Split Hearts

 

“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”
― 
Friedrich Nietzsche

If I couldn’t understand it, how could I ever expect to be able to explain it to Sandra? Even if I was able, I certainly could never expect her to come to terms with my dilemma or to forgive me for it.

Driving home that evening left me feeling sick to my stomach. Would this be the end of my marriage, the end of life as I knew it?

It all began a year earlier. A new accountant had been appointed in our department, a shy, almost introverted, middle-aged woman. The first thing I noticed about her were her well defined calf muscles, demonstrating a healthy appetite to some kind of sport. As a distance runner and squash player in my spare time, I had a keen eye for other people’s fitness, making a mental note to ask her about her sporting activities, once we were formally introduced at that morning’s team meeting.

Susan was asked to tell us a little about herself, once the initial introduction had been made. She appeared nervous but determined. She kept it short and precise. Her name was Susan Welby, forty-two, single and had worked in two previous accountancy firms since leaving university at the age of twenty-six. It occurred to me that twenty-six was late to be graduating from an accountancy degree. Her main hobbies were hiking and squash.  She exuded an air of sadness, of personal trauma, of having been recently hurt. I sat there pondering over whether someone close to her had recently died, or maybe the break-up of a close relationship, or perhaps she was fired from her last job. Either way, I thought, as I would be spending a significant amount of time with her, through our work, I would invite her to join me for lunch in order to break the ice and get to know her better.

Then, a year later, I had been driving home trying to figure out what had happened. I’d never thought it possible to love two women. Is this what having an affair was all about? I loved Sandra dearly and would never do anything to hurt her or ruin our life together. I also dearly loved our children. Dean and Shannon were everything to me, and yet Susan had found a place in my heart that was as deep and as painfully important as all of them.

It had begun with our regular lunches together, mainly due to our working relationship, and the practicality of discussing clients during the meal. As she was also a keen squash player we soon decided to meet twice a week after work for a game of squash. Sandra had been fully aware and there was never any talk of jealousy or distrust. My marriage was and still is as trusting and secure as ever. In fact, Sandra had been pleased that I had a regular squash partner, to help keep me fit and reduce the spread that had been accumulating around my waist over recent years.

After squash on Tuesday and Thursday, Susan and I would usually drink a beer together and I would arrive home around 9pm, in time to say good night to the children. This had become our routine.

Somewhere during the year our relationship became complicated, for me at least. I didn’t want it to happen. I didn’t see it coming. I had simply made a new friend and became close. If Susan were a man, it would never have become a problem. The fondness had morphed towards a feeling much stronger. I began to think of Susan as much as my children or Sandra. It didn’t mean that I loved them less. Susan had become an important part of my life and I felt a terrible pressure and guilt because of it.

Was I a bastard? Should I had distanced myself from Susan as soon as I realised she was more than a colleague? Is this what affairs are all about? I felt terrible and lost. Sandra had noticed that something was amiss. She had sensed my inner turmoil. She had asked me numerous times not to shut her out, and whatever it was, to confide in her.

Driving home that evening I had decided to tell her my secret. I was in love with two women and I didn’t know what to do.

******

Sandra cried. It was a deep, heart rending cry. I had hurt the woman I loved beyond repair. How could she ever forgive me for sharing my heart with another? Society provides us with rules to follow. We are not able to feel in the way that nature allows us to. Society puts false boundaries on us. Is it my fault that I fall in love? Is it something to be ashamed of?

All of these questions were ripping through my mind as I sat there watching Sandra’s heart break.

“Have you slept with her?” Sandra asked through wet sore eyes.

“No”, I quietly replied.

“Would you want to?”

“Yes, but I never would”, I said, not really knowing if I was being truthful or not.

She looked deep into my eyes. “Can I really believe you? Oh, Roger, what have you done to us.”

I couldn’t reply. I stood, put my coat on and left the house. Twenty minutes later I was standing in front of Susan’s apartment door.

“Roger! What….what are you doing here at this late hour? What’s happened? What is wrong?”

“Can I come in?”

Susan opened the door and I entered her small two roomed apartment. She was dressed in plain flannelette pyjamas, and despite the difficulty of the situation, I found myself thinking that it is clear she doesn’t have a bed partner. I explained everything to her and told her of my growing love for her, how I had told Sandra and how upset she had been. I told her that I would be terminating my job immediately and would never see her again. Tears began bubbling out of the inner corners of my eyes as I bared my soul.

“I’m such a fool”, I said. “I have ruined Sandra’s life. She will never trust me again.”

“But I don’t understand”, Susan pondered. “We have never ….”

I cut her off. “No, I know. But is adultery only physical? By loving you have I not betrayed Sandra? “

We both were quiet for a while.

Susan suddenly sharpened her eyes, spoke with such determination that I was taken completely by surprise.

“No, I will resign. I will leave this place. You are right, we cannot be responsible for our feelings but only for our actions. Roger, I have loved you since the first time you said goodnight on the last day before Christmas. You pecked me on the cheek and wished me a Merry Christmas. The kiss, although innocent, left me feeling flushed and I couldn’t shake the thought of you from my mind. No, I will move away. I love you and your marriage, children and happiness is more important to me than you can know.”

As she spoke, Susan began to shake. By the time her little speech was over, her face was wet with tears. I said no more. In one evening I had hurt terribly the two most important people in my life, the two women I loved more than anything else, even my own life. I didn’t know what to do. I quietly left.

I drove to a small lake. It was a lake where we often took the children for picnics and sometimes a swim in the dark, peaty water. It was 3am, very still, cool and deserted apart from the distant croaking of male frogs, calling out for a mate.

I was numb. The feeling of guilt was too strong. I had intended to hurt no one, but had hurt everyone. I didn’t plan anything or think any further than the next few minutes, but entered the water fully clothed and walked slowly into the lake. I was unaware of the water. I was floating in a cloud of nothingness. I was happy to be free from all of the pain, guilt and responsibility.  As I finally submerged all I could hear was my name being screamed from far away. I imagined being called to a new place.

******

“Roger! Roger!” were the first words I heard. My eyes were blind except for a blurry, swimming set of colour, as though I was looking through the bottom of a glass bottle. Then I was being shaken. I felt the cold, slowly seeping into my bones, my organs and my mind.

Susan was shaking my shoulders, trying to bring me back. Then I was aware of Sandra, running towards us holding a car blanket. I was being wrapped, rubbed, and brought back to a world that I no longer wanted to re-enter.

Susan and Sandra were both embracing me. That couldn’t be. I must be dreaming. Then slowly I took in the situation. With all sense of dignity gone, my eyes flitted from one to the other and all I could muster was, “I’m so so sorry”

Susan had been so worried after I had left, that she called Sandra at home. After an initially heated conversation they had come looking for me, and found my car at the edge of the lake. Susan, a powerful swimmer, had dived in and these two wonderful women were now pawing over me, through concurrent sobs and smiles of relief.

I woke at 10 o’clock. The sun was blasting through the window, and I was hot and clammy against the damp sheets. I donned a dressing gown and went downstairs, hearing low murmurs coming from the kitchen. I could hardly look at them. Susan and Sandra were sitting at the breakfast bar, on high stools. Susan looked nervous and was cuddling a large mug of tea.  My shame was overbearing. I didn’t know what to say, and turned to walk away.

“Roger, we need to talk”, called Sandra. “Susan and I have been talking. We need you to listen.”

They proceeded to tell me how they have reached a decision that I should not have to choose between them. They had seen how it had hurt me, hurt me more than they ever wanted to see again. Susan wanted me to remain happily married with Sandra and the children. Sandra wanted me to remain close to Susan, who she now realised was a kind, genuine person who loved me much as she did. I was overpowered by such a feeling of love, pride, and even incredible luck, that these two lovely women were only interested in my welfare and my happiness.

Then came the biggest surprise.

“Roger, I love you with all my heart”, began Sandra. “Therefore I think it right if, on the evenings where you and Susan play squash together, you remain with her for that night. We have discussed it and think it right and proper. We love you equally and never want to put you in the position of last night ever again.”

I was aghast. I couldn’t speak. We stood together in the kitchen, hugging each other through a cloud of pure emotion.

Sandra then continued, “Our society doesn’t condone such relationships. Society tells us that we are allowed to love only one person, remain monogamous for our whole lives. Why is it that we are expected to love our children equally, but society frowns on the same for love of two women, or two men? If I love you, which I do, then I must embrace and respect the love you have for Susan. The children though, are another matter. We should keep this from them, at least while they are young.

And so began twelve years of a triangular relationship. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I would stay with Susan. The children assumed I was away on business. After the first year, when Sandra asked me if Susan would be going to family for Christmas, and I explained that she would be alone because she only has one aunt, who lives in Scotland, she suggested that Susan shouldn’t be left alone and should come to us, at least on Christmas Day.

The children grew and came to know Susan as a close friend of the family. They also became close to her and bought her presents for birthday and Christmas, as though she were a part of our family. Most importantly, my love for Sandra became stronger. Her devotion to me and this way of life was a compromise that she had wanted to make, for the sake of all of us. My love for Susan remained unchanged. We would work, play squash, spend two evenings a week together and hug in front of the TV until it was time to turn in.

******

It was a Monday morning. We all sat around the table at breakfast. Dean asked if Susan would be coming this year, as usual. I nodded as Shannon blurted out, “Why doesn’t Susan just move in with us? We have a large house, with a spare bedroom.”

I was completely taken aback. “Why on Earth should she move in here?” I responded.

Dean looked at Shannon and both were grinning and shaking their heads in disbelief.

“Aw, come on Dad. You must think we are still little kids or something. We know that you spend two nights a week with her. We’ve known for years, and it’s fine. We like her, don’t we Shannon?”

Shannon burst out laughing. “Finally it’s out in the open. Yeah Dad of course we like her. She is like an Auntie that we never had.”

“Well, I have to go to work. Really, you kids have some crazy ideas.” I left and for me, the subject was closed.

In the evening Sandra broached the subject again. She had thought about Susan moving in and had not been averse to the idea.

