The Cup Bearer
Perquita took Maria's hands in her and gazed at her with tear filled eyes. "Emilio isn't well, and I'll need you to help me make him stick to a special diet, getting enough of the right food to eat when he's got a gig or an ice show, and cutting back when he's less active. So you see, he will need us after all. That doesn't sound as if he's going anywhere, does it? In any case, I realise now how much he loves us. He put his own safety on the line for us and all we did was to treat him shabbily. As far as Manuel is concerned, I've a feeling he'll want to be our dad too; how about that?" Perquita thought she heard something and cocked her head on one side to listen. Maria started to mutter something and Perquita shushed her and pointed to the floor. Slowly Perquita made out the sounds of a guitar coming from the music room below. The piece being played was a classical one and played far better than Emilio had ever played. "That's Manuel playing; I'm sure of it. Let's go down and listen."
They didn't go straight into the music room but sat down on one of the lower steps where they were near enough to hear Manuel's rendition of a familiar classical guitar piece, which Perquita couldn't name. Maria recognised it and whispered the name in Perquita's ear. "Vidalita Con Variaciones by Agustin Barrios, it's in the new music book Emilio bought me last month."
From where they were sitting they had a narrow view of Emilio and his father sitting close and facing each other with their guitars across their knees. They were sharing a music stand on which stood several sheets of music with still more by their feet. Emilio sat facing the door and the girls saw the rapt attention he was giving to Manuel's brilliant technique. Emilio grinned when Manuel finished playing. , "I can see I still have a lot to learn."
"You have plenty of time," Manuel replied. "It has taken me twenty five years to become this good, and I'm still learning. Don't ever think you can stop learning. There are always new techniques and new styles to explore."
"Do you play any other music besides classical and Spanish?"
"I play jazz sometimes, but not very well."
"Perhaps I could give you a few tips. I'll make a deal with you. You teach me classical and I'll teach you jazz."
"What about this kind?" Manuel put a fresh manuscript on the stand. He began to play a well-known Viennese waltz. The girls saw a quiet smile of satisfaction appear on Emilio's face as he joined in, playing the accompaniment from the manuscript. It was as if they had been playing together a long time.
Sandy came out of the kitchen with a pilfered chicken drumstick in his hand, winked at the girls, and knocked on the music room door. Popping his head round the edge of it, he called out. "Is this a private jam session, or can anyone join in?" Father and son broke off playing and invited him to join them. Sandy disappeared into the room and the girls were disappointed to find their line of vision had almost disappeared as the door swung almost closed. A moment later the girls heard the tinkle of notes from the piano followed by the rustling of paper and muted conversation.
Emilio popped his head round the edge of the door. "Stop hiding on the stairs, you two. We need an audience in here."
The girls walked into the music room and sat down on the two remaining chairs, and Emilio waved at the manuscripts on the stand with childish delight. "Look what I've got; real scripts at last. Maestro Claude sent them to me. Isn't that great? Sorry, Sandy, you're out of the arranger's job." Sandy winked at them and they realised it was he who had snitched on them. Maria seemed to accept Emilio's cheerfulness but Perquita guessed it was just a cover for his own grief. She wondered when the mask would finally drop.
While the girls made themselves comfortable, Sandy and Manuel searched through some of the manuscripts on the floor. Finding a particular sheet, Manuel handed it to Sandy who set it on the piano and began to play the opening bars of a fifties melody called 'If You Said Goodbye'. Emilio followed him and Manuel began to play the melody. Soon there were other faces at the door, enjoying the impromptu concert. Several other pieces were given an airing and Manuel, finding he was quite adept at playing the more modern tunes, even offered to play any requests. Mary O'Riley brought supper into the room on trays; Paddy brought more chairs in from other rooms, and a pleasant evening was spent together listening to a variety of musical tastes including jazzy arrangements of 'My Melancholy Baby' and 'San Antonio Rose'. These were Paddy's favourites to which he danced around with his wife in his arms. The most enjoyable of all was the gypsy music father and son played together. That night, Perquita noticed that Emilio went to bed, tired as usual, but still smiling. 'Will it last?' she thought, as she closed her bedroom door. He was okay for the time being, but what would happen when Manuel flew back to the States? It seemed he needed people around him or he could not cope. She was frightened she would not be able to handle him without Manuel to keep him lifted from his depressed state. She would definitely discuss things with her grandparents tomorrow. It was a long time before she finally slept.
