A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



This,” thought Annie Grable as she stared unseeingly at the grandfather clock that her late husband, her one and only love, her dearest Bert, had almost worshipped every time he wound it up, “this is not how I’d have chosen my 102nd birthday to be like.”

She had that thought because it was May of the year 2020 and the world was in the strangest place she could remember it ever having been in. She’d lived a long life and seen a lot of things, but never anything quite like this. Not even that blasted war against Hitler had been anything quite like this because although there has been a lot of sound and fury from time to time, it hadn’t been remorseless like this was. It hadn’t kept a woman indoors when she wanted very much to be out of doors. It hadn’t stopped her from going to the corner shop, for instance, like this damned lock down did. True, she didn’t have a ration book like she’d had to have back then, but what’s the point of ration books if you can’t get to the shops anyway?

She cast her mind back for a moment, then sighed. It was shocking the number of things she’d done and seen over the years that she’d totally forgotten, and she knew she hadn’t lost her marbles like older folks sometimes do. She was aware that a century offered so much stuff for the mind to soak up that there couldn’t possibly be room for everything.

Like that first day at school… she’d forgotten all about it but knew she must have gone along to the infants’ school like every other little person of five years of age. She must have looked at a primer reading book or a scratchy black slate for the very first time … what had that reading book been like? Was it full of brightly coloured pictures, or just big words for a little girl to get her head round. And by big she meant large size letters rather than long, complicated words that no five year-old could possibly even begin to understand.

She’d lived with her mum back then. Nineteen eighteen was a year that marked her life in two ways.

It was the year she’d been born and it was the year a father she’d never known had been killed on the Somme. So many men had been killed there, men of all nations really, and nobody was quite certain why, though a teacher at school had tried to explain how the assassination of a crown prince in Sarajevo had caused it. One man was shot and millions of innocents had paid for that shooting with their lives. That, the teacher had said, was the natural way of things.

It was cruel, really, wasn’t it? And above being cruel to the men who died, it had been especially cruel to that one special man in particular, the one she would never learn to call daddy and who could never hold her tiny self in his arms, because he had been one of the dead.

Had she really missed him, though? After all, she’d never seen him. She was born in April of that year and he was killed only weeks before the war had ended. How stupid, how mind-blowingly stupid to have reached a point when they knew the war was going to end at such and such a time, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and still shoot the lives away from young soldiers not so long out of nappies, before their whole lives had a proper chance to start they had to end, and all because a clock somewhere had yet to dong eleven. But they’d let the shooting carry on right up to the end. They’d let the blood be spilt even when the conclusion of that war was decided.

It had all been a mess, and in that mess her father had perished before he’d had a chance to see her. And more than that, much, much more, she’d never had a chance to see him. Her tiny toddler voice had never learned the word daddy. The closest she’d ever got to him was to a white slab in a foreign war cemetery. And it hadn’t just had his name on it, but everyone who’d fallen into the mud of war with him in its final bloody moments. The individual hadn’t mattered. Men had just been pawns in the bloody game of war.

Take away a delusiinal obsessed leader, she thought, and there wouldn’t be a war.

But none of this was a memory from the time because she’d been an embryo and embryos have nothing to remember. Yes, until May 1918 she’d been an embryo and after then a mewling baby. And she still had nothing to remember. Not the cheering at war’s ending, not the men coming back home in their mud-stained dribs and drabs from Flanders’ fields, not the tears being shed by a mother trying to feed the daughter her dead husband would never know.

They didn’t think of the women, did they, when they slaughtered the men? Of course not! From what she’d learned of the ways of men they only thought of women when they wanted feeding. Oh, and yes, when they wanted sex. She’d had a hundred and two years to savour and occasionally regret that one.

So I’d been a little waif living with a mother who was too young herself to be a mother … married to a man who was too young to be a soldier on the killing fields of Europe.”

A tear, just one, trickled from her eye and ran down her one hundred and two year old cheeks, pale now, and lined with the years. And she was still stuck in the home she’d been born to.

Once, this house had been a hard place to live in what with having little in the way of utilities. There had been gas, of course, and water and electricity would come. The bathroom would be tacked on some time in the future but until it was you had to s**t in a privy in the yard.

It was one of a row of Victorian terraces, built for the miners who toiled in a nearby colliery to live in, and it was cold in the winter with drafts finding their way under doors and around ill-fitting windows. As a child she’d drawn pictures in the ice that formed on the inside of her bedroom window. Jack Frost, they said, had been calling.

The place had been modernised more than once since nineteen eighteen, though in truth she had no clear memories of anything from back then even though she’d had to struggle to hold on to life. The death of the man her mother loved, really, really loved with a wild passion, the sort felt for first loves the world over, had stolen just about everything from the blessed woman.

There was neglect back then, she, Annie, had been neglected, she’d been told, but thankfully there could be no memory of it. Her grandmother and even her grandfather when he returned from the pit after a days’ toil, had taken over for a while whilst her mother mourned away her days in tears, and that had been Annie Grable’s start on the voyage of life.

And now here she was with nothing to do but remember, even invent, memories that she’d quite forgotten in order to fill in the gaps. What else could she do? There was a virus about, and she was in lock down!

At one hundred and two, she wondered, would she ever feel the sun on her face again? Would she ever go out and feel the wind in her thin white hair? Would she ever see a snowy winter and hear the ice crunching under the wheels of her walker as she pushed it slowly to the corner shops? They say it’s a war, that we’re fighting against an invisible foe, and she’d known wars and this wasn’t like one of those. This was a pandemic with no visible foe to shoot at, flying no Messerschmitt that brave men with guns could shoot down.

Bit if she died because of it she would lose all of the rest of her life, and she wasn’t ready for that yet.

Not quite. The rest of her life might not be long when measured in years but it was for ever, just like anyone else’s.

© Peter Rogerson 01.05.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on May 1, 2020
Last Updated on May 1, 2020
Tags: birth, death, the Somme, mother's grief


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 77 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

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A Chapter by Peter Rogerson