Weekend at Grimsby

An American novelist who has done much of her writing in Europe, MARTHA GELLHORN wrote her first novel in Paris at the age of twenty-three. As a correspondent she covered the Civil War in Spain; Munich; Czechoslovakia; Finland; and the war in China before Pearl Harbor. During If World War II, she reported from England, Italy, France, Holland, and Germany. She is now living and writing in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where she completed her most recent novel, Wine of Astonishment.


THIS was the shapeless weather all travellers dread. A smeared grey sky closed down over the smeared brown land. Cold leaked around the window frames and the door of the railway carriage. England looked larger, flatter and more desolate than was either possible or fair. No one should move in November, Lily Cameron thought. She was full of hate for this weather, this opposite of scenery, the still pain of the cold, and wondered why she moved at all, any month; even June was a nice time to stay in one place.

There was no law which forced her into English railway carriages in November. Nothing prevented her from buying or renting another house and living in it. But the question was: where? There had been a villa, an ancient stone barracks really, in Fiesole; a glassy flat in Paris; a grim little dump constructed of marshmallow sauce at Praia da Rocha, the bottom edge of Europe where Portugal caved into the sea; a house, dainty and dead, in London; and luckily no house on that jaunt to the glamorous Orient; and only a hotel suite during the brief visit home, if New York had ever been home. It was some sort of record in case you went out for records; four dwellings and a romp around the world in four and a half years, or since May 7, 1945, to be exact. I might as well keep moving, she thought with disgust, it’s less trouble.

Then she revolted against this vision of herself as a female Flying Dutchman or Wandering Jew. Stop being pathetic, she thought, sell your violets somewhere else. There was a reason for being on this train. If your friends were too broke to come to you, you went to them, even if they lived in Grimsby, Lincs. You looked forward to a jolly meeting of ectoplasms. Stop it, she told herself again. I am going to Grimsby because I want to. I know what I am doing. It is the one thing I am still useful for: to remember.

How did the English survive their ghastly climate? She stamped her feet furiously, and in so doing kicked an inoffensive stranger good and hard on the ankle. “I beg your pardon,” Lily said.

A pink-cheeked lady, sitting on the opposite mottled plush bench, smiled politely and returned to her book. This is not the first time I have visited Grimsby, Lily Cameron informed the lady who read with determined attention. Do not imagine Grimsby awaits me as a delectable surprise. However, I was not a ghost going to a reunion with fellow ghosts, when I came here before. That was during the War, Madam, and a type of English bomber, called as I remember the Lancaster, a graceless square job, took off from fields up this way, nightly, for the city of Berlin. I had friends then, as I have now, except at that time my friends were alive or dead, but not in the present intermediate state. I had friends who flew those Lancasters, and I travelled to Grimsby one year to spend Christmas with them. You would hardly believe how gay we became on Spam, and blotting-paper bread and marge, and the one rationed egg, and very little liquor, since liquor was scarce for the working soldiery. We had a lovely time, and that night, or rather the next black morning, all the planes came home, so it was a perfectly delightful Christmas and I returned to London in fine spirits.

Then, three days later, a letter armed from Andrew, who was Group Captain, written in that neat English handwriting which they all have, rather like pursed lips, and most unsuitable to their personalities. It said: “You will be sorry to hear that John Wakeford was lost over Berlin the night of 27/28.” Sorry to hear. You could call it that. Though to tell the truth, Lily said to herself, one did not mourn the dead then. There was no time. I do not need to apologize; I have been mourning them for almost five years. Or probably mourning is not the right word: they live with me.

Sim would be waiting at the Grimsby station which resembled a mine shaft except that it was horizontal. When last seen, six years ago. Sim was brown and astonishingly elegant in khaki trousers and bush jacket and black beret, carrying for practical reasons an Egyptian fly whisk, a horse-hair plume tied to a bamboo slick. Lieutenant Prince Simon Mitrowski and his Regiment, the Polish 12th Lancers, had by then fought and bounced all the way from Africa in Staghounds, vehicles which were laughiagly described by their users as armored cars. That was in Italy, where the war was most intimate and perhaps most senseless.

And I was a pretty sight myself, Lily thought, in my neat little khaki suiting and my honorary black beret. Me and my canteen, and no one can say that I did not handle the war well; I was the very acme of shrewdness, they should have had me on a Planning Board. For witness the efficient way I advanced myself from Naples and Rome until I landed where I wished to be, in a line regiment of lovely goofy Poles, with sea-bathing thrown in, at least in the summer. I knew what I wanted; in those days there was something to want.


COULD this train actually be stopping again? Here we are at another of those glorious stations which dot the English countryside, and there is that broadcast female voice, so civil and so ladylike, telling the traveller what to do. Change here for; on track two; all passengers. A couple puffed their way into the glacial compartment. Grains of rice dropped from their clothing and both wore wilted gardenias, in buttonhole and bosom.

Would you believe it? Lily asked herself. Would you think that a man and a woman, in their fifties, both so ugly that a solitary life in a cellar would seem their destiny, could go forth and marry each other, and display on their faces this look of embarrassed delight? The woman could hardly breathe for her chins and the heavy box of her breasts. She wore an electric blue satin dress under her black coat, and her ankles rolled over the sides of her sensible black oxfords. The man was thin, with a neck that would not stay in place and supported his head loosely. His teeth were all out in front and long and yellow, and his hair either grew or was cut so that it started well up his head and sat on top like a parrot’s crest.

