I traveled a good deal when I was younger. By the time I was twenty, I’d been to Africa, India. Canada, I think. The whole of Europe, though I hated every minute of France. My mother was French.
I still traveled after I married, though nowhere near as often. Not at all, actually. Alfie was a house plant.
When I turned eighty, I bought a flower pot big enough for the two of us. Wollbaum watered us with tea. Or I guess … we had Andrews, then. He didn’t last. There’s something tragic about surviving one’s butler.
Andrews handed me a salver, one day. On it was an invitation—to a family reunion. I thought it would be a great surprise and fun to see what family I had left. But Alfie wouldn’t hear of it. I’d press him and he’d just sit quietly in his chair, petting the Business Section. He’d’ve done that if the bombs were falling.
A day or two later, Andrews lifted the cover on my dinner. Instead of roast, though, there were two tickets, train tickets, sitting on my plate. I looked up at Alfie. He was smiling.
The reunion was to take place in Chudleigh, where I’d done most of my growing up. I hadn’t been so excited about something, I don’t think… Since I was a teenager.
The train took us as far as Exeter—it’s not much more than a thumbprint, Chudleigh— where we hired a car.
As we drove through the fog, I told Alfie about the old house and the hidden passage and the dirty magazines. Puritanical Aunt Claire, who kept wine jugs in a lilac bush. The hybrid crimes my brother and I committed every day, to mark the hours. The closer we grew to Chudleigh, I think, the more I talked, the faster. Alfie just quietly smiled as the bombs dropped.
When I saw the church spire sticking out of the mist… There’s nothing so dreamlike as meeting one’s past again, on the second lap.
With the town still a half mile off, Alfie slowed down. He pulled up to the gates of the Protestant Cemetery. He wasn’t smiling anymore.
“Alfie,” I said. “It’s nearly 2:00 and—”
“There,” he said, pointing at—I wasn’t sure if it was something among the graves. It was pretty foggy, still. I squinted.
“There,” a bit louder, moving his finger in a circle. Meaning, I determined, the cemetery itself.
I looked at Alfie.
“That’s where your family is. If you want to say hello, do it quickly. The train leaves in half an hour.”
Alfie. I looked at … his eyes.
He was serious.
He was serious.
On the train…
We didn’t say a word to one another, the entire way.