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Feb 142013

Howard Colyer

Lydia got on the train at Beckenham Junction even though she was just going one stop to Kent House. But she had walked from Catford over Beckenham Hill, and in the supermarket by the station she had bought three bags of food; and so she wasn’t walking any further, but taking the train to Eleanore’s house in Reddons Road. She lived there more than she did in her own apartment; and Lydia didn’t know what to do about her place in Catford. It now seemed cramped and ugly, but it was convenient to have a separate address: she wasn’t ready to say publicly that she lived with Eleanore. But she knew that was the truth of the situation; she had replaced Frank. She hadn’t meant to but, in a way that Frank couldn’t, she could cope with Eleanore, and her fears. But she liked Frank, and they still saw each other, and she liked to believe that things were as amicable as they could be in the circumstances: because after five years he had left Eleanore for a waitress from Gibraltar called Anne. Whom Lydia also liked. Anne coped with her fears by drawing, so she said, and Lydia thought she was very talented and had praised her – and Anne had nodded her head in quiet agreement, and Frank had smiled broadly. But Eleanore’s fears were different, and her ways of dealing with them were more difficult to accommodate. And her fear reached its peak at five o’clock in the morning. When she had lived with Frank she had started each day by waking up from a nightmare – they had both told her that. Eleanore feared that she would be buried alive, she feared that she would be stuck in some chamber underground or under the sea; mines and submarines troubled her, though she had entered them only in her imagination: but she had a vivid imagination. I’m cursed with a vivid imagination, she would say, and look at the ground in despair. And she would imagine things, and almost all of them bad. The end of the Kursk submarine was one of these. When the Russian submarine had sunk she had found it hard to cope with the things she had imagined. And she had started to learn the Morse Code. Frank had told her that if she were alive in a stricken submarine she could just tap rhythmically – any rhythm would do. Just be persistent, he had said. Everything they had said on the subject he had told to Lydia – and so had Eleanore. Lydia had heard both sides, and seen both sides; and she had given words of caution and advice: and her words had been appreciated, and had done no good. The Morse Code had become part of Eleanore’s life. She had studied it, and mastered it; and she had bought old transmitters, and any other equipment she could find; and she had made almost weekly journeys to Cleveland Street, by the Post Office Tower, to stare at the house where Samuel Morse had lived, and which bore his name on a plaque. And Frank couldn’t cope with this; and he couldn’t cope with the tapping of long messages, and various distress signals, such as, dit, dit, dit, dah, which meant, between ships, I want assistance, or, in some circumstances, remain by me – and Frank had this signal drilled into his skull. And Frank couldn’t cope with Eleanore’s attempts to convert him, and make him share her enthusiasm: her Morse Code mania, as he came to call it. And he had started to eat out, and he had started to talk to waitresses about his wife’s fears; and Anne had become interested in him: and they had started to meet at weekends. And when Frank had left Eleanore her five o’clock nightmares had got worse; or they had seemed worse: there had been no one to comfort her when she woke up in the morning, and so their effects had lasted much longer – she would sit alone in bed and smoke and suffer her vivid imagination. And she even began to fear that one night she would fall in to a coma, induced by dread, and wouldn’t wake up, and be found and declared dead: and be buried in a coffin alive. And one night Lydia had stayed at her house, and Eleanore had asked her to sleep with her. And Lydia had agreed, and after that, rapidly, their lives had become intertwined. And Lydia had also learnt the Morse Code; she and Eleanore could converse in it; and it had become something of a joke – the tap of a forefinger stood for dit, and the tap of a thumb for dah. And Eleanore’s nightmares were less frequent, and she could wake up and lightly tap on Lydia’s body, dit, dit, dit, dah – and Lydia didn’t mind, and this was a great relief. And so Lydia thought of the Morse Code as she sat in the train heading for Kent House; and she thought of the strange ramifications of the end of the Kursk; and she thought of Eleanore – and, using her thumb and forefinger on a bag of shopping, Lydia tapped out I love you.

[This piece originally appeared in Smoke 13.]

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