They did not talk but, whenever they looked at each other, a secret and silent giggle shook them both; and the woman’s face was purple with pleasure. Presently, seeing that the lady in one corner was reading, and the lady in the other corner turned toward the window, they reached for each other’s hands, and two large swollen-jointed shapeless paws met and held. And both, with fierce discretion, looked at the floor as it they did not know they were holding hands at all.

What do you have to do, what do you have to be? Lily wondered. Must you be poor and ugly and fifty and a native of Lincolnshire, in order to trust life? The present was all right by those two, it was fine, it was the best; they had just made the final statement of confidence, they had married. I must tell Sim. What would she tell Sim? Two people got married. Yet Sim would understand how mad it seemed; like putting all your money in a bottle and throwing it into the ocean, or spreading your arms to fly off a building.

The bridegroom stretched his rubber neck and placed his narrow tufted head on his wife’s bosom, and slept. For a time she guarded this precious burden, then slept too. In her corner the American woman took off her shoes, flighty slippers of black suede, and rubbed her feet which could be seen, red-painted toenails and all, through the fine stockings. Then she pulled from the rack a large dark mink coat and wrapped it around her as if it were a rented steamer rug. She became a small mound of brown fur.

The train advanced slowly, coldly, through Lincolnshire. Lily Cameron pushed aside her coat, sat up, and said to no one, “Two hours late. I ask you.”

The bridegroom, very brave but not facing her, said, “Grimsby’s next, miss.”

End of the line, and the night leaking rain, and the cold would hang like a root of stone over the town. Poor Sim; there were gayer places to be ghosts in.

The bridegroom helped the two ladies with their luggage, while his wife beamed approval of his good manners, Lily Cameron followed last, and felt the rain on her face, and saw the murk of the station and the jumbled people in raincoats, everyone looking pinched and dim, and going home to nothing tolerable. She did not move; Sim would find her.

Then she saw him, and though he was changed, he was as she remembered. He came down the platform, under the feeble bare light bulbs, and was very tall and moved with the grace he had. Sim waved and walked faster and then he was kissing her on both cheeks and saying “Lily, dearest Lily.”

Lily returned, instantly and with joy, to where they had been before. There were the narrow roads deep in flour-white dust, and the regiment moving like a gypsy caravan, but screaming sirens and flying their red and blue striped pennants, from one encampment to one farther ahead. They were always busy with the ways and means of life; setting out, after suitable lies to superiors, in a scout car to bargain with peasants for a goose and for wine, since even night, simply by being night and they still together, was cause for a celebration dinner; and afterwards they lay in a haystack and could not see the dust and the sweat dried, and they listened to the men singing Polish love songs and the sad but loving songs about home; and cursed the English artillery which chose to settle behind them and make deafening noises that were an outrage in the soft Italian sky. When Sim’s squadron was in reserve she would go to their field in the early morning, with plans for a swim on the forbidden Adriatic beaches, not yet de-mined; and find Sim asleep in a shallow pit beneath his Staghound, lying between the driver and the gunner, as cosy as the three little bears. And he would get up, wearing the frayed white silk pyjamas which he had kept all the way from home, via Tobruk, and be immensely charming and invite her to breakfast as if his Staghound was a castle with rose gardens.

And there were Stash and George and Mike and the Chaplain and the Bloody Colonel and Skinny, the gentle gloomy batman, who was the kindest man in the regiment, and Paul and the baby jeepdriver, Lubo, who wanted to become a medical student when the war was over. They were all young and greedily in love with every day they had. In memory, the hard and the ugly and the stale were forgotten. Death had no place, no one could have died. And there had never been any winter.

“Oh Sim,” Lily said, and put her arms around his neck and felt she had come home, to that distant place where she lived.

“We should get out of this rain, darling, don’t you think? I have a taxi. Everything is beautifully laid-on, you will see the efficiency. We are going to my house. The Bloody Colonel is waiting for us.”

“A party! How sweet of you, Sim! I didn’t even know he was here.”

But in the taxi, she was shy and could not think of anything to say. They had shared no taxis in their past. Sim chatted easily, asking about her life, and she told him of the different countries, the various houses, all the faces. She must have lived it in her sleep, since she could hardly remember where the years had gone. But she knew every farmhouse, every village, every road and lane and field and beach, between Pescara and Rimini.

“My dear,” Sim said, “I cannot imagine anything more wonderful. I so long to travel that I would be excited to go to Birmingham. But we are stuck here, with our fish.”

“What fish?”

“They are plaice. I am sure vou have never eaten them, no one would except the English, who are the bravest people on earth but have strange eating habits. The Bloody Colonel and I are the business managers. We have two boats. Stash and Mike and four men from the Third Squadron run them. I tell you, it is a disaster.”

“But why, Sim?”

“The plaice don’t stay where they used to; it is very hard to find them. Then there is always a storm and something falls out of the engines. We will remain in Grimsby our entire lives, trying to catch enough plaice to pay for the boats. Although it is better in Grimsby than on the boats; thank God I was too clumsy to fish, so they made me second business manager.”

“And the Bloody Colonel?” “He is very happy because he has become a painter. He goes to Lincoln to night school, and paints beautiful pictures of apples and cups and sometimes portraits of Pilsudski. He does not mind, now that he has Art.”

