Honeymoon


1

Richard, the great martyr, goes one day in March to the Palace of Westminster to sit in the Lords. As he crosses the Peers’ Lobby his heel-plates click against the tiles. The floor says, dieu et mon droitdieu et mon droitdieu et mon droit. The other peers say, ‘Ah, welcome back, Duke.’ He was last here six years ago, when he came down from Oxford to give his maiden speech.

The throne in the chamber is empty. Richard sits among the cross-benchers, languidly observing. On all sides he is surrounded by old people: jowly liver-spotted men in wrinkled suits, brown-toothed women in Thatcher drag, holding forth with tiresome decorum on coal imports, road safety, the economy of Northern Ireland. Richard has golden hair that parts in the middle and comes down past his ears. He wears a simple dark suit and gemstones on three of his fingers. The others can’t help looking at him. He feels them thinking, ‘Why is he here? To infect us? Or just to embarrass us?’ He does embarrass them. He is young, he is still fairly beautiful. He is back from the dead, he will show them all.

At half ten in the evening the house adjourns. Richard reclines in the library and rings the townhouse owned by William Bagot, Member for Warwick and Leamington.

William’s new wife picks up. She says, ‘Hullo, Richard. I’ve no idea where Will is, sorry.’

When Richard tries William’s office, William answers the call himself. He’s about five minutes north of Richard, in his little suite in one of the Norman Shaw buildings. He says, ‘I’ve just sent Carole home for the night. Talk dirty.’

‘No,’ Richard says. ‘I’m in the Lords Library.’

‘Ah, my little lord, exercising his hereditary right.’

‘I’d like to see you. Get us a room and I’ll meet you there.’

‘You could come to my office.’

‘If I went there this time of night I’d be accused of doing politics.’

‘Aren’t you?’

‘No. I’ve only come today because I needed the per diem.’

They meet at one of those late-Victorian railway hotels which are now all owned by American tycoons. The carpet lets off that scent of vigorous hoovering. Richard had applied a bit of L’Heure Bleue that morning, but by now it has faded.

‘It wasn’t cheap, I must say,’ says William.

‘You could have gone home and buggered your wife.’

‘Done what to her now?’

Richard gets on his knees and sucks William’s cock, which is pungent with sweat and unshaken-out piss. It is not quite the labourer’s stench; it puts one in mind of long lunches in the Members’ Dining Room, lots of crossing and uncrossing of legs. William comes on Richard’s face and Richard wipes the semen into his mouth and swallows.

They pause for whisky and cigarettes. William, with his trousers off but his socks and shirt still on, rings his secretary’s home number to tell her something he’d forgotten. Richard kneels between his legs and mouths his soft cock, his lovely heavy balls. Once William has rung off he slaps Richard’s face. He pulls Richard up by his collar and tears open his white Oxford shirt, tosses him face-down onto the bed. He yanks down Richard’s trousers and slaps his arse. He fucks Richard from behind, pushing his face into the floral duvet; he fucks Richard until it hurts, then takes off the condom and comes over Richard’s arsehole.

Satisfied, he runs Richard a bath. He sits in a chair by the tub and tells Richard what’s been happening in the other place. The Prime Minister will announce a general election soon, and William stands a chance of losing his seat.

‘To some chinless little scrap,’ Richard says.

‘With his canal boat holidays, five-a-side football, and biographies of Harry S. Truman.’

‘That’s sweet, really . . .’

‘How’s Edward, by the way?’

‘Oh, never mind. How’s Mr Major?’

They go for one more round, later that night. The curtains are shut, there is only a single lamp lit, and William kneels behind Richard and chokes him as he fucks him. There is a mirror across from the bed and they watch themselves in it. Richard sees his face flush as his vision spots white; his mouth is open, his eyes hypnotically empty, as he comes.

 

 

‘Oh! God!’ Edward says, when Richard comes home to Marylebone. ‘Your neck!’

Richard had looked at the bruises that morning, in the hotel, and pressed his fingers to them until they were sore again. William had been solicitous too, unsexily so: he had said, You’re not really hurt? And Richard had said, I’m dying anyway. But you’re not, William had said. The treatment is working.

‘I’d quite like a cup of tea,’ Richard says.

In the grey afternoon, in the study, Edward says, ‘I hope you enjoyed it.’

He sits at the desk while Richard lounges on the sofa and smokes. He has been writing cheques, balancing the chequebook, on Richard’s behalf. Richard, after a night with William, thinks Edward looks young. His face is smooth, lightly freckled, and his hair is thick. His tortoiseshell glasses somehow have the effect of making him look a bit unintelligent. He and Richard were born the same year, but Richard has had his birthday and Edward hasn’t.

‘Very much so, thanks,’ Richard says. ‘Don’t mope over it, darling, it’s just sex.’

‘Except that you tell him how to vote, and what sort of speeches he should make in the Commons.’

‘Well, it’ll all be over by summer.’

