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Authors: Yelena Kopylova

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tight against his side and he looked up at him and moved his head once and his father said,

”There. There now, Alice.”

He watched Mrs Alice’s face. She was gulping in her throat, the rain dripping down from the

brim of her hat on to their joined hands, and it seemed another eternity before she said, ”Yes,

yes, Abel, I’ll do it ”

When had that happened? It seemed another long, long time ago, and yet it was only two weeks

or perhaps three. He couldn’t pin-point the time but he remembered his father saying, ”We’ll

make it next Sunday. I’ll walk out, him with me, just as if it was our usual stroll; and you do the

same. Oh, Alice! Alice! ...”

He started, his back springing from the tree as he heard his mother’s voice yelling again. At the

same time there came to him


deep thuds as if someone was battering a door down, and htfîtose quickly to his feet and threaded

his way through the copse until he came in sight of the cottage; and there was his mother

standing in the open yard that gave on to the field, and she was crying, ”I said you’re not goin’,

and you’re not goin’. She’ll be where she should have been this long while, well under the clay,

afore I let you out of there.”

When the thuds came again he knew it was his father’s boot kicking at the lock.

Of a sudden the thudding stopped and there came a silence all around him. He could hear the

birds singing, a wood pigeon coocooed above his head; a cheeky rabbit scurried across the

opening between the copse and the duck-pond. He heard in the distance
the clear sound of a train whistle, which clearness his father always said forecast bad weather. He pictured the train

choo . . . chooing from Hastings, through Ore on to Doleham Halt, and all the way to Rye.

His mind was jerked from thoughts of the train by the sound of breaking glass. There was a great

crash at first, then tinkling sounds like notes being struck on a piano.

When he saw his father come head first through the kitchen window and drop on to his hands on

the flags that surrounded the cottage he wondered why he hadn’t just opened the window instead

of smashing it. Then he remembered the tapping sound he had heard earlier on like a woodpecker

on a tree bole. His mother must have nailed up the window.

He held his breath as he watched his father dusting himself down, with his mother standing like a

ramrod not three yards from him. He saw his father turn his back on her and reach back through

the broken pane. When he withdrew his hand he was holding his trilby in it.

He watched him bang it twice against his coat sleeve, then press the dent further into the crown,

put it on and pull the peak down over his brow before slowly walking away. But he hadn’t

reached the bridle path before his mother was screaming again.

”You’re not a man, you’re spineless! A conchie! A conchie! Objectin’ ’cos of your principles?

Bloody liar! Objectin’ ’cos you were a stinkin’ coward. Decent lads bein’ killed, slaughtered

while you hoed taties. You spineless, spunkless nowt you!”

Dick put his hands tightly over his ears, but his eyes remained



fixed on his father as he watched him getting smaller and smaller the further he went along the

path, until he looked minute as he jumped the stile; and then he was gone.

And now the world was empty, terrifyingly empty. What if he never came back ? What if he

went to Mrs Alice’s funeral and then kept walking on right back to that far place called the North

? The place that he was always talking about, the place where he had been born, the place where

people were kind and open-handed and didn’t fight all the livelong day! . . . But his mother was

from there too and she fought all the livelong day.

He would die if his dad didn’t come back. . . . No, he wouldn’t; he would set out and look for

him, and he’d walk and walk until he found him. . . .

He sat down where he was on the dried leaves and from the distance he watched his mother

sweep up the broken glass, then trim the broken remnants from the window sash. She did this

with the hammer, bashing at the framework as if she’d knock it out. Every now and again she

would stop and look about her and say something out loud.

When he first started school he used to grumble to himself about the long walk over the fields to

the main road where he caught the bus, but whenever his mother yelled he was glad that they

lived so far away from everybody for otherwise he knew the boys at school would have taunted

him, as they did Jackie Benton because his father was in prison for stealing.

After what seemed almost a whole day he rose from the ground and began to walk back through

the copse and into the hazel wood. His father called it the dirty wood because the trees were thin

and jammed together. If the place was his, he’d said, he’d have all these trees down and decent

ones planted. But there were decent ones in the big wood which was separated from the hazelnut

grove by a right of way that led from well inland through two farms until it came out on the cliff


He stood on the path and looked upwards. The sun was directly overhead, which meant that his

father had been gone over two hours. And yet he had imagined it to be much longer. It would be

dinner-time, but he didn’t feel hungry and he should do because he hadn’t eaten any breakfast.

Twice he had heard his mother calling him but he had taken no notice. He wasn’t going to go

back into the house until his father returned; that’s if he returned, for

although he had gone to the main road to catch the bus into Hastings he had the feeling that he

wouldn’t come back that way but would return through the glens, and if he did, this would be the

path along which he would come from the top of the cliffs.

He didn’t know how long he wandered about, sat, lay on the grass both on his back and his face,

he was only aware that he was tired of waiting; and he was frightened because he knew he

couldn’t follow his father as he didn’t know which way he had gone; and he was frightened too

because he must now return home to his mother and her yelling and her talking at him, her face

close to his, her mouth opening and shutting and her grey-coated tongue wobbling about in it,

and her hand coming across his ear, and the pain going through his nose and into his throat.

He had actually turned towards home when he saw away along at the far end of the path, where it

turned round Farmer Wilkie’s yard, the figure of a man, but it was so far away that at first he

couldn’t make out whether or not it was his father. It might be just one of those hikers, or a man

on the road begging. There were lots of men on the road begging, but not many came this way, it

was too far off the beaten track.

