Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Remembrance Day short story
Born of Joy
‘Sorrow is born of excessive joy’ – Chinese proverb
Quite a few years ago our vicar wrote down on slips of paper the many names of the war dead listed on the memorial plaque in the church. During that Remembrance Sunday service he handed out these slips to the congregation and asked that each recipient remember the named person in their prayers.
Although the paper is hiding somewhere, I have never forgotten the man’s name – Edwin Hamilton.
This very short story is dedicated to him – and to thousands like him.
Lydia Ballard was one hundred-and-six years old but didn’t look a day over seventy-five. Why this should be, she had no idea. She had no Wildean painting in the attic and used to smoke until her fifties – when she saw the sense of stopping. And she still enjoyed a tipple or two.
The residential home’s coach trip through the hedgerow lined lanes of Hampshire finished here in Southsea. The council had done the town proud, she thought, the flowers were gorgeous – yellows and reds and bright mauves. Though she felt they had gone mad with the plethora of road-signs.
While the hotels and boarding houses were no longer so imposing or well-cared for, they brought back memories of long ago, when many of these residences had belonged to the rich and powerful, when she had lived here.
Maureen, one of the carers, wasn’t looking, so Lydia slipped behind their group and hid in a shop entrance. An impulse, but she felt drawn. She stood still for a moment to get her breath.
After all these years, she found that the place was garish now. Shops with appalling colour schemes and lacking in the art of window-dressing, which she had excelled in during the 1950s. Her nose twitched – the smells were familiar, of candyfloss and seaweed, of chips and vinegar.
Nostalgia beckoned and she slowly followed some day-trippers along the boardwalk on to the pier. Her dainty feet trod carefully over the timeworn wooden boards.
Two boys were attaching bait to the hooks on their fishing lines. Over to her right was Madam Crystal’s gaudy tent. Lydia smiled, remembering her own visit as an impressionable sixteen-year-old. Then it had been Madame Zara, Palmist Extrordinaire! She had promised Lydia a full happy life with the man she loved.
With a liver-spotted hand she brushed tears from her cheeks, making quite a mess of her thick layer of Max Factor powder.
Out of nowhere an unseasonal fog enveloped the pier. It was eerie and she faintly heard several shrieks and the pounding of retreating feet.
But Lydia was past being afraid. She let go of the handrail and as the damp mist cleared from her eyes and the pier, she recognised him standing there, looking at her. Edwin Hamilton. Still dressed in his smart 1917 Khaki uniform, looking really fetching, bright blue eyes glinting. She had worn her best frock for their last day together.
Of course he had never returned – until now.