by Fanny Adams
Story #15 in the Emma universe
The phone rang early--about five a.m., I think, and as Bodie was face down in the pillows as usual, I grabbed for it. I managed to drop the receiver twice on the way to my ear. Please God, I prayed, don't let it be The Cow.
"Hello, who is this?"
"'s Ray. Who's calling?"
"I'm calling William Bodie. Is he there please?"
William? I gave Bodie a vicious poke in the ribs and dropped the receiver on his head. He managed to grunt into the business end of the thing. Then he tensed and I found myself very awake. Something wrong.
"When?" he said. He hadn't moved but his whole body looked ready to explode. "Don't know. I don't want ... Yes I know. I realize that. Look, if I can get the time..." There was a long silence. "No, I don't really care much," he said finally. "I'm sorry." He chuckled after a moment. "Exactly right. Yes, well, it'll be good to see you again at least. I miss you sometimes." Something caught me--a vise-grip on my vitals. "Love you too. See you soon." He hung up the phone and rolled over, pulling me into his arms. "My father's dead," he said bluntly. But as he said it all the tension drained out of him. "Would you be shocked if I added good riddance?"
"Only a little. Who was that on the phone?"
"Eliza." The name didn't ring any bells and I frowned at him. "My eldest sister?"
"Oh yeh, sorry. I forgot."
"She wants me to come up for the funeral. God, what's the time?" He reached round, half rolling on top of me, to read the clock.
"Oof! you weigh a ton, Bodie."
"You complaining, petal? Five-twenty! Didn't we just go to bed an hour ago?"
Instead of pushing him off, I wrapped myself around him. "About three." I kissed his chin. "We're not due in 'til mid-afternoon," I reminded him. "Feel like reaffirming life a bit?"
He grinned down at me. "At least my father is a good excuse for making love to you."
"Since when did we need an excuse?" I asked as his hands made straight for all my most erogenous zones. I guess we both were feeling a touch of the morning matrimonials. It was going to be fast and furious.
In fact, the whole exercise took about fifteen minutes, after which Bodie dropped off immediately, face in my armpit. I lay awake for a while though trying to put together the rather sketchy picture of his family that he had drawn over the years. An enormous Edwardian father who was (though Bodie had never actually said as much) quite mad; a delicately beautiful mother who died young, and three sisters--Eliza the nun, Vick the anonymous wife and mother and Caro with a lot of boyfriends. The whole thing had a mythic taste.
Time off ... which meant that he'd be talking to The Cow as soon as possible--today probably. Well, I was going too. He wasn't going to face his family without me. "Brought your wife, eh?" they'd ask. Never mind. I stopped apologising for sleeping with Bodie a long time ago and I never apologized for loving him. Anyway, we'd been living together for seven months so I expect I was the closest thing to a wife that he'd ever have. And vice versa. Bodie was becoming nicely domesticated--house-trained he called it, like a graduate of the Woodhouse school. No bad Mercs.
He was in the loo when I woke up again and had just lathered up for a shave, so I got my face all soapy trying to kiss him. Made him laugh too which is always good for my sense of perspective. "Going up for the funeral, aren't we?" He didn't reply, but that Satanic eyebrow of his reached new heights. "I'd like to go."
"You don't have to." He scraped at his face with great concentration.
"I know that. I'd like to meet your family."
"No you wouldn't." He finished shaving and rinsed off the lather. Then he splashed on some after shave--citrus with a hint of lavender, very sexy.
"Look," I said, trying the I'm-being-rational approach, "if there's a problem, just say so."
"Like they don't know about us and you don't want them to."
"I don't give a damn about that," he snarled.
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry." I washed the soap off my own face and switched on the electric razor. Noisy bugger it is too, and it drives Bodie mad. "I probably couldn't get the time off anyway," I yelled over the buzz. He mumbled somthing I couldn't quite catch. "What?" He left the room without answering so I switched off and followed him. "What was that?"
"I said, you win, you sexy little sod." He picked me up and kissed both cheeks, one stubbly and one clean shaven, and laughed. "How can I resist?"
I wrapped my legs around his waist and we kissed for a while. "You want me to come along--you're sure?"
"I want to make love to you in his sodding bed. I want to introduce you to my family as my lover. Besides," he added, his face going all young and vulnerable and looking so much like Michael, "I'd miss you like mad. I'm used to that pretty body beside me at night."
"You say the sweetest things, William," I said very sarky. "What do they call you?"
"Will or ... Willie." He made a face and I retched sympathetically. "Bodie will do. Or Sweetums." I began to giggle. "Or Warm-thighs. Eliza would love that, wouldn't she?"
He was getting aggressive and I ordered him to put me down so I could finish my shave. I looked not just disreputable but rather like a crazed harlequin. "I won't be long," I promised as I went back to the loo.
"I won't get dressed."
Well, The Cow grumbled and groaned at me, but he gave me the same leave as Bodie. I reckoned he would. He knew a deal more about Bodie's early life than I did and he wasn't the man to send a lamb like our Bodie into the bosom of his family without a little protection. In fact, he said to me as we were leaving (and he was sure that Bodie was out of earshot), "Take care of him." Then he motioned me out double-quick.
We motored up together the next day. Bodie was cheerful enough when we set out, but the closer we came to Liverpool the gloomier he became. His spirits deserted him altogether when we turned the car down a narrow street that was dominated by a big Victorian house. "That's it," he announced quietly.
