Francis Meyrick

Jeremy’s War: Chapter 40 “The Loser “

Posted on November 11, 2008

Part Five



He lay in bed, and stared up at the flaking ceiling.

The small apartment had once been luxurious, but the whole building had long since passed its peak. The area had gone down, and so had the occupants.

Sometimes he lay on his back on the dirty sheets, gazing at the ceiling. It was an awkward, yet comfortable position. Comfortable in that he could gaze up and out into the world. Awkward in that it was almost impossible to swallow. The beer would run down his face and chin, and he would cough and splutter. He would have to raise himself onto his elbow, take a swallow, and then sink back. That exercise frequently exhausted him. Then he would prop himself up against the wall, and remain in that position, virtually without motion, for hours on end.

Only the raising of the bottle…
the slow, quisling dance of his Adam’s apple…
and the lowering of the bottle…

…disturbed the statue’s sculptured outline.

Strangely,a title was missing.
‘Man with bottle’.
‘Human reflections’.
‘Homo Sapiens’.

‘The loser…’

The eyes were the most curious of all. They saw nothing, and yet they saw so much. The occasional visitor – increasingly rare – would wonder if those eyes saw anything. A stranger’s hand passed in front of the bearded face drew no answering blink from the sunken sockets. No re-focussing of the lenses. Nothing. Those early visitors left, convinced that he saw nothing. They were wrong.
The eyes saw so much. Saw, and re-lived. The mind felt.
The ears heard.
Occasionally, when there was no one to see….
the eyes cried.

Hours went by. Days added to weeks.
He no longer answered the door. Visitors no longer called. He had lost sense of time. He cared for no one. All shunned him. Even his mother, distraught, heartbroken, hysterical, could no longer bear to look on the son she loved.
He refused to open the door to her anyway…
Once a day, every night at about six, old Mrs Emmet let herself in with her key. A dear lady suffering from more than the initial stages of senile dementia, she would walk around tut-tutting to herself.
She would drop the shopping off in the stinking kitchen, and make him a simple meal. Usually a bowl of soup with some buttered bread.
Often, when she arrived the next night, the half eaten meal would testify to all he had consumed in the previous twenty four hours. She would tut-tut again, and busy herself, muttering all the while.
He heard her not.

Two old friends, implored by a distraught Mrs Armstrong, decided to take positive action.
They grabbed Jeremy physically by the scruff of his neck, and marched him to the bathroom. They bathed him, shaved him, and dressed him in a clean suit. Then they marched him off to a good restaurant, where they had ordered him a large steak. He had meekly obeyed their every instruction. In the end, clean, shining, and even smelling of perfume, he had appeared normal again, even if very quiet. The two had been congratulating themselves, but had underestimated the weakened state of Jeremy’s stomach. He had vomited it all up in spectacular style, right across the immaculate white table top, and across one of his saviors. Amidst the shock and consternation, he had hung his head, and a secondary heave had produced more liquid. This had spread itself liberally across his jacket, shirt, and trousers. He had sat there, with a vacant look, with vomit trickling yet from one corner of his mouth. Small heaves of his shoulders, irregular and menacing, had further terrified the onlookers, and he had been rushed to the bathroom, where he had produced more vomit, and many strange noises. Their meal, and that of everyone else, had been ruined. The restaurant proprietor had been mortified, and been ecstatic to see the backs of the unwelcome trio.

His friends had given up at that point.
As one of them had said, in a peeved manner:
“If Jeremy won’t help himself, then I can’t see what more we can do… ”
That sentiment had been warmly welcomed, as summing up the situation nicely. It had also been a convenient political justification for taking no further action.
“We’ve tried… the guy won’t help himself…
…he’s a loser… ”

It was, even for Jeremy, quite amazing the way time slipped by. He would awake, aware that this was another day. He would stare into space, and then it would be night again. He would slide into a dream tossed sleep, and sometimes wake up, trembling and struggling, bathed in perspiration.
What was the point…?

