Abe eased the door open gently. The shop bell could be surprisingly loud in the quiet early hours and Henry was a light sleeper. He eased his suitcase through the door and locked up. The stairs creaked but he wasn’t up to tiptoeing at his age. Hopefully the noise would be too familiar to be disturbing.
The light in the living room was still on which was unusual. He laid his coat on the chair and was about to drop on to the sofa when he saw the wineglass lying on its side on the floor, a small pool of dark red staining the carpet. Abe picked it up, surprised. Henry was not the kind of man who was careless with anything. Spilled wine would normally have been mopped up and the carpet stain treated immediately.
He began to look carefully around the room. One of Henry’s ubiquitous scarves was in a crease inducing heap beside the sofa. His shoes were discarded several feet away, one lying sole up. Henry had almost as strong a feeling about shoes as he did scarves. Abe uneasily kicked the shoe the right way up. He glanced through the kitchen and, to his shock, the doors to the roof terrace were ajar. Henry was never lax about their security like that.
“Henry?” he called. There was no reply but just as he spoke there was a thump and a muffled cry that seemed to come from the direction of Henry’s bedroom.
Without thinking, Abe grabbed the nearest weapon to hand – the carving knife –and quietly approached Henry’s room. He could hear a muffled scuffling from within. He turned the doorknob quietly then thrust the door open just as a full throated cry filled the air.
A full throated, very female cry.
Abe slammed the door hastily and fled back to the kitchen. He snatched up a bottle of whisky and poured himself an indecently large glass as he tried to erase the series of snapshot images seared into his memory.
Jo Martinez, naked across his father’s bed, her head thrown back, full breasts thrust to the ceiling.
His father’s hand stretched up, holding one breast, nipple caught between thumb and finger.
His father, kneeling beside the bed in a state of arousal that was both impressive and disturbing, his head buried between Jo’s legs.
His father’s head turning towards him, shocked eyes wide, chin and mouth shining.
Oh god… Abraham knocked back the rest of his drink and choked as the scotch burned his throat in revenge for this disrespectful treatment. He poured himself another generous measure, drinking this one rather more sedately. Perhaps he should have rung to say he was coming home early but… Henry still didn’t own a cell and the landline was downstairs in the shop. There was no guarantee Henry would have heard it and no reason to drag him all the way downstairs.
He’d have to rethink that in the future.
He tidied up the wine glass, mopped up the wine, treated the carpet, locked the terrace doors and straightened the kitchen. He was just sitting down again when Henry came into the kitchen, respectably covered from neck to feet in striped pyjamas, a thick woollen robe he insisted on calling a dressing gown, and slippers.
“Are you alright?” Henry asked carefully, sitting down next to him. He smelt of toothpaste and soap so he must have washed before coming out here so he wouldn’t smell of – Abe shut off that thought immediately.
“No. I’m scarred for life,” he said. “Really, Henry, I could have happily reached the end of my life without seeing you like that.”
Henry held out a glass and motioned him to pour another scotch. “I’m sorry,” he said mildly. “However, you did come crashing into my bedroom without knocking.”
“I thought you were in trouble!” Abraham protested. “I come home and the terrace door is wide open –“
“Slightly ajar. I intended to lock it later.”
“With your shoes and scarf on the floor!”
“Where they would be fine until I locked up.”
“And there was spilt wine all over the carpet!”
“Really?” Henry finally had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. “I apologise, I didn’t realise a glass had been knocked over. I’ll l make sure it gets properly cleaned.”
“And I heard noises!”
“Ah.” Henry took a large sip of his whisky. “Yes, I’m sorry. I believed we were alone. But really, Abe,” he glared at his son. “With your history I would have thought you’d have interpreted those accurately and been discreet!”
Abe slammed his glass on table. “This is you!” he exclaimed. “You’ve never – I mean, I wasn’t expecting – “
Henry cocked his head on one side. “You are upset,” he said gently. “I really am sorry, Abe but what do you mean? You must know there have been women. I’ve been physically thirty five for two hundred years. I promise you I have not been celibate all that time.”
“Well,” Abe said, uncomfortably, “Yeah, I always thought… I mean before Mom, but then you were with her and afterwards…” he shrugged.
“Abigail left me thirty years ago. There have been women since. No one I cared about beyond one night’s pleasure and therefore no one I would bring into your home. But there have been women.”
An awkward silence fell as they both drank.
Henry broke the silence as he poured himself and Abe another drink. “I suppose it must be hard,” he said, “to ever think of your parents in that way. Even at your age.”
“I guess so,” Abraham said.
“Of course,” Henry added. “When I was young we had servants and they would be in and out of all the rooms, including the bedrooms all the time. Even if you knew their routine, there might be something that brought one to a particular room at any time.” He smiled. “It’s not the first time I’ve been, ah, interrupted.”
“Wouldn’t they knock?” Abe asked, interested in spite of himself. One of the great advantages of an immortal father – one of the only advantages in his opinion – was having a living window into the past.
“Servants did not knock,” Henry said. “A good servant was almost invisible and largely unacknowledged. You ignored them unless you had an instruction and they got on with their jobs in the background. Oh the master or mistress of the house would speak with the cook, the housekeeper or butler, if there was one, but otherwise the servants were expected to stick to a routine and keep out of the way of the family as much as possible.”
