Evacuee

I thought she’d write, it’s what they do, women of her generation. A genteel way of behaving, I like it. It’s what I would do and even think about replying but perhaps that is too much. I wanted to stay. I wanted to be with her for longer. I think we both did. There is something so warm about her. But perhaps it isn’t her so much but what she represents for both of us. I think my father felt it too. He used to call her she told us, regularly. I can imagine that. He liked women like her, small, seemingly uncomplicated women, who would soften him, coddle him. He’d call just to see how I was, she said. And then when I went to visit him we’d walk round the village and he would introduce me to everyone. She likes company, I think, doesn’t do well alone and yet, going out, alone to meet others, I believe is also a trial. I caught her face through restaurant glass before she saw us, it was hollow. Her card was tender, the writing so typical of that time. His mother wrote in the same way, rather hesitant. The script is self-deprecating, undemanding. The curls are uncertain, sometimes the letters are lower case, others capitals. A slow hand, a tentative hand. She’d thought about it, chosen the front image with care.

What had we talked about? So much. We talked of her childhood in Wales, living in that small town during the War and how they took in an evacuee. A girl. She didn’t remember much about it. Had she shared a room? She talked of her mother. An amazing woman, so capable. Like many from that time, managing everything without their men. We talked of the dance where she’d met her husband. Love at first site, so much so that she’d engineered the second meeting. In so many small, unheroic ways, a brave woman. You’ve had a charmed life, my friend told me, she said. Yes, perhaps but doesn’t that make the loss, oh, so much harder?

It was lovely to witness her lighting up, her face alive with that afterglow. We will do it again. We are your friends. The feelings, my love, are mutual.

 

I feel such compassion for them all. I scan the room and am filled with empathy. They are me and I am them. There is no separation. I open gradually and am more generous with my thoughts and experiences, less guarded. What a gift this is. Though the next day my mind is unrepentant, more determined than ever to unsettle me. So be it. One step at a time.

 

Cool boredom, she called it. And then she read Mary Oliver’s The Wild Geese.

 

I mouthed the words along with her.

 

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk a hundred miles on your hands and knees repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves….