Ian was back in a couple of minutes, his wife turning up with the wayward offspring a few seconds after. She peered at his face, seeming to spot the red in his eyes, and then turned her gaze onto me.
“That’s not really your colour, Rob”
My lover was still at my shoulder. “No, but it suits her. Hi, I’m Larinda, I’m going to be your sister in law”
Ellen’s face blanched under her layers of slap. I mean, I spent fifty-odd years as a bloke, and I don’t use as much as she---wind your neck in, Jill. Don’t give Ian a chance to withdraw again in defence of his wife. My thoughts were all over, but it was Bethany who broke the stand-off.
“Cool…like Jerry Springer, innit? What do I call you?”
“Aunty Jill would be OK”
“You getting it all sliced off, then?”
“Straight to the point? I think that’s the bit most people worry about, but it’s not the be-all and end-all, pet. There’s a lot more stuff going on, things like acceptance, recognition, aye? Your Dad just did that bit, for one”
“What you do, dad?”
His brow furrowed, and I smiled. “Accept I can’t use the gents’, aye?”
He looked relieved, as if he feared he had done something unmanly when his guard was down, but Ellen’s jaw dropped.
“You are using the ladies’ bogs? That’s disgusting!”
“Well, not really. They are a little cleaner than I remember the gents’ being, but a toilet is a toilet”
Bethany was laughing out loud by now. “This is SO mega, SO cool, my friends is going to be like SO jealous, yeah?”
“Bethany, this is Larinda, my fiancée. Love, Bethany, my niece”
“You must be like lezzers, yeah?”
Tact learnt from my dear brother, clearly, but no sign yet of Ellen’s bitchiness.
“Well, yes, Beth, I am indeed gay. Larinda isn’t, but you see that very tall woman over there? She’s gay, and so’s her wife”
Ellen sneered. “You are not to talk to them, Bethany. No warping of a young girl’s mind, or is that what you were after, Rob? Eh?”
She pursed her lips as if tasting something that had crawled into her mouth and died. “You bring people like that here? With normal people?”
I made as wide a gesture as I could. “Ellen, what the fuck is ‘normal’ supposed to mean?”
Bethany giggled at the word.
“Sorry, bro, but she is a bit off target there, aye? Look, Ellen, we have two lesbians here apart from me, and at least four gay men, aye? Lots of women, of all types, and even the bride hasn’t got as much chemical sludge on her face as you. I mean, how old are you? Forty-five? Forty-six? You’ve got more on you than someone who’s been bloody well embalmed after a car crash! And you call that normal?”
“Yes but there are real women over there. I mean straight ones. With the queers”
That got me laughing, and Ellen had a sudden attack of insight.
“Oh god, it’s a trannies’ outing, isn’t it?”
I realised she was scanning the others, looking for stubble or too wide a stance, and for a while I watched her jaw work as she stared at Kirsty, her bigotry so loud I could read her mind.
Huge tits, must be false.
But there’s a kid. Could it be adopted?
I had had enough. “Ellen, Kirsty was born that way…”
Larinda murmured “Just not quite so big…”
“…but two of them were christened Adam and Steven”
Her face was still going through all sorts of grinding and chewing operations, so I thought I better move things along before she self-ignited.
“Ian, pet…” brought only a slight twitch. Good start.
“Do you remember a case a few years ago up here, big police corruption story, like?”
“Aye, I followed that one. There were supposed to be links to the new stadium in the Toon, but that was all lies”
“Aye, that bit was, but do you remember how it all came out? One copper, aye?”
“Aye, but didn’t he get blown up years later?”
I was impressed. He had kept up with the news. He caught my expression.
“And what? They tried to fuck about with the best club in the world, and if it hadn’t been for that one poliss they might have got away with it, so I sort of picked up on it. Good lad, that, got a lot of shit from it”
From what I had heard, mostly in his back and legs. “Ian, that’s him over there. Want an introduction?”
Ellen was now doing fish impersonations, and Bethany was clearly only slightly drunk, but enough to be raucous as she enjoyed the show.
“Dennis Armstrong, his missus Kirsty, this is my other brother Ian. Bit of a football fan”
That was it, that was the key that finally unlocked my brother’s humanity. Ellen was along in his slipstream, of course, and Bethany was cooing over the infant as Ian’s congratulations and Den’s bashfulness soon turned into a discussion of the much more important subject of football. Bethany was half-listening at first, but as the ball game took over she turned more and more soppy over the child, the wine she had sneaked not helping. Kirsty was more than happy with the attention, but she still had a copper’s eye for Ellen.
“Bethany, see this kid? He wouldn’t have had no Dad if it weren’t for our friends, yeah? You come with me, and I’ll introduce you”
As soon as the three of them were away, Dennis became all business.
“So, Ian, let’s be straights, aye? What are you going to do about your sister? She wants your support, wants you at her wedding. Sorry if I’m out of turn, Jill, but I am not blind, and far from bloody stupid”
Ian was caught by surprise, but Ellen wasn’t lost for words this time. “What sister? Brother in a bloody dress and wig, more like!”
Ian turned his head, and in a flat voice said “Shut the fuck up, Ell”
I felt Larinda twitch, and a murmur in my ear went “Tell you later, lover” as Ian turned back to Dennis.
“What am I going to do about my sister? I will tell you what. I am going to stop talking the shite I have been, for a start. Come here, lass”
He hugged me, and this time he kissed my cheek. Whether it was my association with a hero, or perhaps the removal of my status as an older brother, a rival, I didn’t know, but it may just have been a little bit of maturity at last. He turned back to his wife, voice cold.
“Got that? No more ‘Rob this, Rob that’. These people can see what she is, so why shouldn’t I?”
His gaze went further, over to Mam where she sat with my stepfather, tears running down her face from yet another dreadful joke from Jimmy, Mark’s grandfather, and his face softened. Finally, it seemed, I was getting him back, the brother I had shared a bedroom with for so many years, the one who had started cycling two years younger than me because, well, if I had a bike, he had to have one as well.
“This is partly down to you, isn’t it? You let Mam breathe again. I’ve not seen her so happy in best part of twenty years. And Neil, hell…I don’t hold with puffs, like, you know that, but he is still my brother, and he has a smile back too, after what that bastard did to him”
I had a sudden suspicion. “That little accident that turd had. That was you, wasn’t it?”
Dennis chuckled. “I’m just going for a leak at this point in the conversation, like”
Ian watched him walk off, and gave one of his coldest smiles. “I might just have been somewhere nearby. Nobody touches my family”
Larinda stepped past me and hugged him. “Welcome back to it, love”
Bethany was back as Ellen stood silent. “Cool! Everybody’s like happy! Aunty Jill, Mrs Armstrong introduced me to someone what met the Queen! Got a medal off her and like everything! You got cool friends, Aunty!”
Ian’s eyes did another flicker of recognition, and I was reminded how bright he actually was behind his veneer of sexist machismo.
“Oh, pet, I think your Mam might like to meet that one. Off you go, Ell”
This time his grin was evil, as Bethany led her mother away and Kirsty stayed with us to await her husband.
“Kirsty, let me get this straight: woman ran barefoot over broken glass?”
“Yeah, Annie, that’s her…oh, yeah! Ian, no offence, like, but how’d you ever get a kid? I mean, if her fanny’s as tight as her arse obviously is…”
He had the grace to laugh, and then what Larinda whispered in my ear nearly made me spill my glass. It was clearly the phrase that had tickled her earlier.
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