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Fast Fiction: Old Soldiers

…I found out that his proper name was Jolly - not that there was anything jolly about him… Mr Jolly shows up regularly for his evening meal, but one snowy night he fails to arrive... Richard Mallinson tells a tale of two old soldiers.

I thought the man who regularly came to our house for his evening meal was Mr Brooder. I'd heard my father say to my mother, 'He's a real brooder, that one.'

It was only when I was a bit older that I found out that his proper name was Jolly - not that there was anything jolly about him.

He would eat his food in silence, then sit in an armchair, brooding. Even after all these years I can still picture him: scraggy, hairless, down-at-heel.

As time went by I learned that he'd been a soldier and had fought in the desert like my father. And he'd been a regular, whatever that was.

Now he worked as a gardener and lived alone in a cottage.
One night he didn't arrive at our house but we said nothing. When he didn't come the next night my mother said, 'You'd better go and see -'

My father sighed and put on his boots, hat, old army topcoat and gloves. Then he went out into the snow, which was beating against our door.
Later my mother said, 'Brrh, come in, close the door, I'll take your coat, you're shivering, go to the fire, I'll make a hot drink, sit down, get warm.'

'All this snow,' she went on, having made the drink, 'there must be big drifts, it's like a blizzard, it's a wonder you got through.'

He sat hunched up, staring into the fire, which was in full blaze. I moved to the back of the room, watching.

'Here we are, then,' said my mother, 'put this over you,' and she placed a thick grey army blanket across his shoulders and he stopped shivering.

'Wh-where's my dad?' I finally asked.

The silence hung over us like a mist and then the door opened and in he came, looking like a snowman. He closed the door and grinned at me.

'I thought you were dead,' I gasped, going to him.

'Old soldiers never die,' he said, shaking snow all over me.

'They simply fade away,' growled Mr Jolly . .. and so, in time, he did.


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