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by Rafael Henry

Chapter 48

Wiping the slate clean.

It's eight thirty now, and if we are to get to Point Cottage in time for barbecued mackerel, I had better wake the boys now. Wulff has been on a drama course at RADA; the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He was given the week off from school to attend the course. Although he's too young to apply yet, they provide excellent preparatory term-time workshops for younger people like him. Otta took him up, and they stayed in a cheap hotel nearby. Both of them have worked hard at the boy's music and drama. He has talent, and that's not to be wasted, and as Roger says, used to the good . I suppose that devil Quint actually did some good himself back in the day, as loath as I am to admit it. As for our darling boy Petroc, he continues to make progress growing up fast, alarmingly. No particular talent has emerged as yet from him, apart from his natural loving nature and smily demeanour. I'm sure Roger's in love with the boy, in a good way, just as I am. Yes, me.

I've been in an odd state of mine for a while now. So much has happened so quickly it seems, and today's ritual burning will help, I hope. I'm often tearful these days, nothing really unusual about that, I've always been a bit that way. I've no real idea what brings it on, but when it comes over me, it's uncanny how Petroc seems to be aware and comes to me with arms held tight around not just my body but my soul too. By now you'll be aware that Roger and I suffer the curse, a very private matter indeed. Thus, when Petroc sits in my lap during my darker moments, as he will do without any invitation from me, I have things on my mind. Rest assured that the boy is safe with all of us. Of course he is, but his very presence lights a flame in me, or should I say re-lights. It's always been there, not just for dear Petroc, but for others too. Their names live on within me, images and the sounds of their voices echoing in the misty void of one's memory. The warmth of his hand in mine will do it, and the warmth of his naked skin as we sit together, both silent, and looking.

The boys enjoyed their barbecued fish, served up with a green salad and crusty French style bread. Otta cooks simply and well. We've had a rain shower earlier, but the early autumn sun is still strong and warms us now, Petroc and I in one of the wicker armchairs, Otta in the other one, and Wulff lying on a towel on the floor, exhausted. He hasn't said much about the RADA course but it's my belief that he continues to be inspired by the wonderful tutors on those RADA short courses. To inspire young people to be creative is a noble calling in my book. They do it for love, not money.

It's warm enough still for the boys to be in their crisp white polo shirts and stone-coloured summer shorts, a little flesh in visible in between, and a narrow band of white suggesting the presence of what I know to be ironed underpants beneath. No need for socks just yet. Otta does all our ironing and seems to actually enjoy it. Not much escapes his iron, even the boys' pants. Another symptom of affection perhaps. Otta's immaculate taste is all over the boys, and we're all happy to go along with the way he wants to dress us.

'Darling, that just doesn't go. Go and find something that does please.'

Wulff didn't get back last night until after eleven. It's a lengthy train journey back from London, and both he and Otta were clearly exhausted. It had been a long six days for Wulff, but from the short conversation I had with him, it was an utterly brilliant week, culminating in the opera itself, Britten's Noyes Fludde, a piece based on one of the Chester Miracle plays, with some 'Brittenesque' additions. The players, singers and actors are almost all aged between eleven and fifteen, accompanied by older and very experienced RADA students, making it a perfect project for the week. The first two days were spent sorting out who would be best doing what, where their strengths lay, and then the casting process started, and the awarding of the parts. Four days later, after all the rehearsing, the show went on. Otta said it was just fabulous, and also very moving. I quote from Britten's instructions……

Noye [Noah] and Mrs Noye are sung by "accomplished singer-actors", and the Voice of God, although not necessarily a professional actor, should have "a rich speaking voice, with a simple and sincere delivery, without being at all 'stagey'. The young amateurs playing the parts of Noye's children should be between 11 and 15 years old, with "well-trained voices and lively personalities"; Jaffet, the eldest, could have a broken voice. Mrs Noye's Gossips should be older girls with strong voices and considerable acting ability. The children playing the animals should vary in size, and range in age from seven to eighteen. The older age groups, with perhaps some broken voices, should represent the larger animals (lions, leopards, horses, camels etc.), while the younger play rats, mice and birds. There is a dance or ballet involving two child performers playing the roles of the raven and the dove.