 

 

Henry Green, QC, is another one of those educated men with receding brown curls and a soft middle. His wrinkles are the kind that show he reads, writes, types, and telephones. He has a cottage in Devon and a detached red-brick Victorian south of Hampstead Heath which his estranged wife has vacated even though her father helped pay for it. He never had children by her; he did get a girl pregnant while he was training for the Bar, but she had an abortion.

Green wears calfskin gloves and gives Richard thirty lashes with a rattan cane that had come down from a grandfather who had served in the Imperial Police towards the end of the Raj. They do this in the sitting room, with the curtains closed, as the sun sets, so that darkness comes over them. Green finishes himself off over Richard’s bare, sore arse, then turns on a lamp and offers Richard a gin and tonic. They never fuck; Green once got drunk and told Richard the story of how in his first year at his public school he’d been violently buggered by three older boys in the showers after rugby practice. He pretends that he dislikes William for being common, but really it must be because William had the soft, untroubled youth of a grammar school boy.

‘I had dinner with Will Bagot the other night,’ Green mentions. ‘He asked me if I knew of any jobs going. Then he left me with the bill.’

‘It’s not your employment that’s in jeopardy.’

‘Will you contribute to his campaign?’

‘Oh, God, no,’ Richard says. ‘I haven’t got the money. Actually, I was going to ask you to take me to dinner.’

Green does take him out, if only to watch him wince as he sits down. They eat noisettes de chevreuil and Green tells Richard about his divorce. In the taxi back, Richard rubs Green’s cock through his trousers. Green kisses the bruises on Richard’s neck that William left.

It is almost a perfect night, except that when they go to bed Green canes him again and then suddenly stops, saying, ‘Oh! Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear.’

There is blood on the linen Green’s wife had picked out. Green strips the bed himself; he takes the bloodied linen down to the lower ground floor and puts it in the wash with chlorine bleach.

 

 

Edward runs Richard’s bath for him and helps him dress, and is petulantly silent, sulking through this rendering of service. He pesters Richard about taking his tablets. ‘Have you taken them yet? Have you really?’

At last (it is early in the morning, he is tired and his neck is stiff) Richard shrieks: WHY ARE YOU SUCH A BORE. YOU ONLY WANT TO KEEP ME ALIVE SO YOU CAN GO ON LIVING IN MY HOUSE. He flings his little cloisonné pillbox in Edward’s direction; the tablets spill and lodge themselves between the floorboards.

‘No,’ Edward says, sighing, ‘it’s not just that. I like when you fuck me, too.’

Two years ago, Richard had not been more than a year from death. He had traded the house in Marylebone and the bed with the blue canopy for an AIDS ward in a teaching hospital, a metal-framed cot with a rolling tray over it and his chart on a clipboard at the foot. Edward, whose father is a Hertfordshire barrister, had gone with Richard to meet his solicitor about his will, understanding that after the repayment of debts and the payment of death duties there would be nothing left for loyal companions. He’d told Richard how his parents had asked him what he would do once Richard was dead: ‘You’ve no profession,’ they’d said, ‘no money of your own, just –’

Driving Richard to hospital, carrying in the suitcases, unpacking the silk pyjamas and the woollen jumpers and the velvet slippers and Richard’s weight (then under ten stone) in books; filling one of those baby-bottleish hospital cups with the kind of rehydrating formula given to victims of famine, forcing Richard to drink it, promising coffee and cocktails later; emptying the plastic jug into which Richard pissed, or into which his catheter flowed. Going out alone to Richard’s favourite restaurants, bringing back insulated containers of veal cutlet, lamb chop, gratin dauphinois, mousse au chocolat; forcing Richard to eat it. Driving back to Marylebone to hand-wash the pyjamas when inevitably they were soiled. Reading aloud to Richard, watching telly with Richard, sitting quietly next to him with the lamps off and the curtains shut against the sun.

Richard is twenty-seven, now. He doesn’t know where death has gone. He last weighed in at eleven and a half stone, and his last T-cell count was an astonishing 350. Two or three times a week he and Edward walk down the road to the health club, swim forty lengths, then sit in the sauna. At least once a month they drive up for a few days at Lancaster Park, to enjoy country pursuits. They fuck more often than they did at twenty. When Richard examines his conscience, he notes that he lacks gratitude for the worldly processes by which he is kept alive. Blood tests, appointments with specialists, timers set to go off at seven, three, and eleven. Edward appearing with a cup of milky tea, two biscuits on the saucer, zalcitabine, saquinavir, zidovudine.

Lowering himself to the floor, Edward says, ‘My dad told me I was your dog.’

‘Oh, but a handsome fine greyhound, red brindle, with a neck like a swan’s and cute little ears and a long tail, and the blood of a hare wetting its muzzle.’

 

 

Richard goes the following evening to William’s office, carrying a bouquet with narcissi for Carole, whom he then dismisses. He goes into the small inner room and shuts but doesn’t lock the door behind him. He looks through the papers on William’s desk, then turns off the overhead light and sinks to his knees in front of William’s chair and gives him a long, wet blowjob.

