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Kiwi Konexions: All Communication Must Cease

Glen Taylor's short story highlights the never-ending agonies that can grow out of snobbery.

He should have read the letter, he knew he should. Why did it keep playing on his mind? The others hadn’t. Every Christmas and birthday, she had just picked them up and burnt them. He hadn’t objected. Why should he feel this one was different? Why did it bother him?

The train pulled into the station and the commuters rushed off, pushing past people, seeing nothing. Gusts of wind caught discarded papers, blowing them along the platform. Rain drove into faces and heads bowed against its onslaught. The old lady was on the corner, as usual, with her papers and flowers. He picked up his copy of The Daily Times and dropped his money into the box. She smiled her usual smile.

“Morning deary.”

She reminded him of her, while she was there everything would be all right.

He was the average middle aged man, well dressed, well groomed and heading for work with his black leather brief case, the epitome of affluence. But it hadn’t always been like that.

As a small child he had arrived as an immigrant, in a strange land, with his parents. They were poor, escaping persecution, and could bring little with them. They worked hard, established a small farm and made their little house a home to remind them of the country they had left behind. The language was difficult but they learnt to speak English with the strong guttural accent of Eastern Europe.

How they loved their only son. They lavished all their care and affection on him. His father taught him to play the violin and they went for long walks in the mountains together when time permitted. His mother cooked the favourite dishes of their homeland and, as all mothers do, surrounded him with love.

Both parents wanted their son to have the best education he could get in their new country. They scrimped and saved, sent him to good schools and encouraged him with his studies and, finally, were delighted to see him gain a place at one of the top universities. He was to be a lawyer. They were so proud.

He met his wife to be while in college. She came from an upper class background. Also an only child, with a rich and over indulgent father, the senior partner in one of the best law firms. He did well while he was at university and his future father-in-law offered him a place in his firm and to buy their first home, when they married. He approved of the young man.

As yet the young man had not introduced his fiancée to his parents. He had given her the impression that they came from a higher social stratum than their humble peasant background. When he called to see them, in his old jeans and sweater, he was his relaxed self, loving them and grateful for what they had done for him. But to introduce them to his new friends, his new world and his bride to be that was another story.

Eventually he could put the meeting off no longer. They set off, she in her linen suit and silk blouse, a string of pearls round her neck and his ring sparkling on her finger, he in his grey suit and college tie, the picture of a well-heeled couple.

As they approached the little farm, his heart began to sink. What would she think of them? How would she react? They reached the five barred gate his father had made so many years ago, still well maintained, as was everything which his father had. He opened it and drove along the dirt road, with sheep grazing on either side. They reached the house, which today seemed tumbled down, not the warm loving place which it was. He was seeing things through her eyes. The hens scratched around the door and the milk cow chewed her cud in the orchard at the side. A pleasant rural scene to the artist’s eyes but he knew she was expecting something better.

His mother, in her thick tweed skirt, sensible shoes and cotton blouse, was there to greet them, her calloused hands contrasting with his fiancée’s soft well manicured ones. His father came out in his flannel shirt and baggy trousers, not a bit like her father, in his well tailored suits. Ah well they had to meet.

He saw her for an instant draw back then her breeding came into play. She shook hands, smiled her society smile and was polite and courteous. She was careful about the cup she drank from, the thick crockery such a contrast to the fine porcelain she was used to. She nibbled at the over rich food which his mother must have spent hours preparing and she even helped with the dishes, not a thing she was used to.

His father regaled her with tales of the “Old Country” and embarrassed him by singing the old songs, as he played his violin, and told stories of his childhood. His accent was thick and difficult for her to understand but good manners made her smile at the right places and say the right things. He watched her eyes wander around the one living room, seeing the tawdriness of his mother’s treasures. This was his home, the home he loved and he felt ashamed of it and he sensed his parents knew his feelings.

Finally they left. On the drive back to town they said little. He wondered what she was thinking. He knew she was shocked but she said nothing. Once back, she asked him in and he easily slipped back into what he had become, sipping malt whisky with her father, talking politics and legal matters. He had moved on and was more at ease in these circles, but what would she do now that she had met his parents and knew his background, he knew these things mattered to her.

