Peter had been told that the journey in the car would be a long one but as they had arrived at their destination late, he was just left at the door of the large house and the ending was swift. Although he could not remember when, Peter had been warned that he would be going away, but he had been unable to imagine what that would feel like. Now, standing on the doorstep, his mother simply waved to him from the car,
“Good-bye, Peter, good-bye.” (PLATE 13)
The air was cold, grey and wet and the voice quickly died away. Now he knew that this is what it felt like to be alone. He was going to cry when he remembered that he had been given a half-crown for pocket money, to be a “brave little soldier.” Perhaps this, held tightly in the pocket of his shorts, would help him to hold back the tears.
The big house, he was told, would be his home for a while, “How long is a while?” Peter quizzed.
The following day Peter longed for class to be over. “Sit and listen,” then prayers and then again, “Sit and listen.” He wanted class to end so that he could go to bed. There in the dormitory, he could be alone with his thoughts. He would bless himself quickly and climb into bed, tucking his nightshirt under his toes. Between the sheets he trembled for a while as the cold draft coming down the dark corridor chilled him. In a little while though, he would be dreaming.
Peter slept on his ears, folding them back so that he could keep unwanted noises out. By opening and closing the flaps of his ears, he could make sounds, like the roar of an aeroplane jet. The dream that night was about a heavy bird flying low through the grey light, alone, looking for a home.
“When I grow up,” Peter thought to himself, “I would like to fly.” (PLATE 14)
However, in his dreams, Peter had left the ground many times before. For him flying was fun, flying was everything. He would glide about in the clouds looking down on everybody below, he was so happy. He felt that this was what it must be like in heaven. Of course, he didn’t mention it to any of the other boys because they would have teased him; this was his secret, one of many. And at the bottom his heart, Peter realised that he probably wouldn’t be going to heaven.
But this night the dream seemed different. Peter was struggling to stay airborne, this time something seemed to be grasping at Peters’ wings, trying pull him down to the ground. There was a voice, “Don’t get too ahead of yourself, boy.” This was a dark and angry voice that seemed to come from within him. It made Peter wake with a start.
The next day the boys all laughed. In his heart Peter had known that they would. At first he tried to laugh with them, but he felt quite confused. The big boys were saying things that he did not really understand. Peter wanted to run away from them but in the end, decided to stay; he clutched at his half crown.
In class Peter was good at sums but not so good at words. He was in the class above his year group and although he was proud of that, Peter just hated reading out loud. He would look at his teacher and imagine that he was a dark bird; he looked like a rook as his gown flowed around him, a bad-tempered rook.
It was break. The playground seemed to go on forever and was filled with strangers, all of whom were shouting, “What’s your name? What’s your name?” To him, all the boys seemed so very strange. He felt his lonely body, small and weak amid the throng.
“What kind of name is that?”
“Why are you crying?”
“Did you kiss your mummy before she left?“
Peter wondered if it was it right to kiss mother or wrong to kiss mother but could not remember the last time it had happened.
“Big ears,” they shouted.
Thankfully, night time would come soon and he could dream. It would be lovely in a few minutes; things would be warm again.
But the warmth of the night was always followed by the cruelty of the cold morning. “Like when you wet the bed,” Peter thought, “in half-sleep it is warm and nice, but then you awake and in reality, it is cold and uncomfortable.”
“Life is often nice but then, suddenly, it is not nice,” he would say to himself. (PLATE 15)
It would now be necessary to explain all this to the figure who was coming up the staircase from the hall; who would come from behind the door.
Was it true about the black dog that walked the corridor at night or was this just another dream? Peter was confused because that Christmas Peter’s mother had bought him a real dog. Her name was Judy and she was his only true friend. There was a drawing in red pencil with the words, “Welcome Home Judy.”
It was the holidays and Peter was so excited to be with his best friend.
“Where’s Judy? Where’s Judy?” (PLATE 16)
Peter could not find her anywhere. Then, when Peter was told that she would not be coming back, he hid behind the door and wept and wept; of course, he couldn’t find his half crown. And Judy never, ever came home.
He was back at school. Recently, the dreams had been getting darker and Peter was afraid that there were dead things all around him. Images of the dead were all strangers to him, save that of his dog. Peter realised that one day he too would die. Why had he not realised this before? How could he have been so stupid?
Everyone was dressed in black in this dream, all with sad faces. How beautiful and sad that was. How sad and yet how beautiful.
“Why do we have to die, please don’t let me die?” Peter would plead. (PLATE 17)
This new knowledge affected Peter in many ways: He hasn’t been the same since. He hasn’t been himself. He doesn’t want to face himself anymore.
“Presents, presents!” All children wait for this day. This was the day that everybody definitely would be happy. “Happy Birthday!”
“Drums I like, I like the banging noise,” said Peter.
But the noise was abruptly stopped and only a great fire, high and red, flamed under the ivy-strewn branches of the oak where the drum once was. (PLATE 18)
That night, in his dream, his mother was sitting at the fireside. He had longed to be at home and see his mother but he could not go. He thought he was sick in the heart and again he wanted to cry, but knew he shouldn’t.
A silence filled the room and Peter’s mother was wearing a new dress. The pictures on the wall around him were watching. Familiar faces staring down, seeing right through to his soul, perhaps they would find out. Peter was scared and wanted to escape to another place, to sleep.
Because his mouth was full, Peter just nodded, but somehow he knew this was wrong. If he were very quiet and obedient, perhaps he wouldn’t be noticed.
“That was not a nice expression,” said his Mother.
His father had told him not to speak until spoken to. He should be a “manly little chap” and never, ever cry.
Peter did not look up to his face; he knew to be quiet and obedient. Others saw right through him, of course.
“What lovely children,” said the lady on the table beside him, “You do have such wonderfully well behaved children.” (PLATE 19)
Peter then felt very anxious and hid under the table. Not really of course, for that would be silly, but in his dream it was quiet there.
The next day brought sunshine and the sea-side. Peter loved the feeling of sand between his toes. He had a blue sailor top on and his special going out cap.
“Daddy, Daddy come and see my boat,” (PLATE 20)
Peter shouted and they hurried back excitedly. But the boat had gone. A cry sprang to his lips and the tears were about to rise in his eyes. His heart was fluttering and he felt small and weak. The boat was nowhere to be seen. Peter had taken his boat out but the wind had blown it away, or perhaps it had sunk. It won’t ever come back, like everything else.
“How could you have been so stupid as to leave the boat unattended, you deserve to have it stolen, you are irresponsible and it cost a lot of money.”
It was time to return to the big house. It was a shame, because Peter thought he was quiet and polite but he seemed to let himself down in other ways.
“I don’t know why, I remember it this way, it was such a long, long time ago.”
The memory of childhood suddenly grew dim, he craved bedtime and with it a way of forgetting. By day, he moved among his demons but at night he flew above the distorted images of his world. Peter’s childhood was dead and gone but these memories come back to him, a child’s lost spirit; Peter is always waiting for his mother’s return, his boat, Judy and his car.