"Pretty grim," I joked. "Just the place to start a murky career."
"Why don't we just turn the car around and go home?"
"Park the car, Bodie."
He did as I told him and gave me a chaste kiss on the cheek. Very sweet. "Thanks," he said.
The woman who opened the door was obviously a charwoman pressed into service and hating it. She showed us to the kitchen where there was a crowd around the table all drinking coffee or tea and eating biscuits. They stared at us with unconcealed hostility. Bodie introduced me as his partner to Vick who had bluish shadows beneath her eyes rather like the ones Bodie gets when he's over tired, and to Caro who was smoking a cigarette and looking bored, and who was a strikingly handsome woman. I had supposed that the third woman was Eliza, but it turned out that she was a neighbor come to offer her condolences. She left not long after we arrived. Vick introduced her husband Tom, who seemed annoyed to see Bodie.
"Where's 'liza?" Bodie asked as he rummaged around and found a single bottle of beer which he opened and passed to me. I took a swallow and passed it back.
"With the priest. She didn't say anything about you bringing your partner," Tom observed. Caro snickered.
"She didn't know, did she?"
The door swung open and I was sure that this was Eliza at last. "Well, you've brought Ray, haven't you?" she asked. She was a big woman--almost six feet tall and husky. Her clothes were ordinary and her salt and pepper hair was clipped very short. She didn't exactly look like Bodie, in fact, none of them resembled the others, but there was something that set them apart as one blood. There was something in the eyes--an expression--and in the set to the mouth.
"He asked to come," Bodie explained as he embraced Eliza. Then he pulled me over to be inspected. "This is my big sister," he told me.
"That's a pun," she snapped back, deadpan. I felt a silly grin tug the corners of my mouth. "How nice to finally meet you after all these years... and all those stories!"
"Oh really?" I squeaked. "You have the advantage of me, I'm afraid. Bodie is very close about his family."
"With good reason," Caro added.
"Willy, I'd put you in your old room, but I see that won't do. Would you rather have Mother's or Father's? Tom and Vick are in the guest."
"What difference does it make?" Tom demanded.
"Will probably has a preference," Caro told him. "For one room over the other," she added, with perfect comic timing.
"That's not what I meant."
"Oh, I'm terribly sorry."
I knew what he meant and I couldn't help tensing and thinking, here it comes!
"Mother's then," Bodie decided.
"Why?" Tom demanded again.
"Isn't it bloody obvious?" Cara snapped. Vick had an odd look on her face--amusement and pity all muddled together with something fierce and unexpected
"It has a double bed," Eliza said very evenly by way of explanation. "I'll see you're settled," she said to Bodie.
"Oh Tom, right next to your room!" Caro said gleefully. "How nice for you." A beautiful bitch that one.
"Sharrup," Tom growled as we left the kitchen.
"Tom is very straight-laced," Eliza explained somewhat unnecessarily as we mounted the stairs. The house had a musty, disused smell. "The idea of homosexuality is doubly upsetting to him when it strikes this close to home." She opened the bedroom door and motioned us in.
"You seem very cool about it," I observed, ignoring a ferocious glare from Bodie.
"Well, again, I have the advantage. I've known of the relationship almost since the first." It was my turn to glare ferociously at Bodie. "And then, my background rather precludes any value judgements on the subject. I'm a psychologist, you see. A teaching sister."
"No, I didn't know," I said pointedly. "Is that why you wear civvies?"
She laughed. "That and the fact that I look like a very large penguin in a habit. Quite frankly, I'm just happy that Will is happy at last. More power to you that you've helped him to reach that stage. You're welcome here as long as I have anything to say about it." She ruffled my hair in a Bodie-like gesture and left us alone to unpack.
"I like her," I told Bodie who was sitting on the edge of the bed, his head averted and his ears pinkish. "You okay?"
"Being here is... unimaginable, Ray. The memories..."
I sat beside him and put my arms around him, struck as I occasionally was in moments like this with how very young and vulnerable Bodie really was. "Tell me about your mother--this was her room, wasn't it?"
He nodded. "I liked this place best when I was small. It always smelled like her." He pulled away and went to the dresser where he sniffed at each of the bottles in turn--cut crystal or etched or tinted glass--ornate things trimmed with silver. "Nothing left after all these years," he said. "She always smelled of violets and roses and jasmine."
Then he opened each drawer and surveyed the contents. He was searching for something, and finally he found it in a tightly sealed box of potpourri. He opened it and stirred it with his finger, and a smile played across his face. "This is my mother," he said, holding the box out to me. Violets and roses and jasmine.
On all the tables, all the flat surfaces, there were photographs; some were silver framed, some in wood or cloth or brass.
Bodie nodded. "And friends. These are my parents on their wedding day." She was beautiful--remarkably so--and her young husband was handsome. They looked happy. The look in his eyes was the very same one I sometimes saw in Bodie's when he looked at me or the kids. Eerie. "And this is me at three. Little Lord Fauntleroy, eh?" He passed a photo of a beautiful child with blacks curly hair and an enormous teddy bear.
