, and why. So, if we had dinner, I’d force her to tell me.”
There. Genuinely who I’d have dinner with, and if they all think I have sexual fantasies about Agatha Christie then so be it. The last person mumbles out some celebrity I’m too square to have heard of then the tutor claps her hands, her glasses flashing.
“Thank you for sharing, everyone. Now, for the next part of this little icebreaker,” my heart sinks a little more, “I’ve got a surprise for you all.” She gestures, jumper flapping, at a door. Not the entrance to the room, but a door painted the same white as the wall which I swear wasn’t there before. “Through there is a restaurant, and you get to go in one by one, and meet your dinner dates!”
Everyone looks around at each other then bustles and shoves to be first in line. I roll my eyes and wander over to the queue. This has to be a hoax. But the door swings open and the first person enters. So I’m about to meet a long-dead crime writer and I’ve forgotten my coffee at my desk. I shouldn’t be surprised that the first day of semester has gone this way.
The door swallows the next person in line. We accept this fact. We wish good luck to the guy who said Hitler for a joke. Now I’m at the front, the door opens for me and my tutor waves me through. The door shuts behind and I’m no longer in Collaborative Learning Space 450.
Instead, I’m in a dim restaurant. Red curtains undulate along the walls. Romantic, maybe, but I’m thinking of how much blood is in a Christie novel. At the closest table one of my classmates lets out a nervous, high-pitched giggle at something her date has said. A sharply dressed waiter takes me by the elbow, sort of how a grandfather might, and ushers me over a Persian rug to a small table with two empty seats. I look around but can’t see the exit anymore.
“Mrs Christie will be with you shortly.” He hesitates, “It might actually take a while. Time works differently here, you see.”
I nod to show that this makes complete sense to me.
He smiles and leaves. I look around. A girl from my tute is having dinner with Benedict Cumberbatch a little way off. I nod to her. She is busy talking and doesn’t see me. He does. He raises his eyebrows impeccably, immaculately – spiritually. He is eating steak tartare.
I play with my napkin. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. That’s what that Beatles song was. That’s depressing.
The waiter comes back holding a wine bottle as a question. It’s only 10.20am and I still have coffee filming the inside of my cheeks, but what the hell. I can see Taylor Swift from here and her earrings look like the bones of two small rodents. I can drink wine if I want. I nod to the waiter and he swirls wine into a glass. He has a tattoo on his hand, just a bunch of lines which creep up his sleeve too. He rolls away again. To cheer myself up I think, if this was a murder mystery then that tattoo could be a clue.
I used to work at McDonald’s. When you hear what they say about fast food and its health consequences it makes you think, as a McDonald’s employee, that maybe you are a murderer. Or at least, part of a murderer, if not the brains, then maybe the finger of a murderer. God, the horror of it just rises up in you, like earthworms. Then someone orders a salad and you feel absolved again. Mellow, you know?
Anyway, one time I was dealing with a customer and in the background I heard this guy I worked with say, very seriously, very regretfully, “The worst thing I ever did in my life was kill someone. Not on purpose, or anything, but I did kill him. I really did.” I imagine he shook his head sadly.
I was silent.
The customer was silent.
The whole entire world was silent.
“So,” I said, “did you want to upsize that to a large?”
Agatha Christie finally arrives and the most shocking thing is that she isn’t in black and white. She swings herself and a fur coat into the seat opposite. Her eyes are languorous, her nose beautiful and beakish. She dumps a purple silk handbag onto the table. With Agatha Christie, I wonder if every bag is a body-bag.
“Hello,” I say. I don’t know why but I curl my fingers around the stem of my wine glass. It is mine and I must protect it.
“Good day,” she says crisply, her accent radically more English than I could have ever imagined. “I do not wish to be rude but I will say this was not my idea, but here I am in any case. I suppose you’ve read my novels?”
I blink and try to decide whether to be embarrassed or not. “I mean, not all of them. A lot, but not all.”
Her lips part slightly. Her teeth are curiously small. “Well, why haven’t you read them all?”
“I’m not a lean, mean, crime-consuming machine, Agatha Christie,” I tell her.
She just sniffs and checks her watch. The face is smashed and the side battered.
I should’ve just chosen Ryan Gosling. “Listen,” I say. “This wasn’t my idea either, but we’re both here now. So I guess I might as well ask you. When you disappeared, all the big newspapers reported on it and everything, but nobody could figure out what happened. I wanted to know. What did you do? Where did you go?” I hate how pathetic I sound, how much I need to know the answer.
She picks up her knife. For a moment, it looks like she’s about to sniff the blade, but she just balances it in front of her face and says, “Where did Amelia Earhart go?” She looks at me. “Where do any of us go?” This time she does hold the blade to her nose, smells it and then puts it back down. “At least I came back.”
There is silence other than muted, awkward chatter from other tables.
There’s my answer, I guess.
She calls the waiter over so we can order and get this dinner over and done with. He now wears a ring with a black stone in it which I’m sure he wasn’t wearing before. Agatha Christie orders fish. For both of us.
The dinner goes mercifully quickly. If you’ve ever had dinner with an aunt, then it is much like that, except your aunt knows a lot about poison. She tells me about the Great War and I tell her about my studies. It’s a bit underwhelming, really. I thought there’d be a dead body by now. Not that I want one. I just thought there’d be one.
Agatha Christie folds her napkin in half seven times then puts it next to her plate. She is serious. “What is it you like about reading murder novels?”
I jiggle my leg up and down. “I don’t know.” Maybe this isn’t Agatha Christie at all, maybe it is Miss Marple impersonating her. How much wine have I had?
“Why do you need to know where I disappeared to?”
“I don’t know.”
She stares at me. Her tiny teeth glint like knives behind her lips, “Is it the melodrama of it all?”
The curtains ripple along the wall, wine and blood mixing together.
“I don’t know,” I say weakly.
“The idea that anyone could be hiding a secret from you?”
I want to cry. She’s speaking so loudly. “I don’t know.”
“Anyone could be a murderer. Anyone could disappear. Do you fear that for yourself?” she asks, gentler now.
I don’t know what to say. Does she mean do I fear being a murderer, or do I fear disappearing?
Agatha Christie pats her napkin down. “Just something you might like to think about, dear.”
She smiles, and somehow, I do too. She is a nice lady after all.
“Now, I really must head off,” she says, picking up her body bag. “If I stay much longer, people will be wondering where I went off to.” She swings herself away, fur coat gliding after her, disappearing into the depths of the restaurant.
I sit there some more, thinking about how those purple frozen drinks from McDonald’s looked so poisonous, and whether that guy really was a killer because I never asked him even though I wanted to so badly, and about which celebrity the girl I sat next to in my tute lusts over because I forget what she answered. Mostly I just think about all those people wondering where Agatha Christie went off to.