Before William comes Richard says, ‘You can fuck me if you’ve got a condom. I don’t know if you have them lying about?’

The only MPs who don’t keep condoms at hand are those who risk shagging without them. William puts one on and bends Richard over the desk. Pulling down Richard’s trousers, he says, ‘Ah. Henry Green got to you first.’

‘Oh, yes, he’s got such a lot of stress to work off. It’s the divorce.’

‘Lucy has moved on quickly enough.’

‘Well, if she wants children she’ll have to have them soon.’

They find afterwards that the box of tissues on William’s desk is empty.

‘Gosh, you really have been hard at work,’ Richard says.

‘I use them to blow my nose.’

Refusing to clean his arse with his handkerchief, Richard makes William strip from the waist down and hand over his Y-fronts. William puts them back on once Richard is done, saying that if he left them in the wastebasket, the tabloids would find them and have them DNA tested.

 

 

The dawn comes up darkly, with rain. One of the windows has been left half-open; a cold breeze moves the curtains. Edward sleeps on his stomach. His lips are parted, showing his long front teeth, one of which slightly overlaps the other.

Richard looks up at the underside of the canopy, at the sun with its wiggling rays embroidered in gold thread. He gets up, pisses, and cleans his teeth, then dresses himself soberly and drives to Knightsbridge for eight a.m. mass at the Oratory. Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. Laudamus te. Benedicimus te. Adoramus te. Glorificamus te.

 

2

 

Parliament is prorogued on the twenty-first of March. There are some cynics who suggest the Prime Minister has done this to delay the publication of a report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards that will find Tory MPs took bribes from the Egyptian businessman who bought Harrods. It would of course have been wicked of them if they had.

William asks Richard up to Warwickshire for a couple of days. He has a sort of ‘country house’ south of Leamington Spa, a former estate cottage in higgledy-piggledy brick. Richard drives himself. He parks in the driveway and Nicola, the new wife, pops out from the side door, saying, ‘Hello! What a car! Let me take your bags.’

William’s thirteen-year-old daughter is there, too. Gemma has the broad-faced, snub-nosed, plain-pretty looks of her mother, though William’s current and former wives are more or less identical, and she could easily have passed for Nicola’s child. There is evidence of a frightful infatuation with Richard: she keeps her head down, she speaks to him only when he addresses her, but lingers near him until her father sends her away.

After dinner, Richard and William drink port in the lounge. Richard says, ‘If she were a few years older I might elope with her.’

‘That’s not funny, Richard.’

‘Oh, you’re so-o congenitally middle class.’

‘If you ever have a daughter of your own – well, you won’t.’

‘No, I suppose not,’ Richard says.

 

 

He wakes the next morning with the feeling that a cold is coming on. His head hurts, his throat is sore. He goes down to the kitchen and William is there, in a striped dressing gown, failing to negotiate with his own espresso machine. Richard makes coffee Turkish-style, in a pot on the stove. It is one of the few domestic tasks he has learned to do himself. He kisses William like he does after sucking his cock, with almost too much spit and tongue.

William says, ‘I’d rather not be tempted.’

Still, he holds Richard’s half-hard cock through his pyjamas. He looks into Richard’s eyes as he does it. Richard has always had the sense that, for other people, looking at him is a test of longevity in the face of pain, like putting one’s hand in the fire. But what do they think a look will do?

William kisses Richard’s cheek and says, ‘I’m going to have a shower.’

Nicola enters the kitchen dressed already in a cotton frock with buttons all the way down. She grills sausages in the Aga. The sky is grey; doves coo loudly from the shrubbery.

‘Do you feel your childhood was happy?’ Nicola asks Richard.

Richard says, ‘Oh yes.’

‘You really think so? I’m always suspicious of people who say that, because then it always transpires that their parents separated and their father shot their cat, or something.’

‘No, I had everything I could have wanted. My father did die, but by then I had already been away at school for a couple of years.’

‘Oh no,’ says Nicola. ‘I’m sorry. I’m an orphan. Well, I am now – my mum died when I was twenty-five, and my father the year after. So I didn’t have to go into an orphanage, or get sent to a maiden aunt.’

‘Do you know it’s Palm Sunday? Jesus rode into Jerusalem on an ass’s colt, and the people went forth to him with palm branches. It was the last Sunday before the Crucifixion.’

‘Will told me you threatened to elope with Gemma.’

‘Oh, that. I was just making Will squirm.’

‘I know. But you can’t let her hear of it. She’ll believe you. She’ll spend the rest of her life wondering why you never did. She’ll think you decided she was too plain. And when a decently brought-up, dark-haired man asks her to marry him, she’ll say she once almost eloped with Richard, the young Duke of Lancaster, when she was a schoolgirl, in 1997, just before her father lost his seat.’