* * *

To Emmy, who emotionally clung to people who hurt or were troubled like a loyal limpet, Jeremy’s fate was a source of endless grief.
She too, had tried to visit, and had found it -like everyone else- more and more difficult to communicate with the strangely absent supine figure. For many months, he had not answered the door to her even to her. That for Emmy was hurtful beyond words. They had been so close, almost intimate, and there had been a spark of Romance always hovering about. Now, with the gentle Robert only a rare visitor, it was as if her heart had finally been lit by that spark, and found itself royally ablaze.

She would spend hours in her room, pining to be loved. She would stare into her fire, or out the window, and try, -try so mightily!- to analyze her own feelings, and to understand, -oh, just to understand!- the horror of what had afflicted her old friend.

Your old friend? Friend? FRIEND?

A voice would eerily haunt through her mind. It seemed at times to be that of a helper, a concerned friendly voice. At other times there was a slight mocking ring to it,even a hint of cruel delight.

That wasn’t your friend!
That was your only -ever- true lover! He was crazy about you, and you… you always played the same game…
you let him get SO close, and no further. You KNEW he loved you, wanted to love you, but respected you…
You… broke his heart…

She would shake her head, clench her fists, and answer the voice in her mind angrily, with words, spoken out loud, yet softly, lest anyone hear her…

“That’s not true! I didn’t lead him on!
He was in love with me! Yes, I knew that! I knew his passion. I knew what raged beneath that surface of self control… He frightened me.
He drank. He rode horses like the devil. He thought so fiercely, so intensively about Life, and the meaning of it. He felt things. But… He frightened me.
If I had given him ONE sign of encouragement…
There would have been no stopping him… he would have wanted everything: Marriage.

The voice would become more sneering.
Marriage, eh? A fate worse than death? You were frightened to follow your heart, weren’t you? And why? Because you were frightened, yes. But the main source of your fear was not his passion, or his occasional drinking, or his wild spirit… No. It was bed. Bed. Giving yourself to him, making love, feeling his body mate to yours, and all that that entailed! You were frightened of bed. Simple as that.
So… you convinced yourself that you were just close friends. That there was no more to it than that. That you were brother and sister. You even invented a true romance with poor little harmless -nice- Robert. You wrote that callous letter to him, whilst he was braving death in France, telling him of your new alliance… You lied to him, the same way you lied to yourself. Now… you pay the price… you love him. But in him… something has died.

She would become furious with the voice, and argue back passionately.
“That’s not true! ”
She would control herself, with an effort.
“I didn’t lie… He… he WAS always nearly out of control, beneath that surface. He lunged at me one day! He grabbed me, wanted to embrace and kiss me, and I… I hit him! As hard as I could. I had to! I hit him and he backed off… ”

The voice would be come thoughtful. Measured. Almost contemplative.
Yes, he lunged at you. He grabbed you in his arms, and he was out of control. And yes, you hit him. But do you remember the way he backed off? The way he was hurt? The way he stammered a thousand apologies? The way he was mortified? Yes… he made a grab for you. Pathetic. Sad. A confused man. You, rightly, nobly, in all the best traditions of womanhood, you smacked him one. But…
Was he just grabbing for something physical? Was he just grabbing like a beast for your body? Or…

She would flinch, knowing what was coming. The voice could hurt…

Or was he just, clumsily, grabbing for your love?
Ask yourself the question: Would he have just enjoyed your body, and ignored your mind? Or would he have savored your body and treasured your mind? How many nights did you and he debate the meaning of Life until four o’clock in the morning? Did he touch you then?
Did he make ONE MOVE against you?

She knew the answer, and her chest heaved in turmoil.

No, he didn’t…

The voice would continue, a sardonic note rising above
the music…

And there was an odd sequel to his trying to embrace you, wasn’t there…?

She would jump to her feet, and pace the room, like a cornered animal, trapped, hunting pointlessly for escape,
knowing there was none. The voice would continue, relentlessly…

You realized how much YOU wanted him as well, didn’t you…?

