Manipulating his knuckles, he sighed at the loss of bygone days when he popped in the store for the sheer pleasure of seeing her. For a minute or two he allowed himself to reconstruct the happiness she tried and failed to hide whenever he walked in; she, too, replete with the previous night's lovemaking, but not wanting the whole village to know. Those former joys were so inbred that he only had to close his eyes and he could almost hear her wonderful giggle, catch the exquisite scent of her body. He sniffed the air as if to catch it now and so rapt was he that the first creak of floorboards was lost somewhere in the recesses of subconscious. But the second thundered into his mind like an ambitious bullet finding its mark. It came from upstairs. Wood thudding against wood, followed by the squeak of the loose board on the landing which he meant to fix and never got round to. Whoever was up there had gone in and come out of the guest room.
Too quickly, forgetting where he was, he shot up. The plastic bags collapsed, tins and jars clattered onto the quarry tiles, making enough din to give skeletons a headache. Instinctively creeping, he went to the foot of the stairs, paused to take stock. Should he rush up, or lie in wait? Deciding on the latter, he held his breath and sneaked round the balustrade. The noise came again.
Brian was conscious of a
figure emanating like an apparition from the upper floor's shadows. He looked
towards it and was flabbergasted to see David
on the landing, ready to descend; clutching what looked like a dinner plate in
's white trainers flashed as
he ran lightly to ground level, his dark, lank hair flying at an angle to his
After the shock of seeing his son, and an accompanying feeling of foolishness for tiptoeing round like an overzealous cop,
Brian's greeting, though not hostile, was definitely
on the cool side. He strove to comprehend why David
was there. In his absence, the boy would have let himself in with his key and
he might have gone to piss in the bathroom, but the route there avoided
completely the insecure floorboard, not forgetting the fact that apart from
bathroom requirements there was no need at all to go upstairs. Fleetingly, Brian regretted giving him the key. He had provided
it under pressure from Maggie who felt
the boys should be allowed to infiltrate their parents' homes without having to
be invited. Against his greater judgement, principally for the sake of peace,
he had given in.
Still puzzling over the reason for the unexpected visit,
Brian piled the shopping on the ancient hall-stand.
Had it been Malcolm up there he would
have challenged him for an explanation, but he had long ago ceased to question
his eldest son. He preferred not being on the receiving end of his
vindictiveness. David seldom dropped
by, professing in his supercilious fashion to dislike the obscure memories
which came to life whenever he saw familiar things. So why was he here? And how
would he like it if all and sundry paid unsolicited sojourns to his tawdry
'I took this off the wall,'
said, breaking into his father's abstracted musing on the wisdom of trusting
shiftless kids. He was holding a silver shield, an old school prize earned by
completing an orienteering course. 'I'm afraid it's left a white patch on the
Much as he would have liked to,
couldn't complain about David taking
his own property, though he was more than a little curious about why he wanted
'It's nice to see you,'
That'll be the day, thought
as he carried the bags to the kitchen. He was aware of his ungracious judgment
yet unable to change his view. Notwithstanding, he quashed the sentiment and
fractionally softened his voice when he invited his son to take coffee.
He's as skinny as ever,
noted, spooning coffee into two beakers, but he made no comment. David was old enough to take care of himself. If he
didn't, then he just had himself to blame. He filled the mugs with hot water,
and decided it would be wiser not to interfere. It would only provoke David's anger and produce one of his distressing
tantrums. He carried the mugs to the table, where David
was closely vetting the shield, scratching it here and there with his
fingernail and breathing on the inscription before rubbing it with the corner
of the tablecloth. By design, Brian
ignored his cheek. 'It's not real silver, you know, if you were thinking of
'I want it for my wall.'
'You could have asked.'
said, a hint of skittishness showing through.
Elbows on the table, hands clasped round the body of the mug,
David slurped his coffee. His
resemblance to his mother was uncanny, particularly those amazingly beautiful
eyes and thick lashes. Brian wondered
if his countenance would be less feminine if he had inherited the Porter features rather than Maggie's
- like Malcolm had, and he was all
right. From the number of on-off romances he enjoyed, his sex life would appear
to be thoroughly normal.
The silence was getting on his nerves but
Brian didn't know how to end it, so he slit open a
packet of biscuits and offered it. David's
flaccid wrist action as he selected one, and the way the little finger stood
rigid, reinforced Brian's belief that
he would never get used to his son's lifestyle. A single man, now thirty, David had never had a serious liaison with a girl.
Short lived affairs with students were soon abandoned for the company of young,
attractive men. Brian saw him once in
town, holding his paramour's hand like lovers do. He was so disgusted he
hurried away in the opposite direction, fearing he might disgorge his breakfast
or whatever meal had preceded that repellent spectacle.
'I roamed round a bit while I was waiting,'
David said, without unveiling even a trace of guilt.
'That snap of Malcolm and me, was it
taken at Blackpool?'
'Which snap? There's two.'
