“Cat’s bumhole!” said Rory.
Miss Melchett choked on her plastic cup of tea. He had definitely mentioned a feline orifice.
“Can I touch you?” he asked of the student who was up on the stage. Beneath her long red hair Tanya assented readily.
Miss Melchett quivered momentarily. If only the words had been addressed to her instead of the awkward, gangling shape that perched in front of them! They had to do this nowadays – had to request permission. It was the strange nature of the country they lived in where such things required consent. And then she remembered somewhat pleasurably how she had been ‘manhandled’ by a waiter in Barcelona once. An afternoon dish of ‘patatas bravas’ had been unexpectedly good and she turned to ask him what was in them.
He sighed wearily and leaned heavily on her shoulder. For several moments he was trying to recollect and assemble the ingredients but got no further than a word that sounded like ‘pimenton’.
“I shall go and ask the cheffay,” he said, relinquishing her shoulder. She saw him wander back slowly into the restaurant.
Rory had his hands now around Donald Magee’s slim waist. If only... she thought!
“Breathe in!” he commanded. “That’s it. Fine! Fine!”
Donald made a noise rather like a suction pump.
“And hold...!” Rory gripped tighter. “Now let it out with a declamatory ‘Ahh’!”
Donald squawked momentarily then reasserted the rhythm of his breathing. The assembled students for Rory McShane’s Masterclass gazed on intently.
“Savour the beat!” he said, removing the cloth cap that accompanied a peculiar choice of boiler-suit outfit. “And one, two, three!”
Donald inhaled and made a louder noise. The accompanist at the piano glanced up.
“Better,” observed Rory. “Remember that you’re singing to the mosquito at the back of the auditorium perched halfway up the wall.”
Instinctively Miss Melchett, who had a tendency to get bitten, turned to look behind her but failed to spot the imagined insect. She berated herself for following Rory’s suggestion so literally.
“Well done, Donald!” he proclaimed, dismissing Donald with an affectionate tap on the bottom.
Miss Melchett quivered again. She supposed Rory would be covered for this, given that he had already asked the singer for tactile permission.
Zara now stood where Donald had perched.
“What’s your name, love?” enquired Rory.
“Zara,” said Zara.
“What a lovely name! Great!”
“Thank you,” said Zara.
“And where do you come from?”
Miss Melchett stutted. He was making it sound like that awful dating game they used to show on Saturday evenings.
“Sidcup,” volunteered Annabel.
Zara threw her a look which suggested she could handle her own questions, thank you very much!
“Sidcup,” repeated Rory. “It resonates like a buttercup. Let us make it sound more romantic.”
Miss Melchett was casting her mind back to when she had first seen Rory. It was on a colleague’s computer screen and was part of the singer’s promotional package. In it he sang to a packed theatre, dressed in a kilt and traditional costume. She imagined him tossing a caber in the same vigorous way. His whirling kilt revealed delicately pale knees and full length ankle socks. He looked every inch a Scotsman. But then wasn’t Rory an Irish name? And hadn’t she seen it written somewhere as Ruaraig? Those Celtic words possessed their own inherent mystery and atmosphere, their own individual statement, whereas Darren and Wayne – and she had had both in the same class once – were not exactly the same.
She gazed back at the caber-tossing soloist who now had his palms outstretched beneath Zara’s armpits. Miss Melchett noticed a drop of perspiration slip gently from her own.
“Let me lift you higher! Let you lift me higher!”
Zara was gliding up the spectrum and making Miss Melchett’s ears wobble as her large voice throbbed around the recital hall.
“Perfect,” said Rory or Ruaraig.
“Thank you,” said Zara.
“Lovely,” added Rory, catching the pianist’s eye. He glanced at his watch. “Er, yes, I think we’ll make that the last one given that in a couple of hours it’ll be me who’s having to strut his stuff.”
Annabel Melchett winced. Rory caught sight of her pained expression.
“Everything all right, Annabel?” He was clasping both her shoulders now and without permission.
“Touch of indigestion,” she lied and reached for a peppermint.
“Alex is very partial to those,” responded Rory, indicating the pianist.
Alex gave a nervous smile.
“Allow me,” said Annabel, proffering a packet of Tiger Mints and seeing them shoot across the floor. In the presence of Rory she had suddenly become extremely clumsy.
“Here,” said Rory, rescuing one of them.
Annabel handed the sole survivor of uncontaminated mints to Alex but he politely declined.
“Seven thirty it is, then,” Rory announced, heading off to the quieter rooms backstage.
“We’re all greatly looking forward to it!” Annabel frothed.
In a seat on the front row Annabel positioned herself so that she still could see the piano keys and yet be handily placed for the Scottish tenor’s ample voice. She swatted her programme beneath her chin in an attempt to keep cool. The temperature in the recital hall seemed to be rocketing up.
It was now filling up quickly; the rows immediately behind her were nearly full. It had been a good idea to grab a seat in front. Two recitals ago she had been behind a man with something her uncle described as an Afro cut and he frequently twitched from side to side. There were no such distractions now. She heard Rory’s name being announced as he strolled out flamboyantly followed by Alex the pianist. Alex threw her a timid smile.
Rory gave a brief bow and then launched passionately into a ballad about a woman and her spider plant. Immediately Annabel thought of Gracie Fields and her aspidistra and was appalled at the association. She concentrated, furrowed her brow and focused on the dramatic content of the heroine’s lament.
“Thank you,” said Rory to rapturous applause. He cleared his throat. “Now this is where it gets a bit steamy and granny takes her cardigan off...”
Annabel began to tremble. There was a titter of voices behind her. What was he going to say next? She remembered the ‘cat’s bumhole’ from the earlier Masterclass, which was used to describe the tight formation of lips. Surely he wouldn’t...?
She sat in agitation on the front seat realising she had not listened to any of the words that followed ‘granny’s cardigan’. The audience was laughing again. Rory assumed a suitably dramatic pose.
How calm Alex the pianist was in contrast. Diligently he tinkled up and down, letting loose his smooth arpeggios while Rory blustered, passioned, strutted. The straight man in Morecambe and something, she thought, the two Ronnies, Round the Horne, even! And again she scolded herself for thinking of popular entertainment whilst lying prostrate before the altar of high culture.
Rory had gone very red in the face now. The audience clapped enthusiatically. Alex stood up and bowed shyly with Rory, the overhead spotlight catching his dark tufts of wavy hair.
“Now,” said Rory to a hushed assembly. “You must imagine you are on a lonely windswept moor. There are the smells of late summer; nature is all around you, and you are impregnating your lover under a heavenly band of stars...”
Annabel inhaled a strangled gasp, but before she did so she noticed Alex the pianist give Rory a sly, surreptitious wink.
Had he really said...? Had she imagined...?
And now strange things were happening to Annabel’s body. Her legs, in indignation, took her up from her seat and within seconds she was striding forcefully out of the concert hall. As she reached the exit a raucous coughing fit seemed to explain her sudden departure.
The audience laughed again but Miss Melchett was too preoccupied by Rory’s image of the windswept moor. And what was the meaning of that very sly wink?