44. Cosmic Empire

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I'm waiting in the queue
down at the Cosmic Empire,
I wanna a front row pew
down at the Cosmic Empire,
An omnipresent view
down at the Cosmic Empire.

I haven't looked at Ricky properly in a long time. When we have spoken recently, I have avoided his eyes, avoided looking quite directly at him, as if he's the sun and staring at him would burn.

He looks older. He probably, really, looks his age; but when we first met, he still looked young. He'd been over thirty, but he could have passed for twenty-four or twenty-five, maybe even younger. Now, as he closes his eyes, I can see the whisper of creases on his brow and around the shape of his mouth. He looks tired, his skin somehow duller than it used to be, his lips just a bit thinner. He cut his hair very short just before we came to England. It's grown a little now, but it still looks quite severe in comparison to how he wore it before, longer but not long, slicked back and always neat.

He doesn't want to be here, in London. I don't know why he agreed to come. Maybe it was because he felt sorry for me when Minnie left, when the Raindrops fell apart. Maybe he was bored and tired of doing nothing, like he had for most of last year. It was something to occupy him. He might have told Maurice he was going to leave him, but I could never quite believe that he would go through with it. If Maurice hadn't disappeared, I'm sure he'd still be Ricky's manger now. He needed Maurice to find him work, new projects. I can't see Ricky doing that for himself, and Ricky needs to work. He was unbearable when he didn't have anything to do. He's marginally better now we have the club rehearsals to work on, but he's still not happy. He's not been happy for a while, before London, but I think he would prefer to be in New York anyway.

I smile at him, but he's still standing in the middle of the stage on the ground floor of Esmerelda's Barn with his eyes closed, his hand rubbing his forehead, like he has for the last two minutes. I'm about to suggest that we finish earlier tonight, we could go out to eat somewhere, perhaps Goodge Street where all the Italian restaurants are. It might make him feel better, more at home. I open my mouth, but before I can speak, Ricky says, 'For fucks sake, Hannah, if you don't get the hang of this in a minute, I swear I will strangle you.'

He opens his eyes finally and stares at me, coldly. 'It's not difficult. Why are you struggling so much?' He rakes his hand through his hair, mussing it up.

'I don't... know,' I reply, quietly.

He shakes his head and turns away, putting his hand to his mouth and pinching his bottom lip as he thinks.

'I suppose with the other girls there, I just never...'


He turns back to me. 'I never realised how weak, how limited your voice is. Cat would sing lead mostly, wouldn't she?'

'We all sang lead at different times...' I say, but he's not listening. He paces the stage now, muttering, more head shaking. 'I don't sing songs like this,' I tell him. 'It's not my sort of music. I can't...'

'You're supposed to be a professional singer,' Ricky interrupts. 'You should be able to sing anything. Whether it's Baa Baa Black Sheep or... or the fuckin' show tunes.'

He sighs and puts his hands on his hips. I find I'm blinking back tears. I have tried. I am trying, to do what he wants, to sing like he wants, but whatever I do, it's just not good enough. The songs I sang with the Raindrops were all pop songs, rock and roll, R and B. Here, they want us to sing musical theatre songs, soaring ballads and music hall classics. It's not what Ricky would normally sing either, and now the Krays seem to think he should be some kind of Frank Sinatra, but Ricky has taken it all in his stride. His version of Luck Be A Lady is very good. If Maurice was still here, he'd be itching to have Ricky record it properly.

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