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THE SOUTHAMPTON HUNDREDS

The brakeman cometh

In fact the agency ring several times, and I, sitting on the top stair where the phone sits on the landing windowsill, hang up several times: and then don’t answer. They write to me and ask me some questions, and I send the same letter back, altered with crossings out and insertions. I know this is actually a bit mad, but I do it anyway, in a kind of frenzy. I don’t know that it is possible for people who aren’t famous to have a ‘nervous breakdown’ or that this might be what’s happening. It doesn’t occur to me that there’s any help to be had: because there isn’t. Dad has heaved to at a safe distance: it doesn’t occur to me that since he fought at Monte Cassino when he was the same age I am now he probably can see exactly what’s happening but can’t understand why and has no way to help. It doesn’t occur to me, because I may not even know yet, that when the shrapnel sliced him nearly in half below the bombed monastery and he was thrown onto a pile of corpses, still breathing, he had also been motherless for ten years with a father who was not only helpless but loveless. It doesn’t occur to me that things may or may not be occurring to him.

Almost 20 years later my wife says to one of my dearest friends that she’d been told by someone that they’d always thought I was ‘a bit of a lost soul’. My friend says Yes, well, I always thought that was a bit put on, myself, and looks right at me, daring me not to laugh. So I do, and I know what she means, but inside I think Oh I love you for that but if only, if only that were true because then I could have put it off again..