Sunday 26 th May 1995
Sandy couldn't believe it; only two weeks after burying his mother, Gypsy Diaz O'Riley, as he now wanted to be called, had agreed to attend the afternoon church youth meeting with him. The Sunday after Rita's funeral, Gypsy and Manuel had attended church with Mam and Dad. Manuel had been welcomed readily enough but the gossip about Gypsy had reached the ears of the congregation. It had taken a deal of persuasion on Sandy's part to get him to pay the church a second visit, using the excuse that he needed his help to teach the two new gospel songs he had written to the worship group. On the rare occasions Gypsy had come to Sandy's house over the last six weeks, he had rehearsed the songs and was now ready to sing them to the group who seemed less inclined to shun him than the general congregation. Dressed in casual black chinos and summer weight bomber jacket, he looked no different to the rest of the group who already knew about his talents and were waiting to hear him play his guitar and sing.
It was hard work trying to get the church council to revise their policy against the use of anything but formal hymns. Old Pastor Hooson was the stumbling block; too easy going to fight against stiff and starchy deacon, Geoff Stanford, who frowned upon the more charismatic style of worship. No matter how much pressure the elders used, Stanford was a difficult man to move, and Hooson went along with him because his wife was Stanford's sister. Sandy hoped his two new songs would have the desired effect, having been encouraged by his mother to write them in the first place. Tonight the youth group were to take the service on their own for the very first time, and the elders hoped this move would persuade the congregation to support them in their efforts to allow more modern worship in future services.
Gypsy looked a little strained, which was natural after seeing his father fly away so soon after the funeral, but that did not stop him showing the group how Sandy wanted the songs played and sung. After singing each song through several times with them, Sandy was satisfied with their efforts, and Gypsy taught them a livelier gospel song he said was popular over in the Nashville church he had attended. Soon the group were worshipping and Praising The Lord with an enthusiasm that Sandy had never experienced before, then the roof fell in. The door between the foyer and the main hall crashed open and Geoff Stanford walked in.
The music died and everyone froze. No one moved as Stanford marched towards the rostrum, his stern countenance more than making up for his lack of height or weight. He stopped a few feet from the rostrum and glared around him, taking in the assorted instruments and equipment. "What is this? What are all these instruments doing here? This is a church, not a disco hall. Wait until the pastor hears about this; I've a good mind to ring him right now." He spotted Gypsy and pointed to him. "And you! You have no right to be in here, fouling the place with your ungodliness. Spawn of Sodom and Gomorrah, that's what you are. Now get out of here before the wrath of God Almighty falls upon you and anyone else who dares to consort with you."
No one moved, and Sandy felt like laying into the old man but he seemed rooted to the piano stool. Slowly Gypsy moved forward off the rostrum, his face dark with anger. Stowing his guitar in its case, he marched towards the back to the church and had almost reached it when Sandy leapt up from the piano stool. Hurrying after him he grabbed Gypsy by the arm and spun him round. "Don't listen to 'im, mate, 'e's only a deacon. 'E can't chase anyone out of 'ere; 'e's 'avin' a brain storm, or somethin'."
Gypsy shook his head at him then gave Stanford a look of contempt before saying. "If this is Christianity, who needs it? "Nice try, Sandy." and Sandy was left staring unhappily at the church door as Gypsy walked out into the sunshine.
He spun round to find the group meekly putting their instruments away while Stanford looked on visibly satisfied. "Why did you do that?"
Stanford stared at him. "I beg your pardon?"
His eyes grew wide with alarm as Sandy bore down on him. "Do you realise the damage you've done to my mate? 'E's just lost his mam, and his dad's 'ad to go away, and you act like 'e's a son of Satan because you've 'eard a load of malicious gossip about 'im." He forced Stanford to take a step backwards. "You can tell Pastor Hooson anythin' you like, Mr. Stanford, but I wouldn't like to be in your shoes when my dad gets to 'ear about this. 'E's a bloody sight bigger than you or the pastor. And I can guess who snitched on my mate. I noticed your nephew Dave Leigh slip out of the church when 'e thought no one was lookin'. Just like him to spread the gossip."
"Be angry but do not sin," Stanford warned him pompously.
"I 'aven't sinned," Sandy said in a low voice, "yet."
Not waiting for Stanford's reply, he marched out of the church, almost knocking over a very large tramp on the way in; he was so angry and desperate to reach his mate, he didn't wait to see if he'd hurt the man or to apologise to him. Out on the street there was no sign of Gypsy. With so many side roads off the street he could be anywhere. Sandy's heart sank. Now what should he do? Ring Dad! The nearest call box was yards down the street. He trotted down the road, looking carefully down each side road, and hoped he could catch up with Diaz before he did something silly, like chucking his guitar in the nearest bin or even worse, trashing it beyond repair. A quiet chat with Edward Grafton had revealed that Gypsy was capable of doing almost anything, his mind being on a knife-edge of tension hidden under a flimsy shell of calm.
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