Out of the fading political past, a friend returns to haunt my comfortable worldby James Lasdun / April 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2002 issue of Prospect Magazine
I read the letter with a feeling of unease, then put it in one of the partitioned receptacles on the desk in my study and packed my briefcase for work. From a mahogany periodical rack I selected a publication to read on the tube-a digest of reports on lawsuits arising from shipping accidents around the globe.
Karen was in the room we call the breakfast room, feeding our baby daughter, Sophie.
Spring sunlight, with a tint of green from the foliage of the communal garden, came through the window, and there was a sound of birds in the cherry tree in our own private garden. I noticed that the tree was coming into blossom.
I stepped into the room to say goodbye. Karen smiled at me calmly, continuing to feed Sophie.
“You never met Dimitri, did you?” I asked her.
She shook her head.
“He’s an old friend of mine. He’s sent me a letter.”
“Oh.” My wife moved the spoon from the jar of puree to the flower-like mouth of our child and back again. Her hair was already up, brushed back from her forehead and fastened in a tightly-knotted bun. Her lips, full at the centre, but neat and small like the coil of hair on her head, were closed, as they always were the moment she finished speaking; a characteristic that gave an emphatic finality to her utterances.
“We were at school together,” I said, “then at university, till he dropped out.”
Karen tilted her face up again: serene, maternal, not especially interested.
“I haven’t heard from him for years.”
She said nothing, though she gave me a pleasant look, as if asking me to forgive her indifference. As a matter of fact I had always admired my wife’s attitude to my past, which seemed to be that compared to the great fact of our having married each other, our previous lives were just unimportant sketches; first drafts full of clumsy experiment and fruitless detours.
I kissed her and Sophie goodbye, passing through to the living room that led into the front hall.