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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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