"Yeh, Rupert the first. The late lamented Rupert. Dad hacked him up. Said I was too old for toys." He put the picture back and it was all I could do not to try to slip it into my pocket. "This is Mum when she was a girl." She'd been a gawky child, all scabby knees and elbows and a toothless grin. Her stockings were drooping and she clutched a large cat. "Always loved animals, she did. We never had any though 'cos Dad was allergic to everything. Only..." he grinned, "one summer we spent the long vac in Kent. Mum had people down there. A little goat adopted her, and followed her everywhere. She cried when she had to leave him." He looked out the window for a time.
"Who's this?" I asked, indicating a photo of a good-looking young man.
Bodie frowned and picked it up. "Don't know. I don't remember this one." Then he shrugged. "Might have been one of her brothers. She had four and I think they all died in the war. Don"t know for sure. Maybe there's one left. I'll ask Eliza." He put the photo back carefully. "Feel like a kip? I for one am knackered. "
I wasn't particularly tired but as he looked like he could do with a bit of a cuddle, I didn't argue. I dropped off eventually and had a nice little nap as well.
A knock at the door wakened us, and Caro marched in bold as anything to announce that supper was being laid early because of the wake. "I'll show you the lav so you can have a wash before," she offered. "Come on."
I stumbled out of bed leaving Bodie to mutter something rude and pull the covers over his head. She led me down the hall, found a flannel and a towel and hung about in the doorway as if she intended to watch the ablutions. "I'm fine now. Thanks awfully."
"You're rather attractive now I look closely at you. Are you exclusively gay?"
At which I think I went bright crimson. I stammered "No, of course not."
"Why 'of course'?"
"Well, because I'm not, that's all."
"Then you wouldn't be put off if I made a pass?" she asked. "What about Will? Does he just like boys or is he democratic as well?"
"No, yes...I mean..." She was getting a little too close for comfort.
"Goodness you're a nervous one. I was only asking. I haven't seen him since he was fourteen and he hadn't started on girls yet, though as I recall he was very popular with the neighborhood boys--as I was. I was just wondering is all."
"Popular with the boys?" I asked, feeling very tense. Bodie had implied though not ever actually said, that his first sexual experience was on board ship. Silly thing to worry about, I guess, but it bothered me.
"Oh yes, very. He was very pretty, you know. Prettier than his sisters." She laughed. "I was always jealous of his looks. I had a boyfriend who was more interested in Will than in me. Nothing worse for a girl's ego. He was very free with himself in those days." She moved very close. "If I tried something..." Wonderful perfume she wore... and I thought: What the hell? What can it hurt? I kissed her, putting my all into it, and I felt her moving in my arms, moving closer, wrapping herself around me wanting more. But for me there was nothing like that--only a pleasant feeling that I'd kissed a beautiful woman because she wanted me to. Nice, but once over I didn't miss it or long for more. Not like with Bodie where each kiss is like an invitation to another one.
"That was nice," I told her quite truthfully, "but that's all."
"We have half an hour ..."
"No. Sorry. It's not worth it to me, Caro. Thanks anyway." We both looked up to find Bodie looming in the doorway. "Getting to know your family, Sunshine," I said brightly.
"So I see. Sod off, Caro. I want to do a little molesting myself."
"Selfish bugger," she muttered, but I had the feeling that she wasn't entirely unsatisfied with the result of the encounter. She threw a provocative smile at us as she reached the doorway. "If you're ever up for a threesome, I'm game for just about anything."
"What a tart. Pretty too, like a female you." I washed myself in tepid water while Bodie searched through the cabinets and cupboards. "What's odd is that I'm not more turned on to her. I ought to be, you know, considering."
"Considering?" He was obsessively looking through everything as we talked.
"Considering that she looks like you, berk. Don't you ever listen to me?"
"Only in bed. She doesn't, you know. Look like me." He pulled out a towel and pressed it to his face, inhaling deeply.
"Good coke, is it?"
He chuckled. "They had a special smell when I was young. I never knew why, but all the towels smelled like summertime. When Mum died that smell disappeared."
"I love you, twit."
"Oh thenks awfully, Raymond, old chappie."
Supper was awkward, but it never, thank heaven, spilled over into grim. Tom glared at us all through the meal until I finally asked him straight out what the problem was.
"Probably one of your false eyelashes coming loose, dear," Bodie quipped before Tom had a chance to answer. Eliza choked on her salad and Cara stuffed a napkin into her mouth to stifle her laughter. Even Vick, smiled that little, secret smile I'd seen before. The change was startling. She was pretty.
"Very funny, very funny," Tom snapped.
"Me? No, not at all. I'm singularly lacking a sense of humour, isn't that so, Raymond?"
"Oh yes," I confirmed. "Very dour."
"You know damn well what I mean!"
Bodie's response was one of those frozen smiles that never reach the eyes. The effect is hideous for anyone on the receiving end and Tom very wisely backed off.
"Do you suppose that any of Mother's family will come?" Vick asked.
"Why would they want to?" Caro asked, and Bodie wondered aloud if anyone would be foolish enough to think that they cared that their father was dead.
"I care." Everyone looked at Vick. "I care. He was my father after all."
"Darling, you must understand, we all have to deal with this in our own way," Eliza said gently, taking Vick's hand between her own much larger ones. "And anyway, funerals aren't really for the dead, they're for the living."
Vick poured herself another glass of ale. "Soft-headed, that's old Vick."
