Benjamin was standing at the pear tree this morning, concerned that three toy soldiers had mysteriously entangled themselves in the upper branches. He beamed as I got the garden broom from the shed and knocked them down (for the third time this week).
Ines phoned later, asking if I'd go round to her place to run through some songs. I agreed as Alexander's still looking for a drummer and won't practise until he's found one. He can be very single-minded. When I arrived at Gavin and Ines' house I was greeted by a life size bronze statue adopting an operatic pose which dominated the front entrance. At first I assumed this to be a figure of Gavin until Ines appeared and told me it was Enrico Caruso, Gavin's greatest hero. (I always assumed Gavin's greatest hero to be himself). I followed Ines through the black and white tiled hall and into the conservatory. It was sunny this morning and the doors to the garden were open. Outside, on the patio, Gavin's elderly mother was slumped in a garden chair with an open book on her lap, her sun hat gradually sliding off her head.
The best thing about Gavin's house is his baby grand piano which takes pride of place in the conservatory and which I always look forward playing. I was seated at it when Ines asked if I'd noticed the new addition to the photo collection of Gavin's performances. She pointed to a black and white print of Gavin; a distraught expression on his face as he lay across the body of a young woman. At the bottom of the photo was an inscription; A scene from La Boheme with Rodalfo falling upon the lifeless body of his lover, Mimi.
I asked Ines why she doesn't have any photo's of herself. She avoided the subject, telling me that Gavin has been away in Munich for a few days and is due to return this evening. It was my turn to steer away from the subject this time, and we ran through a couple of songs; L'eau du Mars and Quizas.
During our break I stepped outside I admired the beautiful scented white and pink roses. Gavin's mother, who had woken from her nap, became quite animated when describing her old garden in Cardiff; a tiny patch of lawn in front of her two bed terraced house. She told me how Gavin's father had an allotment where he used to disappear, every weekend. Gavin obviously started from very poor beginnings and I get the impression his mother idolises him.
As I went back into the conservatory, Ines handed me a letter and asked if I would mind reading it aloud as her English is not too good. At first I assumed it would be a business letter, but then I noticed it was handwritten. I asked her what it was about. She seemed reluctant to tell me. I read;
"Dear Gavin, It was good to see you. The boys loved their presents but were sad after you'd left. Jake's school report was so good and Charlie's doing well with his trumpet lessons. Hope your time in Munich goes well. I know how busy you are, but please try to find time for us. Any chance of a trip to Brittany?"
The letter ended with "Love Susie."
Two photos fluttered out from the pages; school photos of two boys. One was about 11, the other about eight. Both bore a resemblance to Gavin; the younger boy, more so.
Ines was standing expectantly at my side, waiting for my reaction. I was certain she'd already read the letter a few times and this irritated me. I was being dragged into something which I don't want to be involved with. The letter was dated several months ago and addressed to a hotel in Milan. I asked how she found it. She shrugged. She'd obviously been snooping while Gavin's was away. I suggested she speak to Gavin's mother about it. She dismissed the idea, saying the old lady refuses to say anything on the subject, only repeating that Ines would have to speak to Gavin. As if to prove her point, Ines took the letter from my hand and went outside. I followed. Although she must have overheard, Gavin's mother, book in her hand, had a fixed expression as if she was attempting to ignore us.
I followed Ines into the kitchen where she made us drinks from a hi tech DeLonghi coffee maker. She asked me if I thought the boys were Gavin's sons. I told her they must be, although I couldn't tell if he was still involved with their mother (I wondered why he hadn't told Ines about them).
She was telling me how worried she was when we heard the front door opening and Gavin's booming voice calling out for her. She froze as he strode into the kitchen and, beaming at her, picked her up and swung her around. Noticing me, he came over and shook hands, asking how I was. He'd managed to get an earlier flight from Munich, wanting to surprise Ines. He'd certainly done that! Still holding the letter and photos in her hand, she thrust them in front of his face and demanded an explanation. He hesitated for only a second before telling her she was being silly. He admitted they were his sons and, apart from practical arrangements to see the boys, insisted he had nothing to do with their mother now. He laughed at Ines, scolding her as if she were a child. She asked why he hadn't told her about them. He said he knew it would worry her. I felt awkward standing there. I could see Ines was ready to believe him so I made my excuses and left (I don't think they even noticed). I said goodbye to Gavin's mother. She nodded at me, barely glancing up from her book (I don't like Gavin and I don't like his mother, but I do wish Ines would stand up for herself).
It was a relief to be get back to my cottage where Joao was cleaning the windows outside the gite. I sat in my garden and he came over for a chat. We talked about his region of the Algarve and the pretty town of Loule where I once spent a birthday.