Later that night, when she was in bed, she lay sleepless, tossing the day about in her head. She had been shocked, no horrified. Such people. There was no way they could fit into her life, it would be too embarrassing. Should she call the wedding off? She loved him. Her father had high hopes for him, he was brilliant, he would go far. But those people...

By morning she had made her decision. They would marry and somehow she would slowly ease them out of their lives. It could be done tactfully, almost without them noticing.

The wedding was a great success, all the right people there, the men in top hat and tails, the women in designer dresses and big hats, the bride with her six bridesmaids and page boy, the flowers and music. The scene was perfect, nothing out of place, except for the two people in the pew behind him, his father in his well worn Sunday suit, his mother in her best, but unfashionable dress. At the reception, apart from the odd acknowledgement, they were virtually ignored. He felt for them but he was also angry and he knew his anger was not justified so he was ashamed too. But that was a long time ago.

As time passed and they settled into married life, his wife began to indicate that perhaps it would be better if they didn’t see them. They weren’t their type. Better to break contact, especially now that their first baby was on the way. And so he wrote saying that perhaps they should go their own separate ways. He knew they felt uncomfortable in his new world, they would be all right in their own little house, preserving their own customs. “All communication must cease.”

And yet it didn’t. Every Christmas, every birthday, his mother’s handwriting would appear on the envelopes he never opened. But this letter bothered him, this letter pricked his conscience. He should have opened it. He reached the big glass doors of the office where he was now a partner and took the escalator up to his floor. Why wouldn’t this feeling leave him?

*

It was growing dark and the wind was stirring in the trees. The rain, which had been falling all day, began to ease. The old woman sat by the window looking out, yet seeing nothing, the crumpled letter held tightly in her hands. She had read it many times during the last thirty years, since it first arrived, never quite believing what it said, “All communication must cease.” Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if there had been other children, maybe if they hadn’t come to this country. They had been such a close family, so much laughter, so much music, so much love. She couldn’t understand why he had pushed them aside, they had done nothing, they were just different from his in-laws, from his wife, they didn’t fit in.

It had been a strange day, busy in the morning with well meaning neighbours. They had always kept themselves to themselves, fulfilling their obligations to the community but not pushing themselves forward, and more so since the letter had come. They had each drawn into their own private cocoon, afraid to let any one near them in case they should be hurt or pitied. Shut within their own personal armour, they needn’t cry, no one need know. Life continued much as before but slowly, as the years passed, they withdrew from their shared closeness, one hoping a letter would come, the other knowing it wouldn’t. Still loving and caring but afraid to mention that forbidden subject, “how could he do this to them.”

Now he was gone. They had carried him to the graveyard. She hadn’t known how much the community respected them for their hard work and honest dealing. So many people had come to pay their respects. The words had been said, the neighbours had left and it was getting dark and cold. She had written to her son but he hadn’t come.

The old lady got stiffly to her feet and the letter fell from her lap. She went into the kitchen and put the kettle on to make tea. Slowly she lifted down two cups then, pausing, replaced one of them on the shelf. Suddenly the flood gates opened and the tears streamed down her cheeks, like the rain on the windows. Her shoulders shook as she gripped the bench and thirty years of grief spilled from her as she mourned her lost husband. The letter lay forgotten on the floor as, finally, “all communication ceased.”

*

He had been restless all day. His mind kept going back to the past, to the mountains he had climbed with his father, to the “Old Country,” to the old days and the old ways. Why had he let himself be talked into it? Every Christmas, every birthday, when the cards came. He had always meant to break the silence. His wife had mellowed with age, surely she would let him write to them, maybe he could go and see them. Why had that letter come? It wasn’t his birthday. He should have read it. How old were they? He had forgotten. They must be nearly eighty. He should contact them. He had paid the price for his future. He would do something tomorrow. He would take home flowers tonight, they would open a bottle of wine, he would get her in the right mood, then he would ask. It would be all right.

It was time to get his train. Outside it was still raining. He pulled his coat tightly round him. In the station the old lady would be selling flowers, he would get the biggest bunch he could, all she had. He turned the corner.

She wasn’t there.

A young man was in her place.

She wasn’t there. Where was she? She had to be there. She was always there.

Where was she? Why had she gone?

He stood in the rain, afraid, and, in his panic, he realised that “all communication had ceased.” Too late, his tears began to fall

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