“She still lives alone, probably looking forward to the nights that you are there. We are coming up for sixty years old and, in any case,  it would also be nice for me to have another woman around. I really like Susan and she has proven her love and loyalty to you a thousand times over. If you would like, you have my blessing to ask her if she would like to move here.”

I didn’t know what to say. Yet again Sandra had amazed me with her open compassion.

******

Two months later, after all arrangements had been made, I hired a large van and moved all of Susan’s belongings into our home. Susan kept the lease on her apartment for a year, just in case things didn’t work out.

After a couple of months Sandra had become increasingly aware that Susan and I never slept together. This confused her. She assumed that I or Susan didn’t want to sleep together under the same roof as the rest of my family. Sandra, being Sandra, felt uneasy at this arrangement. Susan had not been invited to live with us in order to become celibate. One day, as the three of us were at breakfast, Sandra raised the subject.

“I don’t quite know how to say this to you both, so I’m just going to blurt it out. I have noticed that you both never sleep together, as you did before Susan moved in here. This is not what I expected,” she continued, and rather hesitantly said,” and not what I want. You both love each other and should spend intimate time together.”

I was just about to speak, as Susan began to explain. At that same moment Dean and Shannon came bowling down the stairs, and set themselves between us at the breakfast table. I assumed that was the end of the discussion until the children were out of the room.

Then Susan took a deep breath and said, “There is something I need to tell you all.”

It was clear from here expression that it was serious. We all became quiet and listened to Susan telling us a story about her earlier life, a story that only I knew and had promised not to tell a soul, not even my family.

Susan explained how she had been brutally attacked on the way home at the age of nineteen. She had been beaten, cut and raped by two men. The men were never caught and she spent six weeks in hospital recovering from the wounds. By this point of her story she was shaking, remembering the whole event. She continued to tell us all how she had become pregnant and carried the baby to full term, only to be cruelly hurt again by a still birth. Sandra was looking at Susan with so much empathy it made my heart sting.

“Since that day I have never been able to sleep with a man,” and then looking at me continued, “no matter how much I loved him or wanted to.”

Sandra whispered, “I didn’t know…..I thought….oh”

“It was so important to me that you didn’t know,” replied Susan. “I could never face not knowing whether your friendship and care had been born out of sympathy or not. I only explained to Roger after he began staying with me after squash.”

******

The years have rolled by. Dean now has twin boys. Shannon has two girls. The grandchildren all have three grandmas. Until they are old enough to understand we will be gone to our graves.

My heart was split in two many years ago, but the two halves have learned to live with each other and make me the happiest man alive.

Barbara

“Though lovers be lost, love shall not; And death shall have no dominion.”
― Dylan Thomas

 

“Peter, what are you staring at? For goodness sake, pay attention lad, otherwise you will have no chance in the upcoming mock exams. Now, continue the line….’The fair breeze blew,…..”

I felt that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. You know, the one that makes you feel as though you must dash to the toilet. I hadn’t been listening to ‘Granny Smith’, as we nicknamed her. She was our English Literature teacher. She was small, and wrinkled like a walnut. I don’t know how old she was, but certainly over a hundred, or so it seemed at the time. She was very strict, humourless and seemed to enjoy embarrassing pupils during lesson. I hated her. But no, on second thoughts, I didn’t hate her. She was too much like my own Gran for me to hate her. Secretly, I had a soft spot for Granny Smith, but would never let on to my mates of course.

I hadn’t been listening. On the same row, three desks across, was Barbara. I had not been paying attention, just looking at Barbara. Her long blonde hair, tied into a ponytail that she pulled over her right shoulder, twiddling with the ends when she was concentrating hard. I loved the little freckles on her smooth cheeks, the way she pouted at difficult questions, with full moist lips.

It was the early 1970s. The girls wore short skirts, showing off their milk white legs up to their thighs. Barbara’s were muscular but shapely, betraying her athletic ability. Her small breasts were forming and I was lost in a dream, longing to be able to see them, caress them and, kiss her beautiful red lips.

But these imaginary pleasures were shattered by Granny Smith. She wore the black schoolteacher’s gown, that many of our more senior teachers did in those days, which made her appear even more fearful.

“Well, I’m waiting”, she cried in frustration.

What was all of this “fair breeze” stuff about? I had no idea.

I just dropped my head and replied, “sorry Miss”.

With a heavy sigh, she turned to the class and continued with the explanation of the work. The ironic part of this anecdote from my schooldays is that all my life I have never forgotten the meaning of alliteration, nor those lines from the Rime of The Ancient Mariner. Probably, even without realising it, Granny Smith had taught me what she had wanted to.

As soon as the bell went, I trudged out of the classroom, feeling a bit sorry for myself. I guess it was due to looking down in the dumps that a friendly voice said, “don’t let her get to you Peter. She is like that with everyone, but has a good heart. She just wants us to take something away from these lessons and learn something, rather than end up serving in a supermarket.”

“I suppose you’re right”, I replied, looking up to see it was Barbara who was speaking to me.

“In any case, what were you staring at?”, she asked.

“Nothing”, I said. “Well that’s not strictly true, but if I tell you, you will only laugh at me.”

“Of course I won’t. I have three brothers and, believe me, there is nothing that would surprise me.” She looked so open and friendly that I decided to open up and tell her.

We went over to the edge of the playground and sat on the wall, well away from the hordes of other kids. I looked at her directly into those blue eyes, and blurted it out.

“I love you, Barbara”

She almost laughed, and even I thought it sounded totally corny. She checked herself in time, puckered her lips slightly, and said that we hardly knew each other.

“I know. It sounds ridiculous to me too, but I love you more than anything or anyone I have ever met. You are so…..so….so….perfect”

Now she did laugh, but I wasn’t offended. She laughed in a humble way, at my suggestion that she was perfect.

She passed it off by saying that she wished her Mum and Dad thought she was perfect. I noticed a slight squint in her eyes and a turn of her mouth that betrayed an unspoken sadness. She noticed my observation and without being asked the question, told me that she has to go away. Her parents think that she is not doing well enough at a mixed grammar school and will be sending her to boarding school after the summer holidays.

We saw each other every day through the holidays. I was besotted. We played tennis, held hands as we took long walks along the canal, lay in the long grass and talked, sometimes kissed. A kiss was as far as Barbara was prepared to go. I would have gone further. I wanted to hold her, devour her, have every piece of her, but my love for her meant that I respected her hesitation. We were fifteen years old.

One day I was walking down the stairs at home, when I heard my mother and father talking.

“He’ll soon get over it. Didn’t we get over our first crush soon enough?”

“I’m not so sure. This is not like Peter. He has always been so carefree. He seems to really care for her. It’ll break his heart when she disappears from his life”

I ran into the room. “Barbara will never disappear from me,” I screamed. “I will marry her and always be with her, and you will never be able to stop me.”

I was so upset that I called to see Barbara. Her father answered the door.

“Barbara is in her room, preparing for the new school curriculum. She has a lot of work to do to catch up. She will not be out today.” Her father looked very serious and almost aggressive. It was clear that he didn’t like me, or me being with his daughter.

It was to be 19 years before I saw Barbara again.

******

I tried everything I could to contact Barbara, all to no avail. I even broke into the school secretary’s office late one evening after everyone had gone home, to see if I could find some information about which boarding school she had been sent to. Her parents sent me away with a flea in my ear whenever I approached them. My parents just gave me love and sympathy, but no help to find her. They assumed I would just, “get over it”.

My school grades deteriorated. I failed all but one of my O levels. My relationship with my parents also became strained. My feeling had been that when I really needed their help, it wasn’t forthcoming. I could not trust them again. I needed to look after myself.

I took a job at 16, labouring for a plumber. The pay was small, but it kept me occupied. Dave, the plumber, was a big gentle Teddy Bear of a guy. He liked me and gradually gave me small plumbing jobs, especially in situations where his big hairy hands were too clumsy to work in confined spaces. One day he said to me, “Peter, you have a natural way about you for this work. How would you like to sign on as my apprentice? The pay won’t be much, but you can go to college and learn the trade properly. Once your City and Guilds is completed, I will set you on as a plumber. By then I will be ready to slowly wind down and retire.”

I did the apprenticeship, took the job and by the time I was twnty-five Dave retired, leaving me to run his little plumbing business. I worked hard, built the business, and within five years had a company of thirty people. By then, most of my friends were married and bringing up children. My parents had been wrong. I never did get over Barbara. There were girls, some even lasted a month or two, but every time I ended up feeling that they could never compare with the schoolgirl with the blonde ponytail. I may have been only fourteen, but my love was as real and as strong as it had been all those years ago.

I knew that I would never marry, never have children and never feel that beautiful pain of pure love ever again. I had been unlucky in life. I had met my true love far too soon.

Call it an obsession. Call it indulgence. Even call it perversion. Either way, I could never stop going over those six short weeks with Barbara. Six! Only six. I learned to break the six weeks down into 42 days, trying to remember each day as a separate memory. After all, 42 is far more than six. I found that I could break this down further, 1008 hours, although every hour was not spent with my beloved, it was as if that was the case. The nights would be spent dreaming and were as real as the daytime, when we had been together. But even a thousand was not enough for me. Each hour broke down into thousands of individual moments. The way she tied her ponytail, her squint when she was sad, her beautiful smile, which parted her lips slightly, just wide enough to show her even white teeth. I learned, over the years, to cherish every one of those millions of moments, like a bowl of sugar, where I could pick up a few crystals between the fingers of my mind, and cherish every one of them.

I knew there could never be a replacement for my lost love.

 

******

I needed to be at the bank early, as soon as they opened, in order to make a nine thirty appointment with my accountant. I parked in the multi storey, just a few minutes’ walk from the bank. It was drizzling of rain, one of those dark November mornings that sap your energy and prepare you for the long months of winter. I was looking at the floor as I hurried towards the bank, careful not to step into one of the many dirty puddles. A car came by too close, splashing water onto my trouser leg. I looked up and waved my fist in frustration.

In an instant, the car was forgotten, the rain was forgotten, and the bank was forgotten. Walking towards me was a shape, a form, a figure, an unmistakable figure. For a split second I thought I must be hallucinating. Then she looked up. It was Barbara.

