New Beginnings for Jeremy Haines – Summer
On the morning that Jeremy Haines was due to go to Glyndebourne, he was not awoken peacefully by chirping birds or a polite knock from the maid, on the door. Instead, Jeremy was woken by the long sigh of Natasha, his girlfriend of almost three years.
He lifted one eyelid a fraction to make out, in the bleary daze, the wood paneling in the hotel room, where they had arrived the night prior. Jeremy quite liked the room. It was comfortable with a spicy perfume of books, though no books were in sight. He thought it must, at one time, have been the office of the house keeper or some such character.
The room was sparsely furnished, only housing a double bed, in which Jeremy was still lying, a side table with a kettle and telephone, a binder full of print-outs for local attractions, and a dresser in the corner with a film of dust that had settled into the ornamental carvings atop its shelves. There was no television and no closet. This was all fine by Jeremy, who did not require a lot.
Natasha, on the other hand, required a tremendous amount of “a lot”. On walking into the room, Natasha had asked Jeremy if he was was in some way annoyed with her. While Jeremy unpacked their bags, Natasha called down to the front desk for the Wifi password.
By the third, “Oh…hmph….” Jeremy uncovered his face from the pillow to see what the matter was. She had sighed for so long and in such an exaggerated way that perhaps, he thought, she was having an allergic reaction.
Unfortunately for Jeremy, she was just in a foul mood and, without mobile reception, had only Jeremy to complain to about – what was it this time – the quality of the towels?
“What’s the matter, Tash?”
“Oh, you noticed?”
“Only just now, dear. Is everything okay?”
“They don’t have the tea I like.”
“I’m sure what they have is just fine. Look – it’s local! Have you ever had a tea blend from East Sussex?”
Natasha harrumphed again and set the carton of teabags down. Jeremy, who was not one to waste, picked up the still-boiling kettle and poured himself a cup. It tasted just fine, but he thought it best to keep that to himself. He, instead, stared out the window at the roof tops in the hamlet. The tall trees that grew in the garden left, what looked to be, bald spots on the heads of the buildings. This reminded him, curiously, of Morris.
“Well, what would you like to do this morning, dear?”
They decided to take a walk to the nearby town, stopping at a cafe where Natasha ordered a coffee and Jeremy enjoyed a home baked brownie. He offered Natasha a bite, and she immediately broke off half for herself. She did not offer Jeremy a taste of her latte.
They agreed to meet back at their hotel room at lunchtime, to rest and get ready for the opera. Jeremy had made arrangements to rent a push bike from the hotel while Natasha wanted to explore the high street, calling her father in advance to make sure she could use his credit card for the occasion. As Jeremy swung open the cafe’s door, he could hear her saying, “Mummy? Is that you? Oh, you’d just die if you were here…”
* * *
By two o’clock they were back in the room, Jeremy resting with the air-conditioning on, having enjoyed a delightful shower to counter the muggy June heat. Natasha returned with bags on each arm and only the lightest sheen of perspiration on her face. Jeremy thought she looked very beautiful when she was in a state of slight disarray. He smiled and went to kiss her.
Instinctively used to bellboys and doormen, she handed him her bags.
Jeremy put the bags down, came up behind her, moved her hair slightly to the left and kissed her neck. Was he convincing himself that she was still attractive to him? That he was still in love with her? Would it work?
“Not now, darling. Go get dressed, please. I need to have the bathroom to myself.”
Rejected but not deflated, Jeremy followed orders. He was happy to do so. For weeks now he had been looking forward to trying on his new tuxedo. Another bespoke commission from Cad & The Dandy making its eagerly anticipated debut, having had his final fitting with Morris a few weeks before.
He unzipped the garment bag, taking a moment to savour the anticipation. There it was, a striking midnight blue tuxedo that, in the right light, one could tell was definitely not navy. He loved the subtle lustre of the cloth and the drape on his tall, slim frame. The jacket was single-breasted with a black silk peak lapel. His cummerbund, resting on his high-waisted trousers, and bowtie paired effortlessly. Every part of the outfit made Jeremy feel like a complete man, one who would, of course, be spending a summer’s day at Glyndebourne.
Jeremy stood in front of the mirror, enjoying the elegant cut of the jacket, tapering to a fitted shape around his hips. His legs, which he was particularly self-conscious about, stood slightly angled, one hip cocked aloofly over the other. He smiled at his own reflection. Yes, here was Jeremy Haines, a man who went to the opera. Yes, here was Jeremy Haines, a man who had been reading up on his French and Italian for this very occasion. A man who –
“Are you done in there yet? It’s going to take me at least an hour to get ready!”
Jeremy opened the door and, feeling confident, placed his hands into hers and leaned in for a kiss.
