This means War: Things No Longer Relevant
Short story: Belinda McKeon’s story for our This Means War series marking the centenary of the start of the first World War
Illustration by Brendon Deacy, brendondeacy.com
First, your pets. Six months ago, you would drive miles to buy the special food, the food marked SCIENCE and CLINICALLY PROVEN and KIDNEY FUNCTION –
Six months ago, you were a bloody fool.
(They would only have lasted a week or so out there. Ten days at most. Yes, they would have suffered. Are you really going to spend time thinking about whether or not they would have suffered?)
See also: your children. Hopes for, dreams for, love for, names –
Their names (you insist, it turns out, upon retaining this) were H and R and W. Their ages were 12 and nine and seven. You spaced them out; you planned them well.
No longer relevant: your plans. Your plans, for instance, on the matter of H’s school, his second school, the school he should have, would have, been starting around now –
(Would it be around now? Is it then, now? Has the year staggered on to that season?)
(Every day is like every day. The noise, the sky, the silence. Now the nights come earlier, now that you think about it, which means that it must be almost September – )
(But September is not a thing that you need to think about any more.)
H’s school: would it be your school, the school you taught at, or the school further out at the edge of town? Would it be languages, an emphasis on, or would it be a curriculum allowing him to keep on with his art?
(All the care you took to keep every one of his drawings. All the care, to keep them, and file them, and store them in portfolios so that they would always be safe – )
No longer relevant: the word portfolio.
The word curriculum.
The word son.
Strange the way the mundane memories are the ones to push through most forcefully. Strange the way you arranged all that family time, all of those days – the days you were expected to arrange and the days that were the business of nobody but yourselves – and then the things that insist on surfacing, now, are these things. R, last year it would have been – some weekend afternoon last winter – answering the phone in the hall. And you moving to take it from her, the way you did, because there was no point, because there would be only confusion, irritation possibly, for the person on the other end: and then suddenly, this child in front of you has turned into a child who can make conversation, who can say who she is, and what she is doing these days, and to keep going, keep talking, with whoever this caller is, and you can tell that it is not one of her grandparents, not one of her uncles or aunts, that it is someone more distant, someone maybe even a near-total stranger, who has dialled your home number this day, for a reason yet to be clarified, yet to be explained. And you stand there in the doorway to the hall, listening to your daughter, watching the set of her as she nods and smiles and with her eyes follows and latches on to what is being said –
And you were proud. And, feeling optimism for the future, that kind of thing, that kind of blind, weightless presumption. That here was a child who could do this, who could so easily hold her own with a person who was not her own –
Who was that person? You cannot even remember now. What did they want of you? You hate them. You hate them so fiercely now, whoever they were, you realise. To have taken those minutes from your time with her. To have talked to your child as though they knew her; as though they were someone, even, to be trusted –
Which is another thing about which you know that you were foolish then. Although it is not that there is nobody who can be trusted; it is not that simple, not that clean. It is rather that it is, until the last – worst – moment, impossible to tell.