The Singing Cup

by Rigby Taylor

For thirteen years after a faulty kerosene heater overdosed my parents with carbon monoxide, the sole communication from my devoutly holy older brother had been a generic Christmas card signed, Matthew. No 'How's it hanging? Hope you're well.' Just Mathew, in his irritatingly neat script. And every year I'd return the favour; relieved he and his wife hadn't invited me to participate in their sanctimonious observance of their lord and master's birth. If they had I'd have refused, because Johnny and I always spent Christmas with his sister, her husband and their twin boys.

This year, however, Matthew's signature was preceded by, "Stephanie, Antony and I would like you to stay with us and share the peace and good will of this sacred time."

Of course they would. Now Johnny was out of the way they hoped their son was in line to inherit whatever wealth I'd accumulated. And in their fervid minds, being a thirty-six year-old queer, my death would be sooner rather than later.

Matthew had become infected with old testament religiosity during his first year at university and, for no obvious reason that I could fathom, informed me on my sixteenth birthday that having sex with other males was a sin against God and would ensure misery, sickness and an early death, followed by an eternity of burning in the fires of Hell while impaled on the sword of righteousness. So I'd better not become a queer.

I assured him I wouldn't—but the horrible prospect did worry me for a few days.

Four years later our parents were dead, and I'd become Uncle Antony, godfather to little Antony, and an infrequent but welcome visitor to the old family home, bearing gifts for my rapidly growing nephew. About three years after that, I was so excited about moving in with Johnny that I foolishly told Matthew. Thus was my perversion made manifest, as they say.

The following week, an email from sister in law, demanded a meeting at a downtown coffee bar. Neither of us liked coffee, which should have been an omen, but I was still a little surprised, not to say hurt, when she told me that no offence was intended, but I was not to visit them any more because, as everyone knows, queers are sick child molesters and she had to protect her little boy. I asked if Matthew agreed.

'Do you think he doesn't want to keep his son safe?'

As an answer it was no answer, but I didn't really want to know, nor to sow seeds of conflict in case he didn't know what she'd said. So I left her to pay for our fruit juices and never returned to my old home—until yesterday.

Why did I agree? I can only plead insanity caused by recurring desolate visions of Johnny taking a corner too fast on a wet road, skidding wildly and slamming his new and insanely overpowered motorbike into a tree. According to a motorist who witnessed the accident and raced to assist, he died instantly. That should have been a relief, but it wasn't. I'd done my crying, but wasn't yet ready to suffer fools gladly.

The city council town planning department shut down two days early, having been flooded out by faulty drains during a storm surge, so having nothing planned I set off the following morning, arriving just before lunch.

A shortish, smooth skinned, stocky young man sporting an incipient moustache, opened the door. Frown lines. A nervous, 'Yes?'


He nodded.

'Hi. I'm your Uncle Antony.'

Deeper frown lines. 'You're not supposed to be here till the day after tomorrow.'

'Shall I go away again?'

'No. No…. it's just…' He flapped his hands helplessly. 'Mum and Dad are at work till late tonight. Office celebrations, I think, and they said I…'

'Should never open the door to strangers, otherwise, like the three little goats the big bad wolf will eat you up.'

'Something like that.'

'Or that your evil queer uncle will cunningly seduce you into following his perversion.'

'Sort of—but she didn't say you were evil.'

I couldn't help myself and started to giggle. After a few seconds my namesake joined in and led me inside, where we plonked ourselves onto a couch and laughed the crazy laughter that often accompanies relief. The relief in my case of facing the fear of rejection and finding none; in Antony's case facing the fear of the queer and finding it baseless.

'I feel such a fuckwit,' he sighed. 'I've read everything so I know it's the way we are born and I try to…. I know I ought to honour my father and my mother, but sometime they're so full of shit it gets to me and I can't… and I don't…'

I noted the 'we', but decided not to press the issue. 'Not your fault; you're the victim of childhood conditioning. Indoctrinate a boy before the age of 5 or 7 and he's yours for life. Have you also let Jesus into your heart?'