His heart leapt when he recognized his father while still some long way off. He was walking with

his head down. Slowly now he went towards him, but stopped of a sudden when he saw him turn

abruptly off the path and run into the wood. He stood still, his head moving in perplexity. Why

had he gone into the wood like that? Did he want to go somewhere, the lavatory? Well he

wouldn’t have run like that, would he ?

Jumping a narrow ditch, he, too, went into the wood. The trees were large here, oak and beech,

but there was a lot of scrub that had been allowed to grow in between them, mostly brambles and

young struggling oaks that had no hope of reaching maturity.

He made his way in the direction his father had taken and after a while came on him; but he

heard him before he saw him and the sound brought his eyes wide, his lips apart and his fingers

pressing on them. Carefully he moved in the direction from which the sound was coming, and

then he saw him. He had his arms halfway around the bole of an oak tree and he was beating his

head against the trunk while he cried aloud.

The sight and sound was something so painful it was not to be borne; he wanted to turn and run

from it but all he could do was


bow his head on his chest and stand as if he, like the saplings, had taken root in the earth.

His father was moaning now, saying over and over again, ”Oh, Alice! Alice! ... Oh, Alice!


From beneath his lowered lids he watched his father cling helplessly to the tree now as if he were

drunk, then slowly turn around and lean his back against it. The bark of the tree had opened the

small cut the jug had made above his eyebrow and the blood was trickling over his eye and down

his cheek, but he made no attempt to wipe it away ; he just stood there, his shoulders against the

tree, his head moving slowly from side to side, his features no longer expressionless but

contorted and so twisted that he appeared at this moment like a very old man.

Slowly lifting each foot well from the ground, he walked towards his father - he did not want to

startle him - but when he reached his side, his father looked at him with no surprise. It was as if

he expected him to be there and now he groaned, ”Oh, Dickie ! Dickie !” then dropping on to the

ground, he put his arms around him; and the boy hugged his face to his own, and as his father’s

tears and blood spread over him there opened in him an awareness of anguish and compassion

that should not have been tapped until he had tasted wonder and joy, the natural ingredients of

childhood and youth.

”Oh, Dad! Dad!”

”It’s all right, boy. It’s all right. Here, dry your face.”

Abel took out his handkerchief and dried his son’s face before drying his own; then holding the

handkerchief to his brow to staunch the blood, he asked in a broken voice, ”Been waiting long?”

”Yes, Dad; all the time.”

Abel nodded slowly; then taking the boy’s hand, he rose to his feet and stood looking about him

for a moment before he spoke again; and then it was not to his son but more to himself that he

said, ”It’s over, finished. Come.”

Dick didn’t speak, not even to ask one question, on the journey back to the house. He knew that

something was going to happen, that his father was going to make something happen, and from

his silence he knew it would be something big

The kitchen door was open. Abel pushed the boy before him and into the room where his wife

was sitting at the far end of the


bare table. It was as if he had left her presence only two minutes earlier for she started

immediately: ”So you went then? Lot of good I hope it did you. You should be ashamed of

yourself. If I was to tell Lady Parker the truth you’d be out of a job tomorrow, she would throw

you out on your neck.” She paused; then her eyes narrowed before she shouted on a laugh, ”My

God! you’ve been cryin’.”

As if to protect him, Dick pushed his hand back until it touched the front of his father’s thigh and he felt a tremor running through the leg as his mother added now in deep bitterness, ”Y

wouldn’t shed tears over me but over that whore. ...”

”Shut your mouth !”

”What did you say ?” She was on her feet. ^ ”I said shut your mouth. If you don’t I’ll shut it for


”You and who else ? I told you what would happen if you ever attempted to lift your hand to me


”Perhaps if I lift my hand to you this time, Lena, it’ll be final. I was a conscientious objector in the war, I went to prison because I didn’t believe in killing, but now I’ve changed me mind, in

fact I changed it some time ago.”

During the silence that followed Dick saw fear on his mother’s face for the first time. It caused

her to move back a step until she was leaning against the small sideboard, and when his father

moved forward one step he grabbed hold of his hand and pressed his nails into his palm. The

action seemed to check his father’s movement but his voice went on, and the words coming slow

and flat were more frightening than if he too had shouted.

”You know how he killed her, but did you know he did it slowly ? He must have thought it all

out for he peppered her feet first with shot, and when her brother from next door tried to get in he found the whole place barred. The police even couldn’t get in, for between times he had the gun

levelled at them, and he told them what he was going to do to her bit by bit. He next shot her in

the stomach.” There was a break in Abel’s voice now, and his lower lip trembled before he went

on, ”I don’t know whether she was dead or alive when he emptied the gun into her face. And he

did all that, Lena, because of you. Do you realize that? Because of you.” There was a long pause,

so quiet that their breathing could be heard; and then he said, ”You were very clever, very

thorough, you didn’t send your letters to the house, you sent them to the


shipping company. You did your work well. The only thing you didn’t do was to mention my

name. Why ? Because if you had, as you said, those blokes down in the Old Town would have

finished me off, an’ you didn’t want that, did you? No, you wanted to blackmail me for the rest

of me life. Well, it’s not going to work, Lena. No, it’s not going to work. And don’t worry” - he

put out his hand palm upwards towards her - ”I don’t intend to murder you; what I intend to do

you’ll see in a minute.”

At this he turned about and pushed Dick before him towards the stairs, and when they were on

the landing he said hastily, ”Get your things together, boots, clothes. Roll them up as tight as you can into a bundle.” Then going into the bedroom he took down from a peg in the makeshift

BOOK: A man who cried
3.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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