Haunted by the Past

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

We've all done something that haunts us.

Irene put the finishing touches to the beef stew and dumplings, her mind preoccupied with events that had happened more than half a century ago. For some reason that she couldn’t figure out, twinges of guilt and remorse had begun to haunt her recently. The problem with old age was having too much time to reflect on events that had been subconsciously banished during the hectic years of being a wife and mother.

‘Oh, you old fool,’ she castigated herself.

‘You can say that again,’ answered George, who was sitting at the kitchen table, playing with his white moustache and waiting impatiently to be served.

Irene turned round displaying a self-conscious smile. ‘Get lost ... You! I was talking to myself.’

‘Obviously, my dear, I knew you couldn’t possibly be referring to me.’

‘Oh, shut up and eat this.’ She placed a plate of steaming stew before him.

Irene collected her own plate and joined him. While George seasoned his meal with salt and pepper, Irene sprinkled curry powder over hers. George shook his head disapprovingly, even after all this time, the habit still annoyed the hell out of him. Irene knew how much he hated curry and used it all the more.

The stew was still too hot to eat, so Irene tried to get a conversation going – after such a long time together, small talk was difficult to sustain. ‘What are you reading at the moment?’

George stopped blowing the chunk of dumpling on his fork. ‘Silent Wings, it’s about the history of gliders during the war, fascinating stuff. Takes some bottle to purposely crash-land an aircraft. What are you on with now?’

Woman Pilot, it’s about the women who flew for the Air Transport Auxiliary, delivering planes from the factories to the airfields. Jackie Moggridge – who wrote it – was a friend of Amy Johnson. You know who Amy was, don’t you?’

‘Of course I do, she was the first British woman to fly across the Atlantic. Would have been the first woman if the government had backed her; as it was, that American woman beat her to it.’

‘Amelia Earhart, dear,’ Irene declared smugly, unable to hide the satisfaction she felt at being able to enlighten her husband on something.

‘Whatever!’ George dismissed the information as though it was irrelevant, then immediately appeared regretful. ‘So what happened on Amy’s last flight? I don’t recall the details of her death.’

‘She was delivering a plane, an Oxford Air … Something …’

‘An Oxford Airspeed,’ said George.

‘Whatever, anyway, Amy got caught in heavy fog. She stayed up, trying to fly over the clouds, ’til she ran out of fuel and had to bail over the Thames Estuary, near a Royal Navy ship; however, the sea was too rough for them to get a boat to her, so an officer dived in to save her and they both drowned. Don’t you think that’s romantic, George?’

‘Don’t be silly, woman, how did the officer know she was a woman?’

‘Because she took her cap off and he saw her long hair. They didn’t have headbangers back then, George!’

 

‘Even if he did, that’s not romantic, it’s just social conditioning.’

Irene turned on her beef in a sulk and the rest of the meal was consumed in silence.

By the time the meal was over, Irene had abandoned her protest in favour of re-opening communication. ‘Anyway, George, I wish I could have flown planes instead of operating radar.’

‘It’s aircraft, dear, not planes. I thought you loved your job.’

‘I did love it, but flying would have been even better. You know, when I tell young people about it, they always seem surprised at how much I loved the war years. I know it was a nightmare for a lot of people, but women like me got to do things we’d never have dreamed of. I can’t help it if it was the most exciting adventure of my life.’

George washed down his meal with ale; he seemed to be considering the dilemma. ‘War brings out both the best and the worst in people; I’m only interested in finding examples of human spirit, on all sides.’

Not quite understanding his meaning, Irene collected the plates and took them to the sink. She set about the dishes while singing her own repetitive and slightly out of tune version of Babybird’s “You’re Gorgeous”.

With a shake his head, George retired to his armchair in the living room.

Dishes out of the way, Irene joined her husband and switched on the radio. George grunted in annoyance and rattled the ‘Observer’ newspaper. “Moonlight Serenade” came on, causing Irene to squeal with delight. ‘Do you remember dancing to this, George – the night we met?’

 

George grunted and lifted the paper to hide his face. Irene ignored the hint and walked up, snatched the paper away and threw it on the sofa. ‘Come on, darling, dance with me, please.’

‘Leave me alone, you silly old bird,’ he appealed with a face like thunder.

 ‘Oh, come on, you old misery guts; let’s have some fun for a change.’

Being nine years older than her, and much less active, rising from the chair was a laborious undertaking.  Irene’s offer of a helping hand was swiped away.‘Leave me be, woman, I’m not a cripple.’

“Moonlight Serenade” was halfway through by the time they embraced in front of the fireplace. Irene glanced at her own photograph on the mantelpiece, evidence of how petite and attractive she had been in her youth. Actual dancing was too much for George, so they simply swayed slightly from side to side. Irene’s head only just reached her husband’s chest, she had to look up at him as she spoke softly, ‘I’ll never forget how you looked that night when you asked me to dance, all dashing in your officer’s uniform, that posh double-barrelled name of yours. You know what I was thinking?’