'Oh fuck!' he sighed, then giggled again. 'When someone said that to me at church last Sunday I said I was afraid to because I'd been told the surgery was painful. Not my joke, I read it on one of the freethinking sites.'

'Very funny and very brave. And the response?'

'Tight lips, a whispered word to Mum and a telling off when we got home.'

'Is school okay?'

'I keep my head down, never mention God, don't do anything unusual… at least I didn't until.' He stood and frowned. 'Are you hungry? I am.'

I nodded.

'Right, don't go away.' He hurried out and I heard him running upstairs, only to reappear moments later holding a large silver trophy-cup that he passed to me. 'I'll make us something to eat while you take a look at this.'

I handled it carefully, although it was probably stronger than it looked. It was very beautiful; a shallow bowl, gilded on the inside, flanked by a pair of elegant silver lions. I placed it on the low table beside my chair, where it appeared to float on its slender stem above a lustrous hardwood pedestal. Picking it up again I turned the exquisite object to read the inscription: The Robert Francis Memorial Cup for Singing.

As I gazed at my reflection in the polished surface it all came flooding back. Sneers of derision from the boys' side of the Assembly Hall when the deputy principal announced that an ex pupil had donated two cups for excellence in singing; one for boys and one for girls, to be decided by a competition. Interested students should register in the Music Room before the end of school on Friday.

I'd waited to register until everyone had gone home, so no one would know. At lunchtime on the day of judgement we gathered in the Music Room. Mr. Laurie introduced the adjudicator, an elderly woman who had once been a sort-of famous singer, and welcomed our scant audience, all girls, before sitting at the piano and calling up the contestants, girls first. Judging by the applause they all sang well.

My first opponent looked about ten and wobbled 'Bless this House' in a breathy treble, then Harry David sang 'The Cornish Floral Dance' in a melodious bass voice. He was so good he should have won, but he was a pompous ass, not handsome and thoroughly disliked, so the applause lasted all of five seconds. The undeserved applause for my spirited rendition of Westering Home swayed the judge who declared Florence Jenkyns and me to be the winners.

By then I was cursing my stupidity. The whole thing had been embarrassingly amateur and I slunk away, sick with apprehension. Imagine the guys discovered I'd entered this poofter competition! I'd never hear the end of it. Luckily, only rugby and athletics results were ever announced at assembly.

The year ended and I'd forgotten about it until Heather whispered in Chemistry that my name was on the Prize-Giving notice board. Panicked, I grabbed a bottle of correcting fluid, excused myself from class, and deleted, 'Singing Cup…Antony Stone.'

Boys were tough, and girls… there was only one thing girls were useful for, and it wasn't talking to. But you had to have a girlfriend to prove you weren't a poofter, and to wander around the shops with on late-shopping nights. I probably wasn't the only one who wouldn't have minded sitting with the girls and talking about something other than footy, cars and booze, but survival instincts screamed 'Conform!'

On the morning of Prize-Giving I pretended I was sick, and convinced Mum, who knew the school secretary, to telephone and ask her to remove the cup from the table and my name from the list. Next day I waited till all the kids had gone before collecting the cup from the front office. Mum thought it was beautiful and wanted it on the mantlepiece, but Dad said it should be in my room—didn't want to have to explain it to his mates, whose sons had won smaller but more manly cups for boxing, gymnastics and so on. Matthew was away at Uni, and by the time he returned at Christmas no one thought to tell him of my vocal triumph, so he never found out.

The next year I had the lead in the school play. The other guys reckoned that was cool, so when Mr. Laurie cornered me in the playground I was vulnerable.

'How's the voice, Richard?'

'I'm not entering the competition again!'

'What a pity. How about an opera?'

I looked blank.

'If you'll sing the leading role, the last half of the School Concert this year will be a condensed version of Mozart's 'Magic Flute'.

Mozart was famous, so an opera by him had to be OK, not an amateur wank like the competition. But I was learning caution. 'Who's the leading lady?' There was no way I was going on stage with dumpy, hot-eyed Florence.

'Charmian Ingram.'

