“You seem to have made an error.”
A lady somewhere between half and twice my age, dressed in pastel blue business attire and a floppy bow, with carefully edited hair, strode up to me and Maury, presumably because we were closest to the door of Domus Logogustationis (the clubhouse of the Order of Logogustation). She was evidently one of the new members who had joined during the extended lockdown due to (cough, cough) you-know-what. She was holding a print-out of our invitation to the event; she set it on the small high table before us and gestured to the heading: “Wine and Cheeseparing.”
I couldn’t tell if she was being serious or just making an extra-dry conversational gambit.
“Surely you jest,” Maury said.
“How did you know my name?” she said.
“Your name is Shirley?” Maury said, his eyebrows arching ever so slightly.
“No,” she said, still inscrutably. “It’s Geste. G-E-S-T-E.”
Maury, ever unflappable, was flapped. He stood frozen for a moment like a deer in the headlights.
“Well,” I said, leaping into the breach, “I’m glad you could make it. It is a pity that we have had to be, as it were, cheap and sparing – supply chain issues and all that. Inflation can be rather deflating. And so we made the theme cheeseparing.” I gestured at the nearby cheese board, which was covered with parings of cheese, each about the size and shape of a toenail clipping. “It’s not cheap, cheese; we are trying to evince the virtue of frugality.”
“That cheese has died the death of a thousand cuts,” Geste said, gnomically.
“As shall we all, at this rate,” Maury said, equally drily.
“Well, I was quite pleased with the existence of the word cheeseparing,” I said, continuing to paddle up the conversational stream. “Such a vivid and flexible lexical item. It started by naming a literal paring of cheese – a shaving from the rind, and we decided not to be quite so literal about that” – I nodded towards the cheese board again, where the parings included no rind pieces – “and then it extended to mean something meagre, and from that came to refer to an attitude of cheapness. And then it was backformed into a verb, cheesepare. So cheeseparing may be taken for a participle of the verb cheesepare, which actually came from it, while it’s in fact an adjective formed from a noun, and the noun was in turn a compound of a noun plus a gerund.”
“And to cheesepare means to trim budgets by making numerous small cuts,” Maury added. “As we are having to do here lately.”
“Well,” Geste said, “I’m glad someone is being economical.” (She might have glanced in my direction ever so briefly.) “I’ve always favoured editing a document down by removing excrescences passim rather than excising whole passages.”
I was about to say “You’re an editor?” but decided that I might just be opening myself up to further whittling down. Instead I fell back on “Would you like some wine, such as it is?”
She smiled, slightly but perceptibly. “I would, thank you. I parch easily.”
I picked up a glass from the sideboard and was about to ask which kind she preferred – we had a few bottles open – but Maury spoke first. He had stepped over to another table and picked up a game box. “Parcheesi, perchance? Our entertainment budget is down to hardscrabble.”
Geste raised one eyebrow. She turned to the sideboard and picked up a glass for herself, and as she filled it precisely half full with pinot noir, she said, “I see the entertainment is also on theme.” She pulled out a pen and made a quick small emendation to the printout she had put on the table. Then she nodded at Maury and at me and, with a pause to pick up a cheese paring, headed off in the direction of others in attendance.
Maury and I leaned in to see what her pen had wrought. With a small caret of insertion and a superscript h, she had indicated a correction of the first word of the title to “Whine.”