I tried to control myself.

“Barbara”, I said. “Is it really you?”

“Peter, how nice to bump into you. How are you?”

“I’m fine. Busy as usual. I have a plumbing business. And you?”

“Yes, thanks. I have just dropped my boys off at school.”

It hit me like a sledge hammer. She was married with children. Within seconds I had to process this in order not to start spluttering nonsense. Of course she would be married. What else could I have expected? In order to get over my shock, I quickly switched to small talk.

“So, you are living here in Nuneaton?”, I asked.

“Yes, I have been here for four months.”

There came an awkward silence between us. There was so much to say, at least from my side. I suddenly became aware of our surroundings and realised that we were slowly getting wet.

Barbara must have had similar thoughts. “Do you have time for a coffee?” she asked. “I have nothing planned until I pick Ted and Arthur up at three o’clock”

“Er..yes. I’m free all morning too”, I lied, immediately dismissing all thoughts of banks or accountants.

We sat for two hours in a nearby cafe. Barbara told of her life at boarding school, her two horses, which took up most of her spare time. She told me about her two twin boys, Ted and Arthur. They were both six years old and identical in all ways except personality. I listened to it all with envy, jealousy. I couldn’t help thinking, they should have been my children too, but I was very careful, even afraid, not to say something that would spoil the moment.

“What does your husband do?” I asked, still trying to appear normal.

“He was an architect. He had his own company. He was very successful.”

“You must be very happy, Barbara. I am so pleased for you.”

Then I saw that squint in her eyes and the tell-tale turn of her mouth that betrayed some hidden sorrow, just as it had all those years earlier. Then a tear spontaneously sprang out of her eye, coursing down her cheek and before she could catch it, dropping onto her white blouse. My heart leapt.

At the same moment I realised what she had said. How could I be so lacking in basic empathy. She had said “was”, past tense. I wanted to crawl away and hide.

“I moved here, back to my parents, as I am now alone,” she stammered. “Roger died in a water skiing accident last June. He hit a log floating just below the surface, and broke his neck. He died on the way to the hospital.”

“Oh God, how awful, and for the boys, without a father. I’m so sorry for not realising….”, I stammered.

She cut me off, between sobs. “It’s OK, you didn’t realise. I’m OK, really. Roger and I weren’t very close if the truth be known. I never did love him like I loved….well it doesn’t matter.”

“Would you like to meet for coffee some other time?”, I tentatively asked, after plucking up courage.

“Yes, I would like that, but don’t you have a family or girlfriend?”

“No, I never did find the right person. I married my work instead.”

******

We were each thirty-four years old on that day when we met in the rain. After meeting for coffee a few more times, we began to date. We went to the cinema, on long walks along the canal. We even lay in the long grass and kissed. Nearly twenty years, a husband, two children, had changed nothing for me. This second time around I was more prepared. I savoured every minute, every second, adding more grains of sugar to my mental sugar bowl.

It was almost a year before Barbara asked me to meet her with the boys. She had to be sure about me, and was not prepared to let her boys have a string of uncles as they grew up. We met for a walk in early October. Her relief when she saw how I interacted with Ted and Arthur was plain for all to see. They liked me and I quickly grew to love them.

The evening that I was invited to Barbara’s parents’ home for dinner saw me in a state of panic for the whole day. All I remembered was that they hated me, and I had certainly harboured my fair share of hate for them. They had stolen a piece of my life. They had banished me to a life without the person I loved. But how could I be angry at them? They had also created the very person that I loved. They had made my wonderful torment possible.

I pressed the same doorbell that I had pressed in anger 20 years earlier. The same person came to answer the door. But it wasn’t the same person. It was a stooped, grey haired old gentleman, with sad eyes and shaky hands.

“Hello Peter”, he said. “It’s been a long time”.

I could see in his manner that I was very welcome. The aggression was all gone. There was only kindness and frailty in his eyes.

“Can I ask a favour of you, before we have dinner?”

“Yes, of course”, I replied, wondering what was coming.

“I would like to talk to you privately in my study, before we call Barbara and the children down.”

We entered a large dark, bookcase decorated room, with a heavy leather desk at one end and three small armchairs and a coffee table at the other. This had clearly been used for business meetings during his working life. In one of the chairs sat a beautiful old lady, with blue eyes and blonde hair. Without introduction, I knew this was Barbara’s mother, and momentarily marveled at how Barbara would appear in thirty or so years’ time.

It was in this room that I learned how these two elderly people had done what they thought was the best for their daughter, now only to realise that it was the biggest mistake of their lives. Barbara had suffered at boarding school, had cried, screamed,  played truancy, everything she could in order to get back to me. In order to control her, they had informed her that a few weeks after she went to boarding school, I had hooked up with another girl from school. They had attempted to show her how fickle teenage love really was.

Mrs Aintree began to cry. “How can you ever forgive us?”, she said. “We only wanted the best for our daughter. Then she ended up marrying Roger, just to spite us. She never loved him. She only ever loved you, and now you are here we must tell you. I….we are so very sorry. We should never have taken away your love”

I held her hand and told her that everything was ok.

“You didn’t ever take away my love”, I whispered. “My love was always in me. You couldn’t have ever damaged it.”

“The person of my love was lost to me, but now she is found.  All is well, and trying to do what you think best for your children is nothing to apologise for.”

******

We were to marry. Emma came along soon after, as a little sister for Ted and Arthur.

We love to sit watching their mother riding across the field, with her long blonde ponytail blowing in the wind.

The End

A Cold Shoulder

“One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be, rather than being yourself.”
― Shannon L. Alder