“I can’t believe it.”

“You will see. Tomorrow there is a special exhibition for you, at his house. Tomorrow also we will have a sight-seeing of Grimsby.”

“Are you sure Grimsby’s still here?” There was certainly no sign of life around them; even the road was invisible.

“On the other side of the street, please,” Sim said to the driver.

Sim paid the taxi and opened a low wicket gate; she could see the dull shine of a cement walk. Suddenly, from somewhere farther ahead in the darkness, a firecracker exploded, followed by a Roman candle which climbed two feet and fell in a sputtering faint curve. A Polish word, obviously blasphemous, greeted this performance. There was now a string of firecrackers, sounding rather fretful and then, quite handsomely, two globs of colored fire and a little plant of flames flowering from the ground.

“Fireworks!” she said, seized with giggles.

“It is the Bloody Colonel. He has planned this for days, but forgot the rain.”

They ran down the walk and a man emerged from a shadowy hut, a tool shed or chicken coop, and shouted with laughter and said, “It is like Fourteenth July, no? Hello, General, Hello General,” and threw his arms around Lily and hugged her.

“Now we go inside,” the Bloody Colonel said, “and drink and drink.”


SHE felt Sim’s pride, as he walked before her, leading the way into his home. There was a narrow hall, with a carved varnished side table, and room for nothing more except hooks to hang the essential raincoats. A stairway mounted one side of the hall; you had to wedge yourself past it to the second door, which Sim opened.

“The library,” he said.

Since the whole house was built for midgets, the size of the room was proper. As furniture there was a day bed, serving as couch, a bulging brown leather-covered armchair, a desk, a bookcase, two straight chairs and two small tables. A Polish flag was tacked to the wall, and photographs of men and women and children and laughing groups of skiers and huntsmen and Lancers stood or hung in every free space. Orange curtains, of a thin unlined material, covered the window and a striped woven arty blanket and odd colored pillows covered the couch. The rug was a purplish thing, intended to be Oriental. A miniature coal fire burned on the hearth, and there was the smallest bottle of gin Lily had ever seen, like a gift sample given away to new customers, and three unmatching glasses, on a tray beside the couch.

“It’s absolutely charming, Sim.”

“It is rather cosy, isn’t it? We fixed it up with bits and pieces we found in the secondhand shops.”

“This is a beautiful house,” the Colonel said solemnly. “Not like mine.”

“How is yours, Marek?”

“Mine is full of dirt, ugly, everything broken, cold, disgusting. Sim makes this beautiful house. We come here always to be in a beautiful place.”

“Do you want to go to your room. Lily?”

“Later, darling.” Give me time, give me time until I can see it as beautiful too. “It’s so lovely and warm. What a heavenly room, Sim.” There could not be too much of this; he would not doubt her.

They now heard weak radio music, coming through the paper-thin wall that joined this house to the next.

“My neighbors,” Sim explained. “They have a nice little girl called Dorothy.”

“The people in Grimsby are good to us,” the Colonel said. “We are here much time, General, in camp, before we get these fine suits of civilians.”

“A cocktail, Lily?”

“Yes please, Sim. Oh my, this is the first time I’ve been comfortable in England.”


THEN Marek Starecki, who had named himself the Bloody Colonel long ago, gave the signal: do you remember. And they were showing her photograph albums of the others and the places they had all been, and there were pictures of her too, looking, she thought, forty years younger, how was it possible that she had been so young at twenty-nine and so immeasurably old at thirty-five. Each blurred snapshot of a shell-pocked Italian village, with the same square white-in-the-sun cement buildings, the same dilapidated streets, clogged with their same equipment of war, was a clear and separate and wonderful memory. They laughed with pleasure again at jokes which could never have been very funny; jokes about the chaplain and about Stridek the boxer who married a Polish WAC and was lightly but inconveniently wounded the day after, and jokes about how the Bloody Colonel believed his jeep to be invisible; and no word at all about Michael who had been blown up on a mine and flung, headless, into a tree because that day they were bored and went exploring down leafy deserted lanes, full of military ardor and nonsense; and nothing about the two brothers, the young ones whom Skinny so loved, who were boobytrapped into soggy red messes trying to open the door into a house where a woman was screaming. Only the laughter and the friendship remained, and the unreasonable mocked-at but triumphant feeling that anything was possible after the war.

“Here is my house in Poland,” Sim said. “The one in the country where I grew up. It was a nice house.”

It was a house built perhaps three centuries ago, for the enormous families of the Mitrowskis. The photograph was poor; you saw a vast faded building, with many square windows and arched doors, and a terrace, on which stood two figures wearing high boots and wee Norfolk jackets, like ancient schoolboys.

Sim looked at this picture with tenderness, as if he could pass through it into the house and his father’s voice would boom orders any minute, and his mother would preside placidly at an immense round table, where the ten children gathered for tea.

“First the Germans had it, then the Russians had it. If it is still left, I do not know who has it.

I missed it, for a long time, but now I have this house of my own,” Sim said, and put the picture away.

“Who is this one?” the Bloody Colonel asked, showing her a photograph of a very thin, uniformed young man, with wild light eyes, astride a monumental horse. Sim quietly left the room; he did not want Lily to notice his going.

“I don’t know him,” Lily said.

“It is the Bloody Colonel!” He shouted with laughter. “It is the Bloody Colonel when Lieutenant of Cavalry.”

