“Words about Nothing” by David Shaw Mackenzie

Posted by Justine Solomons on October 8, 2013, in Writers

One day in 1988 Croft met someone he hadn’t seen for forty-two years. This was a woman called Annabel Kent, though he had known her as Bella.

He’d first met her in 1946 in London. He was twenty-six years old then and in hospital recovering from the effects of three years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Bella, twenty-eight, was a nurse. She’d been widowed by the war, her husband killed at the fall of Singapore, the event which had led to Croft’s capture. Croft thought he recognised her husband’s name, may even have met him.

Their story, Croft’s and Bella’s, was not unusual: he a wounded soldier, she his nurse devoted to bringing him back to health. They grew fond of one another, fancied themselves to be in love. They began to make plans.

Their affair lasted for four months. It ended with the return of Bella’s husband. The war which had widowed her now sought to unwidow her. Again, this wasn’t such an uncommon event. Croft remarked that he too had been dead for a while.

For Croft it was perhaps harder than for Bella. She had a choice whereas he was left with nothing after her choice was made. But their parting was relatively civilised. For a week he became so wretched that he thought of suicide but decided to get drunk instead. He went to a bar in Kilburn and drank a nip of neat whisky for each one of his dead colleagues until he was too fuddled to remember their names. It took him three days to recover from this binge but he surprised himself because after the hangover was gone he felt much, much better. He packed his one suitcase and left London for good.

He never saw Bella again nor heard from her. He had no news of her either. Then, one day in 1988, they met at a drinks party. They were introduced, they smiled politely and they talked for about three minutes. They discussed, without real enthusiasm, the warm weather and the high pollen count. There was a brief mention of contact lenses.

For they didn’t recognise one another. Bella was introduced as Anna Venner, a name that meant nothing to him. His name was one of several tossed towards her in general introduction. She noted only one name from these and it wasn’t his. If they had recognised one another they might have spoken about that time, forty-two years before, and what had happened since. She could have told him of her marriages and children and grandchildren. His story would have been similar. She might have told him more, of course. She might have taken him to one side and told him that the man in the pale grey suit, who had been introduced to him as her son, was his son too, born in June 1947.

But it never came to this. They met, they spoke about nothing for three minutes before an influx of guests parted them. After that they never met again.

David Shaw Mackenzie's most recent novel, The Interpretations, was published in June 2013 by Sandstone Press. You can buy it here.

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