The mortars whistled down. It was 3am, still dark but for the random glow of explosions and flares, shining their dull orange beacons through the thick, stifling smoke. The barrage lasted only minutes, which seemed like hours. Then there was the familiar silence, broken only by the screams, as members of my platoon crawled through the wet mud, limbs parted, blood pulsing, draining their lives in the most grotesque conceivable manner.
Joe Sheridan was shaking uncontrollably. He was the only one with me in the small, muddy hollow. Even in this hellhole he managed to show some decency by pretending not to notice that I had crapped myself, the stench only adding to the horror.
“I can’t take any more”, he screamed at me. “Just shoot me Ray. Please. Just put me out of my misery. I don’t want to go in agony, like the others. Make it clean. Do it, Ray.”
I looked at him, not knowing what to say. He was losing his mind, and any sense of reasoning. I knew, because I was near the same point. To die quickly seemed like a good way out of this horror.
“We are going to die anyway, Ray”, Joe tried to convince me.
Then he put the muzzle of his rifle under his own chin. “Sorry, Ray. I shouldn’t have asked. It wasn’t right. Goodbye Ray.”
“Noooooo”, I roared. As I yelled, his face changed. I immediately knew what he was thinking. In a flash I realised that he was thinking about me, being left here all alone with the headless corpse of my closest friend. Of course, he couldn’t do that to his best friend. I began to relax, and squeezed my eyes against the tears that were now forcing their way out. As I opened them, I saw the watery blur of Joe, now pointing his rifle directly at me. In an instant I knew he would kill me. His reasoning was to put me out of my misery so that he could do the same for himself. I knew that this was the end. The end of all sanity. The end of me.
The following few minutes were to haunt me for the rest of my life. As the loud crack of a Lee Enfield rang above the silence of the early dawn, my life was about to change forever.
******
They looked so proud. I had picked my family out in the crowd long before it was my turn to step forward. It was a long ceremony, especially for me, being the last to be awarded my medal. There was only one Victoria Cross recipient, and I stood firmly to attention as Brigadier Richard Blaithewaite gave a small speech, describing my heroic act, before I would move forward to have my medal presented by Bertie himself. I was lost in my own fame and sense of importance.
I was the hero of our small town. Was it really only three months since I was in Germany? My wounds were now barely visible, especially as my beret covered the main one. A slight limp from where the shrapnel had cut into my kneecap was hardly discernible, even though the pain was still severe. In any case, what are a few scratches and bruises to a war hero who is being awarded The Victoria Cross?
Back in our local pub the following day, I didn’t need to put my hand into my pocket. Nor would I ever need to again, it seemed.
“Come on Ray. Tell us again. Tell us about how Ray Bothwell took on Gerry single handed and showed them what the British Bulldog can do.”
Two local lads hoisted me up onto the bar and I looked down at thirty or forty eager faces, waiting to hear all about my exploits. I had told the story many times, each one sucking out more tension and of course, building me up as the greatest war hero of our time.
But today I could see my mother and Aunt Phil sitting at the back of the snug. They had heard it so many times. I decided that now was not the time to go into the full length version.
“Well, it was early in the morning, the first glimmer of dawn. We had just had another barrage of mortars arrive into our position. Our numbers were dwindling by each one. I knew that something had to be done, and quick. I was trying to figure out how to reach the Gerry machine gun post when Joe, that was my mate, took a bullet straight through the heart.”
At this point I let my lip quiver slightly and looked down. The room became quiet. I wanted to create the greatest effect, and it worked every time. I continued.
“I knew that time was running out. Joe was dead. I jumped up out of the hollow we were in, dodging bullets flying everywhere, thinking not with Ray Bothwell you don’t. I’m going to save my comrades if it’s the last thing I do.”
Another cheer ran out.
“I zigzagged between trees and mounds of earth, until I was within 50 yards of their position. Now it was open ground. I took out two grenades and threw them in quick succession. In all of the noise and smoke, I was able to reach the gunner. I put a bullet into him and slashed my bayonet across the face of another. While he was screaming I fired at the third, but my rifle jammed. He was trying to raise his rifle, when I lunged forward and got him full in the chest with my bayonet. He must have fired at me because something hit me in the knee and I went down. As he dropped from my bayonet thrust, he swung his rifle round like a club as he groped for survival. It hit me on the side of my head. The next thing I knew was waking up in the hospital.”
There were cries of appreciation from the crowd, roars of “Bravo”, “Our own hero”, even “Ray Bothwell for PM”. These came above the murmur of people chatting, comparing notes and making sure that they hadn’t missed something important. By the time a few more beers had gone down, there were stories being passed around of a dozen German soldiers being slayed by the indefatigable Ray. I was loving every minute of it. After a lifetime of being a nobody, I was finally someone to be respected, held in awe. I was one of the few holders of the Victoria Cross.
Still standing on the pub bar, soaking up all of the adoration and signing beermats for the locals, I looked up to see my mother and Aunt Phil. They had their heads down in deep discussion. Mum didn’t look happy. She looked worried and almost nervous. She looked up and our eyes met for a fleeting second. She then looked away quickly. They had obviously been talking about me. I realised that something was not quite right, but surely they couldn’t know, could they? I dismissed the thought as quickly as it came.
******
The following weeks turned into months and finally VE day arrived. After Germany had surrendered and it was announced that the war in Europe was over, contrary to my expectations, my fame grew enormously. By the end of 1945, as soldiers began returning in large numbers back to their homeland, I was constantly being asked to appear at working men’s clubs, veteran gatherings, hospitals and clinics, where I could motivate the wounded.
One bright Monday morning in the autumn of 1946 my mother handed me a letter with an official looking postmark. I opened it carefully. It was an invitation to speak at a major reunion event, being held by the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, the home of the Chelsea Pensioners. There would be two other VC holders present and I was required to prepare a 30 minute talk, covering the action that resulted in my award. All of my expenses would, of course, be reimbursed, as well as a remuneration of 80 pounds, to cover my time. The event was planned for October 23rd. I looked up at the calendar on my bedroom wall. It was on a Wednesday, two weeks from now.
I had only ever been to London once before, to collect my VC from Buckingham Palace. It had all happened so quickly and, due to injuries at that time, I wasn’t able to enjoy the trip as much as I had hoped. This time would be different. My leg had fully recovered and the scar on my scalp had virtually disappeared. I had time to plan a full day in the capital, before heading off to the Royal hospital for the evening event. I was being put up in the Draycott Hotel in Kensington for two nights. As the time grew near I became increasingly excited. My mother seemed dismayed at my invitation.
“What’s wrong Mum? Are you not pleased for me? Does a war hero not deserve to be well appreciated?”
“Just tell it how it was, Ray. Nothing more, nothing less”, she replied in a low sombre tone.
I threw my jacket over my shoulders and stormed out for the pub. “I’m going down to the Nag’s Head. At least there are people who appreciate me down there, always ready to buy me a drink.”
It was as if Mum had known what happened in Germany on that fateful night, but how could she. Apart from a few dead Germans there was only Joe and me, and I was the only person left alive.
******
The evening of the 23rd finally arrived. I had travelled down on the train the day before. On the 22nd I met up with the other two VC recipients, who were staying in the same hotel. It was a strained meeting. Captain Harald Andrews was extremely respectful of my VC, but we were hardly from the same mould. Me, a miner’s son, leaving school at fourteen and him, a banker’s son with private schooling. The other, Philip Gardner, who asked us to call him ‘Pip’ was also a Captain from the Tank Regiment and just returned to the UK after a long stretch as a prisoner of war in Libya. He had far more in common with Captain Andrews, ‘common’ being the operative word to best describe me. Out of courtesy they invited me to join them tomorrow for a sight-seeing tour round London, but I declined, by lying that I was meeting old friends for the day.
We agreed to meet back up in the hotel reception and travel together in a cab to the Chelsea Hospital.
The reception was awesome. We were seated on a huge stage, to the cheers of over a thousand war veterans. I thought the noise would never stop. Our host tried numerous times to quieten the crowd, to no avail. They banged the floor with their heels, whooped and whistled. It was a full fifteen minutes before, finally, we could hear the voice of our host above the diminishing murmur of the audience. The three of us were grinning like Cheshire cats. We were momentarily of equal status, three heroes of war, and all nervousness of speaking before such a crowd forgotten.
The two captains went before me. They were both very articulate and clearly well educated. My nerves slowly began to return. How would I sound after them? This was very different to speaking in my local pub. I began –
“I think you will now see that I am far better at fighting Germans than speaking on a stage”
The roar was unbelievable. I had begun well, and could feel my confidence growing.
“Well, it was early in the morning, the first glimmer of dawn. We had just had another barrage of mortars arrive into our position. Our numbers were dwindling by each one. I knew that something had to be done, and quick. I was trying to figure out how to reach the Gerry machine gun post when Joe, that was my mate, took a bullet straight through the heart.”
I looked at the floor, gulped and quivered my lip, just like always. The room became predictably quiet.
“You’re a bloody liar”, came an angry voice out of the crowd. “You shot your best mate and left him for dead. You bloody liar.”
I couldn’t initially see where the voice was coming from, but I then noticed the faces of the audience looking towards someone, with shouts of “shut it”, “be quiet you fool”.
I peered into the face of the culprit. He was a poor sight, one sleeve empty and a short stubbly beard, which only half covered the horrendous burn on the side of his face.
“He’s just a stinking liar”, came the voice again, this time quieter and more distraught, through sobs of sorrow.
Then I saw his eyes.
“Joe. Is it you?” I had subconsciously stepped down from the stage and was walking towards the pathetic figure. Instantly I knew that it was all over. No more bravery. No more hero. No more lies.
I took Joe by the arm and lifted him to his feet. The room became silent. Two old comrades had been to hell and back, each assuming that the other was dead. Now, in this room full of the nation’s heroes, I knew there was only one thing I could do.
I helped Joe up onto the stage and asked him to sit in my chair. I faced the audience, took a deep breath and began again.
“This is Joe Sheridan”, I announced. I told the story of how terrified we had been, how the screams of our comrades night after night had sent us almost to the point of madness. I told of Joe’s fear of being maimed and left dying in the mud. I told of the way he aimed his rifle at me, to kill me, before he would then kill himself. I was choking on the words, but they flowed. There was nothing left to do but say it how it was. Mum had known, as only a Mum can.
I continued.
“I closed my eyes and fired my rifle at point blank range at Joe, before he could end my misery. I was so afraid and yet I was prepared to kill my closest friend rather than see him left alone in that chaos.”
Joe and I stared at each other for long seconds, finally understanding that neither of us had wanted to leave the other alone.
“I staggered from our hole, not seeing whether Joe was dead or alive. I had shot him and could not bear it. I stumbled through the bushes, not knowing where I was or what I was doing. I had killed my best friend. I was insane and my heart was breaking. I found myself in a derelict building and decided to end it. I took two grenades from my pouch, released the pins and waited for oblivion. The last thing I remember was three German soldiers appearing in the doorway. I closed my eyes and let the grenades go. That was the last thing I knew until I woke up three days later in a field hospital. I’m so sorry Joe.”
The room was deadly silent. I slowly unpinned my Victoria Cross, an award that I had never deserved, and laid it down on the table.
“Let me take you home Joe”, I pleaded.
He took my hand, came to his feet and we shuffled together down the centre aisle, through the rows of expectant veterans. I felt the shame of it all, the deceit, the cowardice, but most of all the disappointment of those thousands of war veterans, who needed heroes to worship. They were desperate for glorious stories of bravery and honour, to help them forget the horror, the stench, the death that they had survived. I had let them all down and would carry that guilt with me forever.
******
Nowadays, Joe and I often sit and talk together. We reminisce of the good times. We remember our schooldays together, the fights and the girls. There were never any more fights or girls after we came home from London. Only Joe and I could ever understand what really happened on that day. We have never discussed it since, everything else but not that day.
Joe had been captured, his arm hanging only by sinew and flesh. He was taken to the German field hospital, the arm was amputated and he spent the rest of the war as a POW. The burns on his face came from the close range of my rifle. As I had fired in blind madness I had given him the one thing he had dreaded the most, to be left dying and screaming in agony.
The last forty years have been spent trying to repair the damage that I did, in the knowledge that the only brave thing I ever did in my life was to do what my dear old mother had told me to. Tell the truth. Say it how it was.
The End

Reconnection

This story begins on Day 16 NWO 310 or January 28th 2525 if converted to pre NWO dateline. It was 3am in the morning and I was tired, my watery eyes were barely able to see the screen. I knew that I must soon call it a day and turn in for the rest of the night. I was working on my thesis, and wishing at that moment that I had never started the bloody thing. What use is a masters in history these days anyway?

I was trying to locate the origin of bitcoin as part of my thesis on “The Emergence Of Digital Currency In The 21st Century”. My research had taken me from the well-known originator, Satoshi Nakamoto, to the far less known and controversial Brandon Silk. Silk had worked under cover, rarely ever being photographed and certainly working under many aliases. The book that I was trying to locate was never published in the true sense, but had been used in Dark Web circles as a guide to the new cryptocurrency, that is what I surmised from many spurious references that I had come across.

I was just about to give up for the night, when bingo, I found it. “A Guide To The Silk Road”, written by Paul Weaver. Silk had typically used a pseudonym, but I had no doubts that he had been the true author. I tried to download the book but was immediately met by a block. “Source no longer available”, was the only response I could achieve. I looked at my watch. It was 3.15am. I knew that it would take me at least an hour to go deep through the Dark Web archives to find the original, something I didn’t like doing too often for security reasons. I hesitated and then thought, “What the hell?” and told my computer to enter the sub proxy constellation, and get me into the archive.

It was just breaking daylight as “A Guide To The Silk Road” hit my screen. This was enough for tonight I decided. I could look at the book tomorrow. Then I remembered just one more thing before I left the Dark Web. Maybe I could find a picture of Brandon Silk, something that I felt would be impossible on the front web. Soon I had found a picture taken with Satoshi Nakamoto and six other men. Using the facial recognition system I could easily identify five of them, but one face remained unknown.

I clipped the unknown face into my rendering program and fired the full screen view onto my wall monitor. I stared for what seemed like hours, tiredness completely forgotten as I looked deep into the eyes of the metre sized face on my wall. I don’t know why I knew, but I knew, as certain as I was of anything, that I was staring at the hard, ruthless face of Brandon Silk. My hands began to shake, adrenalin racing through my whole body as I tried to take in the fact that this was my own face that was staring back at me. I was Brandon Silk.

