Albert Greening was the oldest of four children, and had lived all his life as the example. Seven good O-Levels. How he had slaved for those! A steady girl, not fancy, but she loved him and appreciated good food, pretty furnishings and smart clothes. An early foothold into the foothills of a lifelong career: an apprenticeship with Mini as a draughtsman and fifteen years in car design, before moving into logistics and supply. The years had been kind to Albert and Margaret. Five healthy children of their own, two of them now living in the States. Six grandkids, tousle-haired, all blue-eyed like Albert’s mother had been, and unfailingly polite and eager to please come birthdays and Christmas.
As an example, Albert had helped out his siblings as they had landed in a few scrapes. Keith, for instance, Albert’s youngest brother, had not climbed clear of his teenage years without raising the spleen of a couple of fathers, and the scorn of their daughters. Perhaps that had been what had made Keith start injecting. At that point, Albert had felt he was out of his depth. Keith had always been hit the hardest by their Dad’s ‘passing on’, as their Mum had vaguely referred to it.
Albert had not wanted to find out at the reading of his Mum’s will that his Dad had ended it all. Mum had given the impression that he had died accidentally, had a bit too much to drink, and had wrapped the old family Cortina round a lamppost. Keith at the tender age of twelve had been at the scene, and came running home to a steely-jawed mother, eyes dark and liquid, shoulders braced.
“Can’t they do something for him?” he was shouting. “Isn’t there an operation. A pill?”
Mum had buried Keith in her dress, and said nothing. No words would have made any difference. Albert had found out over the phone later that night, and the pieces of the puzzle had never seemed to him to fit properly. Even at his mother’s death, still there were unanswered questions.
So Albert had early on set the tone for the Greenings, for Keith, for Dake and Shelley, his one sister. He had been the man, the family leader. With five children of his own, some years later, he was always expected to have an answer, or at least to be part of the answer, to be there.
This was why he could now hardly lift his eyes, like lead bullets, to meet those of his family sitting frozen in the public gallery. “The charge of murder,” the clerk to the court was reading out. Albert’s sturdy fingers doddered, trying to grip the edge of the dock as he faced the words. Thank goodness his father could not hear this now.