The mingled chimes of slung mugs and bells continue during God's final valedictory blessing. As Noye leaves, the full orchestra provides a final fortissimo salute, the opera then concluding peacefully with B flat chimes of handbells alternating with extended G major string chords to create a hauntingly beautiful close.

Britten in front of a favourite and enigmatic sculpture
Britten in front of a favourite and enigmatic sculpture

Wulff was cast as Jaffet, a principal part for a boy whose voice may have broken. It has quite recently.

Yes, a hauntingly beautiful close that takes us to the height of what is emotionally bearable.

I managed to rouse Wulff at eight thirty, with Petroc spooned into his back. They showered together in silence which was unusual, and came out to my towel at the ready, the boys quiet but still obviously excited. Beautiful moments for me, as ever. We cut breakfast, all bar some refreshing chilled fruit juice for them, and coffees for us. So off to Point Cottage armed with a bag of fresh mackerel, bread sticks and a huge bowl of Otta's salad concoction.

Wulff went straight to the only bedroom at the Cottage, still fully clothed, and lay down on the bed within five minutes of our arrival, and Petroc wandered the beach while Otta and I worked on lunch, kindled the charcoal fire into early life, and then later, suitable senility for the cooking of the fish, and ultimately the cremation of the scenes and sounds of our mutual passion, and almost all the tangible evidence of the first real love of my life. Otta said I should keep one image; the photo Lael's people sent to my mother. Lael, his brother, and their people. That image seemed to say as much as everything else put together. It has a place in my life still, and always will have.

The day has been oddly quiet, and as far as my mind is concerned, overshadowed by the imminent burning. It many ways it will be a profound relief, tinged with sadness, but necessary now. Overdue even.

Life is an ever-changing pattern.

There was plenty of heat in the fire well after lunch. Otta went back to the bedroom with Wulff, whilst Petroc stayed with me. The boy has no idea of the significance of any of this destruction, as I heap the tangled mass of magnetic tape onto the fading orange charcoal, the colour obscured now with grey ash. It's all gone in seconds, although the photographs take longer to die, curling up like snakes, brown at the edges, and then suddenly combusting, and then to disappear entirely into dark disintegrating acrid shadows.

I thought I might cry, shakily and out of control, but I didn't, as Petroc sat with me in the wicker chair, his head resting against my chest. How warm he feels against my body, bare brown thighs draped over mine. There's such empathy about him. Somehow, he always knows . He turns further in towards me, both hands on my chest now, face too, but in danger of slipping lower so I hold him securely underneath, my palms supporting him. Still in his shorts, he's all tight fabric down there, with exotic, alluring and diverging seams that I can feel, but that line rapidly approaching should not be crossed. Should not? Must not.

We have hands that can feel other hands as we walk the beach in the late autumn sunshine, autumn for Otta and I, springtime for the boys, our heads full of thoughts.

Otta has Wulff's hand in his just as I have Pet's in mine. Paired off you might say. Otta's life has become increasingly and inexorably tangled up in Wulff's these days, for the best of reasons. It's not exactly a threatening cloud hanging over my life, far from it, but it's there like impending doom. After Wulff's stunning performance as Jarret in Noyes Fludde, there was a note left for him by the same man, known to be a talent spotter [amongst other things], who had spoken to him alone in the theatre office after the final performance of The Turn of the Screw. The essential message in the note was……. please consider an application to RADA, when the time comes. You will know when. You may think you're too young still, but you are not.

Otta and Wulff had hung back on our stroll. I noticed that Pet kept looking behind him as we walked slowly towards the Point. It must have been the third time at least when I stopped to look behind us. The pair had stopped and were facing each other, hands held, faces so close. I quickly turned away, feeling my face warming. I'm horrible afraid that he's going to go too far with that boy, if he hasn't already done so.

I was stunned, and then I felt Pet's hand tighten into mine. Firm, hard and warm. No, it's gripping mine. It could have been Lael. There's a determination in that hold on me. I gripped his in return and remembered the beautiful naked boy in the bedroom doorway this morning. Petroc. Frightened of consequences, I told him to go back to his bed.

The boy stares at me, alone now in my bed. He's quite expressionless, mouth open, one hand up on the white painted door frame. Slowly he turns away. Suddenly everything has changed.

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