I was frantic to understand more. How could a pre NWO face be appearing in a post NWO world? It was as though I had existed five hundred years before, yet we all knew that mankind was kick-started again a couple of hundred years after the great plague. The COVID-23 world plague, which followed the earlier COVID-19 less deadly virus, had wiped out the whole of mankind over the following two hundred years, barely allowing the time to establish a solution for the re-emergence of a virus immune successor. Before the last humans died out artificial intelligence was established, along with banks of human eggs, which could be automatically fertilised once the COVID-23 virus had died out. These new embryos would form the basis of the future of mankind. This was who we are. This, I had been taught since primary school. Eventually the tiredness began to get the better of me and I had to crawl into my bed. My last thoughts before I fell asleep were that Brandon Silk just happened to be my Doppelganger, and it must all simply be a strange coincidence.

******

I slept until late afternoon, a fitful sleep hounded by strange visions of a world dying slowly, while the elite forces panicked to come up with a solution which might protect them from a certain death. I saw the Earth, no longer blue, but a dark dead object spinning through nothingness, with just me trying to hang on to it, desperately wanting to understand. Brandon Silk, or was it really me, was laughing hysterically at my dilemma. I jumped awake with a start, the bed soaked in sweat. As I came to my senses I decided to put Brandon Silk out of my mind and concentrate to my thesis. I would read “A Guide To The Silk Road”
My first attention was drawn to the dedication, which seemed very uncharacteristic of Silk.

It read:                                      To my dearest wife, Barbara
                                   Without whom life would have little meaning

I began to read, with the intention of a long session, but found after some minutes my mind was wandering and constantly coming back to the face. It was uncanny. I brought it back up on the large screen. I studied the ear lobes. Since childhood I had been made fun of by my school friends because one of my ear lobes was slightly out of shape. There it was. The same slight deformity. I tried to continue reading, but it was useless. I needed to find out more.
I had a good friend from university, who, although also studying history, was far more into computer technology, virus software to be more precise. Dean Batch2394 had been our saviour many times when we enlisted his help with computer problems, especially virus infected hard drives. He had often said that he could hack into anything.
I called him. “Well, if it isn’t my old friend Ryan Batch2394. How are you? Still swotting I suppose?”
“Well, actually yes. I’m fighting my way through a masters. Listen, you couldn’t meet me later could you? Say about 2.30 in the Laser Bar? I need to discuss something with you.”
“Sure”, he replied. “Is your computer playing up again?” he asked, with a tiresome sigh.
“No, not at all. This is far more interesting.”
“Ok, but you’re paying.”
He was there when I arrived. We ordered two Laser Specials and relaxed back, studying each other’s faces for the first signs of age. We both still looked young and unblemished.
I explained the situation. I showed him the picture of Brandon Silk, not explaining who he was or what he had been involved in, only that he had cropped up in my research and the incredible likeness. I told Dean that I wanted to trace back to his circumstances of death and especially what happened to his mother.
“Why his mother”, Dean asked.
“Well, can’t you see? If we are all originating from female human eggs, and I am so genetically similar to this guy, I probably have arrived here from his mother’s eggs.”
Dean looked worried. “I see, but do you understand what you are asking me? You expect me to hack into pre NWO government archives. This is incredibly difficult to do, way outside my knowledge and expertise.”
Then he looked suddenly very thoughtful, almost frightened.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Well, there is a guy. I have never met him, only heard the name. It is all very hush hush. Apparently he is trying to prove some conspiracy theory about the post NWO human regeneration planning. He doesn’t believe that we came from human eggs.”
He promptly became very business-like. “Look, I’ve said too much already. Leave it with me. I’ll be in touch if I can help.”
With that he downed his cocktail in one and left. I sat alone, sipping my drink, wandering what had just happened.
The following morning I came across a piece of paper pushed under my door.

                                This afternoon same time same place.
                                      Tell no-one. Burn this paper.
                                                         D

******

I spent the next few hours trying to make some sense of the note. All I had asked, what I thought at the time, was a bit of naughty hacking to try to find out if I was related to Brandon Silk. Why the intrigue?
There were two men sitting together when I arrived. Dean was sitting with his back to me. The other guy I didn’t know. He was scruffy, unshaven and looked more like a street bum than any friend of Dean’s.
I walked right up to them, shook Dean’s hand and then held out my hand to the new guy. He didn’t take up the offer. Instead he told me very abruptly to show him the picture. I did as I was told. He said, “Good, print it off and leave it in the rubbish bin at the end of your street at 6 o’clock tonight. On the back I want you to write everything you know about this guy, birth date, death date, mother, sister, anything you know.”
“I don’t know much, but I can send you the picture now if you give me your nu….”
He cut me off. “No number”. He stood up and walked out.
I looked aghast at Dean. “What the f…”
Again, I was cut off. “He has already had two assassination attempts against him that failed. He is frightened and careful.”
We sat quietly while we finished our drinks. I was beginning to wish I had never heard the name Brandon Silk.
Back in my flat I did exactly as I was told. I printed the picture and wrote the name and birth date, which I had managed to find out. His date of death was a mystery. I was just about to fold it into an envelope when another thought came to me. I added ‘Barbara, probably Barbara Silk, probably wife.’
I went out, casually throwing the envelope into the bin as directed, trying very hard not to feel like some ridiculous amateur spy.

******

After a week had gone by I had almost forgotten about the subject. It all seemed a bit childish to me, talking about conspiracies, rubbish bins and burning notes. I had pretty much decided that the whole thing was just a silly joke, when one morning another paper appeared under my door. It was a repeat of a week ago.

                                         This afternoon same time same place.
                                                   Tell no-one. Burn this paper.
                                                                        D

There was no-one there when I arrived in the Laser Bar. In fact the place was almost deserted. I ordered a drink and waited, not knowing who would come, Dean or the strange guy. After half an hour I was about to leave when the waitress came up to me. “Your friend sends his apologies and asked me to give you this. He said to open it at home.”
I left and went straight to my flat. The curiosity, which had slowly petered out during the last week, was back in full force. I couldn’t wait to see what the envelope contained.
Inside was another paper.
                                                You were right. Brandon Silk
                                                         Born 17.06.1978
                                                         Died 16.06.2023
                                                 Cause of death unknown
                                                      Wife Barbara Silk
                                                       Born 15.03.1976
                                                       Died 16.06.2023
                                                Cause of death unknown
                                        Enclosed are DNA records of both
                                                   Destroy this paper.

Along with the paper, which I immediately burned after digesting the information, was a chip the size of a grain of rice. I scanned it immediately, double encrypted the data and put the chip in the microwave until it exploded. There were two files, one for each person. It was their DNA sequence.
I did the check with my DNA database. It was exact. I was an identical match to Brandon Silk. I sat back, trying to take in what this meant. The only explanation could be that I am a clone, created from a sample of Silk’s DNA. This meant that everything we had been told was a lie. I was not from a stored female egg, frozen during the plague. I was created directly from stored DNA and cloned. Did that mean that the whole of humanity today is also cloned from stored DNA? Do we now all exist in a world of people who are identical to that of 500 years ago?
Any thoughts of my thesis were forgotten, as I realised the implications of this, not least being the danger I was in for carrying such knowledge.
For three days I didn’t sleep. It took that long for me to digest the idea. My conclusions, after much analysis of everything I had learned was that it didn’t really matter. Why should I care about how or why I was created? I can’t change it. I can only make the best of it.
The one piece of information that I couldn’t stop from nagging at me was whether Barbara Silk was also cloned. If she had been, I felt compelled to find her. The problem was that I only had access to my own DNA. Government controls didn’t allow investigation of others, without the necessary clearance. I would never get that, so I called Dean once more.
“Now you are asking me something I can do. The current databases are a piece of cake.” He proudly told me.
After passing him the DNA of Barbara Silk, he came back to me within the hour. “Ryan, you were right, exact match. She is Emily Batch2382, just 12 batches earlier than us, which would make her about three months older. I’m sure I can leave the rest up to you.”
It didn’t take me long to locate her. There is only be one Emily Batch 2382, because that was the way we were constructed in NWO. She was born exactly three months before me and is studying microbiology at Wington University.

******

Wington is a day’s drive from where I live, and so I had to wait a few days until I could plan the trip. I decided to drive through the night, arriving early the following day. Wington is the world’s top university, hosting only the finest scientists. I thought it typical that any wife of Brandon Silk would be associating at such esteemed levels.
I found the university and went immediately to the reception. On asking for the whereabouts of Emily Batch 2382, I expected to be asked why I was looking for her, but they seemed to be very relaxed about giving out such information. They probably assumed I was a friend or lover, as we are of similar age.
“Yes, you will find her in House B4 room 32, if she is not somewhere on campus.”
I spent the rest of the day around the university campus. I had no idea what Barbara Silk had looked like, so had no way of spotting Emily. I waited until early evening and made my way to House B4.
It was a beautiful sunny evening. May people were outside on the lawns, chatting or playing games. I broke into a group of four girls,” Excuse me. I am looking for Emily 2382. Does anyone know her?”
“Sure. There she is,” said one of them, pointing towards a large oak tree. “That’s her, sitting by that big tree.”
I walked across the lawn, suddenly becoming very nervous. Of all the things I had planned to say to her, my head was completely blocked. I started to turn away but she had already seen me. I was too close.
“Hello, can I help you?” she asked.
I turned back and looked her in the eyes. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I blurted out some story about coming to look for my friend but somehow stumbled into the wrong house. We talked and I asked her what she was reading.
She said it is called ‘1984’ a rather silly book written before the plague, but it passes the time.”
“Ah, George Orwell”, I replied. “A man before his time.”
“You’ve heard of him?”
“Yes, I am studying history and old George was quite a famous author in his time.”
She invited me to sit down by her and we chatted for a while, until the moment was destroyed by one of the four girls from the group earlier.
“You found her then?” she asked as she waltzed past us.
“But you said you were looking for your friend”, Emily quizzed.
I was stunned and tongue-tied. “Er ..well”
She started laughing. “Well, I’ve had worse come-ons I suppose”.
We both laughed and ended up having dinner together.
On my way back home the next day, for the first time in my life, decided that I do believe in love at first sight, especially when aided by a genetic code.