"Soft-hearted, more like," Bodie amended. She giggled while her husband glowered.
I helped Bodie clear away, the occupation making me feel less of an outsider. "Lots of bad feeling about him, is there?"
Bodie rinsed a plate thoughtfully. "Good reason for it, I'd say. He made our lives hell until we were able to get free of him."
"Pretty grim, I imagine, but..."
"I expect it's silly, only, I never knew my father." I dried the dish he handed me and set it on the table. "I don't even know who or what he is...and when I look in the mirror I think he must have been something rather strange. Anyway, well, I guess what it is is that it seems rather a wonderful thing to have a Dad no matter how awful. There, I told you it was silly, didn't I?"
Bodie put his arms around me and hugged me very tight. "I like to think of you as springing full grown from your Mum's head--bloody heroic, innit?"
"You're raving," I laughed into his chest.
"Thing is, you have got a dad...'course I ought not to tell you this, but your mum does know who he is."
"She said not!" I yelled, pushing him away. "Did she tell you who?" It was absurd how fast my heart was beating.
"Ray, listen to me. Is it going to change anything? Are you going to be someone else entirely if you find out his name?"
"I could meet him," I insisted. Crazy thoughts were tumbling around in my head.
"Oh yeh, you could show up on the doorstep one day and say: 'I'm your son. You don't know me, of course, but you knew my mother rather well.'"
"Oh stop it, Bodie. I'm not such a prat. Why the hell did she tell you and not me?"
"She didn't tell me who he was, only that she knew who he was and that she felt guilty for never having told you."
"And you told her not to. Thanks very much." I began to furiously dry a plate.
"You think I'd do that?" he asked quietly. Of course he wouldn't.
"No. I know you better than that." I sat down, my knees like water, and contemplated the mixture of euphoria and dread that washed over me.
Bodie knelt down beside my chair. "If you ask her, she'll tell you, Ray." I wasn't at all sure I really wanted to know anymore.
"Will? Ray?" It was Eliza at the door. "There are people beginning to arrive. I think you should be out here."
"Feel up to facing a mob, lover?"
"Yeh, let's go get 'em," I said. I was almost dizzy with emotion as Bodie hauled me to my feet; and we walked arm in arm into the parlour.
Tom came up behind us and hissed, "Have a little decency for the sake of the family."
"Sod off," Bodie whispered, a charming smile on his face.
I hadn't expected a coffin ... don't know what I did expect, but the atmosphere had been so light that I'd forgotten that we were there to pay last respects. It was in the corner of the room, surrounded by a pitiful offering of flowers. I found I was curious about the man who lay inside the coffin. I pulled away from Bodie and peered down at the face of his father.
It was not what I had expected at all. There was before me a gaunt old man with a thick shock of coarse white hair. His hands, which were folded on his chest, were mottled with liver spots and the veins stood out in sharp relief under the papery flesh. All there was of Bodie was the mouth--that same vulerable and ironic mouth which even at rest was eloquent. I allowed myself to think about that, and it was enough. I wanted to weep. I backed away and fled the room where Bodie and his sisters were attempting to sound sincere as they accepted condolences.
I found myself in what must have once been a grand library. Most of the shelves were empty now. What dominated the room, though, was not the vast expanse of shelves but rather a portrait of Bodie's mother as she must have been early in her married life. It was a magnificent portrait--the sort that wealthy families are mad for. The artist had been more than just competent... or perhaps the subject matter had been so superb that all he needed was competence. I was struck again by her beauty and by the serenity in her eyes. Bodie hadn't got that at all.
She was wearing white satin which set off her blue-white skin and black hair. Her eyes, so like Bodie's in their shape and colour, seemed almost violet in the muted light. I couldn't help but wonder if the artist had taken liberties with her likeness. It seemed impossible for a woman to be so exquisite. Had I been the artist I should have fallen completely.
The door opened quietly. "Ah, you found her." Bodie stood beside me and gazed up. "I'd forgotten..." he said dreamily. Then: "My God, what happened to all the books?" He surveyed the shelves as I remained in front of the portrait, trying to memorize each detail. "Natural history, a dictionary, a Western ... " He chuckled as he leafed through the last. "Eclectic tastes had my father." A small cloud of dust rose as he turned the pages. "You up to going back?" he asked as he replaced the book. "Come on, you can keep me from spitting on the old bastard." He switched off the light and led me out. "Remind me to ask Eliza what happened to the books."
Mercifully the remainder of the evening was easier. Quite a few people shook my hand and offered sympathy. I guessed that very few of them knew who I was, or cared much. I didn't see Bodie approach the coffin at any time.
The last of the mourners left, or rather, were shown the door a bit after midnight. The stragglers were a little the worse for drink and nobody knew who they were.
"Leave the clearing up for Mrs Hansen. She'll be in before nine. We'll be leaving for the funeral at ten." Eliza switched off the lights. "Goodnight," she said, indicating that we were all to retire to our own rooms. Caro winked at me and twitched up the stairs just ahead of me and Bedie. For my part, I was looking forward to putting on a bit of a show for Tom, not to mention the fact that I was itching to get my hands on Bodie.
