The Observer

by Rafael Henry

Chapter 13

I have been busy, which is an understatement. There have been changes from 'above', work wise. Never mind, I still have a role to play in the firm which was started by my father. Basically, I still have an interest, but there have been attempts to put me out to grass. I don't mind. Financially we are secure, and by that I mean myself, and Amy if things go wrong and she needs me, and of course Mathew and our twin girls.

I'm going to include James as part of our permanent planning. His mother Jane has done well in her career, but the life of a self-employed musician is precarious to say the least, as well as being a single mum, bless her. James is fifteen now, and about to finish his GCSE's. He's expected to do well, and he deserves it. The boy has worked hard. Mathew has never had any real academic ambition preferring his sport, which to be fair, he has worked hard at. He has represented Kent at all the junior age groups in hockey and cricket, and swims to a pretty good standard too. My relationship with Jane has stumbled on, interspersed with overnight stays with her in Winchelsea or here at Watchbell House. I think she would like something permanent, but that's not for me. When we have had sex she has never encouraged me to use a condom, which consequently suggested to me that if I made her pregnant, she'd be quite happy. I don't carry those things around with me, therefore unexpected sex with her takes forms other than the procreative. Anyway it doesn't happen often.

With the two boys under pressure at school in one way or another, and endless hassles with my work, major events have been rare these last two years. A couple of times James has thought that Mathew had dumped him. Mathew had acquired a girlfriend apparently. Throughout various trials and tribulations, I have had to convince James that he is loved, that he is precious to all of us, and that he is secure. He has repaid us tenfold……no, a hundred times over. At fifteen and eleven and a half months, he still wants my company, and still shares his ideas and aspirations with me, allowing me a fascinating insight into his development, both physical and emotional, which is impossible with one's own child. He has never looked his age, and puberty has been kind to him on the whole, helped by his slightly olive colouring I would think, but I doubt if he'll make six feet in height, not that is any kind of judgement.

We have had one problem with James, which coincided with a loss of his confidence in Mathew. James has been a loyal supporter of the Kent Youth Choir, and so have I come to that. He came home one Saturday saying that Kent Opera were casting for Britten's 'Curlew River'. It's about a mother who loses her son. He dies by accident in the river Alde, up in misty Suffolk. His ghost appears later and dramatically to his mother and the boy is central to the whole opera. It's about loss and redemption. Rather fitting I thought, so I encouraged James to put himself forward for the part. The voice of the boy would be provided by a couple of other boys somewhere unseen in the background, so James' now defunct treble voice would effectively be provided by two younger Rochester choristers. The character is supposed to be about twelve, fitting nicely in with Britten's preference for boys that age, or roundabout. James was fourteen at the time, but looked younger, and had the advantage of a relative maturity compared to other younger candidates. Jane took him to the audition. He was the last to be seen. At the end, the woman in charge asked him to go and change into a pair of black tights, provided, and to take off all his clothes including any underwear, and shoes and socks of course. He emerged from a small changing room and stood before the panel, then being asked to turn sideways, and then present a back view, and finally to face the panel again. I can imagine how he looked with that brooding expression of his, standing as he does with such poise, naked save for a pair clinging tights. The panel deliberated while James stood there. Finally……

'We have some good news for you James.'

I asked James why he had to parade in black tights. He told me that there were certain advantages to being fourteen, looking more like twelve facially……and in other places too. In this instance, size did matter, but for subtly different reasons. I found the story, when I heard it, to be vastly amusing.

I hired a car for the duration of the rehearsals and the three performance nights at Rochester Cathedral. The simple stage was built at the far end of the nave. It was an absolutely brilliant thing, with James turning in an enigmatic and moving performance as the Spirit Boy. Three Cathedral choristers provided the voices off. They sing…….. go your way in peace mother…the dead shall rise again ……as the Spirit Boy disappears into the darkness. Britten had a yearning for a child, which comes through so strongly in that opera. There was always a boy at the centre of his work, be it a character, or the boy trebles he wrote much of his choral music for. I will always find Britten's 'Antiphon' , amongst many other pieces, intensely moving, with those plaintiff treble voices drifting away into the ether.

