All Happy Families Are Alike

Living in an underground basement of a demolished house is getting on my nerves. I keep thinking I hear heavy boots outside – policeman’s boots – and that the police have finally tracked me and my men down and will march us off to jail for killing Jimmy and his men, and for killing the eight men who attacked us under the bridge.

We’ve killed between sixteen and eighteen men here in America in the short time since I flew in from England to settle matters with Jimmy, who had insulted my monarch, Queen Elizabeth of England, in a comment he left on someone’s blog.

Our killing all these men in just the short time since my arriving in Texas from England might sound a bit much, but I consider we were acting in self-defense. However, despite my 113 years, I still have a sufficient grasp of reality to know that the upholders of the law in America might not see things as do I. Thus I decided we become outlaws rather than turn ourselves in.

Last timeI spoke of our laying out in a field the bodies of our attackers under the bridge, rather than burying them, for I felt it would be more environmentally friendly. Then we resumed our journey southwards through Texas. As I drove our SUV south I began, oddly, to think about my son, Albert, who died some years ago. I say “oddly” intentionally, for Albert and I had had no contact in the sixty years before that morning when he collapsed while waiting for a train at London’s King’s Cross station.

I assure you, dear reader, that it wasn’t my fault that Albert and I had been estranged throughout the last sixty years of his life. No, the fault was Albert’s, for he wanted nothing to do with me. I couldn’t really blame him, though, for Albert was always a mother’s boy. From when he was born, my wife Gladys (now dead) doted on him. In her eyes Albert could do no wrong. Always it was Albert this, and Albert that. Bestowing all her love upon Albert, Gladys had none left over for me. Thus whenever I demanded my conjugal rights she complied reluctantly, asking that I be quick.

I did all I reasonably could to make Albert a man’s man like me. I tried to teach him to box, made him do military drill in our back garden, and made him play rugby and cricket at his public school of Eton, which I had also attended as a boy.

Albert was so hopeless at rugby and cricket, I felt humiliated whenever I watched him play. I felt palpably the derision from the other fathers attending these matches as they turned their eyes on me as the father of that unutterably clumsy boy out there on the field. Afterwards I would chastise Albert, telling him he was a disgrace to me. When he cried, as he did often, I would beat him with my cane, as I also did whenever he was sloppy in his military drill, or howled if I hit him too hard when teaching him to box. Lest you think me a beast, I should tell you it was as painful for me to beat him, as it was painful for him to be beaten. I was acting only in Albert’s best interests.

Albert, more than my conjugal demands, was what drove Gladys and I apart, for I failed to convince her that my beatings of him were for his own good. I told her I just wanted Albert to be a man, essential to which is being beaten and not complaining. Instead, Albert went blubbering to Gladys, who, rather than telling him not to cry, gave him novels to read, enrolled him in violin and piano lessons, took him to museums and art exhibitions, accompanied him on nature walks, and gushed over the pictures he painted and the poems he composed.

There was created, then, in our little family, a schism, with Gladys and Albert on one side, and me on the other. Meals were always especially tense, at which conversation didn’t go beyond “could you pass the peas, please?” or “pass the butter, will you?”, all said with quiet fury. Otherwise we ate in silence, the only sounds being swallowing, munching, and of knife and fork against plate.

Whenever I was posted abroad for long periods in the 1920’s and 1930’s, as I was in Malaya and India, Gladys would often remain in England to provide a home to Albert so he wouldn’t have to become a boarder at school. Gladys considered boarding school as barbaric, since she didn’t think its bullying and beating of boys a good thing. My being overseas so often meant my opportunities to make a man of Albert were limited. I would so have liked for him to have made a career in the army as I had. But this came to nought when, after Albert left Eton, Gladys enrolled him at the Royal College of Music to further his studies in piano and violin.

Albert also consorted with pacifists and socialists, having joined the Labour Party, and also the Peace Pledge Union, which opposed wars of any kind, even the looming war with Hitler. And particularly bizarre, it was Albert’s Christianity which propelled him down this dangerous and treasonous road. He had the strange notion that being a Christian meant turning the other cheek when attacked.

When we English declared war against Hitler in September 1939, and conscription introduced, Albert obtained an exemption as a conscientious objector. Since I was rising to prominence in the British Army, the anomaly of my having a pacifist son was something the British newspapers couldn’t have ignored. I therefore had no choice but to disown Albert. He responded by changing his legal surname. However, he would always be the man who wasn’t there, since Gladys continued to cling to him.

There is more of Albert I wish to tell, but this will be next time.

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