The Family Hotel: Extract

(Piers has just revealed his identity to Lily)


Lily: I had a premonition the moment they changed the law. All that talk about a child’s right to know: opening a can of worms for their eighteenth birthday, when they should have been give bottles of champagne. But they said that it matters to them who their parents are. But why? Blood isn’t everything. James doesn’t have a drop of my blood left in him; his blood was changed three times after the crash. No, what matters is not who gave you life, but who made you a person … And they talk about the child’s right to know, but what about a mother’s right to hide? Don’t we have rights too?



Lily: And your parents?

Piers: They were lovely people.

Lily: That’s what I thought. I knew they’d look after you better than me.

Piers: That’s not what I said.

Lily: No.

Piers: They never lied to me about my adoption. They told me from the start. They said I’d been chosen. That rather frightened me. It seemed so arbitrary. Like when I went to select my puppy from the breeders. There were six or seven, and I chose Monty because he looked so sad. I wondered if it’d been the same with me. What had made then pick me from the crowd? I needed to know, so that whatever it was, I could cultivate it. I was also scared that I might change. I was afraid that I might lose whatever they’d liked in me, and so they’d send me away.

Lily: Children fear so much. I remember when James was young. He couldn’t bear to be parted from me; he’d hardly let me go to the lavatory without him. He used to stand outside and cry. It made his father furious. But I understood.

Piers: They told me that my father had died, and you couldn’t afford to keep me. That was when I thought you couldn’t have children without being married. Then I remember them wincing whenever they heard the word: bastard – far more than at any other swear word, and gradually I realised that that was what I was. That bothered me for a while, when I felt quite religious in my teens. But not any more.

Lily: I could have married your father; but I thought that it wouldn’t have been fair: to marry for the sake of the child. It wouldn’t have been fair to you.

Piers: Then I used to worry that if you were so poor that you couldn’t afford to keep me, how could you keep yourself? And then that if my parents lost all their money, would they send me away too? My life was a patchwork of half-formed fears. But they resolutely reassured me. And I’d never have tried to make contact with you whilst they were alive. It would have seemed disloyal. But they were quite old. They sometimes seemed more like my grandparents, than my parents. And they died. And I found myself thinking more and more of you and my father. I wanted to know so much about you. Were you pretty? Were you musical? Good at games? Did I take after you at all?

Lily: I’m a very unexceptional person. I don’t have many talents. Calligraphy, I suppose. I write all the notices for the church.

Piers: I’m afraid I’m not religious any more.

Lily: But something must have guided you here after all this time.

Piers: I came up against more dead ends than a haunted house at a funfair.

Lily: I suppose I must have covered my tracks.

Piers: It was a hard slog, I don’t mind admitting. Birth certificates. Marriage certificates. Court orders to adoption societies. Meeting adoption counsellors. Electoral registers. St Catherine’s House. Old estate agents’ records. And finally a house to house search. Until I found a street in Huntingdon, and a neighbour who told me you’d married and moved here.

Lily: That must have been Carol Hawkins. She’s the only one who still keeps in touch.

Piers: Mrs Hawkins. Yes.

Lily: You didn’t – oh dear, it sounds so underhand but you didn’t let on who you were.

Piers: Don’t worry. I said I was the son of an old school friend.

Lily: You thought of everything.

Piers: I thought of you.

Lily: You’ll make me cry in a minute.

Piers: Do if you want to. I could do with an excuse myself. Because after all the searchings and the false hopes and the Jeremiahs, I’ve finally found you. And even if you asked me to leave now, and I never saw you again, it wouldn’t have been in vain.

Lily: I don’t want you to leave. I don’t want you to stay – well whatever I want, it isn’t possible – but I don’t want you to leave. Oh I don’t know what I want any more. Let me look at you. I know you’re a twenty-five year old man; but to me you’re really still a four day old baby.

Piers: Four days: is that when …?

Lily: Yes. That’s when they took you. Any longer and they were afraid I wouldn’t agree.

Piers: Did you – had you fed me yourself?

Lily: No. But then I couldn’t; it was the same with James. My milk …

Piers: Have you ever thought about me since then?

Lily: You know the answer to that, so why do you ask?

Piers: I want to hear you say.

Lily: Yes. Yes, I’ve thought of you. You’ll never knew how much. Your birthdays were the worst. November 5th. If only it could have been some nondescript day: October 9th … March 11th. But when I saw children lighting bonfires, and fireworks lighting the sky … And then Christmas: I used to wonder what they’d bought you. I’d pray that it was what you wanted. And that you wouldn’t hate me too much. (SHE STARTS TO SOB. HE MOVES VERY CLOSE TO HER)

Piers: I’d never hate you.

Lily: Why? … I hated myself. Then if ever James were cruel to me – Oh not intentionally. He was the sweetest child imaginable; but you know what children are like – I’d think of you and wonder whether you’d be the same.

Piers: I expect so. I’m afraid I always jump in feet first.

Lily: I’d no idea what you’d done with your life; if you’d made something of yourself.

Piers: I went into my adopted father’s print shop. It’s mine now. We’ve expanded. In spite of the government’s policies, we’re doing very well.

Lily: For all I know, you may even be married. (HE LAUGHS)

Piers: No. Footloose and fancy-free.

Lily: I see.

Piers: In fact that was another of my worries. I had this nightmare that I’d meet my sister, fall in love with her and marry her because we didn’t realise our true relationship.

Lily: I don’t have a daughter.

Piers: I have had a number of relationships: one long- term and very serious. I thought she might even have been the one. And so she was for three years. But not any more. So now I have no one. Which was all the more reason I wanted you.

Lily: But how? I can’t tell anyone: not after all this time. After twenty-five years even the most benign secret becomes malignant. Oh James would understand. I know he would. But not Roy. He can be so unpredictable – and cruel.

Piers: I won’t let him hurt you.

Lily: It wouldn’t only be me.

Piers: But if we could just make up some story. That old school friend. She’s already worked once.

Lily: I’ll think. I promise you, I’ll think.

Piers: I’m happy, but sometimes I’m so lonely. Even if I just came as a guest – a regular, not a resident. Are you open at Christmas? I don’t think I could bear to spend another Christmas on my own.

Lily: You spent Christmas on your own?

Piers: I won’t do anything to hurt you. If you still want to say ‘no’, I’ll go. You just have to say the word.

Lily: No. No, I can’t say it. You’ve already enriched my vocabulary. You’ve taught me the meaning of serendipity. I’ll think of a better word than no.