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mask of patriotism, the good of family or tribe, or supply side economics," he replies. Then he adds: "I often wonder what bastard decided to put sodomy with the other three. It isn't fair to mix passion with coldblooded evil. Where there is passion there is no free will."
And what about aching passion for family, young man? "Well, I don't know what your mother will say, I really don't," I say.
"I do. Mum knows. I think she's always known."
I nod. Moira was ever thus.
Moira's bike clicks down the side passage. I frown at the kettle as I put it on. I refill the milk-jug and place two mugs beside it. Michael has gone back to the filling in of his UCCA form. I hope. Or has he darted Out of the back window to cavort with Julian and Sandy in
the woods? Tread on that. At least give him the benefit of something original. We parted mute and subdued, but amicable.
"Many at mass?" I ask her.
"Six or seven. The Miss Hetheringtons weren't there. That's why I'm late."
"Everything all right?"
"I think so. Margaret has a cold and Claire decided to stay in with her. They were listening to Gardeners` Question Time, Margaret says that Claire is mad about Clay Jones. What have you been up to?"
"Michael and I had a heart to heart."
"Good," she says, and takes off her coat, leans it over Michael's chair and frowns at a loose button.
I pour the tea and she holds the mug in both hands to warm herself.
"Moira, do you remember Dr Stone?" "Of course. Why?"
"Nothing. Michael told me about his problem."
"Did he? I hoped he would." She hoped he would.
"So what are we going to do?"
Moira sips her tea and says nothing.
I repeat the question.
"I think we do nothing. We accept him. God made him. We return the problem to sender."
"You admit that it is a problem, then?"
She nods. Then she adds: "But I think love can solve it." "Why?"
"Because I am required to, and choose to, believe that. Michael's heart is in the right place."
"But his desires aren't."
"Maybe not." She reaches over and twirls the loose button on her coat. It comes off. "Thought so. Good job I noticed it. I'd never have been able to get one that matched."
She smiles at me. "Why did you ask me about Dr Stone?"
"He was a wise old bird. Jean had quite a crush on him. Did you know that?"
"No, but no one was safe around Jean. Miss Hotpants the men called her."
"Well that was just the sort of thing you lot would have called her. But you were all wrong about her, you know."
I just nod. If Moira chooses to be charitable, there is nothing I can do about it, though a wicked part of me is tempted to confess. I have not thought of Jean much in the last 20 years. I have thought about her several times in the last hour.
"She was just a bright, funloving girl, except where Dr Stone was concerned."
"I never knew about her and Dr Stone."
"Didn't you? It was odd. Dr Stone never reciprocated, though he was well known to be a lady's man. He didn't respond to Jean at all. I always thought she was the prettiest girl in the place. He once told me that he preferred the intellectual type."
That was a funny thing for him to say to Moira. "That was a funny thing for him to say to you," I say after a long pause.
She shrugs, concentrating her attention on the grain of the table.
I change the subject. "How long have you known about Michael?"
"I think I've always known. He's always seemed far too nice to be normal."
"What an odd thing to say!"
She reaches for her sewing box under the week's Guardians on the fourth chair that is always empty. Then she takes her coat from the back of Michael's chair and drapes it over her knees. Sheeompares the colours of thread, selects some, cuts off a length, takes a needle from a pin-cushion, threads the cotton through it on the first attempt. And sets to work.
"I wonder what's on the radio?" she asks.
"And did you know about me and Jean?" I ask her.
She nods. There is a smile on her lips. "But I didn't tell you about Dr Stone either."
'He used to say: 'They think it's love, but it's only lust.' Do you remember that."
"Dr Stone? He couldn't have said such a thing!" she says, shocked.
What's going on here?
"The Miss Hetheringtons are knitting Clay Jones a sweater. Did I tell yoti?"
"No." What has that got to do with anything?
She answers my unspoken question, as she has a habit of
doing. "Claire says: 'His voice is lovely. He's a real gentleman.' Margaret laughs like a drain, gives me a dig in the side. anti says 'Don't you believe it! She's beating round the bush! If Clay Jones turned up on his lawnmower and tooted for her to go off with him, she'd be out of that door like a shot'!"
Isee Moira in her glass casket, a smile playing on her incorruptible face, characbancs full of pilgrims blocking all approaches to 15 Hope Road. I hoofing it off sad to become a gardener brother away from the bereft world. Were that to happen would Moira smile down upon me from her high cloud, or would she have flicked through the book of my sin, seen the entries that detailed my off-by-heart adulteries with Jean, with Sharon, Sarah and Julie, with Samantha Fox and Kate Adie, with half the female staff at St Jude's and 90 per cent of the female sixth form? Would that whip her patch of heaven from under her? Would she look at our years together, years of good friendship and once-aweek lovemaking under the pregnant gaze of St Gerard Majella as a swizz? I confess. I married but I burnt. Was it better?
"I'm sorry, Moira," I say. "Sorry? What about?"
"You're a good man, Dunstan." Dunstan is my name you see. The truth will out.
"No, I'm not. I'm not. If you only knew."
"I know. Same here." "We've forgotten about Michael," I say.
"No, not really."
"Did Dr Stone really say that?"
I nod. "Judgemental little hypocrite!" she says. That is not like Moira.
"I mean, how the hell did he know what was going on inside those couples? Where does lust end and love begin? Does anybody know? I once read that lust can be like the grain of sand inside the oyster. The sand irritates and the oyster builds the pearl around it to protect itself. The pearl is love. But lust is there. Love just enveloped it."
"So no lust. No love." I never itched for Moira. Perhaps our love is a pearl of virginbirth. Stop it.
She looks at me as if I have returned from a message having
paid 5 pence over the odds for soul-scourers. "You can take a metaphor too far," she says.
I had not noticed that she has finished sewing on the button.
How long has she been knitting? Poland will be a little warmer this winter. 1 get up to kiss her. "Time for bed," I say.
"I'll be up soon."
I can see light under Michael's door. I dither outside, avoiding
the creeks of the landing floorboards. I know the noisy ones as a blind man knows braille. I raise my arm to knock at Michael's door, but I do not knock. I jiggle about for a moment on the silent wooden planks beneath my feet. Then of its own accord my hand unfists, and rises to bless the door, and Michael taking lonely decisions behind it. At this moment he may be choosing the wrong subject, the wrong university, making himself the wrong bed to lie in. I do not know, but I like the feeling my blessing sparks in me. I repeat it, thinking of my beloved son in whom I am as pleased as can be.
Next week: William Douglas Home on Sloth.