Between Her Knees

‘Are you going to get married?’ Marion’s mother asked.

‘Married?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why do you ask?’

‘You said that he stayed at your place.’

‘He did,’ Marion said.

‘You must have talked about it.’

‘About what?’

‘Getting married.’

‘No.’

‘You’re not getting any younger,’ Marion’s mother said.

Marion laughed. ‘None of us is getting any younger, Mother,’ she said. ‘Age is a one-way street. You start young and you get older. But that doesn’t mean that you have to get married.’

‘All of your friends have got married.’

‘Lois hasn’t.’

Marion’s mother harrumphed. ‘Well, that girl’s not normal, is she? She dresses like a man. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was one of those lesbians. You’re not a lesbian. At least I hope you’re not.’

‘Perhaps I’m a secret lesbian,’ Marion said with a smile.

‘Don’t be ridiculous. You should talk to him about it.’

There were all sorts of things that Marion should talk to Jake about, but getting married wasn’t one of them. And, quite apart from anything else, as Marion had discovered, Jake was still married to Fishface — also known as Felicity.

‘I’d better be going,’ Marion told her mother. ‘I’ve got someone coming for a lesson at four.’

‘You’re always rushing somewhere,’ her mother said.

‘It’s the gig economy, Mother.’

‘The what?’

‘The gig economy. A gig here, a gig there. All connected to music, but a dozen different paymasters.’

Her mother frowned. ‘What’s a gig?’

‘A job. A unit of work. A bit of teaching. A bit of performing. It’s the way things are these days.’

‘You should have taken that music teacher’s job at the school when you had the chance.’

‘Not fond of kids, Mother.’

‘What about the ones who come to you for lessons?’

‘Some of them are OK.’

‘And what about when you have your own?’

‘Who says I ever will?’

When Marion arrived home, her four-o’clock student was already waiting. ‘You’re early,’ Marion said.

‘Our teacher was sick. They let us go early,’ 12-year-old Richard said.

Marion nodded. ‘OK. Well, I just need to go and do something. Why don’t you just run through our usual warm-up exercises. And remember to try and keep it nice and even. Nice and even. Caress the keys. OK?’

Richard sat at the piano and stretched out his fingers. And then he waggled them. And then, eventually, he struck A above middle C. Struck it with force. It was hardly a caress.

From the next room, Marion kept one ear on Richard while she checked her text messages. Her phone had pinged three or four times while she was driving home. Rob Walker needed her with her cello for a recording session. Mary Linde was just confirming a backing-vocals gig — a half-day of rehearsal and then three nights of performance. And there was a message from Jake. NORWICH. Marion knew what NORWICH meant: Nickers Off Ready When I Come Home. Except, of course, knickers should have a K. None of the messages required an urgent reply.

‘Richard,’ Marion said when she returned to the room in which the piano was, ‘do you like the piano?’

‘This one?’

‘No. Not necessarily this one. Any piano. If you could play any instrument in the world — any instrument in the world — where would the piano come on your list? Number one? Or perhaps a bit further down the list?’

For a moment, Richard looked as though he hadn’t understood the question. And then he said: ‘It probably wouldn’t be on the list, miss.’

Marion nodded. ‘Yes. That’s what I thought.’

‘Sorry,’ Richard said.

‘No, no. Don’t be. But what are we going to do about it?’

‘I don’t know. Perhaps I could play something else.’

Marion nodded. ‘What?’ And she waited for him to say guitar. They all wanted to play guitar. Ever since Carl Perkins, they had all wanted to play guitar.

‘I don’t know. Trombone?’

‘Trombone? Oh?’ That was something that Marion hadn’t seen coming. ‘OK. Give me a bit of trombone then.’

Richard frowned and looked around the room nervously.

‘Just pretend,’ Marion said.

Now Richard grinned. Uncomfortably. But then he picked up his imaginary trombone and dah-dah’d the opening verse of My One and Only Love.

‘Where did you learn that?’ Marion asked.

‘I just heard it, miss.’

‘It’s very good. Nice musicality. Nice use of sevenths and grace notes. Yes.’

Richard frowned slightly but definitely looked happier. ‘You think I could learn trombone instead of piano?’

‘Let me talk to your parents,’ Marion said. ‘See if we can work something out. I’ll give them a call. Make a time. In the meantime, maybe just keep this between you and me. OK?’

When Richard had gone, Marion sent replies to Rob and Mary, and then added Rob’s booking in her calendar. And then she thought about making a phone call to Jake. But, in the end, she decided to send him a text. ‘I thought you were in Glasgow.’

Jake replied almost immediately. ‘I am. Back in London Thursday PM.’

Thursday was when Marion was doing the first night of backing vocals casino oyna with The Coracles. It was unlikely to be an early finish. ‘Call me when you can talk,’ Marion replied.

