Published February 18, 2008 by
He stared at her, and then suddenly bent double. This was a much worse pain than any so far.
She was helpless. Nothing in the world could do to relieve it, except to get him into that hospital. She clutched him to her, hardly noticing what she was doing, and smoothed his hair. Edward, Edward, help me, her heart cried. Edward where are you? And like her son, in that moment, she felt despair settle so heavily on her and she was sure that her husband was no longer there to help her.
Suddenly the boy straightened up. “All right, it’s gone. It wasn’t too bad,” he lied, and even managed a faint watery grin. “Pack my bags then, and let’s go.”
She felt dizzy with relief. Whether she had capitulated before the force of her arguments, or whether it was the chastising warning of that last pain, she couldn’t say. She didn’t stop to think.
He watched her lug a case out from one of the cupboards and starts to put his things in, not so quickly or neatly as he had seen her pack for summer holidays, but she didn’t make bad speed.
“Shall I put some books in for you to read, Peter? Which would you like to take?” and she ran her eye over the brilliant backs of the covers. Adventure in the desert, the jungle, the town, and the country; adventures on the sea, below the sea, up mountains, in planes. War books and animal adventures. His world, from the escape from the safety and security of the room.
He surprised her again; cold, sharp, surprise settled on her.” I don’t want any. I don’t want them anymore. Throw them out. No, burn them-don’t give them away. I don’t want other boys to-“
He broke off and turned his head away.
“But, Peter, you’ve always liked adventure books.”
“They’re not true. There silly. The only people who get killed in them are the “bads”-“goods” in those books all get through their adventure and come home and tell their families all about it. My father wasn’t a “bad”. But he didn’t come home.”
She finished the packing in silence and went done to phone the hospital and to tell her daily woman what was going on. Mrs. Walters pointedly removed the cigarette from her mouth and dropped ash on the floor and just listened.
“In hospitable? Poor little soul.”
“Don’t talk like that Mrs., Walters, he might hear you. I’ve had such a trouble to persuade him, but he’s agreed to go quietly, and get it over with, and I think it’s the best thing. He had a very bad pain this morning.”
Mrs. Walters clucked sympathetically and put the cigarette back in her mouth. “Well. What I say is, I do admire you, and the you’re taking it, Mrs. Farley. If it were my boy, I’d be off with my head with worry, not knowing if I’d ever see him again...”
“Of course, I’ll see him again,” Claire said crossly, but it wasn’t any use arguing with Mrs. Walters. She did keep the place clean, but she firmly believed that her ideas were right and everyone else was staggeringly wrong. Claire left her and want upstairs to ready.
The Milkman came. Peter went to the window and looked down. He hadn’t gotten his horse anymore which Peter thought was a pity. The milk float was a mistake. It whirled miserably, and it was so slow that the other traffic on the road made all the usual noises of frustration until it could be overtaken. No one likes the milk floats.
But it reminded Peter of the holidays when the milkman had brought his boy round to collect the empties. The boy had been a year older than Peter, and had boasted about his visit to the hospital to have his verracus burnt off. More pain than torture in the Middle Ages, the milkman’s boy had said firmly. Peter decided that it might be a good idea to dust go down and have a word with the boy’s father just to check [without disbelieving his mother’s story, of course but she was the sort of pretty, distracted-looking young woman who often get things wrong.] If that hospital was a Christmas hospital and whether it was likely that they’d have fun there, which he personally which he could never bring to believe.
He crept downstairs. The pain had eased up a lot. He didn’t waste time worrying about why it should do that, but began to plan his verbal opening. The Milkman liked to joke and tease. He would start off by getting in quickly. “Hello, hello, hello, here’s a young gentleman with a posh speech on his tongue to make, I can tell at a glance!” the milkman was fond of saying when Peter was about, and it was irritating. Peter knew he must start talking first. Should he ask bluntly: “Is the Joseph and Mary really a Christmas Hospital?” but come to think of it sounded silly. The Joseph and Mary began to carry weight on its own; the sound about it that is at once suggestive. It might perhaps be better to find out if it was really called that, or if someone else told his mother the wrong thing.
The milkman was being quiet for once, Peter discovered. Mrs. Walters was doing all the talking “Stood out against going into the hospital all this time he has, poor little devil, but his mother’s got him to agree at last.”
“Yes, well-“the milkman said, hoping to bring in the story about his boy and the verracus.
Mrs. Walter’s wasn’t going to have that. “What I say is, shall we ever see him again? Not a bad kid, that one. I said as much to his mother. If it was me, I said I’d be asking my self if he’d ever come out again. Well I mean to say-hospitals are all alike. Once they get you in, you never come out. Look at my Perce-“
Pierce Walters was a tall thin, weedy man who came to do the odd jobs. He had been by way of being a hero to Peter, because he had the bare minimum of tools which he treasured, and he kept them in a shabby old bag he carried as if it contained gold. Out of the most unlikely bits of wood and rubbish, that no one else wanted, Mrs.’s Walter’s late Husband, had fashioned things, slowly with a care that had been born of waning energy, but the little boy hadn’t known this. He hadn’t known that Percy Walters’ days had been numbered then. He only knew that he had liked him and that he had been persuaded to go into the hospital and had never came out.
He didn’t stop to hear of the other similar cases.
Mrs. Walters had known and was loudly citing for the milkman’s benefit, nor that would he have realized that they had been hopeless cases from the state. He only knew that Mrs. Walters was saying roundly that he would never come back to this dear house again, never see his father when he came home…if his father ever came home. And Mrs. Walters was speaking in that loud, confident, ringing tone of one who was sure of her facts.
He turned to go upstairs again, but the pain came on again and this time he went grey with it. His Mother came down and at the same time heard the taxi pull up at the door.
“Are you ready, darling? Do you think that you could help let you get ready? We really ought to be getting going.”
He looked at her, his faced pinched and grey and somehow much older. “Are you sure we’re doing the right thing?” He asked of her, and to her fevered imagination, it was the voice of Edward, lighter weight, of course, but the same tone, the same choice of words.
“Why do you say that darling? I thought we agreed that it was for the best,” his Mother cried. Her distress communicated itself to him and he believed he was lost, and that she knew he was lost, but there was nothing else she could do.
“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” he said and he let her help him. Wrapped in a grim frozen silence borne of grief and despair, a quiet, nagging fear that was worse than the noisy terror of a normal frightened child. Peter Farely allowed himself be conveyed to the Christmas Hospital.