 

 

St Mary’s, Warwick has a late mediaeval chapel, associated with the earls of Warwick, where Elizabeth I’s favourite Robert Dudley is entombed. The church by Warwick Castle is a rare eighteenth-century Gothic revival. But the Jephson Women’s Institute spring cakes and crafts fair, which Nicola is judging, is held in the hall next to a late-Victorian C of E parish church that resembles an indifferently-constructed set of a school play. The hall is low-ceilinged; Richard feels that his head is nearly up against the fluorescents. Folding tables with pink checked cloths display sponge cake, madeleines, cookies decorated to look like Easter eggs, tea urns, tea cosies, cross-stitch hoops, quilt squares, for some reason the odd Christmas ornament. William, with ostentatious humility, hands over a few coins in exchange for his poppyseed loaf and Styrofoam cup of char.

Richard is introduced by William as ‘my friend, the Duke of Lancaster.’ The women laugh and say, ‘No one told us we were going to have a duke.’ There is a reproach in that for William: why not tell us beforehand, so we could look him up in Debrett? Richard doesn’t give his Christian name, but learns the names of the eight members. These are just like the women Richard meets at village fetes, agricultural shows, tenants’ dinners, local history society fundraisers: women who have always treated him like they would his father or grandfather, even when he was a child. They wear cotton cardigans and polyester trousers.

Margaret, who was born around the time that Hitler invaded Poland, offers Richard a hot cross bun which she has added extra icing to. He bites, chews, swallows, then slips his tongue out of the corner of mouth for a flirtatious half-second. He says, ‘I’ve got icing all over my face, haven’t I?’ Margaret offers him a paper napkin with an Easter bunny design, and he says, ‘Thanks terribly, Margaret. Actually, I have a handkerchief.’

‘My mother, when we were growing up,’ Margaret says, ‘always used to tuck our handkerchiefs into our pockets before we went off to school. But somewhere along the way I got rid of them all, which is really such a shame, now that I see your beautiful one.’

‘Oh yes? This was embroidered for me by my mother. These are broom flowers. They’re a sort of family symbol.’

Gemma wears an Alice band and a department-store daisy-print frock. She sits on a plastic chair and reads Tatler. ‘The new homeless: how the shortage of £1-million-plus houses is forcing the rich on to the streets. The new sex: why gardening is better than chocolate.’ Richard supposes that women are the newer sex, comparatively! When he escapes through the side door to smoke, Gemma comes after him.

Exhaling, Richard says, ‘I hope you’re not going to ask me to give you a cigarette.’

‘I’ve smoked my mum’s before,’ she says.

‘Mm. Well, you know, I would if we were alone, but your father and stepmother are here, and then there are all of these nice women whose votes your father hopes to win.’

‘I’ve seen you in Tatler. You’re not in this issue, but you’ve been in some other ones.’

‘Oh, have you?’

‘I have a subscription here and for my mum’s house, so I read each issue twice. And then I give the extra to my friend Louise who can’t afford a subscription.’

‘You’re quite pretty,’ he tells her. ‘You could be in it someday.’

‘Not on the cover?’

‘We’ll have to see how you turn out.’

‘Um . . . with your illness, do you go to hospital . . . often?’

‘Surely that’s not the question you’ve been waiting to put to me.’

He smiles at her through the smoke. She lowers her eyes, goes stiff and red.

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude,’ she says.

‘I’ll answer one question honestly,’ he says. ‘But you’ll have to look into my eyes to ask it.’

She looks into his eyes. She spends a long time looking. He spends a long time looking at her, at the three spots on her upper lip, the youthful whiteness of her sclera. His cigarette burns between his fore and middle fingers.

 

 

Richard doesn’t come down for drinks before dinner; he really does feel ill. It’s the kind of cold he always has, with a runny nose and a dry cough and a throat that hurts especially when he swallows. William comes up, knocks, and enters without being asked in.

‘Mm . . . no,’ he says to Richard, ‘you don’t look well.’

He puts the back of his hand to Richard’s forehead. Richard recognises the gesture as paternal play-acting, a perfunctory acknowledgment of duty by a man who finds it difficult to believe he is no longer a boy himself. He takes William’s face in his hands and kisses him, licking William’s spit out of his mouth.

‘Now you’ll catch whatever I have.’

‘A head cold won’t kill me,’ William says.

The house is so small and noisy that Richard wonders how the three of them hide from one another. He hears William walk down the corridor, descend the stairs, talk to Nicola and Gemma in the kitchen, though he can’t make out what they say. A slower, lighter step ascends the stairs. There is the rattle of a tray being set down on the console outside of Richard’s bedroom.

‘Room service,’ Nicola says. ‘No, it’s just me, I’ve brought dinner up for you. I’m sorry you’re feeling so badly. Just pop the tray back on this table when you’re done with it, and I’ll take everything away.’

‘Come in,’ Richard commands.

She’s dressed for dinner, in dark velvet and gold earrings. He casts his gaze towards the writing desk; she unfolds the leaf and puts the tray down there.

