In Which Fiona Thinks
15th August 1945
32 Billingsworth Ln
My dear Elaine,
It has been far too long since last I saw you! Is little Heather settling back into Basildon? I have not seen her since the evacuations, and oh, how I miss her! I can hardly begin to imagine how wretched you must have felt.
Oh Elaine, I am so sorry to burden you with this dreadful letter, but I'm feeling awfully low at present. I know I should be glad that the war is over- and I am glad!- but I keep remembering how horrid it was in the hospital. All those poor men who must have left family and sweetheart behind to lie, bloodied and dying on a sanitised bed, a nameless nurse dressing their wounds.
Tallis- Briony- always hated that.
And that's why I'm writing to you, sister o' mine. I am so troubled when I think of that poor girl.
She was always very odd. Do you remember how i told you she was always running away at night? We all thought she had a secret, dashing lover!
There was no lover. Only a typewriter.
I remember the first time I found her. I was absolutely dying for a cigarette, it had been a cluttered day and Matron had been in a particularly foul mood. She'd been shouting at Tallis again- apparently she had told a soldier her real name. I never saw what was so bad about that, Tallis always seemed to care for her patients.
At any rate, I was up in the loft for that much needed puff, and there she was, hunched over her typewriter. Only she wasn't really typing- more staring out at the bleak London sky. She looked so dreadfully low I simply had to go talk- and you know how I am, all babble with no pause! I think I said something foolish about her lover- that he'd be tall, dark and habdsome or something equally absurd- and then I had giggled. (Matron hated it, she was always telling me off for it. Only goes to show how little she knows- Geoff absolutely adores it. I don't think Tallis minded it much, either.)
She then told me the funniest thing- that she'd never been in love. Can you imagine that? I couldn't. I thought of all the beaus I've had, all the boys I've fancied. But Tallis claiemd she'd only ever 'had a crush'!
I still remember how funny she looked when she said that, Elaine darling. She simply stared into the distance- even further if possible. And oh, but did she look guilty! Why anyone should feel guilty about having a crush, only the Lord knows why. I'd tried to cheer her up by saying that I wished to fall in love with a man from the navy (you know how I've always admired their uniforms!) and I had laughed, and she had laughed- but I had always wondered about the guilt in her eyes.
I used to think that, maybe, she hadn't told him how she felt and he was off in the war. Perhas she was like Sarah (what did happen to poor Sarah in the end? You never told me what happened once Private Lawrence came back from the campaign in France. Did he go to her or did she finally fall for someone else? Do tell in your reply!).
Matron certainly led me to think so. I heard her talking to a doctor about the French soldier she got Tallis to look after before he died. (Yes, yes, I know what you will say about my habit of listening in. It wasn't my fault, honestly! Matron had made me stay back to do all manner of chores, and she was talking quite loudly- but I digress.)
Tallis herself didn't tell me much about the incident. She seemed dreadfully shaken. I think she went to the loft again after that- my, but she was always writing. Creating a little fantasy, no doubt- not that i ever followed her.
Matron said that Tallis had held the dying man's hand; held it tenderly as if they'd been childhood sweethearts. She sounded mocking, but I couldn't help but listen at that. Tallis denied knowing what it was like to be in a relationship, but I'd thought she'd lied, and here was Matron, giving me proof!
Oh, I know what you'll say, Elaine. You'll tell me I oughtn't have neglected my duty (no matter how menial) to eavesdrop, that I should only listen when I am told to. I couldn't help it, though! Tallis was such an extroardinary and odd girl, and I cared about her- still do- how I could I not listen to whatever it was that Matron had to say?
Apparently they jabbered on in French for a little (how many secrets that girl kept! If I had known earlier, I'd have asked her to teach me French)- and with his dying breath she had gasped, "Briony! My name is Briony!"
What on earth could that have meant, Elaine? I still think of it, sometimes, in conjunction with her mystery childhood crush. Maybe he loved another. She never told me, though. I hate not knowing! (Geoff tells me I really oughtn't worry about another girl's secret love life when I have him, and I know that it is true, and he is right, but I can't help but think of her! Surely you will understand, Elaine?)
You'll call me silly, I know you will. But at least you will call me. "Silly Fiona"- you'll say that, won't you? Please do, please call- and call as soon as you receive this letter!
You see, the thing is- well, Briony wrote to me the other day. (You may ask why I call her Briony and not Tallis now. Well, sister dear, she only told me her name was Briony in the letter! To call her Briony without being told would almost be like stealing from her.)
Briony had a sister. A sister named Cecilia. Had being the key word. She is absolutely distraught.
I was so surpsied, Elaine! I had never known she had a sister. Now that I think of it, I hardly knew her at all.
Her sister was dead, Elaine. Had been dead since the October bombings.
Why in heaven's name did she not tell me sooner? Or, if tell, why tell me now? I don't know! But now I am wretched on her behalf.
It was the bombing of the Underground. She must have died when the water flooded in. (I would hate to drown.)
Please don't tell anyone. Briony was so hesitant in her letter. I am unsure of whether or not she even mean to send the letter to me! She did write (and I quote exactly),
"I am sorry to write this- even sorrier I will never send it. She will never forgive me now. If only- if only"
And it ends there.
You will not tell, will you? Not even Harry?
Oh, to hell with this! I shall probably end up writing you another letter myself. I don't think Briony truly meant to send that letter to me in the first place.
But what in heaven's name did she mean when she said, "She will never forgive me now"?
What could she have done that needed to be forgiven? She went through such a wretched time in the hospital, I know she hated it as least as much as I did, if not more! Surely that was suffering enough.
And now she is sisterless and single and guilt-ridden. Oh, Elaine, I wish I could help her. But mostly (and i feel so dreadfully selfish writing this!)- I want you to call me and say that will never happen to us.
But I can't say anymore, not in this letter. I ca-
(Here the paper is crumpled up and thrown away. Another letter lies on the desk nearby...)