• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 10
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Little Alsop

Up on deck, and the world is over-exposed by sun off of white yacht, and I long to be back below with my Sennheisers and Tchaikovsky and the particular way my hair is now long enough to flop back and forth as I conduct imaginary concertos. ‘Too hot on deck,’ had been my excuse all day, while building up a musical sweat.

My uncle, over there in the sunlight, beckons me. This is his boat; I am his charge. That’s his woman, over there with the legs and the glasses and the caricature smile. This is his cove, with its cobalt waters and pale shale at the bottom. This may as well be his whole entire ocean. Those are his colleagues sitting around him at long table set like a Parisian restaurant with multiple layers of cutlery and wine glasses catching the late-dinner light. Late because it was too hot to eat any earlier, and late because it takes time for the cook to gut all the fish they’d caught today.

‘Welcome, Little Alsop,’ came the chorus. ‘Hello, Little Alsop.’

They all call me that. Only my uncle knows why; he thinks he’s being cruel, but Marin Alsop is great, and girls are really great too.

He watches me now, as I pull in my chair next to him: his linen shirt, straw trilby, beard bleached by the sun. He notes the dampness of my T-shirt.

‘Take a swim before we eat,’ he says.

‘I’m fine.’

‘Take a swim. You smell like ham.’

I glance over starboard to the children in the water below, their middles wrapped in pumped-up flamingos and unicorns, water so clear they’re pretty much flying.


Little Alsop

They have nothing to do with us, of course, just happy colleagues’ progeny, who’ll all be packed off fast as prestissimo once their daddy’s signatures are scribbled wherever they need to be.

‘I can eat in my cabin,’ I say.

But this is the Family Meal, I can’t be elsewhere. This is my dues for being looked after, fed buttery seafood, and delivered into the unsubtle embrace of a life of glory.

‘You’re staying. Stop humming.'

‘I’m not humming.’

But I probably am. I usually am. Shostakovich’s second piano concerto has been stuck in my head since I’d seen Fantasia as a kid. Dum dum dum dum duuuuum, dum dum, dum dum dum DUUUM, de de de de!

Suddenly my uncle is close, an arm around me. He smells of deodorant and red wine, his mouth is stained purple. He speaks now just to Little Alsop, the weight of him pressing my thigh painfully into the table leg.

‘That’s enough,’ he says.

And it’s funny how two words can convey so many of my mother’s rent cheques bouncing, all my tuition fees failing, and my little sister’s orthodontic work never getting completed (they’d at least remove it for free, surely?).

‘Dum dum dum dum DUUUM, de de de de,’ I say, only far less polite, and jump into the sea.