******

Emily and I were to remain together and after our studies, we joined together to raise a family. Couples were no longer able to have children since NWO and children must be applied for from the next batch. The lucky parents would be awarded a new ready born baby of their own, however genetic resemblance was impossible. We decided to wait a few years.
One day in NWO318 Dean called me to say that his friend had been about to go public. He apparently had enough information and evidence regarding the way that the human race has been created that it would blow the government wide apart. A deal had been struck on the condition that he handed over all the evidence, the government would pass a new law, allowing couples to use their own DNA for production of any future offspring, and would be able to name them as they wished.
Two years later we collected our new baby twin boys, Ted and Arthur from the Reproduction clinic. We gave them the surname of Mileyrany, an anagram of our two names. Never again would our decedents be known by a batch number.
Thank you Brandon Silk.

The Ramblings Of A Conspiracy Theorist.

The purpose of writing this is to record my thoughts and concerns at a time while I am still healthy, and hopefully of sound mind. My readers will probably doubt the latter after reading this.

I am retired and living in Spain, just South of Tarragona, 800 metres from the sea, which I have not seen for over a week, and unlikely to any time soon. I am more-or-less confined to house, due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic. Life is not so bad. I have my lovely wife here with me and our cat, Marie, who I often wonder if she instinctively knows that something is afoot. We also have a garden, which is small enough to not cause too much maintenance but large enough for a few fruit trees and a relaxing area for sunbathing or paella parties with friends and neighbours. Of course, the parties are no longer allowed for the foreseeable future, as groups are prohibited.

The Spanish authorities put us in lockdown a week ago. This means that we are only allowed to go out into public areas for the purposes of food shopping, medical attention, work reasons (where homeworking is not possible) and to walk the dog. For each case, care must be taken not to become too close to any other person, in order to avoid cross contagion. The lockdown is initially planned for 15 days, but I suspect it will go into many weeks or even months.

After a week of confinement, we are adjusting rather well. Plans were made on how to occupy ourselves, some interior decorating until the paint runs out, a jogging circuit around the garden (100 laps is approximately 5km), finish the online Spanish course and to finally learn to Waltz properly. This, apart from much reading and blogging, is enough to keep us quiet for a few weeks.

Apart from all of these activities, there is also much time available to reflect. I began wondering how we know that this virus is so dangerous. Why do we think that it is necessary to destroy our economies, our way of life and award our governments draconian powers? Would we have taken these measures if China hadn’t shown the world a panic reaction to a previously unknown virus?

On researching the Spanish Flu, which killed up to 100 million people, I learned that the virus had nothing to do with Spain at all. In fact, the major powers at the time, of Germany, France, UK and USA censored the early reports about the disease, for the purposes of maintaining moral in the trenches during WW1. Spain was neutral at the time, with a relatively free press. They reported openly about the spread of the virus, and particularly the terrible illness of their King Alfonso XIII. This gave the impression to the world that Spain was particularly infected, which led to the name “Spanish Flu”.  This demonstrates two things, firstly how governments are quite prepared to lock down their media or give false information, if it is deemed to be for the benefit of the population and secondly how easily people around the world can be misled.

Now, armed with doubts about the new COVID-19 virus, and an instinctive feeling that we are taking measures which are disproportional to the threat, I have been researching where the information came from, which is causing this widespread panic.

Every year there are new viruses, which try to make us ill. This is what viruses do. If they didn’t change regularly, we would all build an immunity, which would protect us for the rest of our lives. There are about a hundred virus types and they are permanently changing. Up to now we didn’t really worry about it too much. There were good years and bad years for flu epidemics, but nothing was thought much about it. In the past we haven’t even bothered to test which virus caused which flu symptoms. From all of these different acute respiratory virus types, we know, thanks to much research carried out in Glasgow, that Corona viruses make up around 10% of the total.

Wuhan contains a large number of some of the best virologists in the world. It also contains 11 million inhabitants, providing many illnesses and opportunities to study such viruses and people needing to be ventilated. They did approximately only 50 tests from these patients and found a new virus. The virologist then put these findings into a huge database, which can be accessed worldwide. The virologist has no idea how dangerous, or contagious such a virus might be. That is not his job. He can only record and report his findings. Against normal practices, and partly because of the panic that was being raised by China, a test was released before it had gone through normal testing procedure.

Now, a virus can only be assessed for its mortality rate by observing people and calculating from the number of people tested positive, how many die. If one goes out into the wider population, naturally a larger number of people will test positive, that those for example, who are tested in their doctor’s surgery. Similarly, the number of people testing positive in their doctor’s surgery, will be far higher than those admitted to hospital for respiratory problems.

If we take the Italian example. They have a very high mortality rate, but if tests are mainly carried out in the hospitals, on people who are already seriously ill, it is rather obvious that the mortality rate (number of deaths as a proportion of people testing positive) will be disproportionately high.

So it seems that currently the virologists have created a storm of panic. They have convinced the Chinese government that this is serious. Measures have been taken in China, which has sent a panic around the world. In reality, we might be dealing with a perfectly normal flu virus. The virologists around the world have joined the band wagon, people have panicked. Political pressure has built, such that all around the world we are now in ever increasing lockdown, for something where the evidence is thin at best.

This has generated a network of opinions around the world amongst the scientific community. Thousands are trying to join the search for vaccine or other medical solutions etc. There is a rush for recognition or funding at a time when governments are pouring huge sums of money in, without boundaries. Consequently the politicians are referring to this scientific community more and more, in order to be seen to act.

As with the climate change debate, we have reached a point very quickly where critics are not allowed a voice. Anyone who questions this virus danger is quickly vilified, ridiculed as a denier.

Quoting from Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, a German physician and politician, of whom some of this blog is taken, “It reminds me of the tale of the king with no clothes”.

Known in England as “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, the lesson is that the fear of consequences will often lead people to publicly agree to things they don’t believe in for a variety of reasons. Furthermore, the “emperor” will always proudly continue the lie despite his own knowledge of the truth and being publicly outed. It is easier and less painless to tell a few more lies and look foolish than to admit being foolish. We see ridiculous art like a picture of a soup can and hail it as genius because 4 snooty art critics said it was and we don’t want to seem uncultured. Evidence proves a politician innocent of something and yet the opposition continues to press the disproven narrative.

Of course, we have here a similar situation, where politicians and scientists, who have no real idea of what is happening with this virus, are afraid to say anything against for fear of ridicule.

Now, I am also one of those who has no idea. I can only fall back on my knowledge as an educated scientist (albeit not in a related field) from what I have read, my instincts and my common sense.

Do I believe that this virus is a deliberate attack on mankind? I don’t know, but I guess not.

Do I believe that governments around the world are using the virus as an excuse to take actions that otherwise would never be accepted? Yes I do.

Is this virus as dangerous as some people wish to paint it? I suspect not.

There are currently so many conspiracy theories written on the internet, which none of us ordinary mortals have a clue, whether they be right or wrong. There is one thing I am certain about, however. We will be surprised by the end result, when this is over.

The purpose of this blog, I guess is simply to try to get the message across that we must be sceptical and thoughtful, not believe everything we hear, whether it be from scientists or politicians, but to try to find our own opinions amongst the mass of information which is out there.

I wish everyone who is currently ill, whether it be from COVID-19 or any other of the hundreds of illnesses and viruses out there, a speedy recovery. Those of you who are locked down, stay strong, call your loved ones, take care as best as you can, and let’s see what the future holds for us all.

A Dirty Business

As I grew older my parents informed me that I was often out of bed at times when I shouldn’t be. I had awful nightmares from as early as I can remember. One of the scariest of them all was seeing many faces above me, all around my arc of vision, staring down at me, grinning. Oh, how those grinning faces, with bad breath and yellowing bucked teeth used to scare me.

As I grew into my teenage years, I gradually began to realise that these faces originated from my short time in the pram. My proud mother would wheel me through the estate on her way to the post office or the Coop, with every nosey mother and even some of the men, wanting to glare down at me, raising their voices a few octaves, poking me in the chest and talking utter nonsense such as, ‘cuchy cuchy coo, who is a pretty little boy then?’ Little did they realise that these acts of unthinking self-indulgence would stay with me for many years, especially during my slumber, which was anything but peaceful.

Sometimes I would simply wake up screaming, ‘Go away! Go away!’ Other times I would quietly climb out of bed, walk about the house, usually not waking before I was back in bed. My father would normally hear me. Mostly he would gently guide me back under the bedsheets, without waking me up, and sitting with me until he was sure that my nocturnal activities had subsided.

On rare occasions I would wake up. I would cling to him, shaking with fear until the faces disappeared. On these occasions, if it was a particularly bad bout of angst, he would hold me in one arm while making me a cup of cocoa with his free hand. I would then sit on his lap, sipping the warm milky mix and snuggling into his pyjamas. These were my most special moments and the only times when I had Dad all to myself. Normally he was far too busy with his work to spend time for such tenderness.