‘It’s just lamb with mint sauce, and, um, parsnips, carrots, and potatoes. Healthy enough. And I’ve brought a glass of wine . . . I think the Victorians used to give wine to invalids, didn’t they? And then there’s baked apple pudding.’

‘I’m sorry I couldn’t come to table,’ Richard says. ‘I would have liked to. To play happy families with you.’

‘No . . . no. You must get well.’

‘It’s New Zealand lamb?’

‘Mm.’

‘Do you remember the last British lamb you had? The last time I had it must have been at home, because at school they only gave us pork, beef, or fish.’

‘Gosh, you know – it’s the sort of thing you don’t remember because you don’t know to remember it at the time. When Chernobyl happened I was living in a flat in Fulham with three other girls, and the only things we’d cook were soup from a tin or fried eggs or things like that.’

‘Nicola, darling,’ Richard says. ‘Come here and let me take your hand.’

She sits – perhaps feeling it is her right, as the lady of the house – on the edge of the bed, and lets Richard take both of her hands in his.

‘I don’t know why,’ she says, ‘but I was so unhappy, back then. I mean, my parents had just died, and I’d no-one to go home to at Christmas except a grandmother who’d complain that I was showing too much leg, but it wasn’t the grief, it was the feeling that every other girl in London was prettier, richer, or cleverer than me. You remind me, you know, of the boy I was in love with then. Digby Hughes-Duntze . . . He was so handsome. I saw him at every party, and he never remembered who I was. You wouldn’t know what that’s like.’

‘I’ve been in love with men before.’

‘But I’ll bet they remember you.’

Richard caresses her hands. He says, ‘I hope you and William will be blessed with children.’

Nicola says, ‘Um, yes. Me, too. Very much.’

 

3

 

On Good Friday, Richard does the Stations of the Cross at the London Oratory, along with several other sorry sinners who keep looking at him as they pray. He is wearing a white wool overcoat.

Jesus falls the third time, and Richard begins to be enraged by His suffering. Yes, yes, so you suffer more perfectly than anyone else because you’re the son of God. And it’s my fault because I can’t stop sinning.

Beneath the marble relief of Jesus stripped of his garments, Richard wipes his nose, then kneels and murmurs a Pater Noster. He imagines having his coat and suit torn off, being stripped even of his striped socks. He imagines being tied to the altar rail and whipped until his thighs are wet with blood.

 

 

They have drinks at the hotel bar, first. William tells Richard about the preparations for his campaign. He pays for the drinks with one of his campaign-related cards, though he has paid in cash, he tells Richard, for the room.

In the room there is just enough space to walk around the big, white bed. The worn carpet is cream-coloured, the faux-Georgian panelling butter-yellow. There are scuffs and chips at the bottoms of the doorframes. The mirror – a small one, hung above the little desk, offset from the bed – is streaky.

William tunes the black plastic clock-radio to ‘The World Tonight’. Richard drops to his knees, and William lifts his foot so that the sole of his shoe dirties the front of Richard’s white silk shirt. He presses forward until Richard falls back onto the floor. Slowly the scarred leather sole comes to occlude Richard’s vision. Richard shuts his eyes and sticks out his tongue until he tastes the Palace of Westminster’s degenerating Pugin-Minton tiles.

When Richard tries to get his cock out, William nudges his side with the toe until he rolls onto his front. Then William pulls Richard’s trousers down to his knees and fucks him. He comes inside of the condom inside of Richard, and lies afterwards on top of him, pinning him to the floor. Richard’s stiff cock chafes against the carpet. His nose drips onto his lip. At last William sits up and takes off the condom, then takes off Richard’s clothes.

Naked, lying in that narrow channel between the dresser and the bed, Richard lets himself be looked at. It makes him sad to be admired like this, but he couldn’t live if he wasn’t.

‘Nicola tells me you told her you hoped we’d have children,’ William says.

‘I do.’

‘She is pregnant. It’s still too early to announce.’

‘Oh. I’m so happy for you.’

William picks Richard up and puts him down on the bed. He unbuttons his own shirt, pulls off his own trousers. He ransacks his jacket pockets for another condom.

‘With any luck I’ll get a boy this time.’

‘Yes, it would be nice if you did.’

The second round starts with Richard riding William, looking down at him. There must be something William doesn’t like about that: before Richard can come, William tips him back, gets on top of him, and fucks him like a man fucks a wife. He does this until Richard is crying out. With his cock still inside of Richard, he stops, kisses him sweetly. He withdraws just far enough that he can peel the condom off, then keeps fucking him. He comes inside of him, kissing him, and stays hard long enough that he can fuck Richard into an orgasm that really is like death.

On the radio, a man is reading a Conrad story about duelling hussars in Napoleon’s Grande Armée. Richard is lying on his back, wet between the legs, wet in the eyes – that is, weeping.

William sits up, saying, ‘Please, don’t do that.’

