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At Home With The Blacks

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Author's Notes

"Links with my previous story The Idle Ritch. This story is set some decades earlier."

I’m standing next to the sideboard, dusting the ornaments.  The light’s coming through the large window.  The room has an airy feel about it.  I’m holding a big, blue piece of cut glass.  It looks expensive.  It could be a paperweight. 

I glance over at Richard, lounging on a black leather sofa, in a white polo shirt and jeans, with his feet on a coffee table, smoking a cigarette.  Vanessa’s been out.  She walks in, in her short, black leather jacket and slacks, her blonde hair down to her neck, looking at a letter and sighing.

"What's wrong with these people?" she says. "Why can't they understand? They're getting confused now I've changed my name back to Craythorne.”

"Don't worry about it mother dear," he says. "They'll get used to it eventually.”

"Yes, I know they will, darling.  But it’s going to take forever.  At this rate, I'll have to keep calling myself Black for the rest of my life.”

"Suits me.”

"I know it does, my love.  But you were born with it. I wasn't.  That's the difference.”

"No, I get it, mother.  I feel your pain.”

She looks at him and sighs.

"Don't be facetious with me, Richard Black. I know you think you're a cut above everyone else, but it doesn't mean you can't get a slap from your mother.”

“I love you mother, you know that.”

Richard laughs and puts out the cigarette.  He gets up from the settee, walks across to the other side of the room, to the piano.  He lifts up the lid and starts to play a tune casually, with one hand, standing up.

"That sounds wonderful," says Vanessa. "You should have made more effort.  You could have played that at school.”

"What would I have wanted to do that for?  I don't want them to know what I can do.”

"No, I suppose you don't.  I know what you’re like.  I suppose I can understand, in a way.  But not completely.  I was in the choir at school, it’s good to get involved sometimes.”

“The school you went to was a decent one.”

“Yes, I know.  Let’s not go over that again.”

“But it was.  Better than the place I went to.”

“I can understand.  But it would be nice for you to have recognition for your talents.”

"Recognition?  From that lot?  I only want recognition from people I respect.  I mean, if Alex came in and said it was good, I'd be pleased.”

“Yes, I know what your friends think of you matters more than anyone else.”

“Only some of them.” 

“I'll let it drop, then.  It was an opportunity, that’s all.  But you're finished there now.”

"Thank heaven.  You can’t imagine how it feels, mother, the last day.”

“Oh, I can.  I remember my last day well.”

“Well, I’ve gone now.”

"At least I've not been called in about you recently.  Have they given up?  I've not had to see that dreadful Carmichael man, the one who looks like a boiled walnut. Or is he the frog?  I can never remember.  They all look the same to me.”

"They all look the same to me, and I go there, or did.  'You're not staying here, dressed like that, Black.  You need to go home and change'.  Ha ha it makes me laugh.”

"Is that what they used to say?”

"Oh yes.”

"Oh, dear.”

“I thought I told you.”

“You might have done, I don’t remember.”

“That tonic suit you bought me.”

“You looked smart in that.”

“Not in the school regulations, apparently.”

“Oh well, best not to dwell on things.”

“That’s right, time to move on.”

Richard walks away from the piano with a big grin on his face and sits down on another black, leather sofa, and puts his feet up.

“Anyway,” says Vanessa.  “What are you doing tonight?  Are you going for an end-of-term celebration or something?”

“Certainly am.  Meeting in The Ship at nine and taking it from there.  Don’t expect me home early.”

“I won’t, dear. I’ll probably be out myself.”

“Naturally.”

“Who are you seeing, anyway?”

“Meeting Alex at nine.”

"Alex?  Which one's he?”

"He came back the other day.  You've met him.”

"Is he that one you brought round the other day?  Very good-looking?”

“That’s the one.”

“What about girls?”

“I imagine there’ll be a few there.”

“Anyone in particular, who I’d know?”

“Don’t think so.”

"I lose track of your girlfriends.”

"So do I.”

“What about that fair-haired one?  Very pretty?  The one there was all the trouble over.  Do you still see her?”