“Not right now, darling. I have to get ready. And what cold hands you have!”
* * *
On their arrival, Glyndebourne rose before them in all its glory. The iconic manor house-cum-opera hall, famed for its beautiful grounds as much as for the operas it hosts, on first impressions did not disappoint. Sadly, there was little time to savour the view as it had taken Natasha two hours to get ready and they were now in a rush. They would only just make it to their seats before Marcello had time to announce, “Questo Mar Rosso mi ammollisce e assidera come se addosso mi piovesse in stille.”
Prior to meeting his tailor, Morris, at Cad & The Dandy, Jeremy had not given much thought to the opera. He recalled his mother enjoying a record by Puccini (was it, in fact, La Bohème? He could not be sure), but he had no memory of enjoying it himself. He wondered, in the circular auditorium of Glyndebourne, if this was the setting where the magic of a live opera has the power to change the delight one feels for its music.
And because of the setting, the glamor and history of the house, Jeremy did enjoy himself immensely. Though his language lessons had been for nothing, as subtitles in English rolled out on a screen above the stage, it was the raw emotion that moved him. He looked around the audience, seeing men who could be bankers or peers or maybe MP’s, sniffling slightly, staring lovingly at Rodolfo and Mimi, then back to their wives, clearly moved by the occasion.
Inspired with a rush of emotion, Jeremy felt a moment of deep affection for Natasha. Reaching to grasp her hand on the armrest; it wasn’t there, turning to see her cradling her phone instead.
“Everything okay, Tash?” Jeremy whispered.
“It’s a bit boring, don’t you think?”
SHHHHH – an admonishment came from the row behind them.
Embarrassed, Jeremy lowered his voice, and his head, to remain as inconspicuous as possible.
“I quite like it actually.”
“Oh, you did not, Jim. “
SHHHHH “If you aren’t going to sit and be quiet…” a voice threatened from behind them.
“Really, Jim! Are you going to let him talk to me like that?”
“Well, yes, actually. If you’re not enjoying yourself, you may as well leave.”
Natasha froze for a second, unable to comprehend what Jeremy had just said. And then, as it dawned on her, the bored eyes of his girlfriend flashed.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but I don’t like it. I’m going home and I will tell Daddy about this.”
Natasha left. Jeremy returned to Musetta singing, “Quando me’n vo’.” He smiled to himself.
* * *
At the interval, he felt he ought to try to find Natasha but was easily distracted by the milling crowds. Some making their way to the grounds for daylight and perhaps a cheeky smoke, some rushing to queue for the bathroom, and some who were wanting a drink. Jeremy, having only eaten half a brownie earlier in the day, opted to find a quick bite to eat thinking perhaps he’d run into Natasha there. Or perhaps not, he thought, with a smirk. She was no Mimi…
Turning the corner he heard a familiar voice. Surrounded by the well-to-do, stood Morris, his tailor from Cad & The Dandy. Retelling a story from his youth, he paused at just the right moment, receiving the laughter he so desired. Morris was in his element. He did not seem at all surprised to see Jeremy, giving him the quickest of winks as he continued with his tale of a gap year trip to Egypt.
Morris was short in stature, but on this occasion his wit, warmth and charm all combined to make him stand much taller. Jeremy forgot his grumbling stomach not wanting to miss the opportunity to greet his friend and tailor.
As Morris’s story ended, the interval bell rang, calling time for the audience to return. As the coterie dispersed, Morris grabbed Jeremy’s arm to walk with him.
“Having fun, Mr. Haines?”
“Oh yes! Thank you for the ticket, Morris. It’s a nice surprise to see you here too!”
“Well, you didn’t think I would miss seeing you in your new tuxedo, now did you?”
Morris winked, then continued.
“I was sorry to see Miss Wormwood leave in such a rush…”
“Yes, well. Opera isn’t really her…she’s emotional enough as it is…”
There was no more to be said as the usher flagged them to their seats. Jeremy, who could no longer make sense of Natasha – or, rather, make sense of himself with Natasha – was grateful for the stern usher waving his hand and miming a wristwatch to indicate Act 3 was about to start. Morris tipped his head in a silent goodbye and followed the queue to his seat. Jeremy noticed he had a very good seat, indeed. What did Morris do to live such an interesting life?
* * *
After the show, as the crowd stretched and some wiped tears away, Jeremy took some time to absorb the honey-colored circular hall that surrounded him. Months ago, he couldn’t have imagined enjoying a day like today. But now? In his tuxedo? It felt exactly right.
He resolved to enjoy the rest of his time at Glyndebourne. He reasoned that if Natasha was still at the hotel when he returned…well, they could talk. But for now, the humidity had broken and it was a golden hour in East Sussex. Why not grab a glass of something and enjoy the grounds? Plus, he wanted say a proper goodbye to Morris.
