‘I dare you to sing with them.’
‘Why not? You said Marilyn Manson started that way.’
‘Yeah, but I doubt he sang with a bunch of old farts.’
‘Well I dare you to.’
After some protest the boy accepted the challenge. Girls giggled to see him appear one Sunday morning in a long red tunic. Longing to emulate his hero, Ethan usually sang alone in his bathroom but it no longer quenched his budding ambition. The red tunic was a symbol of greater things to come. He lasted three Sundays.
Ethan was allotted a seat on a choir pew between two old women, Mrs Hardmore, a robust 82-year-old with steely pig eyes and Miss Vlees, a well-spoken spinster of 65 whose life enjoyment had been squeezed like a lemon. Mrs Jagal, a tall sallow woman with froglike eyes sat in haughty judgement behind the unsuspecting lad. Coughing, which Ethan hadn’t noticed when part of the congregation, was in full surround-sound. Lungs wheezed. A vicious rattle of phlegm increased in volume until it burst into a spluttering wet cough, uncontained by hankies. Whistling, sniffing but odours were worse, pungent muscle-rub tickled the boy’s nasal hairs. Sickly lavender perfume had a whiff of urine.
Was this how a rock star really started out? Marilyn Manson couldn’t have gone through this.
Ethan looked up towards heaven gazing in disappointment at the organ’s bronzed cylindrical pipes stretching into rafters over his head. Imprisoned by bars, the boy felt trapped between wheezing human pipes and metal.
The ladies prodded him like a prize pig at a fair. Long, harsh fingers alerted him to the next hymn number marked in a book held with tape. They also prodded him whenever he swung his legs against the bench. His Sideshow-Bob feet were too cramped in a narrow pew. Mrs Jagal bent forward to breathe a sickly odour of violets and aniseed onto the side of his neck. She rasped repeatedly: ‘Sing out! Don’t just mouth the words.’
After the third Sunday, Ethan overheard the ladies discussing him and it was a final push. Their fevered whisperings echoed in a vestry corridor.
‘Does he sing?’
‘Hard to tell, if he’s no intention of singing then why did he join?’
‘Typical of children today. No commitment. I blame the parents.’
‘If he kicks that pew one more time, I’ll pinch him so hard he’ll sing out!’
‘I was up till ten last night shortening that tunic for him. I wasn’t well enough you know!’
‘I wouldn’t have done it. In my day uniform was always too big. We had to grow into it. That boy isn’t worth it.’
Ethan’s stomach churned with humiliation which quickly turned to anger. Is this what they really think?’ He walked up to the tenor. Michael was surprised.
‘Are you okay son?’
The lad looked up with a beetroot face. ‘I’ve had enough of them.’ He gestured over his shoulder then to his surprise Michael winked as he bent down to whisper.
‘Truth is, I’ve had enough too but, hey? I’m the only one who can sing and they can’t bully me.’
Ethan swung his legs throughout the service not caring if they hit shins. He grabbed bony fingers by their tips as they approached his ribs from both sides. Pinching hard he ignored an unpleasant cracking of joints. Shock and pain brought on coughing fits. Miss Vlees snatched her fingers away to rub them then sang out of tune with a shrill and piercing squeak. Mrs Jagal leaned forward to intervene knowing the lad was the culprit. His timing was perfect. He threw his head back, deliberately singing loudly. The back of his head smacked into Mrs Jagal’s temple with a dull clack and she started back with both shock and pain.
After the hymn drawled to a conclusion, Ethan stood pulled his tunic over his head, scrunched it into a ball then dropped it onto his seat. He reached into his jeans pocket, pulled out a packet of spearmint gum and threw it into Mrs Jagal’s lap.
‘Here, you need them. Your breath stinks!’
Then, Ethan scrambled over Miss Vlees not caring if his backside brushed her face, much to the astonishment of both choir and congregation. The vicar stood at the top of stone steps with his back to the choir, taken aback by an unexpected sea of open mouths in front of him. Ethan calmly walked past then the vicar jumped with surprise. Ethan sprang from the bottom step to the first pew to join his relatives who bunched-up to make room. There was no need to say anything. Ethan was glad to be back where he belonged.
Now I know why rock stars always wear black. Perhaps I should learn the guitar.