‘What if all of my ancestors back to the very beginning, and all of the people who are going to learn about me after I’m dead, will all know everything I’ve done, and hate me for it?’

‘Sounds like displaced fear of God.’

‘But God forgives.’

‘There’s such a sense of melodrama about it all – your religion. People are always having fits, and bleeding spontaneously, and calling it a miracle.’

‘I believe in it,’ Richard says.

William retrieves Richard’s handkerchief and blots Richard’s face with it. He says, ‘Yes, sweetie. I know. Come here.’

 

 

Richard is sent back to Marylebone in a cab. Riding along the empty park, illuminated by ugly, sharp lamplight, he starts to cry again. When he lets himself back into the house, the lamps are off and Edward is asleep in their – in Richard’s – bed. Richard sits on his side of the bed and cries until Edward wakes up.

‘What,’ Edward says.

‘I don’t really want to die,’ Richard says.

‘Well, you won’t, darling.’

‘Ugh, I hate when you try to console me. You get such an awful tone to your voice. Well, you won’t, dar-ling . . . Is that how your mother used to talk to you? All my mother ever says is that she’ll pray a novena for me.’

‘Do you not want me here?’

‘Of course I do,’ Richard says. ‘If you leave me alone I’ll die.’

‘Honestly, you might. You wouldn’t have picked up those tablets yourself.’

‘You’re still going on about the tablets.’

‘Did you take your elevens?’

‘Oh my God. I am going to Lord Lucan you.’

Bravely Edward turns on the lamp and goes down the corridor to the bathroom. Richard hears him filling a glass from the sink. He comes back and shakes three tablets out of the pillbox.

‘Open hand,’ Edward commands.

Richard sticks out his tongue; Edward puts the two smaller tablets on it, then gives him a sip of water, then gives him the third, larger tablet, then another sip. Then Edward kisses him, and Richard says, ‘I can’t believe I love you as much as I do.’

Edward is very easy to get with lines like these. He flushes beautifully. Richard smiles at him and holds the side of his face.

‘It’s just all of these old men,’ Richard says, ‘with their wives and children.’

‘They’re not old. They’re like forty-five.’

‘Older than I’ll ever be.’

‘Richard –’

‘Metaphorically,’ Richard says. ‘Or in spirit.’

‘Because of the children?’

‘You could still have them, you know.’

‘Not . . . not really.’

‘I would be happy if you did. I’d even be happy if you had a wife.’

‘I just don’t think I will,’ Edward says.

Richard pulls Edward into bed and kisses him until they’re hard. They rub against each other through their clothes like Richard used to do at school with the boy he loved then. He rolls Edward onto his stomach and pulls off his cute little pinstriped pyjama trousers; he plays with Edward’s arsehole a bit before getting up for a condom and K-Y, and to take his own clothes off. He kisses the back of Edward’s neck and rubs his cock against Edward’s arsehole until he sees that Edward is flushed down to his shoulders. Then he fucks him: he puts one hand on the headboard and one hand on Edward’s hip, and gives his whole strength to the endeavour. He makes Edward cry out; he makes them both sweat. He turns Edward over and fucks him face-to-face, and keeps at it until Edward, whose cheeks are deep red, gives a precious wobble of the lower lip and says, ‘Oh – oh my God. I’m coming.’

Richard hardly cares to come himself, after that. But he won’t forgo an orgasm that’s more or less inevitable, so he lies back and looks up at the underside of the canopy and tosses himself off as Edward pants beside him.

‘I bled on Henry Green’s wife’s linen,’ Richard says.

‘I thought he was divorced.’

‘Well, not yet. She’s living elsewhere, but she hasn’t taken her nice things out of the house.’

‘Yeah . . . Well, it’s her fault, isn’t it, when she knows what her husband does when she’s not there . . .’

‘I was bent over the bed,’ Richard says, ‘and my face was down, my eyes were closed, and he said, “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.” Like I’d made a mistake. It was just a spatter, like from the flick of a paintbrush. I’ve lost more blood from a nosebleed. But he scrubbed my arse-cheeks with a hand towel and then stripped the bed and put it all in the wash with bleach. I laughed at him. I said, “If you’re that afraid, you shouldn’t be having an affair with me.” He said he wasn’t afraid. But he was lying.’

Edward says, ‘I’m not afraid.’

 

 

Coming up the long drive, Richard looks at Lancaster Park and thinks exactly what he should not: This is all mine. He feels about it just like he does about his body. The roof leaks, the cellars flood, the damp rises, the foundations sink, the coal-fired boiler is so old that there is only one man left in England who can repair it. Each time Richard comes home there is another part of the house that has rotted away. But he’ll be gone before the house, so what does it matter?

Richard’s mother kisses his cheek, then flings her arms around him and squeezes. She kisses Edward’s cheek. Her cloudy-eyed, foul-smelling old Pekingese gets underfoot. She says, ‘So good to see you again, Ned. How are your parents? How was the drive up? Does Dickie ever let you drive that thing? Oh, lovely flowers! For me!’

