Thursday, December 09, 2004

A Silver Dawn story

So many people come to Hastings to die: it's something of a tradition. We don't necessarily think of it in those terms at the time, but that's what we do. It's like the story of the elephants' graveyard, but with the elephants replaced by aged, lonely and distressed gentlefolk; white elephants, I suppose.

When my husband, Harold, passed on I put myself through the normal grieving process, surrounded by comforting friends and family. It was all very civilised, but I couldn't abide it. The problem was that I was a fraud. My husband and I had weathered almost fifty years of marriage, but had hated each other quietly for most of the latter half of it. Neither of us ever tried to understand or explain why. We found it easier to stay together, for financial reasons and to preserve appearances. Oh yes, and the old stand-by: for the sake of the children. Love and companionship no longer mattered. I would like to think our children never knew.

Our eldest son, Michael, offered to take me in, worried that a woman of my age was somehow incapable of living on her own. I discovered a vein of independence in myself that must have lain dormant since the days of the war and my youth and declined, announcing that I would be moving to Hastings. I suppose if I were to be truly honest I would have to say the real reason was that I could no longer take all the kind words and sympathy: the strain of the hypocrisy would, I fear, have robbed me of my few remaining years.

I had not taken into account Harold's pension being reduced after his death; when combined with my state pension it allowed me to survive, barely, by living in what only charity would forbid describing as a flop-house. The Atlantic Hotel was once a grand old Victorian building, gutted in the 1950s and divided up into low-rent rooms little larger that gaol cells. It is filled with old men and women, many with stories not too dissimilar to mine. Its corridors have a smell of urine and death that no disinfectant will ever shift.

It was there that I met Mr. Rae.

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