Our last in the series celebrating Explore Your Archives week again is a creative response from the Creative Writing workshop held in the Wolfson Centre in September. Written by Margaret Lyons, it is inspired by letters received from employees of W. Canning Materials Ltd. who were serving in the Forces during World War One (ref MS 2326/1/19).
Those pills came yesterday with a note from his mother.
“Dear Kathleen, please find enclosed”- (she’s very proper is Tom’s mother) – “Dear Kathleen, please find enclosed a month’s supply of the tablets I mentioned last week. He’s to take two a day and I’m happy to send for more- if he finds them agreeable. Mrs Dawson at church bought some for their Jack and she said he was like a new man after 2 months.”
I looked at the leaflet in the packet; “Out of Sorts? More dead than alive? Cassell’s tablets for the nervous and wasted – can cure stomach troubles, loss of appetite, loss of flesh, trembling and nervous debilitation, restores strength and fitness.”
I’ve told his mother, it’ll take more than pills to sort Tom out, but she can’t see it, or doesn’t want to. It makes me that mad; she comes over once a month, sits in the front parlour in her Sunday furs, sipping tea from our best china. Tom wouldn’t sit down with us last week, made some excuse to keep busy. She saw my face; “well he always was a restless boy Kathleen… a proper fidget… did I ever tell you about the time…” and she rattled on with some story. Tom’s a story teller too, stories for his mother, stories for our friends, for the neighbours, about the food, the lice, the rats as big as kittens, how he and the lads used them as target practice.
The truth is, he won’t sit down with the china because he can’t trust his hands not to shake. You never know when it’ll start. A sudden sound that catches him off guard, the whistle of a train, the hooter for knock off at the cotton mill, even the kids screaming, and they’re only playing…
What did she say to me at the door? “We’ve got to give him time Kathleen, Tom’s done his duty for King and Country and now we must do right by him.”
We? She doesn’t see him when he’s raging at the kids or the nights when the terrible dreams come, drenching our bed with his sweat, moaning into his pillow. He’s only really at peace these days when he’s out the back, digging over the veg patch.
I watch him from the kitchen window but he never sees me. Sometimes his spade hits the soil so hard, as if he’s giving it all the rage he can muster and then the tears come, for the misery of it all, and I’m glad of that.