Monday, June 30, 2008

Wednesday 2nd August 1939

I’m writing this a day later. It’s a rainy afternoon. I grew tired of touting hopelessly in Chelmsford, hoping nervously that the police would not observe the absence of windscreen wipers. Slinky B too, had had his full ration of rain – there’s a blue sheen on his roof. So I drove out here, onto a rough, little-used road between Butts Green and Danbury Common. I’m parked, partially sheltered by a tree, above the ford. A place I know well; John has been here, and Lois, and Pat Retallack, and Mad Willie, and Mary.

Sad afternoon. Drip, drip from the trees; Ssssss into the grass, plit. plit. plitter. plit into the stream. Grey rain! It’s comfortable in the car though. I’m sitting in the front passenger seat, using an improvised ashtray. Only two cars have gone, splashing through the ford, since I came here nearly an hour ago. I’ve a thermos of tea with me. I bought the flask this morning, very cheaply, at a mass-produced goods store. I had lunch at Wainwrights’ and got the flask filled.

Mary was there. I didn’t expect to find her there, otherwise I would not have gone. I made a list of the days and hours of her duty but it seems she arranged things differently today. Couldn’t eat my lunch with much gusto! She looked at me just as brightly, with the same twinkle, as though nothing had happened. She thanked me for the letter and Doc, speaking low: She’d put Doc on the wireless cabinet beside her bed but he seemed rather sad still!

“If it’s any consolation to you”, Mary said, “I feel pretty rotten myself.”
“Oh, it makes it worse!”

I went out into the rain and presently came here. However this is yesterdays diary and I’ve been writing nearly three pages of today! Yesterday was foul – until the evening! One smallish order in Romford. I went several miles out of my way to the Ford Garage at Dagenham and waited whilst they fitted the windscreen wiper. But it didn’t work! So they took it off and said they’d write me again in a week or so.
This gave me, literally, a headache.

A boy cyclist was run over by a car. I pulled up and ran back. He lay underneath the wheels, crying, “Take it off me, take it off me!” We lifted the car off him. The cycle was in pieces but he wasn’t badly hurt, just shaken and gashed a bit. Dozens of clumsy, sympathetic motorists – I wish I knew first aid! – gathered around.
Once we had him off the road, the boy was very quiet and cool. I told him so and he looked up suddenly, pale-faced, and smiled.

Evening: Called for April. Her Mother, that was married for three days only, to an Australian soldier, greeted me as though I’d been there only yesterday. April and I went to a country cinema – at Laindon, and were put in the back row and whispered when the picture was not too exciting. Sometimes knee would touch knee, and fingers brush elbow. We came away; we laughed a lot, for no reason, usually!

We were in one of those moods, which two people sometimes get, when the thoughts and words of one are echoed by the other. Perhaps this was because it was a reunion and we are both sentimental blighters (strange April should be sentimental! More typical of October!) and both adore Memories. Slinky B began to chug up Laindon Hill. “How much do you bet he won’t go up in top gear?” She had just been going to say the same thing! “All right,” she said solemnly, “I’ll take you on. Same as last time”.

Slinky, with a bad start and a cold engine, crawled up the first half of the hill. He gathered speed on the gentler incline beyond. We rolled dangerously around the corners and rushed at the steepest part! Slinky breasted the slope at a good twenty!
Dry Street – and turn right, down a winding road. I thought of something. April turned and looked back, excitedly. I knew her gesture and my thought meant the same.

“What are you looking for?”
“A man”
“On a bicycle?”

I cannot write anything that describes the dual cry of mixed delight and mirth then, as Slinky B nearly struck the grass verge at a corner. Duet! (You see, we were both re-living the first time, long ago, that we’d come here.) She wouldn’t let me kiss her until she’d first kissed me, In accordance with the terms of the bet.
As she lay in my arms we remembered…

(Wrapping her up in the rug and suddenly she sat bolt upright – “I don’t want to sleep!” Three times I’d used the word “amorphous” and once she’d mispronounced it, saying sleepily, “Am I ‘morphous?” It had been snowing and I said, “Would you like the rug?” “What? The rug?” she said. I hastily took it away. Then, suddenly, “It’s a damn good idea!”)

Most of the things she says are sudden and most, when written, should be followed by an exclamation mark. It is the way she says them! Damned if I know what she sees in me, April who is so lovely and full of life and for ever winning prizes for beauty and what not. How jealous I’d be, as her husband; miserable as hell I’ve no doubt.

As we went down Laindon Hill she’d said, “I was just going to dab some scent behind my ears when you called. I wish I had.”

“It would have brought back the old atmosphere”
“What atmosphere?”
“Oh, us!”

Then I knew.

Twelve-thirty as we trundled up to her house.

“How are things in Indo-China?”
“If you mean the Malay Straits…”
“Well, it’s all the same – Far East”
“…Not too good. All off in fact.”
“Anything I can do?”
“What then? Think of the Round Table and all that…”
“We’ll talk it over together some time, perhaps”
“Auf wiederschen”

Another thing we’d both laughed about. “Damn you!” she said, “You spoilt everything when you came back! I didn’t think you would!” Apparently she’d had a special sentimental evening abut six weeks ago and written “finis” to me. Everything connected with me had been carefully collected and put away in a sealed box. April had even written a short précis about it and sealed that, too. Now I’d returned and everything was disorganised!

“Today I feel so happy!” she sang as we drove homewards.

At 2 o’clock I switched out the light, put the book down and fell asleep.


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