Didn’t you…?

* * *

He was trying to write.
His hand kept shaking. His brow was knotted in fierce concentration. He felt a helpless frustration at times at his own body, thwarting and mocking his feeble attempts to produce a legible scribble…

Dear Heidi,

I apologize to you for this unworthy scrap of paper, but it was all I could find. I am also sorry for my handwriting. I am surprised at how much my hands are shaking.
I wanted to tell you that I was unable to locate any of the personal effects of your brother. I didn’t get much opportunity, and I suggest you contact the Red Cross.
I was glad to have met you. I felt such an attraction to you, and I want to thank you for understanding and forgiving my behavior at your brother’s grave.It was all very difficult for me.

I wonder if you could write to me?
I have nobody now. My father is ashamed of me. My mother and sister are embarrassed. I no longer have anyone who means anything to me.
I used to be in love with a beautiful girl called Emmy. I worshiped the ground she trod on. We would walk and talk for hours. We had really stimulating conversations. But we never touched. I felt she loathed it. I don’t know why. Something happened to make her fear men. I always felt if I touched her, she would run away…

This is silly of me. I don’t know why I am writing to you, a perfect stranger, about this. Only I don’t feel like you are a stranger. I feel very close to you. I know what you went through. I have felt the same. The hurt, the futility, the waste of war. And where people are concerned, the sheer hypocrisy, the two-facedness, the…

He had sank back, exhausted by the emotions that swept over him, and rampaged through his spirit…

* * *

Hours later, he woke up.
In the fog of stupor, he was at first unable to find the letter. He groped around for it, in a strange and irrational panic, eyes wide with horror, until his fingers closed on the scraps of paper. Hungrily, he read every word he had written, noticing the grease marks on the paper, and the appalling handwriting.
He closed his eyes, and thought of the small,slim, female figure standing at her brother’s grave.
What would she think at receiving such an unworthy missal?
He groaned, and sank back against the wall.

The rage, when it welled up, arrived suddenly, and consumed all. He crumpled the letter into a little ball, threw it across the room, screamed, threw the squalid blankets away, jumped out of what passed for a bed, and threw the chair across the room. The water jug smashed satisfyingly against the wall, bringing back memories of a crystal wine glass shattering in an ornate fire place…
Faces suddenly surrounded him, mocking, accusing, sneering
and pointing…
He lashed out wildly, kicking, smashing, breaking, screaming, crying…

He was unaware of the knocking on the door, and the voice that cried his name despairingly, and the footsteps that ran away in terror.

* * *

There were people standing over him.
It didn’t matter to him. There were always specters in his world. If he shut his eyes, they would go away. They always did. It was only another bad dream.

Insistent. That was the word.
Go away and leave me alone…

That voice was droning on about him.
“… he is in a very weakened state. There are clear symptoms of malnutrition. For a young man, I am really shocked at his state of neglect. His heart will be weakened, and such rage attacks as we see evidence of here, could bring on a seizure, or worse. If he continues like this, he will soon go beyond recovery. I fear he needs to be committed to an insane asylum… ”

Insane asylum…?

Another voice was speaking now. A different voice. A woman’s voice.
It was tearful, pleading.
He knew that voice…

He faded back into unconsciousness.

* * *

She woke up slowly, dully aware that she had actually slept for the first time for… three nights? Three days and three nights since that horrible scene at Jeremy’s lodgings.
She shivered, and tears came to her eyes.
They wanted to commit Jeremy…

She slipped out of bed, and instinctively wrapped her night gown more tightly around herself. Then, feeling monstrously guilty as before, she picked up and re-read the crumpled letter she had picked up off the floor in Jeremy’s room. Why? What instinct had made her slip the discarded letter into her sleeve? So that she could read it later?

She had now read the letter so many times, she knew it off by heart. What should she do?