One of my other regular dreams, which only on rare occasions turned itself into a nightmare, was the imagination that I could fly. It was one of these such occurrences that I wish to tell you about today.
******
It was the Christmas of 1966. That year, Christmas Day was on a Sunday. I was eight years old. The day before was very cold, with a clear blue sky and hard frost in the morning. I was especially excited this year because I had a feeling that my letter to Father Christmas would be answered. Of course, I no longer believed in a real Santa Claus. I had overheard my Dad telling Mum to keep me from going into the shed, because my present was there. I had wanted my first bike and knew that a bike would need something like a shed to hide in, rather than a bedroom cupboard. I was convinced that this year was bike year.
As Dad was off work on Christmas Eve, being a Saturday, he took me and my sister, Jenny on a long walk, with our dog. Betsy was a corgi crossed with a cairn terrier, and loved to be out with us along the canal. Mum had loads of baking and housework to do, so I think she was glad that we all went out of her way.
We walked over the fields near our house, down to a little hump-backed bridge over the canal. It was ever so cold and I was glad to have my woolly mittens on that Mum made for me. We walked along the edge of the canal, careful not to slip in. Even though it was frozen over, we would have gone right through for sure.
Suddenly Dad called out, ‘look Jimmy’, and pointed into the bright blue sky. At first I could see nothing unusual. He was pointing near to the sun and it dazzled me. I squinted my eyes and there it was, a big bird, stationary in the sky. It wasn’t moving. It just stayed exactly still.
‘It is a buzzard’, said Dad.
‘Why doesn’t it fall down?’, I asked. ‘If I sat up in the sky like that, I would just go plop onto the floor.’
Dad explained that the bird is not as exactly still as he looks. He is fluttering his feathers and wings just a little, balancing his weight against the wind.
I saw his head twitch slightly as he spotted something on the ground. He dived towards it. I thought he was going to crash right into the mud, but just at the last second his wings came up and he stopped an inch above the ground. Then, in a split second he was off again, flapping his wings and souring away.
‘whooaahh’ , I blurted out. ‘Jenny, did you see that?’
But Jenny was too busy concentrating on some ice over a puddle, trying to break it through.
‘Dad, I wish I could fly like that’, I said. ‘Imagine, it would be great.’
Dad laughed and said, ‘come on kids. Let’s jog a little. I’m getting cold’
When we got home I told Mum all about the buzzard. We had our dinner and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I remember thinking that I would much rather have wings than a new bike.
After we had eaten Dad showed me some pictures of birds from his wildlife book, and I eventually fell asleep in the armchair with the book still open on my lap.
******
I woke up. It was the middle of the night. I was in the living room. It was dark and cold and I was all alone. I knew that I must have been dreaming again, because the house was so quiet and I was scared. I wanted my Dad to come and make some cocoa.
I started to sob, when I heard a grunting sound coming from the fireplace. “oh bother’, I heard someone say. ‘Why don’t they build chimneys like they used to?’
I edged closer, until I was almost looking up the chimney. I could see a big black boot. I wanted to run, but something deep inside of me said that the voice I heard was not dangerous. Somebody or something was coming down the chimney and I needed to see who or what it was, even if it was going to gobble me up. I had to see.
Then there were two big boots, then stumpy little fat legs and finally a fat old man with a white beard and red suit stepped right out of the chimney, onto the hearth. My mouth was open, but I couldn’t speak. This was Santa. He really did exist and came down the chimney, just like I had been told. I was overcome with guilt. Only yesterday I told Jenny that he didn’t really exist and she cried. She said I was a horrible brother for saying such lies. Now, I knew she was right.
Santa took one look at me and said, ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! You shouldn’t be here. You should be in bed sleeping.’
‘I’m s..s..sorry Mr. Santa, but I must have been dreaming and must have started to sleepwalk around the house. My Dad said I do it a lot.’
‘Well, never mind I suppose. I will just have to give you a sniff of “forget everything” powder before I leave. What were you dreaming about?’
‘Oh, I was dreaming about being able to fly. I would love to learn to fly. Can you fly, Santa?’
Santa replied thoughtfully, ‘well, normally I leave that job to my eight reindeers, as that is their job, but in order to meet the modern health and safety regulations I also had to do the full course in flying training. So yes, I can fly. Anyone can as long as they are trained properly.’
I imagined myself flying through the rooftops, delivering presents just like Santa. ‘Wow, so that means I could fly if only I had someone to teach me?’
Santa went very quiet for a moment. ‘I shouldn’t really be doing this but you seem like a nice boy’, he said. ‘I tell you what, if you promise to have an extra-large sniff of “forget everything” powder, when we return, I will show you the basics. I also did the flying instructors course last summer.’
We climbed up the chimney together and there, hovering above the house roof were eight beautiful reindeer, harnessed to a huge sleigh, piled high with Christmas presents. I was quickly introduced to all of them. There was Dasher, who seemed like the leader and had the biggest smile. I can’t remember all of their names, only Donder and Blixen, the two at the back and smaller than the rest.
Santa explained that he must hurry up and deliver some more presents, and it would give me time to get used to zooming around in the sky, before I started learning to fly for myself. I was given a seatbelt to keep me safe.
******
We swooped into the sky, just like the buzzard yesterday. Woah! We were really flying. We came to a stop just above my friend Billy’s house. I recognised it because I saw his mum’s car and she sometimes picks me up from school.
‘That’s Billy’s house’, I shouted.
‘Is he a good boy’, asked Santa.
‘Yes’, I quickly replied. ‘One of my best friends.’
‘Good, then I shall give him something very special. A new bike. What do you think, Jimmy?’
‘I suppose so’, I muttered. I wanted Billy to have a new bike but what if it turned out to be better than mine. That would be awful.
The next stop was Gary Parker’s, the school bully’s house. I told Santa that this was a horrible boy and nobody liked him because he steals their sweets and is a big fat bully. Santa winked at me and said that he had just the right present for someone like that. He wouldn’t tell me what it was though.
Santa said that he really enjoyed having me along because I knew the children in the neighbourhood. This helped him a lot and I felt proud to be allowed to help him. It wasn’t long before I forgot all about wanting to fly. I was so happy watching the rooftops go by and reindeer grinning and singing Christmas songs as they went about their business.
It was then that I noticed my pyjamas. They were black from the soot, when we climbed the chimney.
‘Oh no, Santa’, I cried, ‘just look at my pyjamas. Mum and Dad will be furious’
Santa was clean though. I asked him why he was so clean and I am so dirty.
‘Ah’, he said,’I used to get filthy too, but since we have these new Velcracene suits, its better now. Velcracene doesn’t hold dirt. Never mind, it will wash off.’
After a while Santa asked Dasher to bring the sleigh to a halt above a big office building with a flat roof. It hovered about ten feet above the roof.
‘Now, time for your lesson’, said Santa. ‘Time to fly’.
‘What do I need to do?’
‘Do? You don’t need to do anything. You just need to think. Close your eyes and think about flying. Then just fly.’
This sounded daft, even for an eight year old boy, but I pressed my eyes tightly shut and thought about the buzzard. I imagined that I was souring through the sky, just like he did.
‘Careful! Not too far now.’ I heard the voice coming from below. I opened my eyes and there, a long way below me, was Santa. He was looking up and shouting at me to slow down. I was really flying. I could do it. I circled around the building and came up from the other side, to make a perfect landing back on my seat in the sleigh. It was so easy, far easier than I had imagined.
‘I think that I may have found my successor,’ Santa laughed. ‘You were born for the job’.
We delivered more presents and Santa let me do a few more solo flights before he said it was time to go back home, before someone missed me. Dasher brought the sleigh to a halt just above our chimney and I patted all of the reindeer, thanked them for the ride and gave Santa a big hug. ‘Thank you so much’, I almost cried as I turned to go.
‘Maybe we see you next year,’ he yelled, and with that the sleigh turned and shot off into the night sky.
******
The next day Santa was restless. He couldn’t sleep. He and the reindeer were so exhausted after the hardest working day of the year, but he was troubled by his lack of professionalism. He had forgotten to give me the sniff of “forget everything” powder, which would have erased all memory of the meeting from my brain. Worse than that, I would remember how to fly, which wasn’t allowed for mortals. He had broken one of the golden rules, made by the founding fathers of Christmas giving. He would be severely punished.

******
‘My God! Karen come here. What on Earth….’ The noise woke me up and startled I looked up at a very angry Dad, staring at my bed and pyjamas. Being startled, I couldn’t speak and as quickly as Dad became angry, he then softened. ‘Never mind, Jimmy. It’s not your fault. I suppose you have been sleepwalking again.’
While I was sitting in the bath, being scrubbed clean by my Mum, I couldn’t stop thinking about last night. I was so excited that I forgot that it was Christmas. My Dad looked so disappointed when he proudly wheeled out my new bike, and my mind was somewhere else.
‘Don’t you like it,’ he asked.
‘Oh yes, Dad. I love it. It is better that Billy’s new one that he has had for Christmas.’
‘How would you know that,’ queried Dad.
‘Er, Billy and I sneaked into his Dad’s shed and we saw it,’ I lied unconvincingly.
Mum and Dad looked at each other critically. They knew that something fishy was afoot, but had no idea what it could be. I was not about to tell them. I just wanted to get out on my own, to see if I could still fly. I knew that when I left Santa, he had forgotten about the powder, and I felt a bit guilty about not reminding him, after he was so good to me, but learning to fly was the best thing I ever did. I wasn’t going to give that up.
******
The following year I added a new item to my Christmas list, a pair of Velcracene pyjamas, but I never received any. Over the years I searched for some and googled for them, but there was no trace. The flying continued however, and still continues to this day. When I have time to be alone, I take myself out into the countryside and sour through the trees with the birds. They are not fearful of me, but accept me as one of their own.
After all, wouldn’t you?

Four Brothers

Although they were four brothers, with eight years between the youngest and oldest, they were all married in the same year. I always regretted not having a daughter, but after four attempts I became content with my beautiful, healthy and intelligent boys. What more could a mother ask for?

Roger and I brought them up, as far as we could tell, with the same values, the same discipline, the same encouragement, yet they all turned out to be so different. Not only did they look completely different to each other, they had very distinct characters. I remember, as they were growing up, thinking that suspicious neighbours might gossip that they had different fathers, a thought I would try to dismiss each time it arrived.

I grew up in a time where a marriage was for a lifetime. As I sit here, across from Roger dosing in his armchair, I feel the sadness of knowing that none of my boys will ever feel the security and warmth that I have now. After 66 years of marriage, we have had rows, days of not speaking and even physical fights. Yes, on two occasions during our long marriage, when we were young, Roger slapped me in a fit of anger. I knew he didn’t mean to, and I know how upset he was afterwards. It didn’t destroy our marriage. In those days we had more staying power. Oh, I know what you may be thinking, but no, I was not and am not the little obedient housewife. I have also had my moments, like the time when I threw a cup of hot tea into Roger’s face during a major rift. That was the occasion when I received my first slap. Then he cried, I cried, he kissed and caressed me and we made love with such passion. Oh, why can’t this new generation make up as easily as we used to?