I was between the sheets in two ticks, my toes wriggling in anticipation. Bodie wanted to have a shower, but I grumbled about that, so we compromised on a quick wash now and a shower, together, in the morning. Quick! He was gone for almost half an hour. In the end I got out of bed and went to look for him. I was halfway to the loo when I saw him coming up the stairs. "Wondered where you'd been. Thought you went down the plughole."
He looked up and I noticed how tired he looked, the shadows beneath his eyes making them look bruised. "Just saying good-bye," he said quietly. "Let's go to bed."
I really expected him to be all grim and serious about our lovemaking, but he was in far better spirits than I had imagined. In fact, he was rather rambunctious and playful, making me laugh so hard that I couldn't get it up for the longest time. Nights like that he's so sweet when we finally do get round to the mechanics of it all that I almost prefer them to the really hot, intense bouts of passion we have sometimes... well, more times than anyone would imagine for a pair that's been together as long as we have. I like him silly and sweet. It's why I married him, isn't it? Or would have done if that sort of thing was possible. It's just as good, what we have.
Anyway, we both made a deal of noise that night. I hoped that Tom was listening because I gave it my best shot--what Bodie calls my 'cat-in-heat' impersonation, and I half expected them to start rapping on the walls any minute. I couldn't resist putting a bit of icing on either, so whenever I woke up during the night (fairly often in a strange bed) I spent a few minutes bouncing up and down on the mattress, making the springs squeak. Poor Bodie, I wonder what he thought.
It paid off too, over breakfast. Tom looked more sullen than ever and Bodie's sisters were wide-eyed with surprise and/or admiration.
"Bloody waste if you ask me," Caro said, biting the corner of her toast with real feeling.
"I think it's amazing," Vick announced. "Are you two always like that?" she asked, ignoring Tom's scandalized exclamations.
"I'm not going to venture an opinion," Eliza said, closing the subject very firmly.
The funeral was, as funerals generally are, very quiet. Bodie looked relieved as if something that had plagued him for years was finally over. I caught hold of his hand surreptitiously and gave it a squeeze, relishing the pressure of his fingers in return.
When we returned to the house, Bodie made we've-got-to-be-going noises almost immediately, but Eliza settled matters by insisting that we stay until the will was read that night. Actually, she about ordered us to stay. Didn't bother me, but Bodie stomped off looking stormy. "Need a kip," he said as he headed upstairs.
"Not surprised," Tom muttered--his only allusion to the show we'd put on the previous night. "We'll be back tonight."
"Come for supper," Eliza told them.
"Ta." He kissed her cheek and Vick did the same. Caro went upstairs as well, saying she needed to make a phone call.
"Ray, would you like to join me for a sandwich?" Eliza asked, and I accepted eagerly, wanting a chance to get to know this second most interesting of the Bodie children.
She set me to slicing the bread while she emptied the refrigerator and set everything on the table between us. "Family gatherings always give me an appetite," she admitted, putting the water on for coffee. We both began constructing very large sandwiches. "Isn't it fortunate that they don't happen more often or I'd weigh a ton. Tell me about yourself, Ray."
Fighting the urge to utter the classic 'not much to tell, really,' I shrugged and asked her what it was she wanted to know.
"I was rather wondering--do have some mustard--wondering why it came about--the relationship I mean."
I scraped the spicy brown mustard across the bread, purposely frugal as I wasn't sure just how hot it really was. "It's not easy for me to talk about these things with you. What I have to say isn't the sort of subject matter I'd raise with a nun."
"What about a sister-in-law?" She laughed. "I'm a lot less shockable than you might think, Ray." She sliced a large ham and cheese sandwich in half with one deft stroke, reminding me of my mother. "You met... went to bed together, then found out you liked each other. Am I right?"
"Essentially. Fairly mundane, really, except for the feelings. What I felt the first moment I saw him still makes me blush."
"I'm not immune either, Ray. Few people are." We ate in silence for a few minutes. "I gather the relationship hasn't been easy."
"Bodie tell you that?" I asked, a little embarassed at all the things he could have told her.
"Not directly no, but I know my brother rather well."
"My turn now. Why doesn't he ever talk about his past--any of it? He won't even talk about the good things."
She put the sandwich down, wiped her lips and folded her hands. "I can only guess, but I'd say that in order to bury the bad things deeply enough, he had to sacrifice the good things as well. I don't know how much you know about our lives..."
"I know that he loved your mother and she died before he was twelve. How did she die?"
"In childbirth. Mother wanted a large family. She was advised against having any more after Will, but she was determined. She lost two. The third killed her." She picked at a withered bit of lettuce as she talked. "After her death, I guess we expected our father to become a substitute for her. You must understand that while he'd never shown us anything warmer than detachment, he'd never given us worse than indifference. We assumed, as children will, that it meant he loved us in a gruff, undemonstrative way, rather like those salty old characters in old Hollywood films."
"But he didn't."
"Oh, dear me no, not at all." She smiled a little sadly. "The week after mother died I heard him on the phone begging one of his sisters to take all of us off his hands. She wasn't having it, of course, and told him so, so he said, 'take the girls and I'll drown the brat.' I think Will heard it too because I found him later curled up in his closet clutching Rupert. He wouldn't say why he was there though. You see," she said with a wry smile, "he was always a quiet child. Even then he kept things to himself."
"Bodie told me that your father used to chase you around the house with a hammer."
