Andi reached for the phone and waited impatiently for the switchboard to pick up.
"I want the radio station," she said naming both it and the managing director Malcolm Gilthale. She'd met him in the park a couple of years earlier when they'd huddled together underneath his umbrella, listening to von Karajan reprise his conducting of the Walpurgisnacht Szene from Faust.
"You're getting wet," said Malcolm, only a twinkle in his otherwise stern face suggesting that he wasn't simply making an observation.
"I know," Andi replied. Her collar was turned up but water still found its way along her hair and down her back in icy rivulets that made her shiver. Her shoes, suitable for formal dinner engagements and dancing on polished parquet floors, were unsuitable for a grassy park that was rapidly becoming a muddy quagmire. The seats that had been set out for the audience were starting to sink, and the velvet cushions were waterlogged and most probably ruined. Two elderly ladies sat on the right, sharing a programme and a paper-bag of hard candies, but otherwise the concert was deserted.
"Perhaps you'd care to share my umbrella?" Malcolm had produced it from behind his back with a flourish like a stage-magician, and a light touch on a button near the handle caused it to open out like a magnificent flower. The umbrella was umber and ochre, and as he swung it up to protect them both from the incessant tumult of rain Andi had the briefest feeling of deja vu. It passed as quickly as it had arisen though, and she had smiled and stepped under the shelter to listen to the music as von Karajan coaxed miracles from the orchestra.
Andi set the receiver down; the switchboard would call her back once they'd made the connection to Malcolm. She remembered her uncle once showing her the games you could play: he'd gone to four different secretaries in different offices and told each of them he was with another. A circle thus established, he went back to his own office, put a handkerchief over the receiver, and asked to be connected to himself. Then he and Andi had hurried back to the secretarial pool to watch the call running round and round the four secretaries until finally one of them lost her temper, slammed the phone down, and stalked off to find the other secretaries. Giggling, Andi and her uncle had hurried away to Mondegreen's, where her uncle would then deny all knowledge of any such prank when Andi's father came looking for a culprit.
She hummed the jingle to Splosh to herself, noticing that the timing was also subtly different to the one she'd just heard on the radio. It had been written, O'Malley had said in an interview, as a classical exercise originally, which he'd then played to a friend of his who was looking for a way to advertise his new floor cleaner. After that it was just a matter of signing contracts, and the entire country came to know that Splosh was the cleaner for beleagured housewives. No matter how big the stain, how permanent it might look, or what the cause, Splosh would lift it out. It was a marvel of time-saving efficiency, and came in a ample-sized half-pint container for economy. Every time Andi saw it on a shelf in a shop, she would find herself turning away from it even as she started whistling the jingle.
When Oskar had asked her why she hated Splosh so much, she'd been at a loss to explain, but later that evening she'd realised that she did know. Splosh was the antithesis of everything that was right with the world: it encouraged people to cut corners and to think that everything could be done with less effort. There was, certainly, some efficiency to be gained in saving time, but if people lost the knowledge of how to cope without the miracle powder, the magic fluid, or the Brazilian wax (new to the market, with a simplistic, ugly jingle), then it wasn't saving time at all, it was contributing to the decline of the economy. It was, in the truest sense, a false economy; it was a path to ruin.
"How did you manage to get to sleep after thinking that?" Dr. Crepidarian had asked when she told him about the next morning, but Andi hadn't understood his question.
The phone rang; the switchboard had Malcolm Gilthale on the line for her.