‘Nice bit of silk that,’ George croaked out, as if to say he’d heard it all before.

‘And that night in the blackout, I knew you were the one for me.’ Irene tip-toed and lovingly kissed his cheek. ‘Did you feel like that too?’

‘I remember thinking you were the naughtiest girl I’d ever known.’ His reply was followed by a chuckle.

‘Don’t think I don’t know how it was, George.’ Her tone turned harsh.

‘Whatever do you mean, dear?’

‘I was in love but you were just in lust. Anyway, you loved it didn’t you? That’s why you couldn’t get enough of me.’

‘To be honest, old girl, I can’t remember what lust feels like any more.’

To George’s obvious relief the music began to fade. ‘I’m afraid I’ll have to sit the next one out, my dear, my knees have had it.’

Irene sat down and patted the sofa cushion to her right. ‘Come and sit with me for a while, George, I need to talk to you about something.’

‘Oh, Irene, you’re not going to take us on a sentimental journey, are you?’ He sighed impatiently as he eased himself down beside her.

‘I know you’re not much of a talker, George, and you don’t like getting deep into things, but there’s something I need to get off my chest.’

‘Well, it sounds like you’d better pour us a couple of glasses of Scotch, make mine a double.’

Irene walked over to the cabinet and poured out two generous shots of Glennfidich into cut-glass tumblers. She settled back on the sofa and waited until they’d both had a few sips before continuing. ‘George, do you have any regrets about the war years?’

He sighed before replying, ‘I can’t say that having to drop bombs on civilians didn’t bother me, not so much at the time, but it haunted me in the following years – that is, until I came to terms with it. I don’t think about it so much these days, what’s the point in dwelling on things?’

‘Did you ever have any regrets about us, George?’

‘We had that phase about eight years after we married, when we couldn’t seem to stand each other any more; I thought that we’d each go our own way once the children had grown up, but we got through it, didn’t we? Besides, who else would have put up with either of us?’

‘So what about now, do I still get on your nerves?’

‘Woman, you get on my nerves more now than you ever have; the difference is I’ve become immune to it.’

‘Oh, thanks very much, darling! You’re such a romantic at heart.’

‘You know I’m not a romantic like you, Irene. Real life’s not like one of those stories you read.’ George gave her a patronising smile.

Irene took a big gulp of whisky and drew breath. After a pregnant pause, she got it out. ‘Did you ever go with someone else, after you met me?’

George was clearly taken aback and began to shake his head. ‘I didn’t get a chance, did I? Prisoners of war don’t get much opportunity. After the war I never had the inclination to. Why, did you?’

The guilty thoughts rushed out of her mouth, almost tripping over each other. ‘Don’t get mad, George, and let me finish explaining before you say anything. There was one time with a Canadian sailor – you were missing in action and I thought you were dead. I was drunk and feeling sorry for myself. It wasn’t so much about the sex; I just didn’t want to be alone that night. When your Margaret informed me that you’d bailed out over Poland and been captured, I was wracked with guilt and cried for days.’

George sipped his whisky; he appeared to be digesting the information. ‘Well, you did wait two years for me, didn’t you, that’s all that matters now.’

‘So you forgive me?’ she asked tentatively.

‘There’s nothing to forgive, girl, it would have bothered me once, but it’s all water under the bridge now – so is that what’s been upsetting you?’

‘Not exactly … Fancy a refill?’ She paused while they drained their glasses, and then topped them up. ‘You know, when I met you, I was seeing Jamie. When he went to sea on that last voyage, I promised to wait for him. Anyway, after I met you, I wrote him a letter saying it was over, but I couldn’t post it, perhaps it was cowardice but I couldn’t do that to him while he was away.’

‘But don’t you think that worked out for the best?’ George interrupted. ‘I mean – considering how things turned out there was no need to upset him like that.’

‘Yes, I know that, George. That’s not the problem, though.’ Tears started to stream down Irene’s face, she wiped her cheeks with the back of her hands. George passed her a tissue.

‘Come here, you daft old bat.’ George placed his left arm around Irene’s shoulders and drew her to him.

‘You see, what bothers me is that when I found out he’d gone down with the Hood, I couldn’t help feeling relieved that I didn’t have to tell him. God! George, don’t you think that’s awful? Sometimes it makes me feel like a real selfish – evil cow.’

‘Now then, girl,’ George crooned, and pulled her closer, ‘don’t get yourself all worked up over it. I can understand why that would bother you, but now you’ve got it out of your system, you need to let it go – let bygones be bygones. Those were unusual times. I could have died on a mission like him, and you could have copped it in The Blitz. You’re only human, so you need to forgive yourself.’

‘All right, George, anyway, I feel better for talking about it.’ She blew her nose.

‘You know you had me worried there for a while.’ He kissed her forehead. ‘I thought your regret was going to be having chosen me over him.’

‘No! George, I don’t have any regrets about us.’

‘Same here, princess, no regrets at all.’


Submitted: September 10, 2013

© Copyright 2021 lailoken. All rights reserved.

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