TIME TO DIE

10 Jul

Daniel, somewhere in his seventies, was getting worried. All his life he’d been prone to worrying, usually about nothing or, on a really bad day, nearly next to nothing, but this was different. He was getting to be forgetful and he knew that being forgetful was surely the beginning of the end and that sooner than soon there’d be a funeral and he would be the one in the coffin.

And the worry nagged at him like no other worry ever had. Why couldn’t he remember the name of the actor who played Morse in the nineties? And who was the girl with the pearl ear-ring? The end must be nigh…

But let’s go back to the beginning. No, not all the way because that would be going back to his birth and back then he had very little to worry about. Even the proximity of his milk supply and its gorgeous soft and mumsy nipples weren’t cause for anything approaching concern. No, it would be plain daft to go back that far.

Or would it?

Maybe we ought to give it a second thought. Maybe we ought to take a peek at the reality of his babyhood. Especially at one particular episode. When one synapse joined with another…

It was all a long time ago and, daft as it might sound, the second world war was still raging, though only just. Not that bombs fell near his home very often, nor was the ground made to shake nor did anything of a military nature creating the sort of noises that would eat into his baby mind occur too often in his vicinity.

But he was in his pram.

It was a large pram and mummy (he didn’t call her that then because he didn’t call anything by any name yet) had daubed a diarrhoea shade of brown on it as camouflage against the chance possibility of a low flying enemy aircraft spotting its silver sheen and letting fly with a few rounds of ammunition just for the sake of it. No, mummy was both careful and considerate, and the once-shiny pram looked like dried diarrhoea. Mummy was then satisfied that absolutely nothing would attract a barrage of fire to her sweet first baby son, Daniel. After all, his perambulator would be invisible to the vicious foe if parked in a muddy field and viewed from two thousand feet. He was perfectly and gorgeously safe from enemy fire, and that was all that mattered.

Until, that is, he became a target.

It wasn’t enemy fire: that much must be stressed. There were no enemy airmen or aggressive soldiers armed to the teeth ready to destroy anything vaguely British anywhere near. No. The enemy was Tommy Saunders, aged ten and with a home-made bow and quiver of arrows, only the arrows weren’t in a quiver because a) he didn’t know what one was and b) he couldn’t have made one even if he had known.

But Tommy Saunders had spent the past five years of his life knowing that war and death were everything. Nothing else was important. Life was always going to be like it was then, dodging bullets and bombs, crawling over bomb-sites at bed time on the way home and throwing grenades at the cruel invaders that lurked in every shadow. It was a lesson worth learning, so he made himself a personal arsenal against the day when he’s have to either face his maker or destroy a German. Yes, the enemies were Germans and so many cartoons had been drawn portraying them as sub-human that he actually believed that’s what they were and that it was perfectly all right killing sub-humans before one of them killed him.

And it was Tommy Saunders who caused an arrow with a drawing-pin tip to rattle against the diarrhoea perambulator.

And Mummy screamed.

She had a fair scream, did mummy, coming as it did from a fair pair of lungs, and she used it to the best of her ability before grabbing the pram by its brown handle and racing towards the nearest bomb shelter as if both hers and her infant’s life depended on it. That arrow, after all, hadn’t come from nowhere. It was real, tipped with metal and had flights exactly the same colour as the chickens kept in the Saunders garden, which ought to have alerted her to the truth, but didn’t.

As far as she was aware nobody had made for the bomb shelter, and that surprised her. Surely others must have noticed?

Surely the whole neighbourhood can’t have been levelled to the ground and its entire population killed, murdered, put to whatever silent weapons the fiends from over the seas had designed?

So she chose to investigate. She had to. There was nobody else to do it, and if her lovely little Daniel was going to be safe she must know where the dangers lay and what to avoid.

So she pushed the diarrhoea pram and its cuddly contents into a safe corner of the shelter, whispered I love you, Daniel, wait there for mummy, I won’t be long, and crept silently out into the big dangerous world beyond the corrugated roof of the shelter.

And she looked around her.

Tommy Saunders had, of course, run off when he heard her scream. He hadn’t associated it with his wayward arrow because even he knew that his arrows, though certainly menacing to any enemy that might come his way, were really only thin sticks tipped with a drawing pin each, and still at an experimental stage. They’d certainly be a lot more deadly when he perfected them. So he ran home and shivered behind his own mother’s skirt.

So Mummy looked around, and there didn’t seem to be very much amiss. Mrs Dangerfield was gossiping with Miss Spencer on the street corner. Miss Spencer was an odd one, in a forties and never married probably because she could be cruelly severe, but Mrs Dangerfield was a buxom and plentiful woman with more than an adequate backside, and generally liked by all.

Did you see them?” Mummy asked of the two women.

See who?” asked Mrs Dangerfield.

The Germans,” she replied, shivering.

Germans? Stuff and nonsense! The war’s all but over!” declared Miss Spencer severely.

And it was at that precise moment that Daniel woke up in his pram in the shadows of the bomb shelter, decided he was hungry and started clamouring for a nice warm teat, preferably Mummy’s, but at his age any would do.

And mummy, being close to the corner of the street, didn’t hear. She was being berated by Miss Spencer who was doing her best to prove why she was generally disliked and ought to be a school ma’am, which she wasn’t.

But Daniel was hungry.

At a time in his life when all he had to worry about was being hungry, Daniel was hungry and the usual clamour he made for breast and teat was proving to be totally inadequate.

Rosie Miller (aged nine), heard him and went to investigate.

She found a baby in a pram and she knew that particular pram because it looked like shit. That was her word because it was the same word that her dad used when he wanted to scorn something. Shit. The pram looked like shit, but the baby in it didn’t, and Rosie Miller picked the baby up to comfort it.

Cooey cooey coo,” she cooed.

Daniel took a deep breath and looked at her. It didn’t register that she was only a child, or that she was a pretty enough child or that her smile was the smile of angels. No. All that registered was the total absence of warm milky teats, and so he squawked loud again, so loud that she went to cover her ears and…

…And almost dropped the infant.

It’s a good thing that it was almost.

And it’s a good thing that Daniel’s mother, alerted by a strange maternal antenna that all new mothers have to the needs of their offspring, arrived at the precise moment to prevent the almost becoming something dangerous and nasty and plucked the child from Rosie’s arms just in time.

And cuddled her baby as Rosie explained that she’d heard him crying and wanted to make him feel better.

And in all the kerfuffle Mummy forgot that the most important thing she ever did in her life was to feed her little son when he needed to be fed.

Which set the ball rolling. The worrying ball when the connections in his tiny brain for the very first time did what with synapses do, and Daniel started to worry. That was something that could be put down to Hitler along with all the rest.

And now, in his seventies, he was facing the great divide and had forgotten why or where he was, but knew that somewhere in the fog there must be a fierce warrior with his arrows flighted with chicken feathers firmly aimed at him.

It was, he knew, time to die.

© Peter Rogerson 09.07.17

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