Wednesday, February 22, 2006

An old flame writes


It all started with a piece of paper I found in the pocket of that old pair of trousers I use for gardening. 'Victor,' it begins, 'if that is indeed your name...'

You can well imagine that at this point I put said piece of paper down on the kitchen dresser and shook the kettle to see if there was any water in it. There was not. But more anon.

All afternoon he (I mean, I) avoided that innocent-looking, crumpled sheet. Barely a sheet, in fact. Half a sheet. Less. Torn, by the look of it, from some junior scholar's exercise book (the back of the sheet- barely a sheet!- was completely becrayonned, and scratched into the waxen mass- perhaps with a Helix compass like the one I once possessed myself (a good inch of the point of which still resides uneasily in my good leg)- these words: 'Help me. I'm not myself.'

You see? You see? It was no trouble at all to look at the reverse of the sheet (barely a quarter of a sheet, in fact) but something... something unutterable prevented my flipping it over (with a butter knife, perhaps; I wouldn't even have had to touch the thing) and casting an eye over what words it held scrawled upon its crumpled, parchment heart.

No. Not scrawled. The hand was elegant. Feminine. And yet I had no memory of ever a female hand being inside my old gardening trousers (perhaps it happened whilst I was in a faint).

The day wore on. I saw to the cabbages and the creeping beans, but no amount of vegetable solace could remove that piece of paper from the very gunsight of my mind. The veins of my skull begin to clench, fistlike, and I fancied I could hear the beams of my skull beginning to protest like an old frigate bobbed tennis-ways halfway to the breakers' yard upon a cheeky tide.

I was going to have to read it. But when I returned to the kitchen there was no sign of the note (Note? It was barely two lines, as I recall).

So. It was gone. Vanished. Disappeared.

I filled the kettle and boiled it (which simple action always puts me in mind of some of the old songs. 'High Germany', say, or 'Joe Soap's Army'; songs we sang all those years ago with many a lad whose lips are forever stilled now, unless there's singing in heaven). Afternoon tea was an uneasy affair that day, I don't mind admitting.

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