She had pleaded with the two doctors for time. Promising, somehow, to lift Jeremy out of the depression that threatened to destroy his mind, maybe even kill him. They had wanted to have him removed there and then. With difficulty, she had extracted a two week grace period from them. Provided he threw no more insane fits…

Insane fits…
She shivered at the recollection of the phrase used, and felt tearful. Jeremy was not insane, that she knew. Felt with all her heart.
Just hurt. Terribly, terribly hurt…

She looked at herself in the long mirror.
On an impulse, she threw off her nightgown, and stood there, nude, studying her own body in the half light.
Men thought her desirable, she knew that only too well.
The leers, the charmingly nice falseness… she knew what some of them wanted. Just her body. Not her mind, or her soul, or her love.
Just her body…

She looked at her breasts, and her pubic hair, and, not for the first time, tried to imagine a man making love to her.
His naked body on top of hers, fondling her breasts, kissing her, embracing her, rubbing up against her. She could probably cope with that. But the sexual act…
She spread her legs, and studied her vagina.
It was hard to imagine a man entering her. Thrusting his erect penis in through that opening, and …
She shook herself, and turned away. Sitting down on the bed, she longed for Jeremy. She knew she longed to comfort him, and bring him back to be the man she once knew.
But how?

She got up, restlessly, and went back to the mirror again. Yes, she had a beautiful body.
Should she just go to him, take her clothes off, and lie
with him? Would he make love to her? Would he enter her, and…

Restlessly, she started to pace the room.
A different voice was making itself heard. A kinder voice.
Jeremy needs more than sex. He needs love.
He needs love from somebody he loves. He needs to be listened to by somebody he wants to talk to. And you know, honestly, he doesn’t want to talk to you.
He doesn’t even open the door to you anymore…
You know what he wants. You know what he needs. Not sex.
He wants his love…

Emmy shivered, buried her face in her hands, and cried soundlessly for hours.

* * *

The day the door opened quietly, he wondered very vaguely why Mrs Emmet was so early. Surely it was still morning?
Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the day had passed already. Curious, the way the day slid by. Night time already.
He could have sworn he had just woken up to a new dawn.
Well, what did it matter?
Nothing mattered any more.

Something in the footsteps made him look up. Slowly.
He had no idea how his tired, drawn, sunken and emaciated face horrified all who observed it. The steps stopped, and he focused with difficulty on the blurred shape. A face floated in front of him.
He knew that face…
He felt a mild surprise. The surprise grew in intensity.
It was a mistake. He shut his eyes. When he opened them, the face was still there.It was crying.
Wonder replaced his surprise.


He held out his arms like a child, his face crumpling, and she ran to him.

* * *

In the street outside, Emmy Houghton glanced up at the dirty windows of the shabby little house, and thought of her correspondence with Heidi. She had poured her heart out to the little German girl, and described Jeremy’s miserable state in full. Her feminine instinct had not been wrong, and the answering letters had been so full of compassion, that Emmy had known straight away that she had found a kindred spirit.
Now… Heidi was here.
It was…

Time went by, and Emmy still waited outside.
Then, she realized. Slowly. Reluctantly.
Turned. And walked down the street,past the old, battered dustbins, and the rubbish in the gutters.
She was no longer needed…

Slowly she opened her handbag, and took out the letters from Germany. She studied the postmarks, and Heidi’s small, neat writing. Glancing back up at the house again, she slowly, without any violence, tore up the letters, and let the remains flutter down into a bin.

Then she walked a few hundred yards further down the street, and crossed the creaking old wooden bridge over the stream, and stopped again. She looked at the water, rippling by, and the light of a warm, new sun breaking up into so many merry dancing patches on the surface.
She looked back up the road towards the old house, and thought of Heidi and Jeremy together.
Could it have been her? She would never know.

She leaned, exhausted, over the railing, and gazed sadly into the waters below.
Reflections, and images, of what might have been…

A tear trickled, unseen, down her cheek,
and fell, sparkling, down into the flood,
to mix instantly with all the other tears…

that danced, merrily,
in the eternal sunlight,
and rushed on, remorselessly, towards the distant, waiting sea.

Francis Meyrick

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