Evan sits in his armchair beside the coal fire holding a copy of the South Wales Echo in front of him; the newspaper is upside down.
His two teenage nephews, Mick and Ken, stand in the doorway whispering.
He’s not reading, Mick says.
Nobody reads upside down, Ken answers.
He’s always hiding from us.
Evan hears them and thinks, The boy’s right. I am hiding. No one knows why I’m like this. I tell them I can’t remember when I remember all the time. Evan turns the paper the right way up, reads the date ‘March 1st 1959’, neatly folds the paper, sets it aside, and says, Come on in, you two, come by the fire.
We’ve brought you a daffodil for St David’s Day, Ken says.
As Evan takes the flower his hand shakes.
You were in the Navy in the war, weren’t you, uncle? Mick asks.
What was it like?
Evan’s wife, Shirley, comes in from the kitchen drying her hands on her apron.
Hello, Shirley love. The boys are asking about the war.
Will you be all right doing that, Evan? Don’t forget you get upset talking about it.
I’ll be alright. What do you want to know, boys?
Thanks, Uncle, Mick says as he takes a piece of paper from his trouser pocket and reads his notes. March 1st is the seventeenth anniversary of the sinking of HMS Exeter in the Java Sea. Auntie told us that forty-one crew died and the Japanese captured over six hundred of you and made you prisoners of war.
Ken says, We found out that one hundred and fifty two of the prisoners died in those camps. Was it as bad in there as everyone says?
Tears roll down Evan’s cheeks.
Oh, Evan love, Shirley says and goes to comfort him.
No, love, stay put. Shit, he thinks, it’s now or never. Was it bad in the camps, you ask? He takes a deep breath. He waits. Finally he says, I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t in the Navy.
What? It’s all a lie? Shirley gasps. Oh God!
When I told you I was going to join up I went to my mother’s farm outside Abertridwr. She hid me for the duration. I never left her house until I came back here, to you, and we married in 1947.
The neighbours. My friends. They’ll all think I knew. They’ll never believe me. I’ll be an outcast, just like you now.
God help me, I’m sorry, so sorry.
That’s why I never heard a word from the Navy. I thought you were dead. Then you were back and telling me you’d lost your memory because of the horrors of the camps. I wept for you, for why you didn’t know who you were. I’ve cherished you ever since.
Wish I was dead.
I told them it was the camps that made you odd.
The boys weep, clinging to Shirley, their sobs echoing those of Evan.
I hope you enjoyed this story. Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
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© Phil Cosker 2021
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.