‘Which is more representative, your first impression of someone, or your lasting impression?’
It was something Philip had been rolling over in his mind for a while, a question he was only half conscious of, but now it had taken shape and here he was, rather unusually, asking his wife.
It took Jane a moment to turn back to her husband. Since they’d arrived she had been thoroughly occupied, first with her phone, then with trying to figure out whether it was in fact Samantha and Henry on the far side of the restaurant. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to see them so soon after the coke faux pas; on the other hand, it might have given her credibility. These things are difficult to judge. But it didn’t matter anyway because she was slowly coming to the conclusion that it wasn’t them, although she was still staring in their direction when Philip had mumbled his query. ‘What was that, dear?’
He looked at her awhile before he spoke, the thin features, neck pulled high and tight. Her voice had the champagne ring of certain London dinner parties. This wasn’t something he was noticing now, just a point to acknowledge; he too had affected the accent. Maybe that was what he was grasping. You have to adapt to fit in, after all; quirks and domineering individual flair are best left to teenagers. ‘I was just thinking–’
He pushed on, unfazed. ‘Do you think the first impression you get of someone, when you first meet them, is that who people really are? Or is it the lasting impression, the one they’ve built over time with you?’
He looked like he had more to say, with his earnestly scrunched brow and nervy-looking face, but she cut him off. Better not to indulge this sort of pseudo-intellectual nonsense and spoil what was going to be a perfectly good meal. ‘What on earth are you talking about, Philip?’ The question was defiantly rhetorical. ‘Eat your squid. Have a drink.’
So Philip did as he was told, dipping the battered coils into what was probably mayonnaise and chewing pensively at the rubbery texture. He sipped his wine and looked out at the other patrons while his wife returned to her mobile, having, as she typically did, refused to order an appetiser. The question, however, would not go away. It seemed important. He ruminated further, picking up another piece of squid and treating it like a problem, grinding it between his molars until it had become more of a fluid. Sixteen years, he thought. The number seemed abnormally large. The kind of number you notice.