“Sounds delightful,” said Abraham sourly.
“By modern standards, no doubt.” Henry’s face had a far off look. “Just remember there were no labour saving devices in those days. Everything was done by hand so if you could you employed someone to do the job for you. A skilled servant could have a job for life and then most families would find light duties or make-work for an elderly one. It was considered a good job.” He smiled. “Very little privacy though. You didn’t expect it.”
“Must have made some things difficult.”
Henry laughed. “Not really. My first wife and I had separate bedrooms. That was normal for a married couple of our class. My manservant slept in the dressing room next to my bedroom, her ladies maid in hers. When I,” he paused, appearing to search for a phrase, “visited her, my manservant would help me into my nightshirt and dressing gown and open the door for me. Her maid would have brushed my wife’s hair and helped her into bed. She often would not be dismissed to her bed until I was already there.” He shrugged. “She slept behind a door that was left ajar so my wife could call her if she needed her. They, at least, knew what I was doing. And would have been witness to a great deal that the modern world considers private.”
Abe looked fascinated. “So whenever you and she,” he made a gesture, “you’d got at least one person listening in?”
“Yes. Sometimes two if my manservant,” Henry looked thoughtful, “James,” he said. “I’m sure that was his name. If we stayed at another house, James would escort me to her room and wait outside.”
“It didn’t, ah,” Abe made a circling motion with his glass, “put you off your stroke, so to speak?”
“Not at all. It was perfectly normal. To have found something in it to object to would have been considered very strange.”
“Still,” said Abe, thoughtfully. “back then, not so much to see and hear as today, eh?”
Henry looked at him oddly. “Why do you say that?” he asked, refilling his glass.
“Well, you know,” Abe said. “Poorer hygiene? Different expectations of marriage? What?” he asked as Henry began to laugh.
“Oh, Abraham,” his father shook his head. “Please don’t tell me you’re one of those people who think their generation invented sexual pleasure?”
“Well, no…” Abe started to feel a bit defensive. “But didn’t you bath once a year or something back then?”
“If that,” Henry agreed. “Before I took my long swim in the Atlantic I probably hadn’t been wet all over since I was a boy and went swimming in the river.”
Abe wrinkled his nose. “That sounds disgusting. You must have stunk to high heaven. How would you have even got near enough to somebody to do – whatever you did?”
“Again, that’s by modern standards. The world has improved in many ways and regular bathing is one of them. But standards of disgust change too. Everyone smelt like that and was equally dirty. It was normal. Believe me, there’s nothing done regularly today that was not done enthusiastically back then. And sometimes as loudly.”
“You gave them a show?” Abraham asked as a joke and then remembered he was talking to his father, not one of his friends. “Sorry, sorry. Don’t answer that. I know the answer anyway, I lived with you and Mom for twenty years.”
Henry was still looking highly amused. “Abe, we –” he changed his mind and said, “People don’t stop having relations just because they have a child in the house.” He laughed again, softly with a reminiscent look on his face. “You just learn to do it very quietly.”
Abraham made a face. “I do not need to know this.”
“Except for boy scout camp, band practice and Sunday School, when the house becomes both empty and, thank god, private.”
He covered his ears. “Enough! Please!”
The laughter became unrestrained. “Very well. Are you suitably chastened?”
“Yes! Yes. Don’t you dare say a word about Mom!”
“As if I would.” Henry replied. “I’m sorry I worried you. And thank you for rushing to my aid – at least I assume that was what you thought you were doing?”
“Yes! And just see if I do that again.” Abe finished his drink and placed both glasses on the draining board. “Is Jo okay?” he asked tentatively.
“Mildly embarrassed. Fortunately she has a robust sense of humour. I left her asleep”
“I think I owe her an apology.”
“Yes, you do.” Henry stretched. “I’m going back to bed. Please don’t try to rescue me again, whatever you hear. Whatever it is, rest assured it is entirely voluntary. ”He ruffled Abraham’s hair. “Goodnight, Abe.”
He left the kitchen and Abe laughed quietly to himself. He liked Jo very much and – shock aside – he was glad Henry had someone. From his short lived marriages and even shorter spells of cohabitation he recalled the comfort of a warm body in the bed at night. Sex was all very enjoyable and so on but what he missed most these days was the companionship of sharing a bed and the contact of skin on skin as you lay there falling asleep.
He was getting maudlin in his old age. He dismissed the thought and took himself off to his own bedroom. Time to get some sleep so he could cook Jo his best apology breakfast. Better to get the awkward next meeting out of the way as soon as possible. It wasn’t that he could ever lust after Jo – at his age he could look at her and agree she was hot without the thought being more than something theoretical. From his vantage she was painfully young.
He wondered how Henry dealt with that. Of course, looking thirty-five helped, but everyone must seem so young to him.
He climbed into bed and curled up as much as his joints would still let him. There was silence from Henry’s room so either he was asleep or… well, that wasn’t a productive line of thought. Just before he fell asleep it occurred to him that this was one time he really didn’t envy his father's immortality.