It all went surprisingly well.

Arthur told Irene and her mother a story about the choir and the day the accompanist's chair leg fell off. He fetched a bottle of sweet white wine from his car and Rhiannon rummaged in the back of the sideboard for the wine glasses they had been given as a twentieth wedding anniversary present. Arthur introduced them to Sauternes and, as he used the corkscrew on his Swiss army knife, told them with a straight face about peasants treading grapes wearing red socks to make red wine. He did an impersonation of Irene's boss at the bank that had both women laughing. Stephen came in from the scullery to see what the noise was about and Arthur explained that in France boys drank wine with water. Irene fetched a tumbler; Stephen sipped the mixture and said he liked it. They merrily agreed it would be terrible if Stephen had to have the next day off school with a hangover.

Rhiannon giggled. "And what would I write in the letter for his teacher?"

Then Arthur showed them a trick with a disappearing penny that reappeared behind Stephen's ear. He made a threepenny bit materialize from the little jug Rhiannon brought back from their stay with her sister in Porthcawl.

Rhiannon asked Irene to put on the Ella Fitzgerald record, Irene protested that it was old- fashioned, but Arthur said he would love to hear it and then sang along with it, affectingly. Irene asked him to sing something himself and he obliged with 'Begin The Beguine', complete with a witty verse Rhiannon had never heard before.

"You'll have us swooning next," she cried, catching her daughter's eye.

And then, because Stephen was not joining in, Arthur recited a tongue- twister and got the lad on his feet declaiming with him, "Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously!"

Between them, the four finished the bottle, so Rhiannon went for the Emva Cream sherry she kept under the sink. She felt a touch woozy as she stood up, bottle in hand. She pictured her mother's disapproving thin lips: "What will your father say when he comes home from chapel!"

As Rhiannon wiped the bottle with the dishcloth, she heard the sweet strain of violins wafting from the parlour and Ella Fitzgerald singing.

The voice was girlish, innocent. Rhiannon was happy that Irene was happy, that Arthur could make her laugh. She was happy that Stephen had settled into his new school after a tricky first few days, that the Headmaster had written to say Stephen could stay with a boy and his family in France. She was happy that her son would have the experience of abroad, that she had saved the tips from her job at the salon and that there was enough to pay for the trip.

That's all you ever really want for your kids, isn't it? For them to be happy.

Dai was pleased to have held on to his seat on the lodge committee, even if he didn't say as much and took it all a bit serious. There were plans for a Party branch trip to the next Daily Worker rally; good old Elsie was booking a coach to London and even arranging an overnight stay in a youth hostel. Rhiannon would like to see London.

Because of the music, she did not hear Dai leaning his bike against the wall.

He looked tired.

"We have a visitor, Dai." She lowered her voice, "Irene has brought a young man home."

"I saw the Hillman outside." He was taking off his cycle clips.

"Thought we'd have a drop of sherry. Will I put out a glass for you, love?"

She went into the parlour, gathered the tea things and glasses, waving away Arthur's offer of help.

The strings were playing the melody. Rhiannon returned to the kitchen and with a careless clatter, cleared the plates, cups and saucers into the sink, rinsed the glasses under the tap, gave them a quick wipe and spread them on the tray with the sherry.

Dai was placing his boots under the scullery table. As she squeezed by, she leaned into him and breathed, "His name's Arthur."

"My husband's home," she announced as she made her entrance.

She placed the tray on the sideboard. Irene was sitting next to the gramophone. Dai sauntered into the parlour in his socks. Irene picked up the record cover and studied it. Stephen vacated his father's chair and sat on the floor. The song was coming to its end.

Arthur stood up and approached Irene's father, his hand outstretched. "I'm pleased to meet you, Mr Meredith."

Dai met him half way, grasped his hand and nodded. "You're welcome, son." As he sat, he quipped, "As long as you're not a Tory."

Arthur said, "Actually..."

The hard 'c' and the clearly enunciated 't' hit the wall and resounded around the room like the crack of a rifle shot.

"Actually, I'm a member of the Conservative and Unionist Party."

Another hard 'c' and a plosive 'p' for 'party'.

The record came to its end.

The needle hissed and clicked each time the groove passed under it on its way to the hole in the middle. Irene stared down at the gramophone arm as it swung back and forth.

Rhiannon froze, glass in hand. She identified the discomfort on first seeing him: for all his charm, he looked as though he had trodden in something. Rhiannon stared into the nothingness of the space in front of her.

Irene said with forced gaiety, "Arthur's joined that new male voice choir, Da. He's solo tenor."

Young Stephen shifted his weight and looked up at his father. Rhiannon looked from Stephen to Dai. Dai placed his hands firmly on his thighs, his fingers spread. He looked down to his son.

"Done your homework, son?"

"History and maths, Da," Stephen  replied.

"I'll have a look at your maths before you go to bed."  He looked across to his wife.  "I'll wash my hands before I eat."  He got up and walked out.

Rhiannon said, by way of leap-frogging the damage and explaining her husband's interest in mathematics, "Dai is Treasurer of the -" She felt she might be heard to apologize, so she straightened her back before completing her sentence. "- the Union branch." She was also trying to resist the urge to jump up and rush to the scullery, should the stranger think she was under her husband's thumb, acquiescing to a demand for his meal. She was trying to hold her own as a modern woman, a person in her own right, a socialist, like the women in the Soviet Union who enjoyed equal rights and worked as engineers and airline pilots and stood beside their husbands at the same time as being capable thinking human beings, like Nina Khrushchov was proud to be.

Irene lifted the gramophone arm, her hand shook and the needle dropped onto the shellac. There was a sudden blurt of singing, Ella Fitzgerald wanting us to climb a stairway to the stars.

Irene scratched the needle free. The noise was grating.

Rhiannon turned to Arthur for the first time since his revelation. "Would you like another cup of tea?" She hoped he would hear the emphasis on the word, 'another' and witness that she knew how to behave in a civilized manner, in a spirit of peaceful co-existence across no-man's-land.

"No, thank you, Mrs Meredith," Arthur replied, apparently unruffled. "I ought to be going."

Irene said, "I'll see you out."

Rhiannon thought she should wait until she heard the scullery door close before she joined Dai. She could not bear to be privy to how Irene and Dai would be towards each other as the girl saw her Tory suitor out through the scullery.

Stephen looked up at his mother. "Conservative is Tory, isn't it, mum?"

She nodded.

He continued, "We don't believe in Tories, do we?"

She said, "No, love. They don't understand. They don't know what it is like for common working people."

Rhiannon knew she ought to be there beside Dai, beside her man. She turned off the gramophone and carefully lifted the record. There was a new long scratch across it. From now on, whenever they listened to the song, they would hear the regular click and it would remind her of this evening. Chances are, the click would not be in rhythm with the music. She slid the record into its brown paper cover and looked again at the label. It pleased her to know that Ella Fitzgerald had once performed at a benefit for the American Daily Worker and that the two women were born in the same year, 1917. They and the Bolshevik Revolution were the same age. Unlike me, she thought, that pretty recorded voice and the great Soviet Union will last forever.

"Mam, I'm hungry."

Goodness! They hadn't eaten. No wonder the wine had gone to her head. She could rustle up something quick while she got the meal ready for Dai. There were a couple of rashers left.

"How about a juicy bacon sandwich, love?"

Dai would be hungry, too. He'd be finding this Arthur business really difficult. The problem was, she would have to stand beside Irene as well.

"Piggy in the middle, eh?"

Rhiannon headed for the scullery.

 

 

 

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