Happy endings, p.1
Happy Endings, page 1
Also by David Cook
a novel by
An Alison Press Book
Seeker & Warburg • London
First published in England 1974 by
The Alison Press/Martin Seeker & Warburg Limited
14 Carlisle Street, London WiV 6NN
Copyright © 1974 by David Cook
SBN: 436 10671 X
Printed in Great Britain by
Northumberland Press Limited
For my Mother and Father
The Lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown.
The Lion beat the unicorn all around the town.
Some gave them white bread, and some gave them brown,
And some gave them syrup of figs, and beat them out of town.
‘How old are you?’
Morris said he was twelve.
‘When is your next birthday?”
Morris said, ‘November the fifth’.
‘Guy Fawkes Night?” Morris was not sure if this was a question, so he did not reply.
He was standing before a large table. On the table was a bottle of water, and on top of the bottle, presumably keeping out dust, was a glass tumbler. Behind the table sat three people, one man and two ladies. One of the ladies was small, but the other, who sat in the middle and was asking him questions, was large, so large that, even though she was sitting down, he had to look up at her. Except that he couldn’t look at her. Instead he looked at the large coloured badge which was fixed to the wall above her head. The lion and the unicorn were supported by a shield between them. Neither of them seemed interested enough to fight for the crown which was above the shield.
‘Come here, and talk to me, Morris.’
Morris took two paces forward.
‘Come closer. We’re not here to bite you. Are we?’ The large lady was asking the people on either side of her, but neither of them replied. Morris’s mother had been removed from sitting beside where he stood, and had been asked to sit directly behind him. Morris supposed that this was to prevent her from telling him what to say. He attempted a look at his mother before moving any closer to the table, but the large lady was asking him another question, and he must concentrate on giving the right answer. The question was an important one. It was, ‘Why did you do it?’
‘Why did you do it, Morris?’ Some gave them syrup of figs, and beat them out of town. Had the lion won the crown ? It would have suited the unicorn best, for the spiral horn of the unicorn would have kept the ring-shaped crown in place.
‘Why did you do it, Morris?’ He knew there were lots of people behind him, staring at the back of his head. There was the man who had brought them from the Waiting Room. There were two women dressed like policemen. There were four young women sitting at the back of the court, and with them was Miss Edge. There were at least four other men, including a proper policeman. There was his mother, and, sitting three chairs away from his mother, there was his father.
‘It says here that you are a quiet boy, always polite. That the neighbours think of you as a proper little gentleman. That you run errands for them, and never accept money for doing so. That you have run a lot of errands for Mrs Richards, and that is why she trusted you. So what could have made you do it?’
Mrs Richards always bought her blouses at Marks and Spencer’s. They were always nylon, and always had plunging necklines. Morris would stand at the bottom of the back-door steps, and Mrs Richards would bend down to tell him what she wanted.
‘Half a pound of margarine.’ Morris would long to grab inside the plunging blouse, and swing on Mrs Richards’ tits.
‘A pound of smoked bacon. Lean.’ He would grab. He would swing. ‘Make sure it’s smoked. And lean.’ He would swing. He would squeeze. ‘Two pints of gold top, and you’ll need a carrier bag.’ Swing! Squeeze! Swing! Squeeze! As Mrs Richards leaned towards him, Morris would be hanging on to her tits, and skimming over the back-door step. ‘Don’t forget the dividend tea : I’ve nearly got my card full. There’s no need to give you a list, is there? You never forget anything of mine.’ Morris never forgot anything of hers. Mrs Richards straightened her back, and Morris would have a final swing before she went indoors. He closed his eyes.
‘You do know what we’re talking about, don’t you?’ Morris wondered why the large lady said ‘we’. Only she had spoken, except for the man who sat to one side of the table, and had read out to Morris from a paper what Morris was said to have done, and had asked Morris if it were true or not. ‘Morris, it says here that on the afternoon of … and that you then Interfered with Angela Richards, and that you were found in the act of Interfering by Angela’s mother … What do you say to that, Morris? Is it true?’ And Morris had said that it was true, and the large lady had asked what exactly the Interference was said to have consisted of, and a policeman had written something down on paper and passed it to the large lady, who had read it and passed it to the small one, who had read it and passed it to the man on the large lady’s other side.
‘Now, Morris, we’re talking about what you did to Angela. I don’t want to go into too many details, because it’s only embarrassing for all of us, isn’t it?’ Morris agreed that it was. He could not look at the people in front of him, so he looked either at the water jug or at the badge on the wall above them. When he looked at the water jug, the small lady turned the paper from which she had been reading face downwards, so that if Morris had been able to read upside down, he would not know what had been written about him. Some of what had been written about him said that he could hardly read at all, even when the writing was right way up.