As you can probably imagine it was a hectic year. Four marriages within ten months. 1976 was one of the happiest years of my life. To see all of my boys settling down was a very comforting sight, although I did have some reservations regarding Peter. At 18, he could have waited a little longer, but their baby certainly wouldn’t.
Now in 2019, at the age of 88, I am no longer comforted by these terrible marriages. 1976 is no longer remembered as the happiest year of my life. It was the year that, mainly due to their own doing, set the course for their ill-fated lives.
******
Peter was the first to marry. He came home one evening, extremely nervous, to let us know that pretty little Mary was pregnant. Mary was a lovely girl, petite and quiet, but intelligent. We knew her parents and the wedding was arranged quickly. They were to live with us until after the baby was born and Peter could finish his exams and start working. He was the brightest of my boys and I never doubted his ability to look after his new little family.

Jeremy’s marriage was already planned for May of that year. His wife, Susan, seemed a nice girl, and we were happy to see Jeremy settling down. He was the most timid of the four and tended to go into long sulking phases when he was angry or upset. Susan had just qualified as a science teacher and would be starting her first teaching job in September. Jeremy had always been a bit of a loner and shied away from any form of conflict. He would hide in his room for hours at the slightest hint of an argument. I had only hoped that Susan would bring Jeremy out of his shell a little. If any of my boys needed a strong synergy from their partner, it was Jeremy.

Then came Johnathon. He was the quiet studious one. After completing his PhD in chemistry and falling madly in love with Claire, a fellow student, they were married on a lovely July afternoon. This beautiful woman was very confident and I hoped, not too demanding socially. She loved to party and travel. Jonathon was besotted.

So, finally in this happy but most busy of years, Roger, the oldest and named after his father, had a very business-like registry office wedding. His journalist wife was “too busy” for long drawn out ceremonies or long honeymoons, and wanted to get married quickly and efficiently. Roger, now a young architect, just went along with it.
So, by mid-November of 1976, our large house was emptier but compensated by the sound of a new young baby, our first grandchild.
******
Peter was to have two more children. I had been right not to doubt his ability to do well and look after his family. He worked so hard in those early years, to provide a home, hold down a full time job and study on evenings and weekends. Mary was so young, never having the time to qualify for a profession, as she was so busy with the children. Consequently, as Peter developed due to advanced education and a number of promotions that enabled him to travel the world with his career, he grew further and further away from Mary, whose days consisted of children and house chores. Their separation twenty two years after they were married came as no surprise to any of us. Naturally Mary’s parents blamed Peter, and so did we initially, but after some time we came to realise that it was neither parties fault. They were simply so busy with their lives and succeeding at their respective goals, that they lost sight of each other until it was too late. They parted on good terms, but their relationship as husband and wife could never be rekindled.
After the parting, Peter threw even more energy into his career than before. We didn’t see much of him after that. He lived in various countries, had various relationships, none of which was to last. He explained to us during one of his rare visits that he no longer trusted his heart enough to settle down again. Only then did we understand how much his divorce had hurt him, even though he was the main protagonist.
******
Poor Jeremy never did settle down. Susan treated her home as she did her classroom. She spoke almost all of the time, was permanently smug in her knowledge of just about everything. In contrast to her lack of empathy in handling people or conversation with adults, she had a heart of gold. She never missed a birthday or when any of the family needed help, she was always the first to step up. Susan was one of those people that you couldn’t fault, but didn’t want to be around.
Jeremy had made a big mistake. He loved Susan, and probably still does, but their marriage could never have lasted. As time went on everything Jeremy tried to do wasn’t good enough. If he did some gardening the plants were in the wrong place, or not planted deep enough, or worse, Susan’s father would be asked to come around to replant them. Jeremy didn’t have it in him to put his foot down and therefore, over time, he spent more and more time in his little study, where he had his coin and stamp collection. While my boys were young, they used to have fun with Jeremy during times when he sulked and call him ‘Hermit’, which was to be his destiny.
At forty-seven Jeremy had his first heart attack. It was a terrible time. No-one had expected it. Apparently his arteries were quite closed, which needed stents. The operation was done quickly and he was up and about again within a few weeks. But he was a changed man.
Within weeks he was shouting a lot, angry with everybody. He certainly couldn’t bear the constant yap yap of Sunsan’s permanent advice and doctoring. Once Jeremy was fully back onto his feet he began to plan his future, a new future, a future which didn’t involve working and certainly didn’t involve Susan.
I remember the day as if it was yesterday. Susan arrived on our doorstep. Jeremy had secretly bought a tiny cottage in the middle of nowhere, on the Scottish border, three hundred miles away. He had told Susan that she could move there with him if she wanted, but he was going there, either way. Jeremy knew that she would never leave her parents, who lived very close and were both ailing with health issues.
Now, 24 years later, Jeremy is still in his little cottage. He has become the hermit, which his brothers always had imagined he would be. If we are lucky we receive a phone call once a year at Christmas time. Jeremy and Susan are still married. Neither wanted a divorce and in a strange way I suspect that they still love each other. Their relationship, which began with two young beautiful people, quickly had degenerated due to incompatibilities, which neither had recognised nor understood when they came together.
******
Jonathon and Claire married in great style. Claire had insisted on top hat and tails, which had left poor Roger feeling awfully overstressed. We were a very modest family. Roger had been a labourer for most of his working life, maintaining the county’s water board locations. He was happy being his own man, travelling around the dozens of sewage stations, checking them, cutting the grass, cleaning out any blockages. He had loved the outdoor life, which gave him tight muscles and permanently bronzed skin. He was most comfortable in his overalls or a pair of old jeans. Oh, how funny he looked at Jonathon’s wedding. He spent most of the time holding onto his hat in case it fell off.
Claire never did like us very much. We were far too low down. Strangely though, Claire’s parents got on with us like a house on fire. They were warm and genuine, in stark contrast to their uppity daughter.
Within the first year we noticed Jonathon’s voice changing. His guttural Midland’s accent was becoming softer and a few tell-tale ‘glarss’ instead of ‘glass’, ‘mother’ instead of ‘Mam’ demonstrated to us the effort that he was putting in to raise himself to Claire’s standards. As the years rolled by, no children came, only promotions, careers and parties.
Roger and I became very concerned as we realised that Jonathon was becoming quite subservient. Claire blossomed into a beautiful middle aged woman, and treated Jonathon with ever decreasing respect. As Johnathon began to show some greying hair, Claire insisted that he dye it. Of course he obeyed, suddenly turning up at his next visit with a jet black flock of hair. He looked so strange. The following year they visited and Roger noticed his completely hairless arms and legs. I should mention that we are a hairy family. All of my boys, as their father, have a mass of hair on their chests and limbs. Roger spoke without thinking, “do you shave your legs my boy?”, he asked this quiet six feet two man. Claire quickly intervened with, “I don’t like body hair”.
We all knowingly shrugged. Jonathon said nothing but simply looked simply lost.
This dominance continued until Jonathon finally became ill. He had some sort of nervous complaint, which most of the family believed came from his ever deteriorating relationship with Claire. One day she announced that she was leaving him. They were 63 years old.
Poor Johnathon was broken. He had spent his whole adult life trying to come up to her standard, never realising that it would always be an impossible task.
On his 64th birthday, living in his little one bedroomed flat, Johnathon disappeared. After police hunts and public announcements there was no trace of him, until one day three months later, a local fisherman was taking a short cut through some scrub, when he spotted the remains of my dear boy.
It had all been too much for him. He had been so reduced in stature and confidence over many years that, together with the loss of the love of his life, he had decided to put an end to it. How does one recover from such a loss?
******
Roger, my eldest, was strong and serious. Qualifying as an architect and quickly marrying a career girl, they dismissed the idea of a honeymoon as “a waste of earnings”. Edith wanted a new house, a new car, anything that she perceived as an improvement to her image. Roger would not be the weak link in the partnership. He worked hard as a self-employed architect. I was surprised that they took the time out to create Emily, our youngest granddaughter. Nappies and baby food didn’t fit well into the busy life of Edith. Within six months the job of rearing Emily became mine.
I was happy for the task. After losing all of my boys in such a short time, Emily helped me over the menopause. She was a lively little thing and didn’t allow me to give thought to my own hormonal problems.
Roger and Edith took on a huge house. Their debts were unfathomable for simple people like us. When I mentioned my concerns Roger would say nothing, and Edith would comment that all of their friends were ‘bettering themselves’. I remember their father one time saying, “in my day paying off your debts was considered to be bettering yourselves, not increasing them’. They were not swayed, but just laughed at us silly older generation.
The years rolled by. The work ethic, if anything, became more strict. A second home in Tuscany was bought. Roger said he could fulfil his architectural dreams by renovating the twenty hectare plot. More debts were taken on.
When Roger was about fifty eight, with Emily away at college, his father asked him one day what retirement plans he had. His reply was deeply worrying. He shook his head and said, “what retirement? I will be working until I drop. With our debts, retirement is out of the question.”
We very tactfully asked the question, “why not sell one of you big homes? Surely you could both live well with the proceeds and retire early.”
“Not a chance. In any case Edith would never agree to ‘downsizing’. It wouldn’t look well.”
Two years later, at the graduation ceremony of Emily, for achieving her 2.1 in English Literature, Roger slid off his chair, never to regain consciousness. The hospital said that he had received a massive brain haemorrhage and that on arrival at the hospital his blood pressure was 280/180. We were also told that he had white spots on his brain scan, which indicated high alcohol abuse. We knew that Roger had liked his wine, but never imagined that he had a problem.
******
I cry often. These days I try not to think about my lost boys. We have six lovely grandchildren, all devoted to their old Grandma and Granddad. Sometimes I imagine that they want to try to help replace the loss.
Peter is back home with us. In the end he not only ran out of places to run to, but ran out of money also. Despite the children, who are now all grown up, he is a very lonely soul. He and Jeremy have almost no contact. Their relationship is also broken.
Roger and I often ask ourselves if it is all our fault. Did we make mistakes in expecting too much from our children? Or is it a result of growing up in the sixties, free love, flower power, permissiveness? It sometimes feels as though the post war generation have some missing gene, which destroys relationships, rather than building on them.
Perhaps, sometimes a cup of hot tea thrown in the face, or a good hard slap, is the best solution for establishing a lifelong marriage after all.