‘Taking a break about 7. Call u then.’

Marion had been ten when her parents had taken her and her younger brother, Graham, to Wigmore Hall to hear a concert of ‘pops’ by The Camelot Quartet. Marion had just started having violin lessons, and it would be fair to say that she was struggling. After an hour and a half listening to The Camelot Quartet playing arrangements of popular songs, she knew what the problem was: she was trying to play the wrong instrument. She should have been learning to play the cello.

After the concert, the musicians stayed and chatted with members of the audience. Wigmore Hall was more like someone’s drawing room than a full-on concert hall. ‘Is it hard to play the cello?’ Marion asked Judith Martin, the Camelot’s cellist.

Judith Martin thought for a moment and then said: ‘I wouldn’t say that it’s hard to play. But it’s hard to play it well. It requires a good deal of skill to play across all three registers.’

Marion nodded.

Eight years later, when Marion was auditioning for a place at the college of music, the adjudicator complimented her on her management of tone across the registers.

‘Judith Martin told me that that was a skill you needed if you are going to play the cello well,’ Marion said.

The adjudicator raised his eyebrows and smiled. ‘Oh? You know Judith Martin, do you?’

‘We’ve met,’ Marion told him. ‘We’ve talked. Not recently. But, yes, we’ve talked.’

Jake phoned just after seven.

‘How is it going?’ Marion asked.

‘Not bad. A bit slow. Dougie keeps changing his mind.’

‘Your friend Boz,’ Marion said. ‘Does he give lessons?’

‘Boz? Not sure. Why? Do you want to add trombone to your box of tricks?’

‘No. But I might know someone who does. He’d be a total beginner. But I suspect that he probably has some talent. I’ve been trying to teach him to play piano, but I think his musical brain is quite linear. Could you ask Boz if it’s a possibility?’

‘Yeah. He’s going to be here tomorrow.’

‘Thanks. Oh … and about Thursday … I’m doing backing vocals for The Coracles. I would think it will be midnight before I get home. At best.’

‘Yeah. Well … I might still be up here anyway. The way things are going.’

Marion and Jake had met when they were on the Roger Roscoe Returns tour. Marion was singing backing vocals and playing cello on a couple of numbers. Jake was brought in at the last moment when Roger Roscoe’s regular bass player had a heart attack. Marion and Jake were the only ‘new kids’ on the tour. The rest of the musos and crew were Roger Roscoe regulars.

Marion and Jake probably got together out of boredom. All that travelling. All that hanging around hotel rooms, waiting. There was the odd drink involved too. But, no, it was mainly boredom that led to them doing it the first time. That was when they were in Lille. Marion would probably have stopped after that first time, but Jake was keen to keep things going. It wasn’t until after the tour was over that Marion discovered that Jake was married. He had mentioned Fishface a couple of times, but Marion didn’t realise that Fishface was his wife. Marion thought that Fishface was just … well … she wasn’t sure who Fishface was.

Wednesday’s rehearsal with The Coracles went very well, and Marion arrived at the venue for Thursday’s performance confident of a good show. And then, about an hour before the curtain was due to go up, Marion suddenly realised that she hadn’t heard from either Boz or Jake. She told herself that she really should get in touch with Richard’s parents before his next scheduled piano lesson. Assuming that Jake was still up in Glasgow, Marion phoned him.

‘Hello. This is Didee,’ a woman’s voice said.

Didee? Who was Didee?

‘Oh, bugger. I’ve just answered your phone,’ the woman’s voice said, apparently to someone who was there with her. ‘I thought it was mine.’ And then the line went dead.

Marion re-dialled Jake’s number. This time Jake answered.

‘A woman just answered your phone,’ Marion said.

‘Did she?’ Jake said. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Yeah. Where are you?’

‘Where? Umm … still in Glasgow. It went on a bit longer than expected.’

‘Did you talk to Boz?’

‘Umm … no. Not yet. But I will.’

‘Is he there now?’

‘Umm … no. He must have ….’

‘Who was the woman who answered your phone?’ Marion asked.

‘Woman?’

‘Yes. She said that her name was Didee.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Of course I’m sure.’

‘No idea,’ Jake said. ‘Housemaid, perhaps?’

‘Text me Boz’s number, you unreliable bastard,’ Marion said. And she pressed End. Firmly.

Marion waited for ten minutes or so, but no text arrived. And then Mandy, the stage manager, knocked on Marion’s dressing room door. ‘If you need to pee, now would be a good time. Kick off in 15 minutes.’

‘Thanks, Mandy.’

Marion turned off her phone. Did she canlı casino need to pee? No. She’d be fine. She took a sip of water, checked her hair one last time in the mirror, picked up the running list, and headed for the wings.

‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,’ Gareth Jones, The Coracles’ lead singer, said in his best Richard Burton voice, and the assembled performers high-fived all round.

They kicked off the first set with The Coracles’ current single: Aberystwyth Angel. It was a good choice. They may have been performing in London, but there were plenty of Welsh accents in the audience.

‘More fun than the Arms Park this,’ Gareth said as they shuffled off for a quick glass of something at the break. ‘Might have to slip in a quick Men of Harlech.’

‘Delilah, more like,’ Dilly Hooper said.

‘Now there’s a thought. And see how many knickers get thrown, eh?’

Sometimes when Marion did backing vocals for established groups, the ‘stars’ pretty much ignored her. But, after the show, Gareth Jones came up to her and kissed her on both cheeks. ‘Bloody marvellous, that were,’ he said. ‘Thank you, Marion. Thank you.’ Hey, he even remembered her name.

‘It was a pleasure,’ Marion said.

When Marion turned her phone back on there was still no text from Jake. The bastard. But there was a missed call from a number that she didn’t recognise. She wondered if she should call it. But it was already past eleven. Sensible people would be thinking about bed. She decided that she would call the number in the morning.

When she arrived home, she checked her email — just in case Jake had emailed her instead of texting. But he hadn’t. The bastard. And then she went to bed.

‘Are you going to get married?’

Marion’s mother was sitting on a bench in Regent’s Park, wearing her camel-coloured winter coat and a tattered straw hat. At least Marion thought that it was Regent’s Park. There was a bandstand. There were ducks. And there was a man in zookeeper’s garb taking a giraffe for a walk. The giraffe had a chimpanzee riding on her back.

‘You’ve already asked me that, Mother,’ Marion said.

‘Oh? Have I? Sorry, dear. I forget things so easily these days.’

‘I think he’s doing it with someone else,’ Marion told her mother. ‘Didee, I think.’

‘Do I know Didee?’

‘I don’t think so, Mother.’

Marion’s mother nodded and slowly morphed into an overweight golden retriever. And then Marion woke up.

It was almost nine o’clock. Marion got up, turned on Radio 2, and made herself a cup of tea. She was just trying to decide whether she felt like a bowl of cereal with some sliced apricots or a couple of slices of toast with lime marmalade, when her phone rang. It was the unknown number. ‘Hello?’

‘Marion?’

‘Speaking.’

‘Hi. It’s Boris, Boris Kushnir.’

Boris Kushnir?

‘Boz,’ the man said.

‘Oh. Boz. Yes. Hi.’

‘Is this a good time?’ Boz asked.

‘Yeah. Fine.’

‘Jake says that you want to learn to play the old bone.’

Marion laughed. ‘Not me, Boz. But one of the young chaps I’ve been trying to teach piano thinks he’d rather play trombone. I wondered if you did any teaching.’

‘From time to time,’ Boz said. ‘You know … just basic stuff.’

‘Well, he’d be an absolute beginner. That said, I think young Richard has some musical talent. He’s just not in love with the piano. I think he has a musical brain, but I think it’s quite linear — if that makes sense.’

‘Umm … yeah. We could give it a try.’

‘As I say, Richard would be an absolute beginner. I assume his parents could rent an instrument. Just in case. You know … before they splash out and buy one.’

‘Umm … yeah. In fact. I’ve got a brochure somewhere. I think there’s a three-month minimum. Where are you?’

‘I’m at home,’ Marion said.

‘No. I mean … you’re in London? Is that right?’

‘Shepherd’s Bush.’

‘Oh. Just down the road. Well, if it can wait until Monday, I could drop it in. I’d drop it in before, but I’m in Manchester for a couple of gigs. Back on Sunday afternoon.’

They agreed that Boz would drop the brochure in on Monday morning. Marion would go and talk to Richard’s parents on Monday evening.

Boz arrived at Marion’s place just after ten-thirty on Monday morning. He was taller and better looking than Marion remembered. ‘I probably could have found something on the internet,’ Marion said. ‘You can find pretty much anything there these days, can’t you? But thanks. I’m not sure how Richard’s parents are going to take this. I think anything we can do to make it easier helps. Thank you.’

‘Richard’s lucky to have you on his case,’ Boz said.

‘Well … I failed to turn him into a pianist,’ Marion said.

Boz grinned and shook his head. ‘My grandfather wanted me to become a violinist,’ he said. ‘That didn’t work out either.’

‘Funnily enough, I started out on violin,’ Marion said. ‘I’m afraid the little fiddle and I didn’t get on at all well.’

Mondays were when Marion went and picked up her mother and took her to Sainsbury’s kaçak casino to do her weekly grocery shop. ‘How are you and your boyfriend getting on?’ Marion’s mother asked.