She was a real looker, so I wouldn't be disgraced. 'You're on!'

It was much more difficult than I'd expected but remains one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. Even the local rag did a bit of a gush. However, there's always a down side. The following morning I copped it from some scrawny git for '…poncing around on stage in that poofter gear and singing like a fuckin' wanker.'

I pretended I didn't hear, but should have clobbered the guy. Telling boys never to retaliate physically to abuse is stupid, because physical and verbal violence are merely different sides of the same coin. Idealists who ignore human nature and forbid the use of force for mental self-protection are sending troops to battle with unloaded guns. Persecutors lack compassion, so their victims, if they hope to survive, must immediately decide on the best defence—words, actions, or both—and then let loose! It doesn't matter whether they win or lose, as long as the retaliation is coolly deliberate; not a girlish hysterical outburst! Salvaged pride will prevent psychological damage, and victimisation will probably cease. The absolutely worst thing for any young man to do when bullied is to suffer in silence and turn the other cheek.

I should have immediately launched a violent, physical offensive with the clear intention of maiming, followed by a verbal attack. Instead, as lumps of ice displaced my guts, I gave a pathetically unconvincing performance of not caring.

I know lots of blokes suffer worse things, but this was my first experience of the True-Aussie-Male clobbering-machine, and I didn't cope too well. Heather was sympathetic, but told me the other guys reckoned I must be a queer to have done it, and everyone hates queers. 'I told them you weren't,' she said, 'but everyone's afraid they'll be called queer if they don't join in.' It took three long weeks before some other kid failed the masculinity test and suffered the consequences.

A few weeks later while shopping, I ran into Florence with an older version of herself.

'Mum wants to talk to you,' she pouted, having forgiven neither me nor the world for denying her the lead in 'The Magic Flute'. Her mother appeared equally disgruntled. 'Your voice shows promise, Antony,' she declaimed in a contralto pitched to the back row of the gallery. 'However, you must have lessons and I will give them to you.'

'No way! Singing's for sissies and I can't afford lessons.'

'What complete and utter nonsense!' She was genuinely shocked. 'Surely you are not swayed by such philistinism?'

I looked blank.

'And I was not intending to charge you!'

I shook my head.

'No one will know.'

I gazed into the distance. I love music and singing, but I like not being harassed even more.

'Antony Stone!' she boomed. 'It would be criminal not to train your voice! What do you say?'

I said as little as possible, and escaped. Next day at school I asked Mr. Laurie what he thought.

'Grab the chance of free tuition from a recognised teacher.'

A week later, nibbled by maggots of doubt, I presented myself at the Jenkyns' rambling wooden guesthouse. Florence led me to an enormous, uncarpeted and sparsely furnished sitting room, which, according to her mother already seated at the piano, provided perfect acoustics. Florence sang, I sang, we sang, it was bliss and the afternoon passed too quickly. As she tidied away the music and lowered the piano lid, Mrs. Jenkyns trumpeted grandly, 'Your voice is beautiful, Antony. It matches Florence's perfectly! You will easily win the duet at the Eisteddfod.'

Duet? Eisteddfod? An artery threatened to burst in my neck. The free lessons were bait to get me to sing with Florence in public! Imagine it leaked out! If anyone discovered I was still singing it would be bad enough, but singing with Fat Florence? That'd be the end of my life!

Crossed fingers didn't help. Next morning Florence had spread the word and the reaction was vicious. Terror, fury and a few well-placed punches lent my denials the aura of truth, and I convinced the blokes that the stupid bitch was off her rocker. From their point of view it was pretty unlikely; I already had a good-looking girlfriend and only a blind, half-witted spaz would be seen dead with Florence. It had been a close call though and I didn't sleep easily for a week. At school I cornered Florence, cancelled the lessons and ripped shit out of her. She looked so pathetic I almost felt sorry.

I thought I'd got over it, but something had died inside. Sounds hysterical, but that's what it felt like. I loved singing more than anything. It was the only reason I went to church with Mum. But I just clammed up and stopped going out. Got a Christmas holiday job, saved heaps, then went south as far away as possible and took an internship with the city council instead of going back to school for my final year. Cost me promotion for a while, but….