‘I have here your School Report, and it tells me you’re not really a bad lad. Quite the reverse.’ Morris frequently had a daydream of which he was ashamed. The dream involved owning black slaves, and had been inspired by the film of Sanders of the River, which Morris had seen at the age of eight at the Rialto, Ridgemont, which specialized in old films at cheap prices. All the slaves were beautiful and naked, and they stood in line for his inspection.
‘It tells me you could easily learn to read and spell if you’d only put your mind to it.’ He would walk along the line, touching and prodding them, and finally he would force them to touch and prod each other while he watched.
‘You’re good at general
‘Yes, miss.’ When Morris’s father had found out about Angela, he had called Morris a dirty-minded bastard, and it was true. Morris looked again at the unicorn’s horn, and imagined a crown around it. It was unfair that lions should always win : unicorns were far more beautiful.
To Morris, lots of people were beautiful, and he knew that this was wrong.
‘I’m afraid it also says that you’re a whiner, and that you don’t mix.’ It was all right having a dirty mind, as long as people didn’t notice. In his mind, Morris enjoyed physical contact. In real life, he avoided it. But now people knew about his mind. They would be able to guess what he was thinking.
‘It says that you let other boys hit you. You won’t hit them back, but you complain. Is that true?’
‘Yes, miss.’ Even when Mrs Richards was hitting him around the head, screaming at him and making Angela scream, he had been looking at Mrs Richards’ tits, and holding them in his mind.
‘When a boy as big as you are Interferes with a little girl, a girl who is only five—that’s not much more than a baby, is it?’
‘—we have to find out why. And you don’t seem able to tell us.’ The large lady waited for a reply. Morris wanted to say, ‘Because I’ve got a dirty mind,’ but he couldn’t say it. Instead he cried.
‘Do you know what we mean by “Interfering”, Morris?’
‘We mean taking Angela’s clothes off, Morris and putting Ludo counters into her private parts. We mean hitting her and bruising her. Do you know how babies are born, Morris?’
Morris didn’t know, and didn’t answer.
‘Does he know how babies are born, Mrs Cowley?’
‘I don’t think so, madam.’
‘Well, let’s just say, Morris, that you could have frightened Angela in a way that might make it difficult for her to have babies when she’s old enough to do so. Her mother says you’ve frightened Angela so much that she refuses to take her clothes off any more. Now that’s going to be very inconvenient, isn’t it?’
‘Then you realize the seriousness of your actions?’
‘What do you think we should do with you?’ There was a master at school who always asked this question before he hit you with a ruler. Morris said he didn’t know what they should do with him.
The large lady whispered to the two people sitting beside her. The words Morris heard were, ‘Needs a strong hand … No question … punishment… father … useless … mother unreliable … toughen him up … needs … shock … Assessment.’
‘We’re going to send you away to an Assessment Centre. We think you need to be Assessed. You’re a weak boy, Morris; it’s not entirely your fault, but there it is. One of the problems anyone dealing with you is going to have to face is how to make a man of you before it’s too late. You’ll go to Stonebridge Assessment Centre, and when you’ve been thoroughly Assessed, we’ll know what next to do with you. You may sit down now. Do you understand that, Mr and Mrs Cowley? He’s to go to the Assessment Centre, and then we’ll see him again.’
Morris turned and saw his mother crying. Then he looked further, and saw his father crying. His mother was crying with her face turned away, but his father was crying and looking straight at him. The look said, ‘See what you’ve done. You’ve made me cry.’ Morris was aware that his dirty thoughts had shamed them all, the whole family, not just himself. There was no way of explaining about all the thoughts he had managed to keep inside with no harm done, no way of making them understand the awfulness of pretending to be ‘a little gentleman’ so that no one should suspect what was going on inside his head. He hadn’t liked running errands, refusing tips, standing up at concerts and saying poems. Now he was to be Assessed, and his father was crying. They had not taken into consideration the fact that he had won a Talent Contest, and a Fancy Dress Contest, and also his painting was improving. They had insinuated that he was a coward, and made his father cry. Morris had never seen his father cry before, and it frightened him. No one had said how Angela had teased him, asked him to examine her, and had wanted to feel inside his trousers.
‘Mr and Mrs Cowley, will you come up here, please?’ Morris’s parents stood, as he had done, in front of the large lady.