“Marek! You look as if you were going to eat the horse.”

The Colonel studied the picture, laughing happily, seeming not reminded that he had always been an officer of cavalry, until armored cars replaced horses, and now was an officer of nothing.

“More vodka,” the Colonel said, filling her glass with gin. “Like those bad Russians.”

And Sim, she thought, has one brother in Scotland on a farm, and one brother in China doing who knows what, and one sister with a Buchenwald tattoo on her arm, and that’s the lot; but perhaps four out of ten was a good score for a family. And the Bloody Colonel had the fish and his painting, but nothing else; still it was the same proportion really, he had only two children and a wife to lose.

“I think,” the Bloody Colonel said into the silence, “in two three four years maybe, when the fish are good and we pay for the boats, we go to fight the Russians.”

“Not me.”

“Not you, General? Who gives coffee and cigarettes and nice things to the Lancers?”

“I don’t know. I’m going to an island, made entirely of salt, in the Dead Sea. I’m against war. Nothing good comes of it. Afterwards.”

“After? What do you think, such an intelligent girl, they make wars for something? They make wars because that is what men like, they make a war so they get some excitement first before they die; or they only live and die, that is nothing much. General, General, what friends you have now? You are always a happy girl. Why are you talking of after?”

My friends, she thought, are you and those like you, the people who used to be. Am I supposed to welcome more wars, so more ghosts can be manufactured? I don’t even like ruined towns, I find nothing attractive in ruins. I see no point, she thought angrily, no point, no point.

“Madame est servie,” Sim said, from the hall.

There were two red candles in cheap brass holders on the small table in the dining room. More of the costly coal burned in the grate. There was a tablecloth, and paper napkins, and something, perhaps a packing box, also covered with a white cloth, pulled up near the table so that Sim could serve without moving. The feeling was that the servants had been sent away, since this dinner was to be an intimate feast. On Lily’s plate, an iridescent apricot-colored glass saucer from the local Woolworth’s, lay a small booklet. It was made of dark blue cardboard with a raised gilt figure of a girl in pantaloons, shawl, and a poke bonnet.

Lily opened it and saw, in Sim’s agreeably illiterate hand: Menu. Lobster à la Tobruk, cutlet Alamein, legumes Cassino, salade sauce Ancona, tarte Mitrowski, Claret, Champagne, Napoleon Brandy, Cigars. They watched her as she read, with their own indestructible gaiety, waiting for her applause.

“But what a chef you have!” Lily said. “Darling, you spoil me.”

“Nothing is too good for our General,” the Colonel said. “Only I wish Stash and Mike did not go out on the bloody boats, so they are here for the party.”

You’ll stay until they come back, won’t you, Lily?” Sim asked.

“It depends, she said, not daring to say “no,” not with this feast and these candles before her. They had done this all for her, who was nothing, nobody, insignificant even as a ghost. They had schemed and saved to make this welcome; howlonely they must be if her coming was such an occasion.

“I want my Tobruk lobster,” Lily said, and Sim flourished before her a small glass plate with two pieces of bright canned lobster adorned with a pompon of mayonnaise. Not on the ration, she thought quickly, but so expensive; and the meat had used both their rations probably for a month, and Sim had shelled the peas which did not turn out very well and looked grey, and Sim had washed the lettuce and sliced the stunted tomatoes and arranged them in petals, and Sim had fancied up the bakery shop tart with maraschino cherries and powdered it with a snow of valuable sugar. She was not hungry, she was the opposite of hungry with her throat shut to food, but she ate everything; such cooks, she said, such regal fare; such quantities; but they should leave Grimsby at once and open the finest restaurant in London, Paris, Rome. The claret was raw, yet watery, and when it was time to open the champagne she prayed that the cork would pop. I will do anything, she prayed, if only the cork will pop.

They were very gay; Sim loving to be host in his own home, at his first real ambitious party; the Colonel delighted to show off the English he had acquired in the last four years, and delighted to remember and remember. Her smile felt carved on a glass face; her laughter had a sharp false ring. Yet it had been so natural to laugh before; she remembered the three of them on leave in Rome in the dazzling summer of 1944 and she laughed harder, higher, so as not to cry.

Then Sim was saying, “Shall we have coffee in the library?” and they moved to the room with the bookcase, for coffee and chemical-tasting brandy. Now they were quieter and she was only there as a listener, while they talked of Poland and Russia and the Regiment and the future of plaice in Grimsby and how maybe Australia was a fine country for emigrants. Lily felt she was failing them; she should have been able to dredge up, from these separated years, stories that would keep them laughing.


THEY had finished the remnants of every bottle in the house and the Bloody Colonel was happy and fairly drunk. At three in the morning, he said he must go home, and they made many loving farewells, wedged together in the hall. They would come to the Colonel’s home, at noon, for the Art Exhibit.

“My poor Lily, you are exhausted. We have been dreaming of you for weeks; and then Marek and I do all the talking when we know everything we have to say by heart. It is too stupid, I could shoot myself. And you must be so bored.”

“Darling, how could I be bored with you and the Bloody Colonel? Only I am tired. I have been awake such a long time.”

“It is Stash’s room when he is here,” Sim said, opening a door in the second-floor hall. And there is the bathroom, across there. Should I light the hot water?”

