Any story that starts: “Today I feel like a drag queen,” “Today I feel like a bride,” has my name all over it. This story from Leone’s most recent collection, about degrees of self, and what we choose to show or conceal in relationships, is as playful, sexy and subversive as the character who narrates it. It’s a fully inhabited world, unambiguous in its depiction of female desire, as the layers of realness and power play are revealed. Hot AF. The entire collection is incredible, but I love the (literal) bounce of this.
First published in Brown Sugar: A Collection of Erotic Black Fiction, ed. Carol Taylor, Dutton Plume, 2001. Collected in Come Let Us Sing Anyway, Peepal Tree Press, 2017
Ross’s writing is sensual, brooding, playful, dark and unexpected – and nowhere more so than in this story.‘The Woman Who Lived in a Restaurant’ is about love, sacrifice, misogyny, loyalty, sex and death. It does what it says on the tin: a woman takes up permanent residence in her would-be lover’s restaurant to wait patiently for his affection. The building itself cracks, shifts and breaks whenever the lovers touch too much: she’s in for a long wait, as he’s married to his job. So she waits. He sends her exquisite, off-menu dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and she waits. Customers complain about her, and she waits. Staff resent her, and she waits. The couple take great, melancholic pleasure in the simple joy of being in proximity, of having one another in sight, sharing a single kiss each day, but never truly being together. In fact, as the chef goes home each night, the mistress actually spends more time with his wife, the silent but ever-present restaurant. And there’s something quite beautiful about that too.
First published by Nightjar Press in 2015, and collected in Come Let Us Sing Anyway, Peepal Tree Press, 2017, Best British Short Stories 2016, Salt, 2016 and The Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story, Penguin, 2018. Read it online at the Barcelona Review
Nicholas Royle’s Nightjar Press publishes uncanny, unsettling stories as individual chapbooks. They’re well worth checking out: I’ve been introduced to some wonderful writers through the Nightjar series, not least Leone Ross. In this particular tale, a woman sits at a table in a local restaurant and simply stays there. She is served meals, and washes in the restroom. Any member of staff who takes against her is promptly sacked. The maître d’ tells the story to one new recruit: the woman had fallen in love with the chef-proprietor; but he was already tied to his restaurant. And the restaurant would brook no rival for its owner’s affections.
Ross tells her story in the most delightfully measured prose, as carefully placed as the elements of a fine restaurant dish. That prose style creates its own world for the piece, so that everything within it seems quite logical and natural. By the end, I was reluctant to leave.
(First published as a Nightjar Press chapbook in 2015, which is how I read it. Available in the collection Come Let Us Sing Anyway (Peepal Tree Press, 2017), the anthology Best British Short Stories 2016 (Salt Publishing) and to read online here)