It is Holy Saturday. That night the three of them attend the Easter Vigil at Lancaster Cathedral, where a triptych above the altar presents scenes from the Passion edged by gilding almost Islamic in its curvilinearity. In the dark, the stained glass is invisible; the light of God is in the candles, which deepen the night.

The bells toll. Along with the choir Richard sings: Filius Patris, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. The tears come again. God is here, and Richard is in a state of mortal sin. He could have received the Host if he had only confessed, but he couldn’t confess, because he wasn’t sorry.

 

 

Alone in the kitchen past midnight, Richard and his mother smoke cigarettes and drink Armagnac, sitting across from each other at the long scullery table where the staff have always eaten. His mother wears a mint-green cotton bathrobe over a 30s film star sort of nightgown; her face is stage-white, covered in night cream.

‘I’ve been having such a hard time with these headaches,’ she says. ‘I always have to lie down. I drove into town to see Dr Thompson and he told me to take more salt. I don’t know what “more” means. Am I supposed to be spooning it into my mouth from the salt cellar? Anyway, I had Thomas and Eleanor and Roger and Gillian last weekend. And Roger’s niece, Teresa, who’s quite clean. I would tell you to marry her, but I just don’t like Roger. He gets appallingly drunk, and vomits into the wastebasket in his room.’

‘I told Edward he should get married,’ Richard says.

‘Shall I introduce him to Teresa?’

‘He said he wouldn’t.’

‘Well, of course he says that.’

Richard’s mother is known to have been a great beauty in her youth. She married at nineteen because she was proposed to by a better man than she could have expected to offer, an officer of the Grenadier Guards who was at least square-jawed and strapping despite having eyebrows that met in the middle. It was through this first husband that she met Richard’s father. Richard’s father is known to have been a great beauty, also. His mother was a Dutch model; his father was the Duke of Lancaster, a title which he himself would not live to inherit. He was captain of his school’s First XV, and took two years to climb the Alps before studying agriculture at RAU Cirencester. He rode, hunted, shot; he drank at the village pub with his father’s tenants , one of whom described him posthumously to Richard as having never been driven indoors by the rain. But he spent the last ten years of his life indoors, in his bedroom or in an armchair in the smoking room with the fire going, holding a hot water bottle to his stomach, hobbling every thirty minutes down the corridor to the loo, shitting himself sometimes when he couldn’t help it, snarling at his wife about the tea being cold, the milk being sour, the fire being smoky, the dogs being muddy, the gardens being overgrown.

 

 

Richard takes Edward to ride to hounds one last time before the season is out. They join the Caton Hunt, who for forty years have been given leave to hunt over the land owned by the dukes of Lancaster. Before that, there had been kennels at Lancaster Park. The subscribers are small landowners, local professionals; Richard resents that they are not the country squires of eighteenth-century political cartoons. Mounted, they gather on the grass at the entrance to the wood and drink their glasses of port. The horses breathe visibly into the dawn air.

Edward – in white breeches and a red coat with hunt buttons, astride the thoroughbred hunter Richard gave him for his twentieth birthday – is a true prince of the sport. He rides with an arrogant posture he never takes when he isn’t on a horse. Once the hounds find the scent, he rides hard; he stays at the front of the field and jumps every hedgerow and fence. Richard waits for the gates to be opened.

Over the course of the morning the fox is lost twice. The sun keeps rising, the hounds begin to strain. A great stretch of country is hunted. The followers fall behind, disappear into the wood. But when the fox breaks cover the third time, it lags across a wide, fallow field and the hounds overtake it. Richard watches from some distance. The huntsman blows his horn to announce the death, then dismounts and takes the head and tail before giving the corpse back to the hounds. The limbs are torn from the body; the guts are spilled; the scraps are tossed from one muzzle to another. Edward keeps his hunter steady; he sits straight-backed and panting, with his red hair curling out from under his cap. He doesn’t look back at Richard until the horn signals the hounds to go home.

 

 

Edward comes to Richard’s room that night. He strikes a match, lights one of the candles on the mantlepiece, and takes his glasses off. The room still smells of woodsmoke and of the last cigarette Richard smoked before turning off the lamp. The candlelight brings out from the darkness just the slightest impression of the picture above the fireplace, a thickly-worked study of a swan in dark water that had been painted by a lover of Richard’s great-grandfather. The wall next to the bed is taken up by a seventeenth-century tapestry depicting huntsmen in pursuit of a stag.

Richard says, ‘Will you get the fire going again?’

‘No,’ Edward says, whipping the covers back. He seizes Richard by the ankles and pulls him out of bed.