Kent Opera often recruited from James' school as it has long been associated with it, one way or another. Another much more elaborate production in their Britten season was 'Death in Venice'. By coincidence, James' friend he sits with on the train from Rye to Ashford had landed the part of Tadzio. Most of the rehearsal time was during that summer holiday so his school work was not disrupted. James spent a lot of time with Luke who played Tadzio, that holiday. Mathew was visibly put out. James spent several nights at Luke's house. I can't imagine that they didn't sleep together. Luke came with us to the beach once or twice. The two boys were quite obviously interested in each other, but aside from the odd flirtation, he is devoted to Mathew. I think it was at that point that I realised finally that James will grow up to be a gay man. At this realization, I was neither pleased nor disappointed. It's just part of life. We are what we are, are we not? Like all parents, or a man or woman 'in locus parentis', we just want them to be happy.

The performances took place at the Marlowe in Canterbury in mid-September. James, Jane and I met Mathew there. James and Mathew hadn't been getting on that well for a while, and interestingly I think Mathew was just a tad jealous of James' friendship with the very comely Luke who was playing the part of Tadzio. That evening, Mathew made a huge fuss of James. They sat together. I had deliberately booked our seats in different places, making a plausible excuse for so doing. I've no idea to this day what happened between them, but their relationship seemed stronger and more mature from the moment we all met up after the show in the theatre foyer.

James' birthday is in May. His sixteenth is just before he takes his GCSE exams. Mathew is one year ahead of him, although just eight months older. That's how it can work. Unfortunately Jane is going to be away, and Mathew is embroiled in Canterbury. I'll have James here every night for the best part of a week, including his birthday, and some days when he has no exam. He's on study leave. I hadn't realised the significance, but when the day came, I did.

I woke him up at the usual time…..six forty five. It's a school day. I sit on the bed and he smiles.

'Hi.'

'Morning sweetheart. How is the birthday boy?'

'Fine thanks. I'm sixteen today.'

'I know you are. Congratulations and happy birthday!'

'Thanks. Will you do something for me?'

'That depends on what it is darling.'

'Come into bed with me?'

Oh no. Please don't do this James. I need to be firm.

'You know the rules James. Anyway you've got school.'

'So? I still have plenty of time. It's only a French aural.'

'You haven't got plenty of time James.'

'Yes I have! Just for a minute then. I've got something to tell you.'

James pulls the duvet down his chest, and then a little further to reveal most of his tummy. I'm hoping that's all I'm going to see.

'Come on Otta…..please?'

'No James. I've booked a table for tonight by the way. Seven o'clock at the George. You're not late tonight are you?'

My diversionary tactic has worked.

'No. Tomorrow I don't have any exams. I don't have to go in. It's like a weekend isn't it?'

'Maybe. Now get up!'

James is out of bed now, and he raises his arms above his head in a long stretch. I glance down his tummy to see how things are. I'm pleased with what I see. He marches off to the shower naked, his half-hard penis bouncing in that jolly way they, pointing the way before him. His towel is already in there. I pull the duvet right back to air his bed, and rearrange the two pillows. If there's anything extra in the bed, or under the pillows, I will find it. Very often there is, but not this morning. He hasn't mentioned any personal developmental issues recently, but it's increasingly obvious that our boy is growing up fast.

James allows ten minutes to walk to the station. This morning he's through the front door on time, so I won't have to watch him run up the cobbled street. I will see him out. It's his birthday. He turns towards me…..

'See you tonight Otta. Can you guess then?'

I close the door. That was a very cryptic remark James has just made. Sixteen? On my way upstairs I think a bit more. I get to the top and then it dawns on me. Of course!

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