Sunday, February 03, 2013

Walking With Ghosts by John Baker (Gollancz 1999)

Your mother was a historian, a secret historian. Her account of the Great War is still among your papers in the bureaux. You have failed to edit it for more than thirty years. The truth is, you never wanted to edit it because it was hers. You were jealous of her, as she was jealous of you. Her only achievement, as far as you are concerned, is that she was a cousin of Dylan Thomas (and your earliest memory is of being kissed by him).
'I was kissed by Dylan Thomas,' you have told everyone you ever met. 'He went down on one knee and kissed me on the cheek. I remember being tickled by a day's growth of beard, and the smell of figs on his breath. He was a relative on my mother's side, somewhat removed, but he visited us when he was in the neighbourhood.' You have been a snob about that.
In truth you don't know if you remember it or not. You don't know if you remember Dylan Thomas, or if what you remember is your mother's memory. Because she told everyone the same story: 'Dylan Thomas kissed Dora, you know. She was small at the time, but she still remembers, don't you, Dora? His bristles and a figgy smell, typical childhood observations. He was my cousin, you know, a regular visitor whenever he was in Wales.' You are like your mother. You have become more like your mother as you have grown older. The last ten years have been a nightmare in that respect. You would not have believed it possible. You feel like her. You turn your head when someone speaks and in a flash you recognize the gesture. It is your mother turning her head. She lives in the tone of your voice. Your characteristics, gestures, inflections of speech, they are all inherited. You are reverting to form. Everything you rejected, burned, left behind; it is all reconstituting itself. You have not escaped. You have run away, but you have not escaped.

You laugh because you can see now what you were running from. It is life's oldest comedy. Your mother was not so bad. She was like you. A Swansea girl, born and bred. When you laugh at her you are laughing at yourself.

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