“I’m too sleepy even to brush my teeth,” and she looked at this room and knew ihe mattress would be stuffed with railroad tracks, and looked at the varnished chipped dresser and the bare table and the single rush-bottomed chair, and, on a tin trunk beside the bed, a water glass with a rose in it.

She turned and put her arms around Sim and kissed his cheek and hid her face against his coat because now she was too tired to keep back the tears. But Sim took this differently, and held her very close and said, in the softest voice, a new one, “Darling?”

She became crafty at once; it was necessary to escape from this, and escape with gentleness. She imagined that Sim needed a woman, since Grimsby would scarcely be a gathering place for available beauties, and she guessed he was sick with loneliness.

“My dear Sim, my dearest Sim, I’m sorry.” There were no suitable words.

“I’ve never forgotten you, Lily.”

And I have never forgotten anything, she thought. But she knew what Sim meant, and she was shocked. How could he, as persuasion, use the perfect and admirable past, now in this grey time? For he was reminding her that once, returning with Stash and George and Lily smuggled along, from a night patrol, a moonlit night when every shadow had been ominous and they came back, having accomplished nothing, relieved not to be tense and watching and frightened, gay as people can only be when there has been danger and they are out of it, that night he had walked across the field to her distant tent; and once, after they had tiptoed hand in hand, making jokes but very nervous, on a beach empty except for the Germans’ abandoned barbed wire, and had blown up on no mines, and swum in a lukewarm sea under streaming sunset clouds, once there, on the still warm sand. They had been lovers; but they had never been in love. They were great friends, and both were handsome and gay and wild; and this had been part of their immense joy in being alive and in owning their bodies and those intact. Whereas, in a frigid box of a room, in Grimsby, making love with Sim would be an act of pity on both their parts, or an act of desperation. They had been, in that other time, too good for pity or desperation.

She moved away from Sim, and lit a cigarette and smiled uneasily and said, “Lieutenant dear, don’t let’s get things mixed-up.”

Prince Mitrowski had known a great many Anglo-Saxon women and they no longer surprised him. Lily would, of course, be in love with someone as he might have foreseen. And Anglo-Saxon women apparently had a deep-seated objection to going to bed with a man, during the time they were in love with another man. This was an unwritten rule they followed and there was little or nothing you could do about it. But so tiresome; here they were in a remote uninteresting town, they were old friends, and the normal thing, as anyone except an Anglo-Saxon woman could see, was for a pretty female and a healthy male to make love, especially if they had a whole house to themselves. He had rather counted on it; he retained a most pleasurable memory of Lily’s body, aside from all the memories of her which were like his love and loyalty for the men in his Regiment; and he was disappointed.

Still, he was too fond of Lily to be angry, and too sure of himself to be offended. She was not an ignorant silly girl who could be talked around. But he was puzzled; he found Lily unlike herself. A black Paris dress and good sparse jewels were preferable to a khaki uniform; she looked wonderfully cared for, not older only more arranged. The peace agreed with her; she had a fine life, travelling wherever she wanted to go, yet she was sad. Perhaps the man she loved did not love her. Was that enough, nowadays, to make people unhappy?

“Where’s your husband, Lily?” Sim said, also lighting a cigarette. She sat on the steely bed and he sat on the rush-bottomed chair, and she felt the draught through the closed window and thought, oh my God how late it is, but if talk will make this easier, let us talk.

“I really don’t know, Sim. I haven’t seen him for years. We were divorced right after the war, you know.”

“Are you still in love with him?”

“Dear Sim, I can’t remember if I ever was. It’s so long ago.” In another life and another world, and then there was the war, and she had met many men who were what Charles wanted to be or said he was, but were it without effort. The war had served as an anesthetic to the operation of cutting off a marriage.

“What became of that American, that P-47 chap, the fair one?”

“His name was Robert Allen.” But that was in Germany, had she written Sim about Robert?

“Where is he now?”

“He’s dead,” Lily answered in surprise. Anyone ought to know that much. It was normal to be dead.

Ah, Sim thought, that is it. She loved the American pilot, I remember her letters. I might have understood without asking her. The way she cannot live anywhere and is always alone; the way nothing interests her except the war. All the time I wondered how a woman who has everything, good looks and friends and money and a passport, dared to carry sadness around with her. Poor Lily, poor good Lily, it’s too heavy a price for the war. Lily was explained; if you loved a dead man, naturally you were not alive. I must tell Marek. Lily was always so kind to us and when she needs help we have not comforted her.

He saw Lily’s face differently now and was startled to find it hollowed and blanched with fatigue or grief. How could I not have noticed, he thought, I am too selfish.

“Go to bed,” Sim said, and pushed the rushbottomed chair neatly back under the rickety table. “Sleep well, darling,” and he kissed her forehead.

Lily took his hand and held it against her cheek and said, “I love you very much, Sim. I always will.”

“My General,” he said gently, “I know.”

Standing in the hall, with her door closed behind him, Sim thought, with anger and sorrow, war is too hard on women, no one realizes how hard it is on women.

Lily took off her clothes, shivering in the cold stale smoky air of the room, and hurried into bed. She turned out the lights and the cotton blankets were weightless and she might as well have been lying naked on the floor. She rose in the dark, found her coat, put it on and climbed back between the coarse sheets. She was trying to will warmth into her body, when she heard Sim go softly down the stairs. Later she heard a distant clanking from the kitchen; he would be washing the dishes at four in the morning, so she would not know that he always washed the dishes, and be sorry for him. It was contemptibly unjust that life should be easier for a rich ghost than for a poor one. That was the final limit; there ought to be economic equality for ghosts and all should have enough money since they had nothing else. Mink makes a nice nightgown, she thought in bitterness, and slept.