She looked blank for a moment. "Well, that was after I'd left, but I understand from Caro that it was almost a weekly occurrence at the end. I often blame myself for what happened here after I left. I was the only one with any control over him, and I ignored my responsibility to the younger children. When I think of the things that man was capable of doing ... when I think of the things that Caro's told me, the very few things that she's told me of the two years after I left, I think I can never forgive myself." She scrubbed a hand over her eyes and sighed heavily.
"Vick left them too. It's not your sole respon..."
"You mustn't be too quick to judge Vick," she snapped. "Perhaps she was the one who suffered the most. She was most like Mother and the one among us who really loved Father." She looked far away. "Vick was never able to deny his will in anything until she married Tom out of desperation. She left because she could not stay. I left because I was weak."
"What makes it different for you?" I demanded, hating to see her hating herself.
"Because," she said evenly and with very little emotion evident, "when he put his hands on me in the wrong way, I bashed him. She couldn't."
In the silence that fell between us I felt very sorry for her, for them all. I suddenly understood a deal more than I ever wanted to. All I could say after that was, "I'm sorry."
"It's an old story, isn't it, and it never gets any more pleasant with the retelling. Our father ended his life mad as a hatter. It's the only thing that allows me to have any pity for him. Christian charity, appearances to the contrary, was never my strong suit. Let me clear up now. Ray. I'd like to be alone for a bit."
I went upstairs and found Bodie fast asleep in the centre of the bed. He'd kicked off his shoes and pulled the coverlet over himself, and he looked very young. I lay down close to him and studied him carefully--so familiar yet so much a stranger in many ways. I understood his reticence a bit better now. He began to wake as I smoothed the dark curls back.
"H'lo. You look like hell."
"Want to go exploring?" I asked, kissing his nose. "Not that sort," I added as his fingers--all ten thousand of them--insinuated themselves into my clothing.
"Tiresome. What sort then?"
"I'd like to see your old bedroom." His smile was lewd and I bashed him gently. "Cheeky devil."
"Now you mention it, I'd like to pay a little visit as well. There's something I'd like to get." He rolled out of bed and took my hand, leading me out and up the hall past Caro's room. I heard her talking on the phone. She sounded like a little girl. "Here it is," he said, pushing open the door and switching on the light.
It was oddly Spartan with whitewashed walls and a wood trim. The little bed had a plain brown coverlet on it, and what little furniture there was looked expensive but strictly functional. I looked over the case full of books while Bodie disappeared into the closet. Adventure, travel, poetry (the type that children would prefer), all the Waverly novels and Hornblower series, and a good selection of Kipling and R.L.S.
"I came back for one thing," Bodie confessed over the sound of things being shifted. There was a wonderful old collection of circus figures on the desk that drew my attention. I'd never seen such wonderful toys.
Bodie emerged from the closet holding a silver picture frame and a cylindrical object. He turned the cylinder upside down, then right side up, and a low guttural growl drifted through the room. "Rupert!"
"No, Rupert's growler. I told you he got hacked up." He flipped the cylinder again and the plaintive growl escaped. "I rescued his voice... and this." He handed me the picture and ducked back into the closet to re-emerge with a small tin box. "I hid this under the floorboards because no one ever went in my closet. I knew it'd be safe there unless the house fell down."
The photo was of his mother, himself and his three sisters. Eliza and Vick flanked their mother and Caro sat at her feet, and she held Bodie on her lap. Mother and son shared a smile that excluded the rest of the world.
"I took that out of her bedroom the day she died and hid it with all my other special things." He opened the box. It contained some picture postcards, a sea shell, a watch and a rosary. "My mother's," he explained. "Anyway, these are my legacy. It's all I want."
"We could go now if you really want to. He's not likely to have left you anything."
"He was capable of anything. No," he said, closing the box. "Eliza asked me to stay until the will is read. We can leave tomorrow morning." My eyes were drawn back to the circus as he gathered up his possessions. He noticed. "You want them? Have them. My gift to you for being such a brick this week." Knows all my little secret weaknesses, does Bodie. I snatched up the figures greedily and made him carry the enormous carousel.
He tinkered with it as he walked. "Used to play a tune," he explained. "Circus music ... ahhh." A few shaky notes spilled out of the thing and he grinned. "Still does, I see."
I sat down on the floor and began setting up the circus, examining each figure. Bodie lay down on the bed. I was disappointed. I thought he'd be interested in an old toy. "Bodie, the lion's mouth opens!" I exclaimed as I discovered the lever that made the jaws snap.
He sat up and peered down at me. "That's so the lion tamer can put his head in the lion's mouth." He squatted beside me and picked up one of the figures. "This is one of the Flying Macaronis," he told me, holding out a trapeze artist with bent knees.
"Why's he kneeling?"
"Berk!" He held out his index finger with the figure hanging upside down from the centre joint.
"Feel a right fool, don't I? Why Macaroni?"
"Sounded Italian when I was small." He sat down and began to fiddle with the carousel as I set up the figures. There must have been fifty or sixty of them. "Granny brought these back from her last trip to Germany in 'fifty-two. She was from Dusseldorf originally."
"I thought your granny was all Irish."
"That's Granny Bodie. Granny Slaughter was German." He grunted with satisfaction as the carousel began to turn and to play a jaunty, if off-key, tune. It was wonderful. The horses moved up and down just as they would on a real carousel.
