WE LOOK AT A DINNER TABLE LAID CAREFULLY FOR FOUR

On the windowsill behind the table sits half a dozen birthday cards. Through the window we see a sun-blushed garden where Chris and Grace are stood looking at row of peas dripping with pale-green pods. We watch as Chris and Grace take a few steps further down the vegetable patch then stop, Chris pointing to something behind a bean row. He smiles, then him and Grace laugh. We cannot hear what is said between them, nor can we hear the birds that sing all around them, the lowing of the cattle behind the garden wall, or the screech of an impatient sow at an overpopulated trough across the farmyard. What we can hear is the sound of Billy’s voice to our left.

BILLY: I didn’t mean it, Mum.

Through the archway that leads from this dining room we see a kitchen. With their backs to us, stood at the kitchen sink are Billy and his mother. We see that Jean is peeling potatoes and shaking her head in silent dismay. She puts a glistening skinless potato onto the breadboard to the right of her, takes an unpeeled wet potato from out of the sink, and then begins to scrape the skin away, stroke by stroke. Billy is looking out of the window. He turns to face his mother.

BILLY: C’mon, Mum. Don’t spoil your birthday. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.

A pause. The sound of scraping.

JEAN (still peeling the potato): Have you any idea how awful I felt? In front of my whole family? Not to mention Grace’s family? At my own son’s wedding being told that I’d spoilt everything?

Jean places the peeled potato onto the breadboard, sniffs, then takes another potato from the sink. Billy leans an elbow on the worktop, and turns to face his mother.

BILLY (slightly exasperated): But Mum! I was drunk! I only said it because you kept turning the music down.

JEAN (raising her voice): Once! Aunty Glenda said it was hurting her ears! It didn’t need to be that...

BILLY (cutting in): Bollocks to Aunty Glenda! She’s a miserable old cow any...

JEAN (cutting in): Listen! It’s my birthday! And I’m not having it ruined by my own son swearing at me!

Jean peels the potato in quick short strokes. Billy, with both elbows on the worktop, hands holding his head, looks out the window. He sighs. Pause. The sound of scraping.

BILLY (softly): Look, I’m sorry. C’mon. Please. Let’s not fight.

He puts his hands to the worktop and looks again to his mother. Jean takes another potato from the sink, starts peeling then starts to cry a little. Billy puts his hand on her shoulder.

JEAN (still peeling the potato): You scare me Billy. It scares me to death that you’re going to end up like my dad.

Billy takes his hand from his mother’s shoulder and sighs.

BILLY: I wish you wouldn’t. I’m not like him. At all. I wish you’d stop saying that.

He looks out the window again. Jean puts the peeled potato on the breadboard, takes another unskinned potato from the sink. She begins peeling it.

JEAN: There was something on Radio Four last week. It said it can be passed on. It said...

BILLY (cutting in): Rubbish! I’m nothing like him. He was an alky, Mum, and me? I like a beer. Big difference.

Jean puts the peeler and the potato down. She wipes her hands on a tea towel then turns to her son. We now see them both in dark profile against the window.

JEAN (quietly): You have his mouth.

The kitchen door opens and in walks Grace and Chris. Grace is carrying a yellow bucket crammed with runner beans, and a smile that lights the room.

GRACE: Billy! I want a veg garden!

 

40. To do

38. We meet on the stairs

 
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