I'll Never Know


SIXTH General Hospital, Helwan. Oh, yes. Used , to be a hotel. Yes. “Sister, come change my dressing.” It smells so — at least I think it smells— something smells so and I can’t see. And where is Johnny, poor guy? Never put petrol again on any oily motor: whoof and where are you?

Sixth General Hospital, Helwan, and dressings all over your face and arms, and nobody gives you a cigarette. “Cigarette, cigarette. Somebody put a cigarette in my mouth, for sweet sake.”


Pretty good and nice. Half-smoked and salivawet, but pretty good — pretty good and nice.


“That’s okay, chum. Just a V.”

“I haven’t had one since — I don’t know how long ago it was — I got burnt, and not since then. Maybe two days.”

What about Johnny?

“What about Johnny, my cobber, Johnny Harris, 14th RHA, a petrol burn — is he here? Good fellow, Johnny.”

“No, only you.”

Poor Johnny, poor guy. But it’s going all right;, it’s going to be all right and the food’s all right. If it only wasn’t for the smell. And so that’s the reason for the smell — not me but him, all the time, and yet chipper enough but having to smell like that all the time, God! and in both legs too, so he says.

And is it night now? I wonder if it’s night. I wish I could see.

“Look out the window and tell me when she comes out.”

“The blonde or the brunette?”

Either or both or together and are the kids playing under the trees?

Not like trees we have home nor our children, but wog children — filthy scabby snotnosed syphililies dirtying around each other always and unhappy forever, never having a good time for themselves and hungry and naked.

But he says the Sisters go back and forth in the little park opposite and they have some big green bushes and grass that don’t look of course like the things in the desert at all, and the buildings and houses and things in the store window opposite I wish I could see.

Will I see, will I ever see?

“Has the blonde come out?”

Not yet, not yet, neither the blonde nor the brunette, he says, but the children are trying to play under the trees and the sunlight’s all over the clean white building and the girls must be buying all sorts of stuff in the shop like cool melons and cashew nuts and fresh red beef and raisins and oranges and crisp lettuce or dark flabby lettuce with salt and pepper and oil and vinegar and tawny mustard.

Will I ever see?

“Has the blonde come out yet?”

Not yet. and not yet. And he says he can see a cinema ‘way down the corner from the window, and next the shop opposite’s a pet shop with he thinks four red setter puppies, and a blue parrot hangs from his beak all day climbing up and down, up and down, and white rabbits with pink eyes of course, and there’s the park with the Sisters, and a photographer’s with a lot of hand-tinted enlargements of the girls who work in a cabaret hr says is near. And he tells me of all this from the window he’s next to.

I’m next to him on the other side and his legs smell worse than even ever before, but he’s still t he same old chipper and telling me all about what’s doing out the window.

And it was like that: he telling me every day what goes on out the window, the children and girls and the buildings and trees and all those things I hadn t seen for eight months up in the desert where it’s all sky and sand and lorries and War Department property in brown and soldiers in brown, and he tells me this every day and I still have my dressing on. But the doc says I’m going to be able to see and it’s cheered me up hearing him tell of these things.

But the smell grew worse in his legs and he didn’t say anything for a long time and they came in and took him away and I haven’t smoked since because Sister won’t let me — I’ll burn the bed and I still can’t hold with my fingers. Poor Johnny.

And so today finally came and the doc took the head dressing off and told me open my eyes, I could see. And I turned looking out the window and there wasn’t anything but this ugly gray brick wall of an air shaft and there wasn’t anything else and why he told me those things, why he told me all those things, I’ll never know.