“Cindy?”

“Yes, I think that was her name.”

“Yes, I still see her from time to time.  So does Alex.”

“I don’t want to know anymore.”

“I don’t blame you.”

No one says anything for a moment.  I carry on dusting another paperweight.

“And tomorrow?” says Vanessa.  “What are your plans?  What time’s your cousin picking you up?”

“Joey’s picking me up at two.”

“Then you’re off to London?”

“That’s right.”

“Oh, it’s a shame.  Your last night here for who knows how long.  I wanted to take you out.  Go to eat.  But you’ve got plans, haven’t you?”

“I have indeed.”

“Is this nine o’clock time sacrosanct?  I mean, we could book something now, couldn’t we.”

“As long as it’s early.”

“You could bring your friend.  What’s his name?”

“Alex.”

“Yes, Alex.  He could come as well.  Let me ring a couple of places.”

Vanessa leaves the room and goes to the hall, where the telephone is.  You can hear her voice outside.

“Michael.  Yes, we’re all good.  Do you think you could fit us in...”

Richard sits back, lights another cigarette, and looks past me, out of the window. In a few minutes, Vanessa returns.

“That’s it.  It’s arranged. We’re going to the Horse at six-thirty.  That should be enough time.  You’d better call that pal of yours.  Let him know.”

Richard doesn’t say anything.  He gets up and leaves the room to make a telephone call.  Vanessa goes over to the fridge and pours a glass of white wine.  She takes a drink.  Then Richard comes back.

“Nice one, Mum,” he says. “Alex says thanks.  He’s meeting us there.”

“That’s good.  What’s he doing now you’ve left?”

“He’s not sure.  Probably carrying on.  Might be going to college, or somewhere.”

“Studying what?”

“Not sure.  Don’t think he told me.”

“That’s a shame.”

“Alex is cool.”

"Now, tell me all about tomorrow."

"Joey’s driving me down.  Then I get the keys to the bedsit.  Then I start work on Monday.  I’ll be driving clients round for the ‘family business' in a few days.”

“Fair enough.  I imagine Joey’s staying down there, show you the ropes.”

“I imagine so.”

"Now you’re going, I suppose I'll have to think about moving back down there, myself.  There's no need for me to be living here anymore.”

“You can say that again.”

“It’s not that bad here.” 

Richard smiles and raises his eyebrows.

"Why did we move up here?”

"Oh, I don’t know.  Something to do with your father’s business.  We wanted somewhere to bring you up.  Outside London.”

“Why?  What’s wrong with London?”

“Nothing’s wrong with London.  Nothing at all.  We just thought... Oh, I don’t know.  Why do you ask so many questions?”

“I don’t know.  I just like asking questions, mother dear.”

“Now. I’ve told you before about being flippant.”

“My profuse apologies.”

“Anyway, we moved up here for your good.  We thought it would be a good place to bring you up.  Good schools, decent neighbourhood, that sort of thing.”

“Good schools?”

“We’ve talked about that already.”

“Good schools, in a hick town like this?”

"You criticise it.  But it’s all right.”

"Yeah, it’s all right.  I suppose.  In its own way"

"I gave things up, you know, when we came here.”

“I know you did.”

“I was a model. And a society girl. I knew Mick Jagger you know. And David Bailey. And Keith Moon. I gave all that up when you came along, you know.”

"I know mother.  You’ve told me before.”

"The sacrifices I made for you my darling.  But I don’t complain.”

“I know you don’t, and I’m very grateful.  Anyway, what happened to Dad?  I’ve wondered.”

“I don’t know where your father is.  No one does.  You know that.”

“So he could be anywhere?”

“Possibly. Perhaps.  Oh, I don’t know.  I’d rather not talk about it.”

“Fair enough.”

“Anyway, what time is it?  It must be getting on.”

“I suppose it must.”

“Time to get ready, I think. That table won’t wait.  Are you showering first?”

“I can.  I’ll go now.”

He gets up and walks out of the room.  Vanessa pours another glass of wine.  I carry on dusting the ornaments.

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