26 Jul


Bakelite microphone photo abxt_front_zpscwwa08oy.png
Mary Coppard winced and her breathing became more laboured and a lot more painful, moment by moment. She turned her head towards the microphone her grandson had wired up to an MP3 recorder, the Bakelite audio-wonder she’d bought as war surplus in 1947 and hardly used since then.

“As I said,” she wheezed, “this is my autobiography, and seeing as I can’t type any more – I can’t bloody well sit up and my fingers stopped working years ago – I’m having to say it aloud, and it’s easy to wander off sideways when you’re talking to a machine. Distraction was always the very devil, you know…”

Her face distorted, showing the pain she experiences as she enunciated every word. She could have squeezed the trigger that pumped a little more morphine into her blood – that would have numbed the pain all right, but it would also have numbed her mind, and she needed to be able to think. She didn’t have very long, she knew that full well, and she wanted to get this right first time. She may have no time for a second go…

“I could waffle on about being born, something I can’t remember at all, and I could reminisce about my childhood, which was pretty normal and as happy as a childhood could be. I wasn’t abused, nobody beat me and a lot of people loved me… so there’s no point in making a story about happiness. I was a happy child, and I’ll leave it at that…”

This time she coughed and the pain of every rasping spasm became etched on her face as even more tell-tale lines. When the bout had subsided she sighed and turned towards the old microphone.

“I suppose my story really began after the war. I was in my teens when the wretched violence ended and met my first boyfriend, though I didn’t realise that’s what he was at the time. But this lad, Lance he was called, which was an unusual name for back then, was a few years older than me and he’d been in the forces. He hadn’t seen any combat, the war being almost over when he joined up anyway, but he’d mixed with loads of other lads and learned a few things a lad shouldn’t learn. In particular, he’d learned that women had only one purpose in life, and that was looking after lads. He made that clear and I was fool enough not to take notice at first. But when I went with him to meet his folks, as he put it, I soon learned what he was about. His dad had died, before the war so he wasn’t so much a casualty of that conflict but he had died eventually because of a chunk of shrapnel he’d picked up at the Somme in the first world war, years after receiving it. So there was just Lance, his mum and a brother and sister. And how that mother of his suffered! She had to do everything for him, cook, iron, wash his filthy pants – and then she had to go out to work while he lounged about the house and ordered his sister about.

“You see, he was the man in the house and according to him that was all that mattered. His mother and sister were only there to tend to his every need. That was their purpose in life. He was never going to learn how to clean and cook! No, not him!

“That visit put me straight, all right. I was going to have nothing to do with a lad whose ego was so corrupted that he saw women as his lubricant in life. Yet we’d been going together for quite a time before he took me to meet his folks and we’d been behaving as normal young people sometimes do, though not so often back then! And, unbeknown to him, I fell pregnant.

“I daren’t tell anyone, and I certainly wasn’t going to tell Lance so that he could volunteer to do “the decent thing”, as they called it in those days. Nowadays it’s not much, for a lass to open her legs once too often and get into the family way, but back then it was almost a crime. Some lasses even got sent away to homes where they stayed incarcerated for years! I was more fortunate than that because my mum rallied round when she noticed that something was amiss with me and helped, but I had to go away to her sister’s at the other end of the country and put up with endless nagging criticism there. When my baby was born it died and I’ll say no more of it other than to comment that had it lived it would be a pensioner now!”

She paused and took a sip of water and this time had to help numb the shafting stabs of pain that were all she had left of life by clicking on her self-medicating morphine.

“My second boyfriend, Gavin, was, if anything, worse than the first and I proved I must surely be a really slow learner by marrying him. It wasn’t until we were settled in a place of our own that I learned his dark secret. He was a criminal who was perfectly happy using any amount of violence to get what he wanted, and we’d not been married a year when he was arrested and charged with murder. Apparently he’d been robbing a bank when a teller got in his way, and he shot him! Armed robbery would have been bad enough, but murder! I was mortified, but not as mortified as the poor teller’s family.

“Gavin was hanged after what seemed ages. They did that back then – the very worst killers got a sure-fire rope round their necks. I didn’t mind the fact that he was gone – I knew that he deserved it – but the shame that I felt, everywhere I went, was overwhelming. I know it probably wasn’t like it seemed, but I thought everyone was pointing at me, calling me, sniggering behind my back.

“I was still young, and I knew I had to go away.”

She coughed again, and sighed. She’d barely started. But the effort was draining her, the pulling of the right words together, and yet she had so much more to tell that Bakelite microphone. How she met Howard when she was living at the other end of the country, how she had known before their first date that he produced erotic films, artistic he had called them, and how she had finally found someone she could love and who loved her back in return. But that would all take so many words … did she have that many? She felt as if there were only so many words in her head and she had used all but a handful of them already. But she still had thoughts evoked by memories.

“I was in a dozen of his films before he properly noticed me,” she thought, “and I loved every one of them. I was so proud of what I was doing. Howard explained to me that there was an army of men out there, all in need of the comfort of a love life and all without one, and his films, issued on 8 millimetre film that most people could see at home if they went to the trouble of buying an inexpensive projector, filled a vital gap in their lives. And they were works of art, all of them, beautiful essays in the wonders of the female body, ten minute masterpieces…”

“I was a vamp and a harlot, a princess and a queen,” she sighed, loud enough for the microphone to pick it up. “A princess and a queen … and I married Howard… he had seen me in the arms of make-believe lovers in his studio, he had even seen me with other women, playing out this or that fantasy, and after I had performed for him in a dozen or so films he proposed to me. And I accepted! He was the first and only gentleman in my life….

“We were happy together. Of course we were! I produced two daughters for him, and you know what he said? I’ll tell you! He said that we must watch those girls of ours, make sure they stayed on the straight and narrow, keep them away from studios like his! And we did. They grew up and I have grandchildren and even great grandchildren….”

She flinched, and the pain became worse than ever. The room around her faded when she administered a second dose of morphine, and she shuddered. Then she sighed and closed her eyes. When she woke up, she thought, she would tell the last part of her story…

But she didn’t wake up. The dead can’t. So she didn’t notice when they took her microphone away, a hospital orderly looking curiously at it and smiling at a nurse.

“I wonder why she had this hooked up?” he mused, “pity she didn’t switch the little recorder on … we might have seen into the poor dear’s life a bit.”

“She wouldn’t have said anything,” replied the nurse, “the Alzheimer’s claimed her long ago… I’ve been here ages and never heard her voice, not once … it’s so sad, really.

©Peter Rogerson 26.07.15


2 Responses to “THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY”

  1. georgiakevin July 27, 2015 at 2:13 am #

    Wow!!!!!!! What a an outstanding and powerful post! I will be rereading this several times. Your work just gets better and better!

    • Peter Rogerson July 27, 2015 at 8:06 am #

      Sometimes a post seems to write itself, which is what this one did.

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