I sat in the pews and looked around me. Stained glass windows and a vaulted ceiling. In front of the altar a small stage with a grand piano. No performers in sight yet. In the row in front of me, a family of three looked up together and I realised that two players were walking onto the stage. They acknowledged the audience and took their places. The pianist adjusted his chair and the cellist played a quick scale. As the Schubert piece started, I was less than engrossed. I knew the piece well but the cello sounded flat. It was a cold room and the instrument clearly hadn't warmed. I looked at the family in front. The father sat heavily, fleshy, Slavic features like a putty mask. The mother was still young and pretty though her features had started to show some age. As the music warmed she began to sway her head in time. The son sat between the two, clearly bored by the music. He was about thirteen, handsome with soft, smooth features. He looked up at his mother as she swayed, eyes closed. Then he reached towards her face and began to touch it.
Eventually she turned to him and smiled. He continued, tapping and stroking her cheek. She leaned into him and as he tentatively touched the swell of her breast, she smiled again at him. I looked over at the father. He was slumped forward, his features hidden. I forced my attention to the music and I tried to remember where we were in the piece. I closed my eyes to concentrate but when I opened them again, the little play in front of me was continuing. As the boy's long fingers played, the woman sighed. She was flirting with him.
I closed my eyes again and as I did, recalled an autumn day sitting by a public pool. I was with a friend, once lover, who knew I lived nearby and had asked me to come with her as she was taking her son to the pool. The father of the boy lived elsewhere, pursuing a separate life. We watched the child as he played in the infant pool, splashing, other children around him. She told me that she had thought it was important that her boy saw her naked from an early age, so it would naturalise that experience. I had a flashing memory of her white body and the dark patches which decorated it. She went on to say that she had taught him the names of all the body parts so that he wouldn't use more vulgar terms when he reached school age.
‘Now,’ she said, ‘he wants to see my vulva all the time. Is it right that a four year old should keep asking to see my vulva?' She turned to me – ‘Nothing else, just my vulva.’I looked at the boy in the pool and couldn't answer.
The music snapped me back with a series of fortissimo chords and I looked at the stage. Then the music moved into a quieter section and I saw again the figures on the pew in front. The boy was smiling, stroking his mother rhythmically. She canted her head towards him, smiling as well, lips parted. The father was still slumped, almost faded. I continued to look at mother and son, fascinated. There was an intimacy between them which made me uncomfortable. I wanted to follow them home after the concert, to see the mother and child enter their home, still touching, the father an indistinct figure, trudging some paces behind. I wanted to enter with them, listen to their talk, see them move into the house, move into their bedrooms, undress with them. The father had no part in this. I was still watching them and imagining, when I realised that the concert had finished. The family stood to go but as they stood, the woman looked back at me and gave me a complicit smile, and her eyes still on me, reached out and stroked her son's face, turned back to him and kissed him lightly on the lips. I sat there and watched them go.