'Are you asleep?' Antony had returned without my noticing.

'No, thinking.'

'Do you like the cup?'

'It's beautiful.'

'You saw what it's for?'



'What did you sing?'

'Schubert's Ständchen.'

'I'm impressed.'


'Has it caused any problems?'

'Overheard a couple of guys saying I must be gay.'

'Does that worry you?'

'It shouldn't, should it? After all being gay's all normal and legal, marriage equality and all that… but it did… No… school's okay… usually.' He shrugged. Frowned. What made you ask?'

'I was the first student to win that cup; when I was your age.'

'Seriously! That's fantastic.'

'It wasn't. It was horrible. The taunts went on for ages. But I survived.

'What about Grandad?'

'He got me to hide it in case one of his mates saw it.'

'And Dad?'

'Matthew was away at uni and by the time he came home for Christmas no one thought to tell him. So he never knew.


'What about you? How did Matthew react when his son came home with such a beautiful trophy?'

'He put it at the back of the china cabinet, but then someone at his work said he'd heard I'd won something for singing and was gay. He came home livid.'

'And you told him to take a running jump?'

'Ha! How long since you saw Dad? He's massive; I'd never pick a fight with him. I swore blind I wasn't.'

'And your mother?'

'When they told me you were coming, she made me promise never to be alone with you. They said it wouldn't be fair to you to be tempted again?'


'They invited you so they could help you change, now that the man who had tempted you into evil had died.'

'I shook my head in despair.'

'Do you miss him?'

'Antony, We lived together for thirteen years. I loved him more than anyone I've known. No, that's wrong, he is the only person I've ever truly loved. He was … everything to me and…' I was leaking tears and slumped in my seat.

Antony raced round and wrapped an arm around my shoulders. 'I'm sorry. I had no idea. Sorry!'

'Don't be. I'm due for a good cry. Helps relieve the anger at his stupidity for crashing that bike I warned him against buying. But I suppose that's one of the things I loved about him; he dared…' I wiped at my eyes, surprised at my lack of embarrassment.

'Are you okay?'

'Yes, thanks. Shouldn't we eat the food you've prepared?'

'Over a filling but tasteless meal I convinced my nephew that his sexual identity was his and no one else's' business. Certainly not as important as his character. 'It'd be pretty odd to start telling everyone how honest you are,' I explained, 'or what level of education you'd reached, so why tell them about your sexual interests as if that's the most important part of you? As for a girlfriend, have one if it's useful, but have a believable excuse ready in case she gets amorous.'

'Probably won't happen. I'm not a party boy; prefer to go tramping with a mate, read, swim… but not in groups, they make me nervous.'

I'm the same. And next year?'

'I'll finish Year 12 and then Uni. I want to study biology.'

'You'll be what, eighteen?'


'I've a large apartment and a spare room in the city if you're looking for digs. As far as I know I'll still be there.'

'That'd be great.'

'But don't mention anything that happened today to Matthew or your mother. I'll write an explanatory note that you can say you found in the letterbox.'

'But what're you going to do for Christmas?'

The same as I've done every Christmas for the last thirteen years, spend it with Johnny's sister and her family. They treat me as part of the family and I love being with them. They have twin boys your age, Johnny's nephews. Now I'll be able to boast that I also have a nephew, a very smart and pleasant young man who I admire.'

'Do you really?'

'Yes. And it's all thanks to Matthew inviting me. I don't think he'd be thrilled to learn that.'

'I really like you too, Uncle Antony.'

'Then stop the uncle bit. Makes me feel pompous, just Antony will do.'

'And everyone calls me Ant, because I'm short.'

'Then Ant it is.'

He waved until I turned the corner, when I had to stop to blow my nose and wipe my eyes so I could see. Took a swig of bottled water. Could hardly swallow from the lump in my throat. I had a family! I had someone to care about again! A fine nephew of whom I was already ridiculously proud. Life was worth living after all.

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