by Rafael Henry

Chapter 33

Christmas. A son is given.

My mother had received the final confirmation letter from the court a week before our Christmas holiday began. It is to be Otta's first holiday in his new semi-permanent home. It all felt like a dream; not really real. I don't think it will sink in properly for any of us. Not yet. Not even when mum gives Roger the letter to read out at our tea party. Amelia is here too, so it's just Otta and I who didn't know the Court's decision. We are two anxious boys!

After Roger has read aloud the short statement, there is silence. How odd it feels, like some huge anti-climax, mixed with an intense sense of relief. We all sit there trying to take in the reality of the words read out by Roger loaded with, needless to say, a degree of solemnity. He's used to all that; being solemn. Amelia rises gingerly from her chair and goes over to Otta and kisses him on the top of his head and takes his hands in hers. Then they hug and need hankies. We all do. Mum is ready for this. Always prepared. That's her all over. Otta's past will never be forgotten or pushed to one side. One day he may well be re-united with his real family. I do hope so. In the meantime he will be cared for by us in every way possible; and loved by us. All of us.

Sometime later.

A lot can happen in two years. Sadley, Amelia has died. It was not unexpected. Roger officiated at the thirteenth century church at Sarre, not that far away from us at the top of the hill overlooking Broadstairs. The landscape always seemed to me to dominated by flat fields of potatoes and cabbages, and as they matured or get left to rot, there's a faintly unpleasant smell that goes with it. You may recall my earlier reference to Harry, Amelia's first and as far as we are aware, only love, and the father of Otta's mother, and awkwardly for Amelia, a girl born out of wedlock. Harry's people owned the farm, three hundred acres of it. Potatoes and cabbages. Poor Harry, gunned down in flames by a German pilot probably no older than he was, and little more than a teenager, whose job it was to kill, just as Harry's was. Harry's people had no other children and felt some responsibility towards the undone Amelia. Harry should have known better than to knowingly inseminate a young and very vulnerable girl in a field one warm afternoon. When they died, they left the farm in trust to Amelia. In turn, the business would then pass to the boy Otta, who is their natural great grandson. Amelia kept very quiet about her inheritance, whilst receiving a windfall income from the business kept running successfully by the farm manager, who lived in the farmhouse.

Being a naturally charitable being, Amelia supported the NSPCC. But now she had the means to do more for her fellow humans. She chose to support a home for orphaned and homeless children run by a charity in London, and to help end institutional neglect in the East End of the City. Bravo.

I suppose it's a typical scene; miserable grey weather in November, and perhaps twenty of us gathered around the graveside at Sarre. At least it's not actually raining. Of course we're sad, especially Otta. I have my arm around his shoulder. We are both weeping, which is not unusual for us; the boy for his grandmother and me more for the boy than one of the kindest people I have known. Dust to dust; ashes to ashes; Roger continues. He's so good at all those things.

And then there's the casting of the soil into the grave itself. Well done Otta. Brave boy. He walks back into my arms. My love for him right now is a protective kind of love. Roger always says that there are different kinds of loving. Some kinds we can be proud of, the honourable kind, and other kinds that we should be less proud of. I imagine he's right.

We walked past Amelia's cottage with the 'For Sale' sign by the garden gate. The wake is in the farmhouse, hosted by the farm manager, a pleasant red-faced man called Gerald and his wife. The food and drink is organized by my mother mainly, with help from one of the church ladies. It's a lovely old house, one of those traditional farmhouses you see everywhere in these parts, all symmetrical, white central door, orange brick, two tall chimneys either end, and red tiled roof. Gerald's wife brings out the tea things; piles of sandwiches and a few small cakes, and beer for the men. Farmworkers with those peaked caps they wear; more red faces, one very handsome. He's perhaps just twenty. No more than that. I saw him glancing in Otta's direction more times than he should and looked at him sharply. He saw me. Then he looked away quickly. Don't get any ideas mate, he's mine. But there's no harm in looking. I've done enough of it. I doubt if I was more than ten years old when I first noticed certain qualities in other boys.

Talking of certain qualities, holding my mug of tea, I'm perusing various framed photographs scattered along the walls of the large reception room we are all standing in. There's one of Harry and Amelia posing for the camera on what looks very like Margate beach. They must have got a passer-by to take the snap for them. No wonder Amelia, as a slim fifteen-year-old, was attracted to the older boy. Tanned and very handsome, he's wearing a brief swimsuit which is doing everything to enhance his boyhood. Oh lordy! No wonder Amelia didn't think to ask Harry to be careful. So sad to think how all that was wasted; and so many like him on both sides. Make love, not war, Lennon tells us. I wish they would listen.

Amelia's cottage, ubiquitously named Rose Cottage, has been packed up. All the small stuff packed into boxes is to be collected by the house clearers, apart from the few things that Otta wants to keep. There are some old clothes of his in drawers; school uniform that Amelia kept for some reason, now smelling a little musty. Even a few pairs of underpants in a clear plastic bag, tiny things.

'Look at these Jon.' Says Otta, stretching the waistband of one pair with both hands.

'I bet you looked cute in those.' I say admiringly.

'I could probably still get into them. Shall I keep them?'

'Yes. Why not. I think I can remember those.' I said, feeling myself stir slightly. I do remember them. In fact I remember them very well before they went missing. Two pairs we never did find.

The boy turns towards me, still holding up the object that came between me and that other object of my desiring.

'Happy days eh Jon?'

'Yes, you should keep them. Old times sake.'

'For story time?'

'Yes, for story time.'

As he packs various bits of memorabilia into bags, Otta has another observation.

'Will you come with me to the solicitors tomorrow Jon? They want to discuss Amelia's will with me. All the farm's residual income will come to me now according to mum.'

Mum. As he said that word, my eyes began to prickle. It's finally come home to me what all this means. That one word. She's a good mum too. My mum. Now his too.

'Sorry Jon. I shouldn't have used that word.'

'Yes you should have. But do you realize that it's the first time you referred to my mum as yours too? I love you for that, and so does she.'

'A sensitive beast aren't you Jon.'

'Not as bad as you.'

I remembered what Roger had said to a boy at school who cried a lot about anything.

'You're a sensitive child. So you must believe that life might cost you more, but it might yield more too.'

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