Smut

Stories

by Alan Bennett

Smut

Paperback, 152 pages, St Martins Pr, List Price: $14 | purchase

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Smut
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Stories
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Alan Bennett

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Book Summary

Presents two short tales of sex, secrets and misrepresentation, including "The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson," in which a widow supplements her income by being a test subject for medical students.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Smut

The Shielding of Mrs Forbes, from Smut

Like many a handsome man, Graham Forbes had chosen to marry someone not nearly as good looking as himself and even slightly older.

'Chucked himself away if you ask me,' his mother said. Which of course, he didn't. 'Waste, waste, waste. I'm his mother. I'm good looking. Naturally one assumed he'd marry someone along the same lines. We've always been so close.'

'My chum' she called him. 'My young man'.

'We told each other everything. Or I thought we did.'

Graham's father having nothing to say, said nothing.

'I feel such a fool putting the announcement in the paper. I mean, "Betty".

'What sort of a name is that? Margaret, yes. Joan, possibly. Though I must confess Caroline was the least I'd been hoping for. But Betty!'

As names one might think Betty and Graham nicely matched, both dull and unassertive and not committing their bearers to any particular stance on human affairs in the way that Tessa does, or Rory even. But this was partly the trouble. For, though she could never admit it, Graham's mother blamed herself for calling him Graham in the first place. In the years since he was born her sights had risen and Graham was not nearly the classy name she'd once thought. She wished now that she could get rid of it as she had got rid of the dark oak dining suite that belonged to the same period. But though car-boot sales exist to dispose of discarded aspirations there are no stalls dealing in our most unwanted commodities like names, relatives or one's own appearance in the glass.

'I wouldn't care,' said Graham's mother, 'but her first name's only the half of it. Look at her second name: Green. Betty Green. I wouldn't put it past her to be Jewish. I've known Green to be a Jewish name.'

It's actually Greene,' said Graham's father. 'Like the novelist. There's a silent "e".'

Graham's father was understandably sensitive to this spelling, being something of a silent he himself. Indeed his wife was often taken for a widow. She had so much the air of a woman who was coping magnificently that a husband still extant took people by surprise.

'I believe he's a Catholic.'

'Who?' said Graham's mother.

'Greene. The novelist. It comes up in his books from time to time.'

'Oh,' said his wife. 'I wouldn't want my son marrying a Catholic.'

For Graham's mother there was little to choose between Jews and Catholics. The Jews had holidays that turned up out of the blue and the Catholics had children in much the same way.

'I suppose she could be a Catholic,' said Graham's father. 'I could see her as a nun.' The idea seemed to please him but it didn't please his wife.

'Just our luck she missed her vocation. I mean face facts, Edward. He's very good looking; she isn't. Marriage is supposed to be a partnership. Good-looking people marry good-looking people and the others take what's left.'

'There's always love,' said Mr Forbes lamely.

'Love,' snorted Mrs Forbes. 'Of course there's love. She's in love with him, who wouldn't be? But what does he see in her?'

'She may have money.'

'A hole in her cardigan and the same tights three days running? I've seen no sign of it.'

'Her parents are dead.'

'That doesn't stop her going to the dry cleaners. If only she'd had some parents we'd have a better idea.'

'She does have parents,' Mr Forbes pointed out patiently. 'Everyone has parents. It's just that hers are both dead.'

'So she claims,' said Mrs Forbes. 'They prob- ably took one look and abandoned her on a hillside somewhere, the way they do in stories. Orphans, I don't trust them. Didn't we see something like that at the Playhouse?'

'Oedipus,' said Mr Forbes. 'Only that was ancient

Greece. This is Alwoodley.

'Ancient Greece? They were wearing suits,' Mrs

Forbes said. 'He was in a sports car.'

'That was the production,' said Mr Forbes.

'And he had a mobile phone.'

Mr Forbes gave up the struggle and switched to silent mode.

Mrs Forbes's suspicions notwithstanding there was no mystery about Betty's origins. Betty was a genuine orphan, her parents both having died when she was in her teens. So far as the marriage was concerned she was trying not to think about them too much: they might have liked Graham; they would certainly have liked his father; it was with his mother they would have drawn the line.

'I'm going to feel such a fool on the wedding day,' said his mother. 'And to think I've looked forward to it ever since the day he was born. He's always been so fastidious. I've known him spend half an hour choosing a tie. And he has no end of shoes. It's such a waste. And God knows what the children will be like.'

'I suppose . . .' mused Mr Forbes.

'You suppose what?'

'I suppose they've . . . had it off.'

'I beg your pardon?'

'Done it. Got his leg over.'

There was a pained silence. It was an ancient battleground . . . what she called it, what he called it and whether he was allowed to call it anything at all.

'I suppose you mean "made love". Because I pre- fer not to think of it.'

'She's probably,' said Mr Forbes, warming to the fray, 'a bit of a goer.'

'A goer? Edward. when are you going to learn that there are certain phrases you cannot use?'

'I've heard Graham use it.'

'Graham is different. Graham is young, attractive and drives a sports car. He has a life with the top down and language to match. He can say "guy" and "bird" and "cool", all the things young people say. You can't. I heard you say "tits" the other night at the Maynards'. You're too old to say "tits".'

'What age is that? When is the cut-off point? How old does one have to be still to say tits?'