‘Now, I think it’s disgraceful what’s been going on at your house.’ Neither of Morris’s parents answered.
‘Well, let me put it this way. I believe you have a lodger. Is that correct?’
Morris’s mother said, ‘Yes.’
‘What position does he hold in your household?’
One of the policewomen giggled, and had to leave the court. Morris’s mother said that she was afraid she didn’t understand. The two parents were standing well apart, and through them Morris could see the large lady’s face, which seemed to be getting very red. The small lady took a drink of water.
‘I don’t think we should beat about the bush, Mrs Cowley. I have in front of me a report made by the Children’s Welfare Officer after visiting your house.’ The Children’s Welfare Officer was Miss Edge. She had been to see Morris, and talked to his parents. ‘Now do you know what I’m talking about?’ No one answered.
‘Is it not true that there were three people in one double bed at four in the afternoon?’ Morris knew that of course it was true. His mother and father and Mr Henderson would always be in bed on a Sunday afternoon. On a weekday, Mr Henderson would be at work. At this point, the man at the side table, who had read out what Morris was said to have done, interrupted the large lady, and said, ‘With respect, ma’am, I think the boy should leave the court,’ and the large lady took a lace handkerchief from the top pocket of her lace blouse, and said, ‘Oh, my Goodness! Yes, of course. Thank you, Mr Simmonds.’
The man who had brought Morris in from the Waiting Room took him back there, but not before he had heard his father say, ‘That woman had no right to peer in at the window.’
While Morris was out of the court, an argument developed as to whether Miss Edge had knocked at the front door before peering in at the bedroom window and whether she was within her rights in visiting them on a Sunday, a day of rest. The argument became heated, and was stopped by the large lady’s banging the small lady’s glass tumbler on the table, spilling some of its contents. Apologies were then offered by Miss Edge and Morris’s parents. The large lady instructed Mr and Mrs Cowley to sit, so that the matter might be discussed calmly, and told them that she was not there to judge their morals. Their morals (she told them) were for their consciences alone, but it was her job to decide whether they were fit persons to look after Morris, and in the light of what she had heard, she was of the opinion that if he stayed at home Morris would run some danger of moral corruption. She asked them to consider evicting their lodger, at the cost of whatever temporary financial hardship, and living what the world would consider to be a more respectable life, so that, whatever might be decided, at some future date they would stand a better chance of having Morris home again.
‘This is Morris. Are you the Reception Boy ? ‘ A boy wearing a white coat rose from the chair he was sitting in, and admitted reluctantly that he was. Miss Edge sat down, and rested her hand on the chair beside her to indicate to Morris that he should sit also.
‘This is the Reception Boy, Morris. When you’ve had your interview with Mr Radcliffe, it will be this boy who will show you around.’ After that no one spoke. Morris looked at the Reception Boy. The Reception Boy looked at Morris, then at Miss Edge, then back at Morris. Morris looked at Miss Edge and then at the ground. Looks had been exchanged all round, except for Miss Edge who never looked at anyone.
They were sitting in the Entrance Hall of the Assessment Centre. It was very large. Tubular steel chairs had been placed round a table with tubular steel legs and a Formica top. They had come by bus, and walked in through a large gate tha
Morris wondered who would be the first to speak. Surely they were not waiting for him. Morris’s teeth were clenched together. His bottom teeth fitted inside his upper teeth, and he pressed his jaw up towards the roof of his mouth as hard as he could. He knew that if he opened his mouth he would cry.
‘What’s he done, miss?’ Morris remained as still as he could. He was leaning forward with his elbows on his thighs, his left hand cupped tightly inside his right. He was looking at the highly polished floor. At any moment, the world would know what he had done.
‘It’s all right; you can tell me, miss. I’ve been assessed.’ Morris looked again at the boy who had been Assessed. He looked unhappy. Resentful. He played with a blister on the back of his hand. All his fingers on both his hands bore the marks of scars and blisters. (Was this because he had been Assessed?) His knuckles stood out, white and bony. At any moment, this boy would know what Morris had done. Morris felt tired. He was sinking. He wanted to sleep. If only he could fall asleep quickly enough, he wouldn’t have to listen to Miss Edge describing to the boy what he had done. She would use the word they had used in the Children’s Court—‘Interfering’, as though Angela had been a piece of machinery or a jigsaw puzzle. But the boy would know what ‘Interfering’ meant. He would stop being resentful for a moment, and he would laugh. He would look at Morris again, this time differently. Morris was not sure in what way the look would be different, but he did not wish to remain awake long enough to find out.
by David Cook have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes