My Name is Eva

My darling, darling man,

I am perfectly well aware that you are no longer here, I am not deluded, but I have no other way of venting my feelings and my fury, other than scribbling so hard on this notepaper that it is practically torn to ribbons. Yes, fury, anger, call it what you will, that you should survive so many missions and then perish. How could they have been so reckless with you, after all you had endured, how could they push their luck so carelessly? I want to scream and throw my maddened self at those responsible for being so careless with your life.

My grief is so bitter, so furious, I am sick with tears of rage. Firstly, I am livid with you for even joining that wretched unit and secondly, I’m absolutely incensed with them for not keeping you safe. I know you could never tell me exactly what you were doing out there (though I can jolly well guess) and that there are losses in all branches of the services, but you simply had to choose one of the riskiest, didn’t you? And how dare you say it was because it meant you could practise your French! You foolish, dear man. You were so proud of your linguistic skills, weren’t you? So delighted that all those long summer holidays on the C?te d’Azur and skiing in the Alps had helped you brush up your French.

I wish now that you had never learnt a single word of that wretched language, not even the words you whispered to me so sweetly on our honeymoon. All I can think is that your love of French took you away from me and into the most dreadful trouble and now you will never come back, never hold me again, never kiss me again. The country house we planned to have, with stables and gardens, will never happen, the children we longed for will never be born. The life we thought was promised to us for fighting this wretched war cannot be and now I cannot think what kind of a future I can have without you.

I know that you had near misses on previous missions and I cried buckets when I thought you were missing last year, but by a miracle you came back and I never thought I should cry so much ever again. But I was wrong, you foolish, reckless man. I’ve cried torrents, rivers, cloudbursts of tears since I received official confirmation of your death. Yes, I know you felt you had to go on doing your duty, but I always thought you would be more careful after such a lucky escape. But you loved tempting fate, didn’t you? Laughing at fate, relishing the risk. And now there is no one but my parents and our friends to restrain me. I can smoke cigarettes, drink gin to my heart’s content and do whatever I like. I can also carry on pouring my heart out to you on paper as it has become a habit I can’t break, even though you are no longer here to read my letters.



Your loving wife, Evie xxx Ps I love you





9





Mrs T-C, 3 November 2016





Smile for the Camera





Pat is here again. Really, she was here only a couple of days ago. Can’t she just get on with it, without coming back every five minutes, fussing and asking questions?

‘I’ve found a great stack of old photos,’ she says, rummaging in her grubby hessian shopping bag and holding out a biscuit tin decorated with a picture of a thatched country cottage, its garden full of lupins and hollyhocks. ‘I thought it would be fun for us to look through them together today. I haven’t the faintest idea who all these people are and they won’t mean anything to the rest of the family unless you help me write some names and dates on the back.’

‘Huntley and Palmers’ biscuits,’ Evelyn says, staring at the tin. ‘I always liked their ginger nuts best. And Mama did so love those pink wafers.’

‘Well, the tin’s full of old photos now,’ says Pat, settling into an armchair and shrugging off her jacket. ‘The biscuits were all eaten up long ago. So, let’s see if you can remember who’s here in these pictures.’

‘Oh, I’m really not sure I’ll be able to help,’ Evelyn says, ‘but I’ll have a go.’ She does remember, of course. She remembers very well, but she’s not sure whose picture Pat might come across among the higgledy-piggledy pile of tiny black and white snaps heaped in the tin. This is how it is to be, from now on: Pat unfettered, rummaging through the life of Kingsley and asking questions, rifling through the past, which has never been properly buried and laid to rest. Evelyn can but hope that her secrets will not make themselves known while she is still alive to hear the questions.

‘Let me borrow your pencil,’ Pat says, picking it up from the side table, next to the newspaper with its completed crossword. ‘Ooh, it’s lovely and sharp!’ She opens the tin and thrusts a clutch of pictures into Evelyn’s lap.

The first batch is of a long-ago summer: 1935 was it or ’36? No, it was definitely the heatwave of ’35, and Evelyn gazes at the group of men in cricket whites, the women in pale dresses, sitting on picnic rugs in the shade, with plates of triangular sandwiches and bowls of strawberries spread before them. ‘Straw helmets,’ she says. ‘That was the year the London policemen were given straw helmets to keep them cool. Everyone said it was like being back in India, when Papa was still out there. I was sixteen that year.’ She points to a young woman with bobbed hair at the back of the group.

‘See what a good idea this was! You’re managing to remember so much by seeing these pictures.’ Pat smiles. ‘Now, what about these? Is this one of Uncle Hugh?’

She holds out a portrait of a handsome young man, posing for the camera. Evelyn takes the little picture and smiles at her dear, long-departed husband. ‘He was so good-looking then. All the girls thought so. I was very lucky to get him. They all set their caps at Hugh.’

‘Would you like to keep that one?’

‘No, dear, I’ve got a better one in my room. You keep it and show it to your boys.’

‘And what about this one? Who is this little girl? I don’t think I’ve ever seen her before. Is she one of the family?’ She is holding an image of a child of about four years old, with braided blonde hair, laughing as she plays with a ball in a garden.

Yes, thinks Evelyn, she is a relative, but not one you’re ever going to meet. You will never see her, not even once, and I will never see her again.

Pat turns the photo over and reads the faint pencilled words scribbled on the back. ‘It doesn’t say much. Just Liese, 1951. That’s a couple of years after I was born.’

‘Liese,’ murmurs Evelyn. ‘I’ve no idea who that is.’ She gazes at the little snap as if she is trying hard to remember. How can I ever forget you, my darling? That day you were happy.

She doesn’t take the picture, one of several taken surreptitiously many years ago, in her hand; she doesn’t need to. She has one hidden in a drawer in her room and she kisses it every night before she goes to sleep, whispering ‘Gute Nacht, liebchen,’ after she’s kissed the framed photograph of her young husband, Hugh.

‘And look at this one,’ says Pat. ‘This is you as well, isn’t it? In uniform? I say, don’t you look smart?’

Evelyn accepts the photo from her niece. Her young self smiles back at her, confident with red lipstick and curled hair. ‘That wasn’t my regulation uniform. I had a suit tailored for me in Savile Row. Not to wear when I was on duty, mind you, but just for when I was going out to dinner. The uniform they issued was simply ghastly, especially the horrible thick brown stockings.’

‘Well, you’ve always liked to look smart, Aunt. Oh, and look, here’s another one. It’s a group of you and you’re all in uniform. That’s you again, isn’t it?’ She points to the young woman in the picture. Her hair is tucked under her cap and she stares uncertainly at the camera. ‘And who are the other people with you?’ She turns it over. ‘There’s nothing written on the back.’

Evelyn studies the photograph. She hasn’t seen it for many years. She must have enclosed a copy when she wrote home to Mama. Her letters were frequent at first, before everything happened. Two men and two women in formal poses, barely smiling, all in uniform, shoulders back, stiff arms by their sides, standing in front of the doors to a large building. Eva, Colonel Robinson and two others. Would anyone recognise him from this picture? He barely changed over the years. It’s very like the image issued when he went missing, thirty years later. But who would remember now that she had known him once?

‘Where was that photograph taken?’ Pat is still rifling through the remaining snaps in the tin.

‘Out in Germany, I think. Just after the end of the war.’

‘You’ve never told me anything about what you were doing out there. It must have been pretty awful, so soon after the war was all over.’

‘I don’t think I did anything very important, dear. I was the lowest of the low.’ Don’t say too much, Evelyn. Don’t let her think you remember.

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