• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 08
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Missing Presumed Dead

Uncle Maurice was never seen in public without his pinstripe suit. Even if we called on him unexpectedly, in his tidy prefab, he'd be in shirtsleeves, the jacket on a chairback. He used to wear a trilby too, and doff it very politely to every lady he encountered. He had a clerical job at the town hall and I used to love to watch him write with his fancy fountain pen. I asked my mother how it was that he was my uncle, being as he wasn't actually related to any of us. She said as far as I was concerned that was his name and she'd thank me to show a bit of respect.

One day he missed the Sunday service and there was a quiet sense of panic. My mother's hands were shaking so much she could hardly hold the hymn book. I could feel her willing the vicar to hurry up. We always stopped at granny and grandpa's grave afterwards but this time I had to go straight home with the neighbours while she went to 'just check on Uncle Maurice'. I had to have my dinner there and even get changed into my pyjamas. When mother came back she kissed me goodnight and her clothes smelt of something sharp.

I didn't see Uncle Maurice after that. My mother said he had a growth in his brain and that hospital was no place for children. I had to play by myself a lot while she was at the visiting. I looked at all the ornaments in the bureau and all the photographs too. There was a little album at the back. In it there is a picture of granny being May Queen in 1942 — it says so on a sign that a man is carrying.The man is smiling and he looks a lot like Uncle Maurice only he isn't wearing a suit. Then there is a picture of granny and grandpa, who never smiles. Underneath it says 'Our Wedding Day, November 1942'. Granny looks very fat. Then there are baby pictures with my mother's name underneath them.


Missing Presumed Dead

When I close the album, an envelope falls out. In it is a picture of a man in baggy shorts. I don't recognize him. He looks sweaty and scruffy and very, very thin. On the back it says 'Maurice, Burma, 1945'. Underneath it, in pencil, there is a row of tiny kisses. I put it back carefully and go outside to play.