'It's not just a question of age. Some people can say it all their lives. Whereas you, you've never had enough dash.'

'Oh. Dash is it now?'

'Dash. Flair. Brio. All the qualities that come to Graham naturally.'

The irony was that though Graham's father was much less particular about whom his dashing son chose to marry, like his wife he would have been much happier if Graham had not married at all, though for different reasons. Graham married would leave his father in the entirely undiluted company of his mother, a prospect he dreaded and that she was now envisaging too.

'With Graham gone at least we will have the chance to get to know one another again. You could introduce me to this internet you're always buried in. After all, life is for living.'

Mr Forbes who had just made a new and unseemly friend in Samoa saw all his cautious little world about to be kicked over.

He shut the door carefully and settled in front of the screen. Better make the most of it. And here at least he could say tits.

When Mr Forbes wondered if Betty had money he was right. She did. And Graham knew because he worked in a bank.

'He does not work in a bank,' said Graham's mother. 'He is in banking.'

He had met Betty when she had come in for advice after her father died.

'These what you call shares,' said Betty, 'Dad seems to have quite a collection. There's even some from Japan.'

'This is the stock market, Miss Greene,' said Graham. 'It is not philately. Let me be the first to congratulate you. You are a rich woman. Bereavement apart, you are laughing.'

'I don't understand,' said Betty, who understood perfectly well but thought how nice his hands were.

'Would you like me to explain?' said Graham.

'If it's no trouble,' said Betty.

To be taken in by this degree of ingenuousness one has to be pretty ingenuous oneself.

'He's such a straightforward boy,' said his mother.

'I blame myself.'

One does not have to be in the forefront of the struggle for women's rights to find Betty's decision to marry Graham deplorable. She wasn't wholly infatuated, though she liked the way he looked; but, so too did he and that unfatuated her a bit. Still, she could be forgiven for thinking that her money entitled her to someone out of her own league. Besides she liked her maiden name no more than her future mother-in-law did. It was time for a change.

Handsome as he was, for Graham their association was not without its humiliations. He drove, as has been said, a sports car and if it was being serviced his garage lent him an old Ford Escort. Drawn up in his vehicle at the traffic lights Graham was painfully aware of the pitying looks of other drivers.

They were the same looks he got, he imagined, when he went out with the plainish Betty and it was to avoid such embarrassment (and because he was very fond of his car) that made much of what Graham's mother called 'their courting' both nocturnal and motorised.

They were parked in a beauty spot.

'Your mother blames me,' said Betty, undoing his belt.

'She'll get over it,' said Graham lifting himself up in the car seat so that she could ease down his pants.

'After we're married I think we should have a joint account.'

'What's that?' asked his wife-to-be and though this was supposed to be the first one she'd seen she meant the account.

'It's just an arrangement so's you won't have to come running to me for money every five minutes.'

'And the reverse,' thinks Betty. 'Kiss?'

'To begin with,' said Graham, 'then just sort of use your imagination.'

Betty having no parents to make the arrangements for her it fell to Mrs Forbes to oversee the preparations of the wedding, a burden which she shouldered reluctantly, only too conscious of its tragic irony. Still she felt a church ceremony was essential if only to demonstrate that the bride was neither pregnant nor Jewish. But that an occasion to which she claimed to have looked forward half her life should turn out to be a public humiliation seemed almost a punishment.

'I can just see the looks on their faces,' she complained to the dressing-table mirror. Weddings were critical occasions and had to be carried off. Though hardly popular she had a wide circle of like-minded friends, many of whom would be only too pleased to see her discomfited, and a tear ran down her cold-creamed face. Mr Forbes, sitting up in his pyjamas with his laptop felt a pang of sympathy, though it was soon dispelled.

'Have you talked to Graham?'

'Not yet.'

'Not yet? What sort of a father are you?'

'It has to be in church, I suppose?'

It was a question no one had thought to put to the bride though Betty and to some extent Graham would have been quite happy with the registry office. But mindful of his mother and also of the presents Graham thought they should make the effort.

'At least it's not a white wedding,' said Mrs Forbes, heaving herself into bed. 'She's so dark people might think she was Asian.'

'If it has to be in church,' said Mr Forbes, 'I hope it will be in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer.'

'What else should it be in accordance with?' said

Mrs Forbes. 'The Highway Code?'

'It may have escaped your notice,' said her husband, 'but the services these days are different. For a start one has to shake hands with one's neighbour.'

'In my recollection,' said Mrs Forbes, 'one seldom had a neighbour. There were only ever about four people there.'

'Then they'll have to go at least twice because of the banns. I hope . . .' said Graham's father (and this time choosing his words carefully), 'I hope they know the facts of life.'

'Graham is twenty-three.'

'That won't deter Canon Mollison.'

The vicar was old. The chief love of his life was the steam engine, and his version of the facts of life which he had been dispensing over many years relied heavily on the piston, the furnace and the eccentric rod, helpful did one want to travel from London to Darlington but no preparation for the rigours of modern marriage.

Excerpt of "The Shielding of Mrs Forbes" from Smut by Alan Bennett. Smut copyright 2010, 2011 by Forelake Ltd. Smut's first U.S. edition will publish in January 2012 by Picador, a Frances Coady Book. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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