Richard is naked; his bare knees thump sharply down against the Persian carpet, beneath which is hard oak. He lowers himself to kiss Edward’s feet before he puts Edward’s cock in his mouth. Edward gets his hands in Richard’s hair but keeps them still and lets Richard suck him off. He’s a Catholic, too, he knows how long it takes for the supplicant’s pleasure at penitential discomfort to turn into real agony. By the time Edward does come – thickly, in Richard’s mouth – Richard’s knees hurt so much that in order to tolerate it he has to let himself accept the pain.

‘Swallow,’ Edward says.

Having swallowed, Richard says, ‘Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie. Ha ha.’

It’s a joke he’s made before. Edward slaps Richard’s face; Richard turns his cheek and Edward slaps him again. Then Edward puts two fingers in Richard’s mouth and Richard sucks them until Edward is hard again.

When Edward fucks Richard, he gets down on the floor to do it: he sits with his legs under him and pulls Richard into his lap. Slowly Richard falls back until the carpet is scratching his shoulders. He looks up at Edward’s foolish frown, his open mouth. He says, ‘I wish I were a girl. I’d have kept myself pure. You could have married me, and broken my hymen on our wedding night. I would have had a dozen of your children.’ Then he says, ‘Oh, God,’ because he’s coming. ‘Keep fucking me,’ he says, ‘come inside me.’

‘I am,’ Edward says. ‘Fuck. Oh. Oh.’

They lie next to each other and watch the cracks in the ceiling moving with the candlelight. Richard scrubs his semen from his stomach with Edward’s dressing gown. Then he takes the condom off Edward’s cock and licks him clean.

‘Oww,’ Edward says. ‘Ohh. I can’t take it, my cock’s wrung like a fucking . . . chicken’s neck.’

Richard says, ‘Mine’s fine.’

He drops another piece of wood into the fireplace, on top of the red coals, then tosses in a few crumpled pages of the Telegraph and strikes a match.

Getting into bed again, Edward says, ‘You wouldn’t really want to be a girl and bear my children.’

‘Christ. No.’

‘I mean, you wouldn’t have inherited the title, for one thing.’

‘Well, no.’

Richard pinches out the candle with his thumb and forefinger. It hurts for about thirty seconds, a novelty among the other pains.

‘Mm . . .’ Edward yawns. ‘I hope we’ll have time for a little trot round the park after mass tomorrow. See the deer.’

 

4

 

Richard sees William’s daughter once more, late in June of that year. He is driving home after a party in Chelsea and he sees her waiting for a night bus, alone, in a black miniskirt and black tights. The convertible top is down, so that she sees him, too.

‘Good God,’ he says. ‘You’re lucky I happened to be here to ferry you home.’

She’d gone out, she tells him, with a cousin and the cousin’s friends from Cheltenham Ladies’. They hadn’t liked her, they had made fun of her, and they had left for an afterparty without giving her the address. She’s staying this week at her mother’s house in Richmond, but Richard says he doesn’t mind taking her there. He likes a long drive on a fine summer night, with the moon a voyeur somewhere above him. Gemma looks through his cassettes and says she doesn’t know what any of them are. It is the happiest she has ever been, he supposes: in London, out past midnight, riding along the King’s Road in the passenger seat of a yellow sports car driven by a good-looking man she thinks might ask her to one of his parties, later.

He says, ‘I saw your father on television, losing his seat. Were you there?’

‘No, I had school in the morning, so they wouldn’t let me come. But they left me at home alone, so I stayed up anyway and watched it on telly. And then I asked them not to have to go to school because everyone would be talking about it, but they made me, and then everyone was talking about it.’

‘What will he do now?’

‘I don’t know. He’s going to be the director of a company, or something.’

‘I hope you weren’t disappointed.’

‘No. I don’t really care.’

They are crossing the river, passing the dense silhouettes of the trees on the grounds of Fulham Palace. Gemma is turning the radio dial, lingering in the static. Lampposts rise at intervals along each side of the bridge; their triple circles of light – in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti – obscure the dark water below.

Too shy to pose it as a question, she says, ‘So you couldn’t ever have children. Even if you decided to be straight.’

‘No,’ he says.

‘So you won’t have an heir to pass everything on to.’

‘No.’

‘Who’s going to get it instead?’

‘A cousin. My father’s younger brother’s son.’

‘Oh . . . Do you wish you could have children just, like, in a normal way? I mean, like, just to be a father?’

‘Well, it doesn’t matter now.’

‘Dad and Nicola have these awful fights over you.’

‘I’m sorry.’

She asks him, ‘But what do you wish?’

‘I don’t wish anything, darling.’

The windows of her mother’s house are dark, though the porch light is on. Ivy droops from the facade, heavy with new growth and stirring in the air. Gemma has a key, she says, but also she’s left open a window on the lower ground floor she can crawl inside. The road ends in a locked gate to the park. Richard imagines the deer in his own park asleep and dreaming. He watches Gemma go headfirst through the window; her face reappears, then, looking out at him. They wave goodbye. He shuts off the radio and turns back towards the river.

 

Fighting Birds, 1655 © Rijksmuseum

The post Honeymoon appeared first on Granta.



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top