'The one in the silver frame on the mantelpiece. Him on the donkey. Was it taken at
'And the plaster figure of a boy archer which
Malcolm won at the fair, was that the same year?'
'I think so.'
The single stone in
signet ring sparkled as he riffled the jumbled heap. Choosing one of Malcolm toddling along Menorca's
huge marina, he said, 'I was thinking about dear brother earlier.' He tossed
back a lock of hair. 'Remember the miniature helter-skelter we had in the yard?
I can still hear him crying because he was too scared to let go. I pushed him
extra hard once and he squawked all the way. That gave him a something to cry
'You two never got on,' observed
He was examining a picture of his sons, aged two and four: Malcolm on a blanket, happily holding a beach ball, David glowering behind him. 'I hoped the bond would
improve when you grew up. I assumed when he moved in you'd outgrown your
differences.' Malcolm had shared David's home for eight months, but after a massive
argument he returned to live with their mother.
Instead of answering,
studied a snap of his parents posing in Brighton,
thoughtfully inverting it to look for a date. 'I get an impression of angry
words when I look at this. Hadn't you been there previously?'
There had indeed been a veritable reservoir of angry words.
Brian had been there on a prior occasion, with Audrey, for a sinful weekend they dubbed sex in the
sun. Without thinking he had let slip a local snippet which he ought not to
have known and on which Maggie had
pounced as if unearthing a jewel from the sand. The ensuing bitter quarrel took
months to overcome.
It was a mystifying query considering the numerous years since the divorce.
Brian wondered, as
he took a crushed pack of cigarettes from his pocket, why David
had asked. He took his time lighting up. 'We bump into each other
periodically,' he said, wafting the blue smoke with his hand. 'In the
supermarket, mostly. We've had coffee there a few times.'
'There's nothing I can do about it,'
exclaimed, utterly horrified that David
should even mention his mother's personal inclinations. 'As for being lonely,
that's bloody poppycock. She's got plenty of friends, as well as your do-gooding
aunts. I presume they're still around. And Malcolm's
there to keep an eye on her.'
'Him! He couldn't help himself let alone Mum.'
The remark was uncalled for, no matter what their relationship.
Brian fiercely defended
his second son. 'Your brother's regard for your mother's welfare is
commendable. He does everything for her.' Grinding the half smoked cigarette in
the ashtray, he added, 'She doesn't have to lift a finger.'
A rising high colour indicated
annoyance. 'Not like when you were married to her, eh?' He slammed his hand on
the table. 'She had to do everything then. You were never there. Supposed to be
working.' His voice conveyed resentment. He stabbed Brian's
hand with his finger and growled, 'You forced the situation on her. You owe her
a little support.'
Altogether confounded by this attack, and especially the unforeseen change in
Brian fiddled with the metal ashtray,
viciously shovelling ash into a heap with the squashed nub, desperately needing
to repossess his composure and not show that he was riled. 'What are you trying
to do, Dave?'
Lulled into a sense of sentimentality,
ignored David's extended hand and
pulled him close, completely forgetting for a moment the discrepancy of genes.
The fleeting contact was like drowning beneath a pounding breaker of
mushrooming embarrassment and the force with which they shoved each other away
signified that the devastating experience was mutual.
At the front door, though keeping his distance,
Brian made a last attempt at fellowship. 'I didn't
see the motor when I came in. D'you want a lift?'
There was no comment about the car nor gratitude for the offer. All
David said was, 'I'd rather
use the bus.' At the gate he stopped. 'By the way,' he sneered, returning to
the vitriolic style his father loathed. 'I like the photo.'
'Which one?' There were so many.
'The bitch by your bed.' The venom in David's utterance was odious, but his malice wasn't sated for, as he twisted on his heel and strode away, he scurrilously yelled, 'Man's best friend, she who only fucks married men, the one who pinched you off my mother.'
started to chase after him, but David
was too quick. He was out of sight before he reached the gate. Brian stood there, surveying the empty road, knowing
it would be futile to try and catch him up. Though he was stronger and could
easily crush David, he was responsibly
aware that battles were never won with fists. And he reluctantly admitted that
David's command of scathing language was far too vigorous for him to compete
with. He went into the house and crashed the door so hard that a vase toppled
from the adjacent sill. It hurtled to the floor. He disregarded it, went
instead for the whisky, gulping it in one before racing upstairs to check on Audrey's picture. It was in its rightful position,
facing the bed, not mutilated as he had feared it might be. He ran his
forefinger over her lips, outlining the welcoming smile. 'He won't get away
with maligning you,' he said. 'I'll see him in hell first.'
Armed with a glass brimming with scotch,
Brian slumped in his armchair and agonised over all
aspects of the visit. Nothing would have been achieved by explaining that he
and Audrey were no longer a twosome,
even supposing David had a right to
know. Taking a long swallow, he threw his leg over the chair's arm. Thanks to David he was now encompassed in a low spirited
hopelessness which was akin to grief after death.
(to be continued)