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Our Dancing Days

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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Geoffrey insisted his guests be well fed. ‘I like to see ladies with good appetites.’ He offered Dee another slice of fruit cake. She was completely taken by him, he was absolutely charming. She gazed at him rapturously.

‘What beautiful hair you have, my dear, like the ripest wheat in the afternoon sun …’

‘Geoffrey, you are a one, you used to say things like that to my mother.’

‘Quite right too, Hetty was a beauty, still is. Her and George, so romantic, they were. They still write … Young lady, boys these days are not romantic. Is Donald romantic?’

‘Donald?’ And they screamed with laughter.

‘But tell me, George says you’re “dropping out” of Oxford.’

‘Yes, yes, I am, and I’m not going back … Oxford’s dead, Geoffrey, everybody’s so out of touch. I want to read about Ginsberg and Kerouac and Michael X, not dead people. It’s all happening now, in people’s houses, in pubs and on the street, Geoffrey. Art and literature isn’t stuffed away in libraries, it’s alive … Tessa and Dee-Dee, they’re artists, they know, it’s not just paint and paper, is it?’

‘No.’ Geoffrey was smiling knowingly.

‘It’s true, Geoffrey, it is. What do I get if I stay at Oxford, a degree, a piece of paper? I’ll know all about Milton and Shakespeare and Donne, oh they’re OK, but what about Bob Dylan … it’s poetry, it is … don’t laugh, Geoffrey … it’s got meaning and rhythm and most of all it’s got life … I don’t want a job and work from nine to five, I want to … Be … Read Thoreau, Geoffrey, and Tolstoy and Gandhi, and William Morris and Steiner and Huxley, they got it right … oh yes, and Jesus …’

Geoffrey was laughing. ‘And Jesus … what it is to be young!’

Don’s face was pink, but he wasn’t embarrassed; he was never embarrassed. Tessa and Dee-Dee exchanged glances. Don was the most un-hip creature on earth but he could be pretty inspiring.

Geoffrey was quiet. He poked the dying fire with his walking stick.

‘We were all young, George, Hetty, and I, we all awaited the imminent transformation of the world …’

Molly hovered behind them. ‘Don’t let them tire you, Mr Bell.’

‘Molly, you take good care of me.’

‘Are you tired?’ asked Don. ‘Shall I show the girls the rest of the house, I know they’ll love it.’

‘It’s not like it was, my boy.’

‘We don’t mind, do we, it’s years since I was here.’

‘This is the kitchen,’ said Don. China sink, one table, pots and pans hanging from the beams. ‘Hetty said it was impossibly archaic. We used to come here every summer. This is the breakfast room.’ An Aga, a long table, a sofa under a window which looked out over the moat. A stone floor. ‘The dairy’s in there, nobody uses it now. You see, it was a farm here before Geoffrey.’ Up winding stairs. ‘That’s Molly’s room, it’s private.’ Another bedroom. ‘This is the solar.’ A pile of old furniture covered with dust sheets, a huge bed, carved. ‘I think Geoffrey sleeps downstairs now …’ More bedrooms, more stairs, Dee-Dee and Tessa were quite lost. ‘I always slept in here, it’s called the chapel because it’s above the porch. In winter there’s ice on the inside walls, can you imagine? We only came here once in the winter, though … This room’s above the hall, my sisters slept in here.’ The ceiling had fallen in, there was more unused furniture. Don examined some. ‘I think it’s his mother’s, my great-aunt, it all came here when she died. Oh look, the hat stand, I do remember that …’ Up more stairs, down more stairs, narrow corridors, everywhere damp and dusty and crumbling. Don looked out of a window at the courtyard. ‘I love this place,’ he said thoughtfully.

‘What will happen when Geoffrey …’ Dee-Dee couldn’t bear to think of him dying.

‘I suppose it’ll be sold. George said it should have been sold years ago. Geoffrey could never really manage it. When we used to come down George used to help, but … I don’t know, Geoffrey wasn’t well, we grew up, Hetty and George, they’re getting old too … I like Geoffrey, I wish I’d seen more of him now …’

‘It’s so sad,’ said Dee-Dee and a tear ran down her face.

Three of them in a car all the way back to London and Dee-Dee sobbed copiously because Geoffrey was going to die. He had bravely walked to the door to see them off, leaning on a stick and helped by Molly, and that was Tessa’s last memory of him, a sick gentleman in a dressing gown.

‘Bye-bye, Don old boy, come again soon.’

‘I will, Geoffrey, I promise, I’ll come and see you.’

‘Goodbye, ladies, so pleased to have met you. Goodbye, goodbye,’ leaning on Molly and waving his stick until they were all out of sight.

Some weeks later, Don was with Tessa. She was painting a mural in a friend’s flat in Fulham. She was covered in paint and the walls and the floor were covered in it too, but it was cool, it was OK.

‘… And that’s the sea, where all living things come from, and these are the molluscs and the reptiles and the whole of evolution,’ said Tessa, splash. ‘And at the top is man in the clouds, and the sun is Ra the sun god giving out light and inspiration.’ Splash, a shower of yellow droplets splattered Don.