‘I’m not sure that I have one,’ Marion said.

‘Not sure that you have what?’

‘A boyfriend.’

Richard’s parents seemed almost relieved when Marion suggested that piano may not have been the right instrument for their son. ‘We wondered if it might be our piano,’ Richard’s mother said. ‘He tries hard. He practices. It just doesn’t seem to work for him.’

‘He has musical talent,’ Marion told them. ‘I’m pretty sure of that. It probably just needs to be expressed via a different instrument.’

‘And you know a trombone teacher?’ Richard’s father said.

‘Boz. Yes. He’s a working musician. But he also does a bit of teaching.’

Richard’s parents agreed that it seemed worth giving it a three month trial. ‘What’s to lose?’ Richard’s father said.

Marion got the feeling that they were secretly pleased that Richard’s piano-playing days were on hold.

Boz, too, seemed pretty happy. ‘I should buy you a glass of something,’ he said when Marion phoned to tell him it was all go. ‘If I remember rightly, that pub just around the corner from your place is not too bad.’

‘The Queen Adelaide?’

‘That’s the one. How’s your diary? Maybe tomorrow?’

‘Umm … well, yes. We could have a small celebration. I have a student coming at four — but that should only take an hour or so.’

‘In that case, why don’t we say five-thirty?’ Boz said.

‘OK. Thank you. That would be nice. I’ll see you there.’

Marion didn’t really know Boz very well. She hadn’t even realised that his real name was Boris — although, when she thought about it, it made sense. They had worked together on a couple of studio sessions. And then she had run into him again when she had gone to meet Jake at Baker Street Studios one afternoon.

‘How’s work?’ Boz asked while they waited for the barman to get their drinks.

‘For the last three or four months, I’ve been really busy,’ Marion said. ‘Although who knows how long it will last? The gig economy, eh?’

Boz smiled. ‘I know what you mean. But fingers crossed.’

The pub wasn’t particularly busy, and they took their drinks and went and found a quiet table.

‘Do you get much orchestral work?’ Marion asked.

Boz shook his head. ‘Not really. There’s a bit to be had out in the regions, but these days I prefer to hang around London.’

‘Hah! So says the man who has just returned from Glasgow and Manchester.’

Boz laughed. ‘Well … I said “prefer”. I didn’t say that it always works out that way.’

‘So, what’s your perfect gig?’

‘In a perfect world? Probably a jazz residency. Say three nights a week. And a bit of session work.’

‘Jazz? I suspect that your new student, Richard, is a bit of a jazz fan.’ And then Marion said: ‘Do you know a Didee?’

‘Didee Harris? Jake’s friend? Well … a bit more than a friend really. Or have I got that wrong?’

‘Probably not,’ Marion said.

‘What about her?’

‘Nothing really. I just wondered,’ Marion said.

For a short while, the conversation ground to a bit of a halt. But then Marion decided that she wanted to know all about Boz. Happily, Boz was remarkably forthcoming.

His family was from Ukraine. That’s where the name Kushnir came from. It meant furrier.

Boz’s grandfather — the same grandfather who had wanted the young Boris to take up the violin — had been an up-and-coming conductor. But he had somehow got on the wrong side of the Soviets — Boz had never found out the details — and Boz’s grandparents had had to make a fast exit, first to Austria, and then to England. Boz’s father was born while they were in Austria.

‘Is your father a musician?’

Boz smiled and shook his head. ‘He’s a mathematician who sings badly at family gatherings. The music gene seems to have skipped a generation.’ But Boz’s mother was musical. She was a pianist. Boz’s father had met her when she was one of Boz’s grandfather’s students.

Marion hesitated. Was Boz married. For some reason, she couldn’t imagine that he had a Fishface hidden away. But still ….’

‘No. I almost was. A few years back. A girl I met at university. But … she died.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ Marion said.

‘Meningitis. One day she had a bit of a headache. Two days later she had died. You never know, do you?’

‘Was she a musician?’

‘French horn. Pretty good, too.’

Marion nodded.

‘And what got you into music?’ Boz asked.

‘My father probably. He wasn’t a musician. But he was a big fan of chamber music. Nineteenth and twentieth century in particular. Brahms. Schumann. Dvorak. Shostakovich. He liked jazz too. On a Sunday morning, the house was often filled with the sounds of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Gerry Mulligan, Thelonious Monk, Paul Desmond. I guess it all soaked in somehow.’

Boz nodded approvingly.

‘I shall be interested to hear how you get on with young Richard,’ Marion said.

Boz assured her that she would be the first to hear.

Marion and her cello spent most of Wednesday afternoon laying down tracks with Rob Walker at Abbey Road. Jake phoned shortly after she arrived home. ‘I’m back,’ he said.

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