Swan River

Swan River by David Reynolds Read Free Book Online

Book: Swan River by David Reynolds Read Free Book Online
Authors: David Reynolds
alone at the top; there was a long middle line with five people; before she drew the bottom line, I told her my father had had a sister, Gladys, who had died a long time ago.
    â€˜So she lived there too. There were ten people living there, then.’ I nodded. She muttered to herself, ‘Ten people, and two of them were called George and two of them were called Alice.’ She used the ruler to draw a horizontal line across the end of the vertical one which led from the ‘x’ between ‘Tom Reynolds’ and ‘Amelia’, and in small, neat writing wrote ‘Clifton’ and ‘Gladys’ at the bottom.
    â€˜There. Done.’ She turned the book round and pushed it over to me. I studied the page carefully. It was all neat and, as far as I knew, accurate. On the middle line, underneath ‘Rose Porter’, Deborah had written ‘La Frascetti’ and had framed these words with ornate brackets. She had drawn a box in the bottom right corner containing the heading ‘Servants’, and had written ‘Big Alice’ and ‘Little Alice’ underneath.
    My mother’s voice wafted up from the hall. Lunch was ready.
    We ate at the old mahogany table in the dining room which led on to the kitchen at the back of the house. My mother had put the Nutcracker Suite , a pile of 78s which dropped on top of each other with a click and a clatter every few minutes, on the huge walnut-veneer radiogram. Deborah sat opposite me. My father sat with his back to our old upright piano at the end away from the kitchen facing my mother. In front of each of us was a white plate with a purple rim containing sliced ham and corned beef and a baked potato. In the middle of the table were a bowl of lettuce, tomato and cucumber salad, a circular, blue-and-white striped butter dish, a contraption made up of two small bottles with curved necks stuck together which dispensed oil and vinegar, bottles of Heinz salad cream and Colman’s mustard, jugs containing orange squash and water, a small wooden pepper-grinder and a glass salt cellar with a silver screw-on top.
    We all helped ourselves, passing items around politely; my father poured orange squash for me and Deborah and water for himself and my mother, and made great play of grinding a huge quantity of pepper over everything on his plate. My mother, bright and chirpy whenever my friends were around, talked about summer holidays; we were going to Ilfracombe again, and Deborah was going to Saundersfoot. The merits of different types of caravan were discussed and how both caravan sites had games rooms with ping-pong. My father mentioned the fly fishing in north Devon, and told us he preferred chess to ping-pong as a rainy-day activity.
    When the first course was over, everyone ignored my mother’s instruction to stay seated while she fetched the pudding; instead we all stood up and carried everything into the kitchen. The next course was tinned peaches with raspberry-ripple ice-cream. While my mother was dishing this out, Deborah asked my father about La Frascetti; was it really true what I had told her, that she could walk about on her hands while playing the violin with her feet?
    He smiled and leant across the table towards her. ‘I saw her do it many times. She used to practise in our house, in the front room, in the hall, on the stairs. The high point of her act was walking on her hands downstairs while playing a popular tune with her feet. Later I saw her performing at the Hackney Empire, the Britannia in Hoxton and …’ He paused and stared at the floor, trying hard to remember. At last it came to him, ‘Collins’s Music Hall in Islington. But she went all over the world, America, Russia, Europe. She was a big act and earned lots of money. My uncle Ernest was her manager for a while, and then became part of the act. I remember seeing him on stage at Collins’s, dressed in a top hat and cloak, while she did her

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