IT seemed no more than half an hour later when Sim, looking polished and awake, touched her shoulder and offered her a great white china cup of tea. Something like daylight came through the window.

“It’s a lovely day,” Sim announced. “It’s not raining.”

Evidently, in Grimsby, all a day had to do, to be admired, was not rain. Lily felt her face sticky with the make-up she had not cleaned off, and her mouth foul with drink and cigarettes, and she hated having Sim see her like this, until she decided it was good for him, let him realize she was no dew-laden blossom and he would not regret the night.

“There is hot water and when you are ready, there is breakfast downstairs.”

“Thank you, darling, I’ll hurry.”

You are old, Mother Cameron, she told herself. The back aches since it is unused to railroad track mattresses; and it is terrible not to have enough sleep; and I am frightened of the day ahead, Grimsby and Marek’s pictures and the long effort to be bright and merry at the spectacle of two men buried alive.

But she worked carefully on her face and put on a simple grey jersey dress for which she had paid Molyneux more than, no doubt, the value of all Sim’s plaice, and went downstairs hoping that even her heels on the uncarpeted treads sounded joyful. Sim again had the meal ready in the dining room.

“There’s an egg,” Sim said quickly. “I never eat them, bad for my liver.”

“ What a luxury, Sim; I didn’t expect two feasts,” and she thought: I could get eggs from Janet’s farm in Buckinghamshire and have them shipped here. It must be possible, and of course packages from New York. And blankets and plates, and other womanly little house-warming presents, which could hurt no one’s pride.

“We should go to Marek’s soon, Lily. He is so excited to show you his pictures. I hope you will like them. It is not far; we could walk.”

“I’m longing for a walk. I’ll get my coat.”

Sim stopped, on the pavement before his house, so that she could see his domain well, in its entirety. Of course he would know which was his, Lily thought, because it s on the corner. There were fourteen houses, joined together in a row, on each side of the street. They were identical: red brick with a pointed roof, a small bay window on the first floor and a door, two windows on the second floor, green woodwork, and a low picket fence surrounding a patch of what would be grass later on. And not a tree in sight.

“I didn’t know how wonderful it was to have a house,” Sim said, looking fondly at his brick box. I had a few things to sell, so I could make the first payment, and now I’m buying it by the month. It is a remarkable system they have here. Of course Grimsby is not a very amusing place but it makes all the difference if you have your own house. A house is so interesting; I can’t think why I never noticed that before, in Poland.”

“Yes, I know,” Lily said, and knew that she knew nothing. Slowly, she began to feel herself alone, far away, hiding in a country never invaded, while others fought.

She liked walking with Sim, it reminded her of how they had walked in that brilliant Italian summer. Their steps matched and she ignored the straight streets, with never a curve, never a surprise. The difference between the streets was only, that some of the houses were yellow brick instead of red. This scandal of ugliness was so complete that it ceased to have meaning, as scenery in a dream is unimportant. It was all a dream; they were two disembodied memories, walking anywhere, telling each other wisps of fairy stories, the gossip of a previous life.

“We are almost there,” Sim said suddenly. “A friend of ours will he at Marek’s house. Be nice to her, Lily.”

“Darling, what an amazing thing to say! Have you always found that I was beastly to people?”

“No, of course not. No, really, Lily. But you see, this friend is only a girl, she’s twenty-two. She is a stenographer in the bank, and her father has a small shop here. Marek and I are fond of her. She’s sweet, Lily, but she will be frightened of you. I mean, she has never been anywhere except Grimsby. Her legs are very ugly.”

“I can’t see what possible difference that would make to me. I don’t give a hoot about women’s legs.”

So he thinks I’m a snob now, and he would never have thought that before. Really, men are a caution. How guilty and mean I felt last night, and all the while Sim is well fixed-up with a local.

“You’re cross.”

“I am not,” Lily said crossly.

Then they were standing before the Colonel’s house, which was like Sim’s, except older, and yellow brick trimmed with black woodwork.

“We go in,” Sim said. “Marek rents the first, floor to a nice young couple; the husband was on Anders’ staff as something or other. Be careful not to fall over the pram.”

The stairs were dark and steep. There was a curious smell and Lily remembered Marek had said it was a dirty house.

Sim began calling, in Polish, as they neared the top of the stairs. He led her down a hall to a room which ran across the front of the second floor. The furniture appeared to have been thrown in rather than placed and the disorder was astounding. Sim left her here, to find the Colonel. Lily could hear Sim down the hall saying, “Get up. Got up. There is nothing to drink except beer. Beer for breakfast is unhealthy. If we had gin it would be different. Oh Grace, good morning,” a false careful voice, Lily thought. “Yes, what a good idea.”


LILY had time to look at the Colonel’s paintings which were standing on chairs and against the wall at one end of the room behind his easel. There was a green and purple and black face, on the easel, an unfinished canvas. The other pictures ranged from correct sail boats and glorious apples to muddy Impressionist landscapes and angular street scenes.

