I wrote this short story in 1992, when I was 20. I've edited it slightly. The title comes from the philosophy of Heidegger, and means roughly "forgetting that one exists".

It was a nice little ceremony. Just me, her, the vicar, the ring and her family. My family all refused to come. Three months later Nicholas was born, then two years later a girl. Even then I sometimes considered walking out, but I didn't have the nerve. It took me fifteen years to work up to it, then I just walked out the front door. I felt like a character in a spy novel - hat and dark glasses, clutching a document folder, sitting alone in a carriage, on a train chosen at random, going north.

I was in a rock band when I was a teenager. I suppose that's quite common. We called ourselves 'Fatalistics'. Our drummer wanted to name us after an old Beatles track - I can't remember what it was called. The guitarist left and we changed our name to 'M for Murder'. I met my first girlfriend at the second gig we played. It was in a local pub. We were playing 'Stand by your man' and she walked in with her sister and another female friend. The band split up soon after I started going out with her. Our first date was to see a horror film in some old run down local cinema.

I got off the train when it stopped in a town I'd never heard of. I found lodgings in a guesthouse. It was run by a horrible cantankerous old lady called Mrs Goddard. I got a job in a local bank and settled down to my new life. I decided to buy a small bungalow with my savings. At first I considered taking lodgers of my own, but decided against it. The only trouble I ever had in that small town - more of a village really - was with my neighbour. A retired colonel named Plunkit. He never called himself 'Mr', he always insisted on 'Colonel Pluinkit Retired', with a slight punctuation between the second and third words. A handlebar moustache would have suited him.

Our first child was a boy. We called him Thomas. She wanted to call him Nicholas. Our second child was a girl. We called her Sal. At age three Sal caught influenza - she nearly died but the doctors bought her through. I've always had great respect for doctors. I don't think I could do what they do.

People like to think that small towns are peaceful, with quiet, nice people. They are not. Small towns are just as noisy as large towns (and just as parochial) but the people get worked up over different things. Smaller things as a rule. Retired Major Plunkit, my next door neighbour once lent me his lawnmower, but when I gave it back he said I'd put a dent in it. I hadn't of course - the dent had always been there. He stopped talking to me after that. Strange, to stop talking to your own neighbour because of something a minor as a dented lawnmower, but there you are. That's people for you I suppose.

I think the first time I thought about leaving her - my common law wife, that is - was when our first son (his name was Nicholas) nearly died of influenza, and she blamed me. In fact I'm not sure she ever really stopped blaming me. Some say that women arn't rational, that men are the ones who need to make the decisions, but I don't think that's true at all. Women are rational, in fact I think they're more practical than their menfolk, but when it come to children, especially their own children, they seem to lose all power to be objective.

I remember my first girlfriend. Our first date was going to see a local band called 'Dial M for Murder'. They weren't very good. I met her again, quite by chance, about ten years later. It turned out I'd been to school with her sister. In fact her sister was the girl whose pigtails I used to dip in the inkwells at school, in Miss Caldicots's Geography lessons. She - my ex-girlfriend that is, not her sister with the inky pigtails - eventually married a bank clerk who ran off to sunny Spain with a loose woman.

I think the people of the village were actually quite sad to see me go. I was their resident mysterious stranger. They probably thought I was a war criminal, or a bank robber. Mrs Hobbes, a local shopkeeper, gave me a little going away present. I caught a train going north, not bothering to find out it's route. My next door neighbour but one - a retired Colonel - tried to get me to pay for repairs to a lawnmower he'd lent me that I'd apparently damaged. I don't know what he was talking about - he'd never lent me anything. Tight fisted old sod. Anyway, I jumped on a train and headed north.

I remember, on our honeymoon, on the first night of our honeymoon, we went to see some ridiculous horror film. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but looking back I don't suppose it was the most romantic of evenings together. Sill, it can't have been all that bad. That night she got pregnant with our first child. I wanted to call him Thomas, and she wanted to call him Nicholas. In the event it was a girl. Slightly premature. The doctors did a good job with our little girl. I've always admired doctors and people like them. I don't think I could do what they do.

I felt like a character in a rather bad spy novel. Hat, trenchcoat, document folder, sitting alone in a train carriage, not knowing what I would find at the other end of the line. I learnt something important about train journeys that time. When listening to to that syncopation of wheels on track, you should never, repeat never, try to fit words to the rhythm, because if if you do, the wheels will be saying it for the entire journey, and you simply can't get rid of it. It's the same with a dripping tap. In fact I think it's the same with people talking.

When I was about ten years old I wanted to be a fighter pilot, then a nuclear scientist, then an actor. The trouble was I had vertigo, and didn't know anything about science, and didn't understand Skakespere. Someone once said you always end up doing what you're second best at. The thing is: if I'm second best at walking out on my wife and kids, what am I best at?

I got off the train. This town was somewhat larger, and more industrialised, then that last one. I found temporary bed and board in one of those cheap and cheerful guesthouses catering to businessmen and women 'just passing through'. It was run by a cantankerous old woman called Mrs Goddard and her husband. I never heard the husband speak once.

It was an eighteen month engagement, and we got married in a Registry Office. Just me and her. We first met a little more that two years beforehand, in distinctly unromantic circumstances. It was in a pub, with a somewhat over-loud local band playing old Beatles tracks at one end. She was there alone. In fact she was only there at all because her boyfriend of the time was the drummer in the band.

I moved out of the guesthouse, and bought myself a small apartment in a flat with my savings. I found a job, as a bank clerk. Started going out with a young woman. She had pigtails.

Our first son was born twelve months after the marriage. Our second son twelve months after that. They both wanted to be fighter pilots when they were ten. Thomas, the second son, wanted to be a nuclear scientist when he was twelve, and an actor when he was fifteen. He joined a rock band, called 'Fatal Statistics', or something like that.

I've always liked women with pigtails, it makes them look like little schoolgirls. I remember, at school, one girl kept on accusing me of dipping her pigtails in the inkwell. I didn't, of course. Though I admit I had been tempted. The woman I was going out with had been married once, but her husband had run off to Spain with some other woman, and her child had died, some years earlier, at age four, of influenza. I think she just needed someone to talk to. She told me about he husband. He had been in the army, a major, but had to retire for health reasons.

I think, the thing I most regret is never having settled down, got married, had kids. I think I would have liked to be a family man, with a little dog to fetch my slippers and the newspaper. But no. I don't really regret anything. It's not been a bad life. I've got my wife, my kids, my medals from the army. I was a colonel. I was a major. I was never in the army. It's just a shame we never had kids. Our first child was born prematurely. I thought about running away but never did. I haven't seen my family for nine years. It was a nice little ceremony. Just me, her, the vicar, the ring and her family. Her family all refused to come.

No comments:

Post a comment