"Slaughter was your mother's maiden name then?"
"Yeh." He lay back to look at the circus which was all set up now on the carpet at the side of the bed. "Alicia Jane Slaughter. I always thought it was pretty."
"You favour her," I remarked as I snapped the lion's jaws shut on the head of the lion-tamer. To my surprise, the lion-tamer's head fell off. Bodie shook with laughter. "Oh, very funny. Why didn't you tell me about this?"
"Wanted to see your face. I fixed it to do that when I was ten."
"Oh yes, entirely." I fitted the head back on while he talked. "Gran brought dolls for the girls, I remember. Vick had a baby doll in a long white christening gown and a lacy cap, and 'liza had a Victorian one in green velvet. I don't remember Caro's doll since she broke it a week later. Dad walloped her for that. God she brought wonderful pressies," he said dreamily. I gave the trapeze a push and the Great Macaroni fell to his death. "Granny Bodie couldn't because she didn't have any money. When she came to live with us she'd tell me stories about the fair folk. Very superstitious, she was, and I believed her. I think I loved her better than Granny Slaughter. Dad was happy when she died. I think he'd have been happy to see us all go." I made a non-committal noise. "I remember when Mum died," he continued, "I found him sitting in the library, staring up at her picture, and there were tears pouring down his face. He was just sitting there crying without making a sound. It was terribly sad. I tried to hug him and tell him that we loved him and would take care of him." His voice trailed away. He rolled over and gave the ball perched on the end of the seal's nose a spin. "Of course he bashed me good and told me not to be such an ass--that he didn't want my sympathy." He picked up the bareback rider and studied the horse's belly. "This one used to rear up on its hind legs until I broke the key off." I wanted to hug him. "Ray, it's terrible to love someone the way he loved her--obsessively, you know? And I'm afraid that I'm capable of doing it to you or Michael or Danny or ..." There was an agonized appeal in his eyes.
I cradled his face. "If I ever feel smothered, I'll bash you good and we'll go on from there, all right?"
"On my honour as a girl guide."
He snickered. "How'd you pass the physical?"
I rolled my eyes at him and he laughed harder. Then I kissed his nose and eyelids and mouth. "You're a silly git which is why I let you hang about."
He showed me how the elephant could balance on its trunk and how the lion was just the right height to bite the ringmaster's knees. It's part of his charm, that kid inside the tough man. I wonder sometimes how he managed to preserve that part of him what with all he'd been through. Me, I buried my child deep very early and I hardly ever see him anymore. Bodie brings him out sometimes though. The Ray Doyle that was is an elusive little bugger.
We were very relaxed and loving that evening when we went down for supper. We even held hands under the table. Silly and romantic I suppose, but satisfying.
Over soup, Bodie cleared his throat drawing everyone's attention. "Did Ray and I show you pictures of our family?" he asked, knowing full well that we hadn't.
"What family?" Vick asked.
Bodie produced one of those photo cases and pulled snaps out to pass around the table. "This is Emma. She's Ray's daughter. You can see the resemblance." It was a photo of me and Em taken just before she married Alec.
"Ray, how old are you?" Caro asked.
"Same as you," Bodie told her. "This is her husband Alec with the kids--Danny and Michael, Justine and little Georgie."
"Will, this one, Michael is it?" Sharp lady.
"Ah well, yeh, he's mine. So's Danny, but he favours his Mum." That was lovely coming from Bodie.
"And how does Alec feel about this?" Caro asked with a smirk.
"Any of them legitimate?" Tom asked nastily. Everyone ignored him.
Bodie passed around the rest of the photos explaining who they were and where they were taken. Pretty boring really except to both of us. I had to keep myself from laughing at the expression on Tom's face whenever he looked at a photo of Danny or Michael. We had coffee in the library, and the family solicitor, a Mr Hickson, arrived around eight. He offered condolences to everyone, though he seemed a little confused when he came to me. "Bodie's partner," I explained.
"Your father changed his will once a year," Hickson said, "and many of the alterations were... bizarre." He coughed and shuffled a stack of papers that he'd taken from his case. "Still, in the end I believe we managed to draw up a fair and legally sound document. Shall we begin?" Everyone nodded and he started to read. The 'sound mind and body' line drew snorts of laughter but when the bequests were read nobody laughed. To Eliza, who had given up all claim to worldly possessions, he left all of his considerable liquid assets. To Caro, whose taste ran to very different sorts of furnishings, all the household goods. And to Bodie, who hated this house and its memories, the house. To Vick and Tom, who could have happily made use of any of the aforementioned, nothing at all. Of course. What better revenge?
Tom was red-faced and furiously insisting that he would contest while Hickson invited him to try, observing that such an attempt seemed unlikely to succeed. Bodie chuckled bitterly. "Just what I need--a bloody great empty house in Liverpool."
"You poor bastard. My heart bleeds," Tom spat. "You'd find a use, I'm sure. You could move your boyfriend in and flaunt him in front of the neighborhood the way you've done in front of us. Don't give a damn about decency, do you?"
"Tom, stop it!" Vick said, rising from her chair.
"Tom Cleary, you behave yourself," Eliza ordered.
Caro just laughed. "Let him show his class."
"You lot are so bloody fine, aren't you? With your fine names and airs and your Da's money."
