Last Call: What’s a Lady?


What does it mean to be a lady? Standing in silence with my marketing client beside the plastic white dance floor at the after party of the awards ceremony, I pause for a moment after he spews his unsolicited opinion. His gaping mouth leers towards me and I catch the acrid breath from his throat. The pant curdles with the stink of rosé wine and an obviously full bowel smelling of tomorrow’s shit that permeates from his 5 foot 6 frame. The blue light bounces off the sweat on his receding hairline, and I’m struck by his unabashed boldness that makes me resent thinking of the question in the first place.

Suddenly finding myself faced with the word lady, I take a sip of my drink remembering my days at university when I was still called a girl. As a thrifty student I would buy a half bottle of bargain whiskey because the rent was due and the electricity was going to be cut off, so I would be frugal with my liquor spending. All the cheap brands of booze were so artificial that you were guaranteed a splitting headache the following morning. Sneaking the small bottle into the club with me would mean less spend, and I’d hide it inconspicuously in my handbag to conceal its size perfectly at 350 milliliters. The memory makes me ponder if that careless optimism is what being a girl meant?

As he speaks I wonder about maturity as I take a sip, I think about how being a lady could compare to the refinement of flavour in my Irish whiskey. Having a sense of taste, is more than just the essence on your tongue, its about choice, familiarity, predilection and preference. Much like the pure craftsmanship of a good whiskey. Thinking about it, to grow older seems to smooth out your rough edges, just as you would find in the malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation of a double on the rocks. Perhaps that’s what it means to change from being called a girl and a lady. Maybe it’s about becoming more you, more refined in character and distinguishably outspoken. 

But I doubt that’s what he implied, because when I start to replay the evening leading up to our conversation, I’m drawn to the instance my client tossed his jacket at a woman to check in the cloak room because he couldn’t be bothered to wait himself. I can’t help but recall his need to repeatedly tell a young female colleague his hotel room number despite her mentioning her fiancé. Maybe it was when he frequently asked the waiter to keep her wine glass full, or pulled her chair by the seat towards him so he could place his arm on the back of the chair.

Smelling the stench of his breath elicits the recollection of how he branded a passing female competitor with a gay slur, overtly using his tongue between his fingers to emphasize the point because I didn’t laugh.  His discolored taste buds made me think about his shit mouth and how he ate, picking up his entire steak with his fork to take a bite, he stopped to grab an attractive waitress by the arm to flirt with her with lecherous gasping as he chewed. I’m certain he called her girl, and wondered at what age he’d consider her a lady.

And it’s at that point beside the dance floor when he asks me why I choose to drink whiskey. It’s in that moment when he tells me he hates the flavor. Its in that instance he offers me his valued opinion. As I take a sip of my Jameson he decides to educate me that to drink whiskey is just not lady like for any girl at all. And with the stench of shit from his mouth, I think about taste, and think about being forthright and refined, and before I answer him, I think of a very specific question in reply; But what does it mean to be a man?

The recipe of a lady:

  • Take two parts self respect
  • Ease over your need to impress
  • Mix in three parts confidence
  • Omit all apologies 
  • Be sure not to swallow your words


Amy-Jean Muller is an artist, writer and poet from South Africa who lives and works in London. She explores topics such as culture, memory, identity, and sexuality. She aims to create a snapshot of experience and narrative with a non-traditional approach. She also likes whiskey, afternoon naps and nihilistic musings.

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