Bohemia Village Voice  Bohemia Village Voice

For bohemians everywhere

Colin Cooper

Bruno’s Day

Friday. Bruno’s day. A fine October morning. She thought she would ask him to give the lawn its last cut before the winter.
After that, he could sweep up the sycamore leaves that had begun to fall everywhere. There was always plenty to do in the garden, but he had energy to spare. At 70 Bruno had the vitality of a man of 40.
Bruno had been 40 when she first met him. Considerably younger than her, not that it mattered then: she was a lively 47, full of vim and vigour, the fires of youth still burning fiercely. She had wanted a younger man, and he fitted the bill to perfection. Stamina. Good looks. A kind nature. What more could a woman ask for?
He had never suggested marriage, or a long-term relationship. Or even a short-term relationship, if it came to that. He lived for the day. That was Bruno. Happy to take what came his way, for as long as it lasted. She supposed it was part of his attraction. She had hinted that something more permanent would be welcome. He had ignored the hint.
She looked out of her bedroom window, at the garden where Bruno would soon be working, his jacket off and hanging on the summerhouse door, his sleeves rolled up. You sometimes had these lovely mornings in early October, when the sun still had some real warmth before its distance from the Earth increased too much for comfort.
What to wear? She usually made an effort on Bruno’s day. This Friday felt different, special. A summery dress, she thought. The white shoes. Nothing too frivolous. If a breeze got up when it was time to take him out his eleven o’clock cup of tea, she could easily put on a linen jacket over the dress, with perhaps a silk scarf. Her younger sister had given her a shawl last Christmas, but so far she’d never worn it. Shawls were for women who not only were old but felt old.
As always on a Friday, she breakfasted in a state of mingled anticipation and anxiety. Anticipation, in case something out of the ordinary happened; anxiety in case it took her by surprise so that she reacted wrongly and stupidly. The little knot in her stomach was rejecting the muesli and milk she was spooning into it. She would have to take a tablet.
Things were pretty much under control when Bruno’s familiar knock came. He didn’t say much. He never did. A few remarks about the weather – gale force winds from the south-west were expected within twenty-four hours – and then his jacket was off and the lawnmower was making its purposeful clatter.
At the end of the morning he knocked on the door for his money. She put the notes and the coins into his palm. Such strong fingers, yet so sensitive. Gently, she closed them over the money.
Reading her thoughts, he looked down at them. “I’ve done some things with these hands. Served me well, they have.”
“I miss them.”
“I was a different man then. Leading a different life. We were both different.”
“No!” Her denial was passionate, from the heart.
“I haven’t changed,” she heard herself saying.
“I still – ” She stopped. She still – what? ‘I am still the same woman’, she should have said; ‘I still want masculine heat, the warmth of affection, a physical reminder of past times’.
She said nothing. After a few seconds he nodded and turned away.
“I’ll see you next week, then.”

 

Dark Shadow

In 1944, I served two years in a military prison. Having been convicted – wrongly, as I’ll tell you in a minute – you’d have thought that I would have been allowed to get on with my life, make a fresh start.
Not a bit of it. Right through my working life, whenever I applied for a job, they’d bring it up. Two years in a military prison for molesting a child. ‘Can you explain that, Mr Robinson?’ I could, but they wouldn’t listen. It was down there in the records, and try as I would, I couldn’t do a thing about it.
In spite of that, I got married, had kids (two boys), never starved, got by. Lucy, my wife, was great, except when we had a row, then she’d bring it up. She should have forgotten it by this time. So should I. Sixty-six years ago and it’s still hanging over my life, like a dark shadow blocking out the light.
We were regrouping before being sent back into the front line. There were four of us in that billet, Jock, Sandy, David and me. Jeanne-Marie was a nice little kid, about twelve, with big eyes and pigtails, but starving hungry like everybody else in that little town. She used to come round in the evenings and sing songs in her pretty little voice. She trusted us, and that’s why her parents allowed her to come.
When it was time to go, we’d give her something from our emergency rations. People laugh when you tell them about Compo Rations, but some of them were very good. There was Canadian sausage in a round tin; you cut it into triangular segments and fried them in butter. There were biscuits, cheese, even chocolate. Her family were starving. We were glad to help out.
We used to take it in turns to escort her back to her home. There were some rough types around, and we didn’t want to take any chances. Wartime propaganda said that all the rape and robbery was done by the enemy. Not on your life it wasn’t. Some of our brave boys were right villains.
One night, when it was my turn to walk Jeanne-Marie home along the dark streets, we saw a flying bomb, one of the V1s that Hitler was sending over to London in swarms. They didn’t terrify the Londoners, but this one terrified Jeanne-Marie. It was on the way to Antwerp, not a hundred feet above the rooftops and spitting flame. Jeanne-Marie’s instinct was to shelter. She grabbed my hand and pulled me into a dark shop entrance.
It was there that the Redcaps found us seconds later, still hand in hand. They’d spotted us going into the doorway and jumped to conclusions. That’s the Military Police for you.
The rest you know. Their evidence convicted me. Jeanne-Marie was not even asked for her side of the story. They told her not say anything, and took her home. I never saw her again. She cried a bit, but I hope it didn’t damage her permanently. Not like it damaged me.
The funny thing is that it saved my life. My mates, Jock, Sandy and David, were sent back into the front line while I went to the glasshouse. A week later they were all killed by a single shell from a tank. Normally, I’d have been with them, because we always stuck together.
Sometimes I wish I’d died along with them. At least they never had the years of misery I’ve known.

 

OBITUARY 

Colin Cooper died in August 2012.

Obituary here

1 Comment

  1. Colin Cooper, the nicest neighbour I’ve ever had, including his lovely wife Maureen. What a joy to find these short stories of his in BVV and to be reminded of many happy moments together. I’m so glad to be ‘linked up’ now to the online magazine.

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