"I didn't expect anything from my father and I warned you not to either," Vick told him. "If you're disappointed it's your own fault."
"You'd side with them against your own husband wouldn't you? Because you're a Bodie!" He spat the name out as if it tasted foul. "You don't seem to care that he's been given what should have come to you and our children!"
"Easy mate," I warned. He was agitated enough to do something foolish.
"I'm not your mate!" he shouted. Then he turned on Bodie again. "Your father would have loved this, wouldn't he?"
"I don't much care what he would have liked or disliked."
"You know what he did to Vick for marrying beneath her, but then it seems that you all have a taste for the gutter, don't you?"
Before he knew what hit him, he was on his back across the desk with Bodie's arm planted firmly across his windpipe. "I could fix it so Vick wouldn't have to worry about getting pregnant again, couldn't I?" Bodie whispered as he pressed his knee upwards. Tom gave a little choked cry. "Or I could snap your neck for you, but I don't think you're worth it. You listen to what I'm saying. I don't much care what you think of me, but if you ever insult one of my sisters or my lover--that's Ray, by the way--if I ever hear you do that, Tommy-boy, I'll do you. Understand?" Tom nodded and Bodie released him, and straightened his tie. "I have no intention of accepting the bequest, Mr Hickson. You'll have to find someone else to lumber." He gave my hair a tug. "Coming to bed, Sunshine?"
"You surprised them," I told him as we undressed for bed.
"They think I push a pencil. Civil servant and all. Y'know, there's a certain perverse pleasure in that." He insinuated himself between the lacy white sheets and I joined him eagerly. "I apologize for what he said, Ray."
"That prat? Cummere you butch thing." He pressed himself against me and we kissed with surprising intensity. "I thought you wanted to fuck me in your Da's bed," I reminded him as he licked my ears.
"I don't care about that any more. He was just a sad old man." He nibbled down the front of me and rested his head on my belly. "I can't even hate him anymore. Last night when I went downstairs, I wanted to say or do something so horrible that even a dead man would have been hurt and humiliated, but he looked so old and sad....like the day in the library when he cried for my mother. He was all alone in that box. Ray, we're all the same in the end. I can't hate him any more. I even wish I could have loved him. Christ, what a way to live!" There was pity and sorrow in those expressive eyes.
He began to stroke my cock very softly, as he might stroke a kitten, in a dreamy offhand sort of way, and I responded in the same way, all the while petting him and telling him how much I cared about him, how much I loved him. I noticed his hair was getting longish--something only a long-time lover would notice at a moment like this.
He took me in his mouth very gently and later, after a sweet, slow climax, I did the same for him. Maybe it couldn't ever be official or even acceptable to the world at large, but he and I were married in a way as binding as Vick and Tom's marriage or Eliza's union with her god. After all the questionable choices I'd made in the past, it seemed that I'd finally made the right one. It's not often that a couple can say after fifteen years that it's better now than it was in the beginning, but we damn well could.
I thought about asking Bodie to change his mind about the house. It would have been a nice place to grow old together. In fact, for all the pain it had seen, it was a friendly sort of place. I could almost imagine the kids playing on the lawn, perhaps the way Bodie and his sisters had played. But I knew that he'd refuse and I hardly blamed him. Memories both good and bad have a way of overpowering the present. Bodie could never be completely happy here.
When I woke up the next morning, Bodie was not beside me. The clock read seven-twenty. He couldn't be up and about yet, I thought, but I dozed for a while and when I woke again it had gone eight and still no Bodie. I threw on a robe and went to find him.
He was in the kitchen with his sisters. They were all nursing cups of tea. "Didn't mean to intrude," I said, hovering in the doorway.
"Come and sit down, Ray," Vick said. "You're welcome here."
I helped myself to a cup of coffee and sat between Bodie and Caro. They were talking about the estate, and had apparently decided to divide everything in a civilized manner. "Which means leaving Tom at home," Vick quipped. "I apologize for last night, Ray. You see, he's always felt inferior to my family. It's a shame really because he's worth ten of Father. He's a good man but bitter on my account. He simply will not realize that all I cared about losing was something I never really had. The rest..." she made a vague gesture encompassing the house and its contents, "means very little to me now that the kids are all nearly grown. He should never have married me," she said sadly. "I've brought him a lot of grief."
The others protested, trying to comfort her. "Nothing to apologize for," I told her. "I'm not sorry I love Bodie. Nobody can make me feel that way."
In the end they decided to each take a few of the household things, sell the house and the rest of the furnishings and divide the proceeds and the liquid assets into quarters, Eliza's being held in trust for her nieces and nephews (including, she said, Emma's adorable children). Each would pay a quarter of the death duties from their share.
When it fell to Bodie to choose what he wanted from the house, it was no surprise to hear him ask for the books and the portrait of their mother. "Which reminds me," he said as Eliza wrote down his request, "what happened to the library?"
"Dad burned the others in the fireplace."
Bodie just shook his head sadly. "Nothing like a good book on a cold night, eh?"
We left after breakfast. Eliza and Vick promised to see to the packing and shipping of the books and picture, but I took the circus with me. Each of his sisters kissed me goodbye, and Caro whispered, "Just you wait, Ray Doyle."
"Stay in touch," Eliza ordered as we climbed into the Capri. Then we drove away, leaving the three women watching from the veranda.
-- THE END --