I’m sitting with the bloody Rat Pack again. Ray pulled me, literally, by the elbow over to their table – on the face of it affable, full of bon-homie, full of whiskey (why does alcohol still work on these people? Maybe it’s just the way they are). I know my face betrays my irritation – I have gathered the courage at last to not try to appear pleased to see them, but they don’t notice, or at least, it doesn’t change their behaviour. Harry looks at me with total... What’s the word? I need the noun of ‘to despise’. Despision? Despisity? I like ‘despision’ – it sounds like a cross between suspicion and derision, which is exactly right in this situation. Harry looks at me with total despision. With Ray, the words that spring to mind are obsequious and condescending. Solly I don’t know what to make of, but I know I don’t feel comfortable around him. These days I notice he’s always watching me, like he’s expecting me to do something wrong, like he doesn’t trust me. Actually I get that from all of them to some extent, like there’s something they expect from me and never get. The other day, we’d been sitting around for a while, playing cards, as usual and Harry said ‘Don’t say much do you.’
Obviously I didn’t reply. He looked at me, apparently waiting.
‘Doesn’t say much does he’ he said to Ray, as if I couldn’t hear him. Uncle Len used to say that to me – ‘Not got much to say for yourself have you.’
Anyway today I am going to try to work out why they are so keen to have me around. I don’t think it’s sexual, whatever Joe says, but it is a bit sleazy. It makes me squirm, and it disturbs the other people around us. What is it?
Just after that last session with Joe I actually came out with it and asked them, straight up, why they want me along and Solly’s face just changed completely. I’ve always felt that, of all of them, he was the one I could talk to, if it came to it. But he put his face right up to mine – he’s quite a bit shorter than me – I hadn’t noticed before, and says ‘Nobody’s forcing you.’ and he looks really angry, jutting his jaw and clenching his teeth. He breaths it in my face, through his teeth. ‘Nobody’s forcing you son’ he says and then steps back, still tense, like he’s ready for a fight. I say nothing. I’m shocked. Ray breaks the tension with a jovial hug ‘Don’t be daft son’ he says. ‘We like you. You make us laugh, doesn’t he Sol...’ and Solly’s face just as suddenly goes back to being his usual cheeky self. Ray puts his arm around my shoulder and steers me back to ‘our favourite table’ and orders champagne, like we’ve got something to celebrate. For a moment I’m flattered – they like having me around. You can’t believe how stupid happy that makes me, but not for long. Soon I sit and wait for it all to change again.
What was that about? I ask myself later. Nobody is forcing me, it’s true. Once again, as usual, it’s because I don’t want to make a scene, don’t want to cause a fuss or embarrass anybody. Ok, that’s not very manly of me, but the fact is, they might well make a scene, it’s quite likely, or who knows what they’d do. They might do anything. They scare me. What they might do scares me. We’re all stuck here on this boat together for I don’t know how long, and I can’t hide in my room the whole voyage. So I go along with it, for a quiet er... after life.
So today I’ll try to work out what’s going on. I’ve never done this before – never tried to think about why other people behave the way they do, or myself for that matter, but since I’ve been going to Joe, well, it’s interesting - human behaviour. Normally, when things got weird before I’d just retreat to my room, go do something on my own. Can’t do that here can I?
I get myself a glass of bubbly – I rather enjoyed it that last time, never had it before.
‘Oh God look at it’ says Harry when he sees my glass, and slaps his cards face down on the table and leans back. ‘Will you have a word with him?’ he says to Liz. He’s using his jolly man-about-town face today. Liz demurs.
‘It’s what he wanted’ says Sol, winking at me. Harry picks his cards up again and begins sorting them. ‘Might as well deal him in’ he says, indicating me, and Ray shuffles and deals.
‘Fucking wogs’ll ruin everything anyway’ says Harry to his cards. I start at the word, but nobody else reacts. I think I missed the first part of the conversation.
‘Well, like I said’ says Solly ‘they’re making a rod for their own backs, fucking Nelson wotsisname. They deserve everything they get.’ and lays his cards down. Everybody huffs and tuts and throws their hands in. Solly picks up all the bottle tops. I put my cards in the pile too. I don’t even know what they were. ‘Your deal’ says Ray to me, chewing his matchstick as usual. Who does he think he is? I take a moment to register. ‘Me?’ I say. Ray passes the deck to me, deliberately roughly, so I drop some.
I pick them up and shuffle them. It’s something I actually can do quite well because I used to do card tricks. This skill, I think, pisses them off more than my incompetence. At any rate, after a few sarcastic comments the first time, they ignore it. I try not to do anything flash, but it’s a habit.
‘Doreen’s their house keeper anyway’ continues Solly. ‘Says this way everybody’s happy.’
‘Course she’s happy. Knows her place.’ says Harry, nodding.
‘She don’t want change. Mol treats them very fair. More than she should, truth be told, but she’s always been like that.’
‘Soft as a brush, but, well, decent, I’d say.’
Harry looks at him sceptically, a little cruelly maybe. I still don’t really know what they’re talking about. He shakes his head and studies his hand.
‘Could happen though’ adds Ray. ‘Look at India.’
‘And what a fucking balls up they made of that’ says Harry. ‘Now look what we’ve got’ and he turns to me, leaning far too close again. ‘I’m from fucking Croydon me, born and bred. Now look at it.’
I haven’t been to Croydon. I don’t know what he means. Am I stupid? I don’t know. Should I understand? What do they mean?
‘What are you looking at?’ he says suddenly to me and shakes his head exasperatedly. ‘What have you got?’ he says impatiently. I look blank. I don’t know what he means. He tips my cards ‘Your cards. What have you got in your hand? Gawd luvvus. Are you with us for fuck’s sake?’
I try to concentrate. I sort my hand, although he must have seen it. I have nothing. ‘I don’t really know Croydon’ I say, randomly rearranging my hand ‘What’s happened to it?’
He looks at me and smiles oddly. ‘I expect your sort’d like it’ he says. ‘Shh’ says Liz and pats his arm weakly.
‘Don’t you shh me. The boy doesn’t know. I’m telling him.’ Liz looks doubtful but accepts it. She can’t do anything anyway. Useless cow. Suddenly I hate her more than any of them, for being so weak, after what he did...
‘Do you eat white meat?’ Says Harry suddenly, his little blue eyes sparking at me from deep among the folds of his raw, bristly skin.
‘Simple question lad’ he says. ‘Do you, or do you not eat white meat?’ Solly smirks. Ray doesn’t react. Liz appears to be weeping a little. Brenda is looking at her cards.
‘What, like pork or chicken?’
‘Of course. What did you think I meant?’
‘Leave the boy alone Harry’ says Ray. ‘Lets play. Your turn’ he says to Liz and the game continues. I am completely baffled.