It Wouldn't Be The First Time

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Owen accepted that his poetry wouldn't be what it was without Sassoon's input. However, he sometimes found himself feeling that what they had produced by the end of an evening was like a union of them both.

No. Owen smiled slightly.

No, he supposed he didn't mind the idea of that at all.

Submitted: December 03, 2012

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Submitted: December 03, 2012

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Owen had been sitting at his desk in the dimly lit room for over an hour when Sassoon finally arrived. He looked up as the taller man strode into his room, cheeks glowing with a reddish hue from the fresh September air. Playing golf again, thought Owen, observing the mud-flecked boots and triumphant expression.

"Apologies if I kept you waiting. Anderson and I were engaged in a fascinating discussion about his ideal loft…rather too high for my personal preference, although what else can you expect from the RAMC?"

"Don't you finish earlier on Thursdays?"

Sassoon shook his head, eyes drawn to the notebook lying open beneath Owen's hand. Ignoring his protests, Sassoon took it from him and settled into the chair opposite.

"More of the same?"

"Yes," Owen began to feel uneasy. He never approached Sassoon with anything he hadn't redrafted several times beforehand, "I'll have to reorder them, of c-course. They don't necessarily make much sense at p-present..."

The room fell silent except for the faint scratch of Sassoon's pen and, for Owen, the overtly loud pounding of his own heartbeat. Every few moments Sassoon hesitated, engrossed in a particular line which had grasped his attention, and then circled it.

"This, this is good…And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.Yes."

Owen watched. He craned his neck to follow the path of the pen.

A pause. "Do you mind me asking if this actually was an…experience of yours?"

Owen bowed his head and found himself fascinated by the light hairs gracing Sassoon's forearms in the sunlight. Like sunbeams themselves."A vaguely similar one, yes. Why?"

"He was drowningsounds slightly impersonal. You want those stuffed shirts down at the Conservative Club to believe in this, don't you?"

"Of course."

"Then there should be a first person narrative. I saw him drowning."

"Much better."

Owen realized he was hanging onto every word, and cursed himself silently. He accepted that his poetry wouldn't be what it was without Sassoon's input. It seemed strange, Owen pondered, mesmerized by the rise and fall of the other man's chest, that this did not bother him; he always felt as if his poems were not truly his own after receiving Sassoon's criticism. Nevertheless, Owen sometimes found himself feeling that what they had produced by the end was like a union of them both. No. Owen smiled slightly. He supposed he didn't mind the idea of that at all.

"You're doing it again, Onlie Begetter."

Sassoon was looking at him with an amused expression. Owen blushed, quickly busying himself with the pile of drafts littering his desk. He had been staring again.

"Why don't you dig out that little snippet you showed me last week? The middle section needed polishing."

Middle sections were the most difficult for Owen. They always had been. 'Starts and ends well. What happened in the middle?' What happened, Owen thought, was that he simply became lost. A defiant, almost beautiful rhetoric would strike him –what minute-bells for these who die so fast?- inspiration swelling within him which he could not explain save through a sentence or two. Once it passed, he was left with an empty page; bare of all that he had felt contained in that one fleeting moment. Well, Wilfred, howdo you answer a question like that?

The abrupt voice scattered Owen's thoughts. "How's the Hydracoming along?"

"So-so. The hospital's quite…strict about the content."

"I assume it's never featured a poem including the words 'nameless dead' before. What do you put in a magazine about Dottyville?"

"Mainly golf, bowls and tennis. And you can only write so much about them before your sanity starts to drain away anyway, war or no war."

"It wouldn't be the first time."

The ribbonless military cross on Sassoon's shirt gaped at Owen. Owing to his courage and determination…He still felt delicate whenever he saw it. At least there had never been grounds to name Sassoon a coward. Owen gulped. "It's practice. What else is there to do here?"

"Play golf. Read some of Wilde's more impassioned prose. And to top it all off, receive chaste letters from Bertrand Russell trying yet again to entice me back into forwarding 'the great and worthy pacifist cause'. Mother would have a fit."

"Surely he must have realized by now that there's the small issue of the medical board to be considered?"

"Oh, it would seem not. He's rather – ah – pertinacious?"

They smiled at each other. Sassoon returned to the poem. Visibly finishing, he hesitated for several moments. Owen stared at his hands and wondered why Sassoon's mother found pacifism so infuriating.

"Subliminal. Absolutely subliminal."

"I'm sorry?"

His steady gaze unnerved Owen, whose heart had stopped in his chest. The hairs on his neck stood up to attention as if in response to the dinner bell he now heard ringing out downstairs. As always, he saw his battalion standing before him in the endless mud; in that horrifyingly short line that had never ceased to devastate him. Stand to, boys. Dolton, check your bayonet. No slouching.Unfazed, Owen blinked them away.

"It's perfect. I have to ask though, why all the hellish imagery? Like a devil's sick of sin.I was under the impression you were the devout Christian here, not me."

"I was trying to find a sufficient simile. To express how unethical it all is, I mean."

"Difficult when there isn't one to find. Though it's a damned good try."

"I-I didn't know it would sound so poignant, I just-"

"Owen, stop gibbering. This isn't poignant, it's powerful. What they need. Not any of that Jessie Pope rubbish this country's being force-fed by that blasted Lloyd George-"

"I was thinking of dedicating it to her. Jessie Pope. All that jingoistic deception goes to my head. God only knows what it does to civilians."

Sassoon slapped the notepad down onto Owen's knees and stood up.

"I want this in print, Owen, I mean it. In The Nation."

He turned when he reached the door. Owen could just about make out the isolated figure grinning at him through the dwindling light. Funny, Owen thought, how Sassoon was able to make such an impact on his life while keeping Owen so estranged from his own. Owen gripped the edge of the desk tighter. But that's not important.

"About time, too. I was beginning to think you were a lost cause, Wilfred."

Owen smiled weakly back, "It wouldn't be the first time."

"Next Thursday, then."

Owen placed the notepad carefully back onto his desk. It took five minutes for his hands to stop shaking.


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