26 Fruits

Armistice Day 1918

Extract from The Good Messenger by John Simmons, published by Urbane. The following is as if from an unpublished novel by Iris Fakenham set on one day, Armistice Day 1918. The questions I had to ask myself as a writer imagining that day were: After four years of war what were the emotions of an individual? How might these emotions have taken people, out of relief, perhaps out of desperation?

The warm lights of the pub, almost in the shadow of the War Office, looked inviting at that moment to Vanessa; she knew she must go inside, if only to seek the dry and the warm if not the more dangerous comfort of humanity. Had we met before? was the question that sprang to Vanessa’s lips, wishing to swallow it even as it rose in her throat, a question that came so vacuously into the light of the pub. On such an unusual occasion it seemed impossible to find the right words for conversation, for wars do not end every day; everyone smiled desperately, cheerfulness bursting out and served with the sausage rolls struck that day off the rationing because no one would tell or dare tell; a meagre spread put on with such a desperate spirit of defiance that could not be, yet, an utter celebration of the end of war. Yet a party, a party of strangers made friends, a party that became a single body that smiled it’s nearly all over.

Had we met before? The object of the question had been a young man with a golden moustache on a handsome face that at first managed to hide its scar in the low light; and a missing arm, his officer uniform with its badge of rank as vacuous as her question. But no, she could not stomach this conversation at this time on the anniversary of her own husband’s death in action.

Had we met before, had we met earlier, had we met before stupidity plunged the world into this pointless conflict, before acts of mutilation were randomly inflicted, we might have meant so much more to each other. We might have embarked on an affair, I might have kissed the still unblemished skin of your cheek and touched it tenderly with my fingers, you might have folded two arms around me; I might have taken you in, a mad consuming affair that could have taken us to secret assignations and beds in hotel rooms but never to marriage because this kind of love would go up in flames at the very thought, would be puffed instantly out of existence.

I would never dare, so thought Vanessa at a sudden moment of clarity, to embark on such an affair; not even to contemplate its reality, so locked inside the fragile shell of her own timidity. Reggie had told her – you’re a good egg. I know, she thought, I might crack.

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