So, it goes like this: I come home from school. I am fifteen. My father says, How did you go in geography today? And my mother looks up from her dinner and waits. O father, do you think the world will be more or less beautiful if I can learn to name its parts? Mother, do you really think I can fail? You are educated, he brings in an income; I am not fat or ugly. Read the research, dearest mater and pater! I come from a winning demography and, anyway, one day they will invent Google and GPS. I spit on your Geography and scorn it through a glass darkly.
Well, asks my mother. How did you go in the test today?
And I can feel the spectre of Richard Venner hovering above the dinner table. Good, pure, studious Richard Venner. Ten years of listening to my parents’ ode to Saint Richard.
And it goes like this: Richard doesn’t mind wearing his hair short; it wouldn’t hurt for you to comb yours occasionally. Why can’t you wear a school uniform; Richard is head boy and it’s good enough for him? Richard’s mother says he is studying half the weekend so that he can go out every Saturday night with Janine.
Now, fuck it, mother; stop right there. Don’t even mention her fucking name, Dad. I have loved that girl from O such a distance since the time she sat in front of me in Year 8. My God, thank you for that pale strong skin and the long dark hair and the little silver bracelet that slid silently up and down her arm as she wrote and paused and slowly touched her ear. But she was untouchable, of course.
Except to Richard Venner. Polite and groomed Saint Richard, the only boy in our school with the self-confidence to touch while the rest of us wallowed in our unworthiness. But let me tell you, Ma, he did not touch her. Not really. I know this because as he grew older he told us every minute detail about the sex he had with every girl with whom he had it. And he never once mentioned Janine Bannister. Why so shocked, Pa? Did you really think good schoolboys became good men?
But let me tell you, Mother and Father, one day, one day years from now she will take my hand in the darkness (like I’d dreamed for a hundred years!) and ask me to give her a call. She asked me, O venerable ones, your son to ring her. One day I will tell you this story; O will I tell you this story!
But now is now. I am fifteen and there is a Sahara between this kitchen table and the touch of Janine Bannister’s fingers. And we are all agreed that I am not Richard Venner. I do not work hard enough; I confuse worrying with studying but it is not the end of the earth. Never in the field of human endeavour, I tell you, has so much been achieved by one who did so little!
I have learned the precarious art of doing just enough; one slight miscalculation down and I’m a failure; one slight miscalculation upward, and I am subject to an irresistible flood of high expectations. Dad! Mum! Do you know how clever I have to be to achieve this mediocrity? Why must I be compared with the vacuous, easy high achievement of Richard Venner? He studies, Mama! Success is what you get if you study! What did you expect, Papa?
Anyway, today I am calm for the reign of Richard Venner is about to end. Here is the moment I have waited for all day or perhaps for half my life. I wait like a man with four aces.
Well, asks my Dad again. What did you get for the test today?
65 percent, I say.
O come on, he starts, you know you can do better than that. Sixty-five is not good enough.
And now my moment comes.
But, I say all wide-eyed and smug, Richard Venner only got fifty five percent.
I wait O I wait. I savour their imminent confusion as the truth dawns. Today, Mother, Mrs Venner is groaning, Why O why Richard, can’t you be like that Oscarandre?
But I am the fruit of inscrutible loins. Without a pause, without a blush and with all the conviction of love unbounded, with all the emotion of filial love so cruelly rewarded my Father and Mother sigh at me with shimmering eyes:
O Oscarandre, we don’t care about Richard Venner; we only care about you…