‘I’m going to see Geoffrey again,’ he said.

‘Good, I am pleased …’ Splash, red paint.

‘But I can’t take you this time, I’m afraid, you see Hetty wants me to persuade him to go to a hospice.’

Tessa stopped. ‘That’s heavy.’

‘Isn’t it, but the doctors say if he doesn’t he’ll die in three months, if he goes to a hospice he might …’

‘Linger for years … Shit, Don, Geoffrey’s pure, he’s real, it makes me sick when people want to destroy that.’ She splashed black paint angrily. ‘Why can’t people do what they want? Do you think he wants to linger in a fucking-stupid-full-of-morons-hospice?’

Donald laughed. ‘No, he doesn’t, he’s very single-minded.’

‘Shit! That’s too much black, it doesn’t look inspirational any more.’

Don wasn’t listening. He wiped the paint off his shirt. ‘I like Geoffrey,’ he said.

It was September, a year since they’d visited St John’s. Geoffrey was still there, dying, but comforted by his life’s clutter, Molly and Don, who visited him frequently. Tessa and Dee-Dee were established in London. They called themselves artists but didn’t really paint much; they never stayed in one place long enough. They had moved twelve times since the previous spring. They worked evenings in a dismal Greek restaurant off the Charing Cross Road, but this too was temporary. They changed jobs as frequently as their addresses. When they’d first met Don that summer they had been ingénue suburban art-school students, but they were now real hippies, much to the bewilderment and disgust of their parents.

Dee-Dee and Tessa’s families had known each other for years but since their daughters’ abandonment of all that was proper and respectable a certain coolness had developed between the Fulks and the Stallards, one silently blaming the other. ‘If it wasn’t for their daughter and her ways …’ But to Tessa and Dee-Dee their parents were uptight, straight and uncool. What did they know?

Dee had grown her hair long. It was ginger-blonde and crinkly, like a Pre-Raphaelite maiden. She wore round-rimmed sunglasses day and night, dressed in purple with a purple crocheted pull-on hat, and moved in a mist of patchouli. She was always in love, and the latest was called Jeremy. He played the flute, often, and had wild curly hair. He looked like a dissipated cherub and he was only sixteen. They stayed in bed most of the day.

Tessa was leaner, dark and frizzy-haired, which made her look Caribbean, another source of irritation to her parents; in crimson crushed velvet, with her tarot cards and brown gypsy eyes, her intense murals and love of things Eastern, she was known as a freaky lady.

They lived in King’s Cross in the basement of a partially demolished house. Tessa had painted all the walls yellow to cheer it up, but it was so damp she preferred to go out. Her ambition, if it could be called that, was to live in Notting Hill. Don, of course, lived in Notting Hill. His flat was the top floor of a house overlooking a square. He lived in some style. Tessa and Dee-Dee owned virtually nothing – their clothes, some records – but possessions seemed to cling to Don like burrs on a tweed skirt. ‘Doing his own thing’ was working as a porter in Bonham’s, but he also had the knack of finding pieces of junk in Portobello that later turned out to be valuable. His flat was a cave of Indian paintings, hookahs from Morocco (bought last summer), Turkish rugs (the spring before), seventeen different types of tea and seventeen tea-pots, books everywhere and on the ceiling one of Tessa’s murals, ‘The awakening of Consciousness’. It was here she spent most her time.

It was Tuesday but it could have been any day of the week, and what time it was was unclear; Don’s four clocks bonged hours and half-hours intermittently. Outside, yellowing leaves fell in the square. It was misty. Tessa and Dee-Dee were lying on the floor listening to Astral Weeks. The music was dreamy and melodic, Van Morrison’s peculiarly nasal voice felt right for their mood. Don’s room was autumnal too, brown, yellow and crimson. They were sad. Geoffrey had finally died, Don was at the solicitor’s with his father, the will was being read.

‘The Hall will be sold. Who will buy it?’ asked Dee-Dee on the goatskin rug.

‘Somebody,’ said Tessa.

They were smoking dope and were very stoned. Curiously the smell of hashish reminded her of the musty smell at St John’s. Dee-Dee started crying again, she had been doing this on and off since they first heard and that was a week ago.

‘Another time another place …’ sang Van Morrison.

‘Death’s not a bum trip,’ said Tessa; ‘it’s just moving from one thing to another like …’ but she couldn’t think what it was like.

‘We could have gone to the funeral,’ said Dee-Dee.

‘Funerals are for family, anyway we only met him once.’

Then Donald burst in. Tessa and Dee-Dee were stretched out on the floor; the atmosphere in the room was definitely comfortable, but Don jumped over both of them and ran to the kitchen.

‘God, I need a drink.’

‘Don, cool it, what’s happened?’

He sat on the floor and poured himself a cup of whisky.

‘What is it, have you been busted?’

He looked at their serious faces and began to laugh. ‘Geoffrey’s left me St John’s.’

‘Far out!’

‘He has, all of it, the whole bloody place, birds’ nests and all!’

‘Oh, Don!’ said Tessa and Dee-Dee in unison.

He poured himself another cup of whisky.
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