The Big Issue : Edition 447
THEBIGISSUE6--25DEC2013 35 -- Pleased to meet you. Melanie said with a big toothsome American smile, and matching accent. -- You, too... Elspeth took their coats and led them through to the lounge. As they sat down and went through the introductions, she noted Frank, like Melanie, had refused Greg’s profered drink, both opting for water. As Melanie sipped hers, Elspeth, Val and Greg gaped at her in a silence the hostess felt compelled to break. -- So where did you two meet? The question was innocuous but the tone set Greg's teeth on edge. -- Honey, don't... -- It's just a simple question! As Melanie glanced at Frank, Elspeth noted that the American, unlike his previous consorts, didn't seem intimidated by her brother. And he seemed strangely calm, with no sign of that trademark under-lit chaos behind his eyes. -- That's okay -- Melanie continued -- I gotta friend who's an art therapist at the prison. She curated the show, the one where they exhibited a couple of Frank's paintings. -- Yes -- Greg bristled with enthusiasm -- I read the piece in The Scotsman. Well done, Frank! -- He was ey good at drawing -- Val remarked audibly, but almost to herself -- as a bairn, like. The eyes of the room fell on Frank, who remained silent, seeming to wrestle with something internally, his eyes and mouth tightening. Melanie smiled. --Ilikedthework,andIgota collector friend interested. He purchased them. Obviously, we wanted to meet the artist and... She looked to Frank. -- Melanie met me in prison. Frank brusquely proclaimed. Elspeth rolled her eyes, and recharged her wine glass. -- Aw aye, here we go. Val loudly pursed her dry, pleated lips, as Greg shot his wife a look of dismay. -- Then I got oot, intae the halfway house... Frank continued. -- ...thought ah'd see mair ay ye, that's aw ah'm sayin. Val stared at her son. -- I'm afraid that's my fault, Mrs Beg... Val -- Melanie said -- Frank's been spending a lot of time with me down in London. -- Look... Frank said. -- ...it's cairds on the table time. His and Melanie's hand linked in a near-silent vestibular motion. -- We're getting married and we're moving tae California. As Val curled down her bottom lip, Elspeth spat out her wine and exploded in laughter. She was aware for the frst time that her brother seemed to be angry, so she looked to Melanie. -- Sorry...ye just don't seem his type! -- Well congratulations to you both... Greg sang. -- ...we should open some champers! Melanie met Elspeth's gaze evenly. -- So tell me, are you Greg's type? Elspeth was taken aback. She went to speak but couldn't. Greg smiled and trilled. -- Well, we're two kids and killer mortgage on this place into the relationship, so I certainly hope so! Just then, Val went into a coughing ft prompting her daughter to rush to her aid. -- Easy, Mum... Val's lungs creaked, gulping desperately at the oxygen in the room, Elspeth rubbernecked to the others. -- Nae word on Joe? Naebody phone him? -- Ah tried... Frank said. -- ...he's no pickin up. -- So how's the probation coming along Frank? Probation ofcer not… Greg cleared his throat, winked at Melanie, and spoke in a bad American wise guy accent. -- Not bustin your balls? Or 'parole ofcer’, as they say in the movies! Frank Begbie looked at his brother- in-law. -- What you on aboot? -- Sorry, I've been watching too much Sopranos. Got the boxed set. You seen it? -- Nup, dinnae watch telly, ay. Then the doorbell rang and Elspeth rose from settling Val, to let Joe in. He looked unkempt in a tatty old feece, holey jeans and wrecked trainers. His eyes were bleary as they took in the room. -- This is cosy... He sneered. Then he looked at Val. -- How's ma wee Ma? How's that chemo been gaun? -- It takes an awfay loat oot ay ye. Val said, just regaining her breath. – Yir a fghter but, Ma. Joe spoke curtly, then his eyes fell on Melanie, as Greg pushed a can of Stella into his hand. -- Knew you were lager -- Greg smiled. -- What? Joe snapped belligerently, but opened the can anyway. -- Yuv missed aw oor Frank's news. Elspeth said, anxious to divert the rancour spilling from her oldest brother. -- This is my girlfriend, Melanie... Frank confrmed. -- ...she's an artist, fae California. We're getting married, n gaun ower thaire tae live. He looked at Melanie, then round the faces of his family, adding: -- But there's mair...thir's a bairn oan the way, ay. Elspeth regarded Melanie in wide- eyed horror and gasped. -- Jesus Christ, ah've heard it aw now! Melanie ignored her, and squeezed Frank's hand. -- New bairns...California...paintins... Joe closed one eye, fxing Frank in the other. -- ...is this whit wir gittin now then, eh? -- Aye. Frank said softly, as the temperature in the room seemed to drop. -- N this place...you... Joe pointed at Elspeth. -- ...ah notice wir no good enough tae sit doon tae a meal wi ye, me n Frank, n this California lassie...but ye huv us roond fr drinks once the bairns are aw tucked up in bed... -- It's too much for muh ma! -- Whae's sais? Ah dinnae hear hur sayin nowt! Val started to sob. -- Ah jist wanted it tae be a nice Christmas. Elspeth met Joe's belligerent gape and threw him back a paint-stripping glare, rasping.