In a small annex of the manor house, Morris was found, surrounded by the same crowd he was entertaining at the interval. This time, Jeremy felt he had earned his place among them, sidling neatly up to a very tanned man sporting an ornate fez-style smoking cap and fur-lined damask evening robe.
Morris broke off from his latest tale as he soon as he spotted Jeremy. “I hoped I’d see you again! I wanted to give you the proper introductions at the interval but we were so rudely interrupted by Puccini.” A few chuckles from the crowd.
Caught off guard by the sudden interest in himself, Jeremy could only look down and chuckle too. At the bank where he worked, and in his own life in general, he was used to blending neatly into the background. But here he stood, in his midnight blue tuxedo, and he was a new man for it.
“Here is one of my very favorite clients, Jeremy Haines. And this rather unlikely bunch are some of the past clients and friends I’ve made and kept over the years. You might even call them a gang of Bright Middle-Aged Things!”
The crowd chortled. A woman rolled her eyes, tapping Morris with her paper fan to chastise him. “Who are you calling middle-aged?” came another, good-humoredly.
How charming, he thought, to be in this group’s presence. They were unlike any others that Jeremy had ever socialised with. And, by the looks of them, he couldn’t tell if they had loads of money or none at all.
These, Jeremy realized, were aesthetes. A subspecies of the upper-class, they wandered between social circles in orbits all their own. Somehow, they exuded a sense of propriety over this manor house – the property could have belonged to any one of them. They had a collective charm that Jeremy, only now, was learning to appreciate and not be embarrassed around. He was a regional supervisor at a London bank, but no one would guess how boring his life was in a tuxedo like his.
The crowd extended their hands upon introductions. The tanned man in the smoking cap, whose tassel covered one eye, introduced as Hernan Oliviero, Marqués de Tucumán, who explained that, even after fifteen years in England, he was still not used to the weather. There was Olivia Havillantis, who would have been beautiful if not for her oddly drawn-on eyebrows. There were the Lyonne Sisters, Talia and Millicent, in matching and severe bobs, whom Jeremy recognized from the newspapers (their father, Lord Pinchford, having been involved in a dairy production Ponzi scheme in the Netherlands). There was Jock Martin, whose name betrayed his Italian savoir-faire and a seamstress called Amanda, who looked to have bought her outfit in a Moroccan souk many decades ago, turban and all. And there was Rosamund Small-Rundell, who laughed at everyone’s jokes and stood out in her green dress, contrasted against a coif of dark curls.
Upon finishing introductions, they asked Jeremy about his life. They seemed most interested in the fact that he held a full-time job (“Really? Everyday you go in?”) and about his flat in Notting Hill (“Is it very small?,” Millicent, who wore a Savile Row tuxedo herself, asked with a tinge of concern. “But surely you’ll inherit your parents’ house once they kick the bucket, won’t you?”).
They asked to see photos of his dog, Goose, to which Jeremy obliged. He couldn’t tell if they were sincere in their questions and why, on occasion, Olivia and Talia would make eye contact and smirk. Jeremy did not particularly like inside jokes and liked them less when made at his expense.
None of this stopped Jeremy from sticking around. He saw it as a challenge, and the new Jeremy liked a challenge. An added boost of confidence came via a wink from Morris, so he continued to answer the questions posed. He was worried they’d ask about his salary or his sex life, two topics that would be more off-putting than politics or religion. It seemed the group grew used to his presence once he’d imparted what felt like his full biography, street address, and mother’s maiden name (“Oh, I knew a Chartwell once – lovely Irish working types, aren’t they?”). Acknowledged, appreciated and fairly harmless.
As the sun set on the party and the cars pulled out of the Glyndebourne car park, the topic of their next meet arose. Jeremy stayed silent. Other than Morris, when would any of these people cross his path again? And Morris was a business relationship at best. Yes, he had given Jeremy the tickets to the opera, but did they really know one another? A nagging voice in his head countered that with the thought of Natasha – did she really know him at all either?
“And Jim, we’ll see you there?” asked Rosamund.
Jeremy looked up apologetically. He hadn’t been listening.
“To–I’m sorry–to where again?”
“The hunt at Palover House. It’s late October. You’ll make it won’t you?”
“Oh, yes! Yes, of course. I’ll just have to–”
“Get a new suit for the occasion,” Morris interjected with another of his winks.
“Yes, that’s right,” Jeremy nodded and winked back. He was already thinking about which tweeds Rosamund might like best.
Illustrated by Miguel Carranza, an illustrator and portraitist residing in Mexico. You can find his work on his instagram @milkymike462.