Sim came back, followed by a girl carrying a tray. The girl was almost as tall as Sim, perhaps six feet tall, and enormous. Lily could not help looking at her legs, and they were more like tree trunks than any legs Lily had ever seen. Her body was built on the heroic scale of the Winged Victory and though. Lily thought instantly, she would be colossal in Greek draperies at the top of the stairs at the Louvre, you did not expect to meet a Greek statue in Grimsby, wearing ugly patent-leather slippers and a slate-blue crepe dress, foolishly looped up on one side, foolishly pulled to a vulgar neckline, beneath the powerful perfect throat.

But what was even more incredible than this noble size was the girl’s face. It was oval and her skin was without make-up or even powder, and the cheeks very pink, perhaps because it was hot work to make coffee in Marek’s little kitchen, perhaps because of meeting Lily. Her brown hair was parted in the middle and hung in natural waves almost to her shoulders. A mistake, Lily thought, I ought to tell her; she should wear her hair up so you could see the line of her head and throat. And her eyes were dark blue, absolutely honest, absolutely trusting. Her mouth was as good and as gay as a child’s. Seeing her face, you forgot at once that this girl was a giantess, and felt she was small and much too young and vulnerable.

Sim made introductions: Miss Needham, Mrs. Cameron. The girl said “How do you do,” and then, in shy explanation of the tray, “ Marek will want coffee, I think. He said he was drunk last night.” Her voice was unadorned and direct, as honest as her eyes.

“Could I have some too?” Lily asked. That Sim should have found this girl, this particular girl, was what she could not believe. Sim. Imagine. Sim who had only known women like Anne Marie and Lorna Charters and Bianca and all those, the sleek the chic the elegant the quick the clever the witty the greedy the lazy the artificial. Or herself, herself also, and perhaps she belonged with the others. But never anyone like Grace Needham; what had happened to Sim that he could find Grace Needham ?

The Bloody Colonel hurried in, his thin grey hair brushed flat as always, his worn blue suit pressed as if he still had a batman to keep him smart, and he kissed Lily and made apologies.

“I was too excited, I can not sleep, so I think: now I will again paint Pilsudski. I did not go to bed before it was daytime.”

He turned to look at the unfinished green, purple and black canvas and Sim moved to stand beside him.

“It is better,” Sim said gravely. “The moustache and the hair are very good. It is better than the last one.”

“Oh?” said the Colonel.

“It isn’t like any of your others,” Grace said. “It’s altogether different, isn’t it, Marek?”

“Mm,” said the Colonel. It was a pleased sound.

The three of them looked at the painting, as if they expected it to move or speak. They had forgotten Lily.

Marek does not surprise this girl, Lily thought, she expected him to happen, she expected to be on hand and serve him. And she is proud of Sim, that’s how she loves him, not because he is hers, but because he is Sim and will always stand and fight. It does not matter how Marek paints; painting is another country to fight for. And I am like some miserable desk General who arrives for twenty-four hours, well-fed and rested, and goes no farther forward than Division. I am not helping anyone to fight for anything at all. It is no wonder they have forgotten I am in the room.

You think always in terms of war, Lily told herself, the war is over. The war was so easy compared to this that they ought to reverse the words; this is much harder and longer than war ever was. I couldn’t get a job in this kind of war; no outfit would have me. They have Grace, naturally they found her.

The Colonel turned the canvas upside down and said, “It looks as good this way.” He has had a fit of rage, Lily thought, he knows how far it is from his mind to his hand. He is furious with rage as he used to be when the banks of a river held up the Staghounds and the engineers didn’t arrive; or when they couldn’t get the Germans off that hill with the tower on it. Only rage: nothing in him gives up. And she thought: how clever Sim is, how wise. Bravery is what he honors, and he recognizes it anywhere except in himself, so he is spared the poses and lies of the people who only want to love bravery and only want to be brave. How could I have gone along thinking Sim was sweet and charming and generous, but never guessing what he really is. You are not his kind, she answered herself, that’s why.

“Now we have had breakfast,” the Colonel said suddenly, “we will have beer.” Grace went to the kitchen because she always looked after them, and what they wanted she gave them; she was at home in this war. Sim worried that Lily would think Grace a joke, and be charming to her, and Grace would feel it (she was very conscious of her size and her legs) and he could not bear to have Grace hurt. But if Lily had come and gone, and they had hidden Grace, that would have hurt her more.

He meant to warn Lily, but he was not sure where the danger lay, so, to his surprise, he announced: “I am Mister Mitrowski and Marek is Mister Starecki, now.”

We are what we are, he thought, with nothing to make us look better. It is enough for this girl. Xo one must condescend to her. She is the same as we are.

“Mr. Mitrowski,” Lily said, her eyes hot with embarrassing tears, “Mr. Starecki, I never loved you more.”


THE Colonel began to talk, very fast, his English confused and heavily accented, and he was showing Lily his pictures, explaining when he had painted them, why they were bad, and what he must learn.

“Next year, when the fish are better,” the Colonel said, “we will have money and we will go to the galleries in Paris and Italy. We can travel cheap, Lily?”

Oh yes, certainly,” Lily said, ashamed that she did not know.

“We will go in the summer when Grace has her vacation; she will want to see the pictures too. She is so interested in painting as we are.”

“Yes,” Sim said, although he thought the business was more likely to fail than to give them money for a trip. And if it failed, he would probably lose his house. I cannot lose my house, he thought, I will not lose it.

