Branscombe Hall: Part Eleven

This is the eleventh part of a fiction serial, in 742 words.
My thanks to Sue Judd for the use of her photo.

He slept all the rest of that day, and most of the night. I stayed downstairs on the sofa so as not to disturb him, but he woke me up at three in the morning pacing the floor in the living room. I asked him what was wrong.

“They’re trying to get rid of me, I just know it. They’re saying it’s my nerves, and I don’t have an injury. But the bullet hit my helmet, so that’s not my fault, is it? They laughed at me for wearing that helmet when we went into action. Paras wear red berets, they said. Well that didn’t do my mates any good, did it? Serves them right for refusing to wear their helmets and laughing at me, I reckon”.

Not really knowing what to say or do, I just let him rant for a while, then made us some tea. He surprised me by going back to bed after he had drunk it. When I heard him snoring, I went through his kitbag. I found some sedatives, presumably supplied by the army. Small wonder he was so out of it, if he had been taking lots of those. I waited until eight, and then rang his mum. She was offhand, sounding unconcerned.

“My Gregg will be alright, he’s had a head injury you know. You’ve gotta give him time, Alicia. Being in a war is very different to being in barracks, or training. He’s lost some good mates, bound to take some time to adjust. Worse still, the army’s saying he has a problem with his nerves. I told him, you will be alright son, just stick it out. I’m counting on you to look after him, love. Don’t you let me down now”.

Obviously, Gregg had spoken to his parents before taking the train to Gloucester. His mum seemed to be more aware of what was going on than I was.

With no chance of going into work, I waited until he appeared just after midday. I offered to cook him something, but he said he only wanted some toast. Then he surprised me with what he said next. “Can you run me into Gloucester after, to the station? I think I had better get back, don’t want to show up late for my pass”. Although I was shocked that he didn’t want to spend another day with me, I was also relieved. I had no experience in dealing with this, and little idea what to say to calm him down. To be honest, I was a little afraid of him.

When he got out of the car at the station, he didn’t even kiss me goodbye. Just blurted out what sounded like a prepared speech.

“They don’t allow visitors at the army hospital where I’m going. I will ring you when I can, but don’t expect to hear much for a couple of weeks. I might get leave after, so will come back to the cottage. But I have to see mum and dad first, you must understand that”.

Driving home, I felt guilty. Guilty because I was glad he was going, and was going to be someone else’s problem. Guilty because I hadn’t tried to do more in the short time he was at home. I took the rest of the day off, and decided to make a fresh start at the Hall the next day.

Three weeks later, I got a phone call. Not from Gregg, but from his mum.

“Not good news, love. Gregg is being invalided out. A medical discharge, they say. He’s been in more than ten years, so will get a pension of sorts, but he is completely broken up about it. All he ever wanted to do was be a Para. I told him he can come here for a week, but then he will be going home to you. We have to work together to sort him out, and I will be in touch once he’s here”.

Whatever I had thought about during those three weeks, Gregg losing his army career had not entered my head. I was faced with the reality of a broken man returning to the cottage, a man with no job, and a pension not large enough to live on.

He wasn’t even thirty years old, and now his life would no doubt seem to him to have ended.

36 thoughts on “Branscombe Hall: Part Eleven

  1. (1) Overheard in Goose Green:
    Gregg: “The bullet hit my helmet, so that’s not my fault, is it?”
    Medic: “It’s absolutely your fault, son. You made yourself a target by painting ¡Vete a la mierda! on your helmet.”
    (2) Overheard at The House of the Rising Sun:
    Cherry: “I told him, you will be alright son, just stick it out. I’m a lady, not an animal. I won’t bite!”
    Magnolia: “Maybe not, but you’ve been the ruin of many a poor boy.”
    (3) Alicia offered to prepare an asado, served with red wine and a salad, but Gregg said he only wanted some toast.
    (4) Bad citation: “To be honest, I was a little afraid of him. I asked him, very politely, to stop pointing his L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle at me. But that made his trigger finger twitch…”
    (5) Overheard:
    Alicia’s conscience: “How do you plead?”
    Alicia’s reply: “Guilty!”
    (6) Said a mother in the Falkland Islands after reading a nursery rhyme to her young son, “Humpty Dumpty should never have climbed that wall to take a gander at Mother Goose Green. Because now he is completely broken up about it.”
    (7) “Gregg losing his army career had not entered my head.” Needless to say, had he worn his red beret instead of a helmet, the bullet would have entered Gregg’s head, thereby sparing Alicia from having this thought enter hers.

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