But no one said, for talk’s sake, for fun, to be cosy: and you come too, Lily. Of course not, Lily thought. I am an intruder. I do not deserve to be here, you have to earn it. Nothing was changed; it was only harder and secret. They were the same men, as solid as they had been at Tobruk or Alamein or Cassino. Since they had never turned and run, why should they now? Grace had joined them, for the endless duration. You had to stay and live it, you had to share it with your friends and love them more than yourself, then you belonged as Grace did. I must get out, Lily thought, I am scared, I don’t know who I am.

They lunched at the Crown Hotel which was the most expensive place in town, and Lily guessed at once that they never came here, but naturally they would offer her what they could not afford for themselves. The dining room at the Crown was full of silent eaters, all looking as if the food disagreed with them and Sunday was a punishment. The waitresses were insolent and slow and disliked the foreign merry manners of these Poles. Lily hated the waitresses and wanted to tell them to honor their betters and bring beer at once when it was asked for; and the meal was disgusting, all white, everything white, and lukewarm and thick.

She saw how cheerfully Sim and the Colonel matched coins and added and got enough for the bill. And how Grace behaved, quietly and easily, knowing what money they had and did not have and how hard the week would be, but able to arrange it for them somehow. They will eat scraps at Sim’s house, and wash the dishes together, and talk of Marek’s painting and how they are going to Italy and tomorrow morning Grace will go to the bank and Sim and Marek will go wherever they manage their fish, and none of them will despair.

Let them win, Lily thought, Oh God, let them win. Before, she had been part of the winning, but now, somehow, somewhere, she had lost her place; she had demobilized herself.

Sim walked ahead with Grace; there was just time to walk to Sim’s, pack Lily’s suitcase, and take a taxi to the station. They had urged her to stay but she said she could not, so many errands, she said, you know how it is. What am I trying to think, Lily wondered. Oh yes, Grace’s legs look perfectly all right. They are hers and how she is, is all right.

The Colonel was not talking. Lily saw him staring at the street, the houses, the sky, and knew he was thinking of colors and what you could do with grey. With an effort, the Colonel abandoned the street, and took Lily’s arm.

“General, you are sweet to come to us. It made us happy.”

“Thank you, Marek.”

“They walk well together.”


“One day they will marry.”

“What?” It could not be her voice, squeaking like that.

“Why not? She is not Princess or Countess; she did not go anywhere; she has no dresses except three, all ugly. And she is a good woman, everything is good. She loves Sim: she is not afraid of what life he will have.”

“I didn’t mean that.”

“It is different, Lily. You must be a Pole perhaps to understand. We come very far away, but that is not strange to us. We always go back but maybe not the same ones who go away. Sim knows. Grace knows this too; she is not a Pole, but she knows, for Sim. For you it is the same life as before. That is good. That is what we all like, but it does not happen so.”

Ah no, Lily thought, you are wrong. She might, have cried out in pain, it was so clear in her face. The Colonel remembered then what Sim had told him, hurriedly, in Polish, when the girls went to fix their hair before lunch. Sim had been useless for Lily, too, or so he said. They were only concerned with their own lives, their own little problems. Their problems were nothing and would be solved. But how did a woman learn to stop loving a dead man?

“I am sorry, Lily. We hope it comes belter for you. Everybody must forget something, Lily. It is not possible to live if you always remember.”

What is he saying, Lily thought. Her legs felt cold and weak; the streets went on and on, where was Sim’s house. Why is he telling me this?

Grace must have packed for her. There was more gin; she could taste it burning in her mouth. She did not listen to the men, nor hear her answers. She believed she could hear the minutes ticking in her tiny silent watch. It was raining again, she noticed, as they drove through the cold identical streets, and the station held its own cloud of train smoke and looked as it had when she arrived, dark, and full of jumbled pale people, in raincoats. The ladylike broadcast voice told them where to find the train for London. Sim walked up and down the long train while she waited with the Colonel and Grace, out of the rain. Sim reported he had found an empty compartment and led them, carrying her suitcase.

Then she was inside the familiar varnished box, leaning out the door, while they stood with the rain making pearls in their hair. The three of them, all so tall, united, with laughing faces, called good-bye.

“It’s been lovely,” Lily called back. “Such a wonderful weekend! We’ll meet soon, won’t we? Darlings, take care, darlings, thank you, good-bye, good-bye.”

The noise of the train cut off their words, the lowering smoke blurred them, and they were three distant figures under the feeble bare light bulbs.

Lily closed the window and sat down, with her feet on the opposite bench. Her feet were wet, London was hours and hours away. A hot bath, she thought, trying to imagine comfort, and a hot toddy and a hot-water bag.

I have made a cruel mistake, she told herself. She was whispering in the silence of her mind. There is no one to remember for, or no one to remember with; everyone must forget. The dead are dead, there is nothing to be done. And the ghosts, the others she believed were like herself; had she pursued them, saying: Ghosts, Ghosts, when they only wanted to live?

She was not rejected by the ghosts, who would be too kind for that, but she knew she must leave them. How did you pick up the habit of living, once you had lost it? How did you live with yourself after you had guessed for the first time, with disbelief and certainty, with horror, that you were a coward?

She shut the door into the corridor, pulled the shades to hide herself from passing people, and turned off the light. Shrivelled wilh cold, she lay under her coat, sick with cold, sick with weariness, sick of all the journeys. And watched the rain, like melting grease against the dark window, and the night too dark to see.