12th July

Have I Got It?

It was the most difficult question he’d ever have to ask anyone, and it had to be her he asked. They’d known each other so long. He knew if he asked her he’d get a straight answer. She might hesitate, she might have to think about it, but she wouldn’t lie. If he could have asked someone else, there might still have been room for the comfort of a lie. But he couldn’t. It had to be her.

It was difficult too because he didn’t know what the question was. Well, he did, but it could take so many forms. Do you think that . . . ? Would you agree that . . . ? Are there times when . . . ? It was like drafting a bloody referendum question. To get a straight answer you had to ask a straight – that is to say not a leading, misleading, biased or ambiguous – question.

So he spent a lot of time composing it in his head. And kept being sidetracked by memories or other interruptions, like her coming in to see if he was all right.

‘Of course I’m all right,’ he said. ‘Have I moved since you asked me ten minutes ago?’

‘It was an hour ago,’ she said. ‘And you’ve been to the toilet and back.’

That gave him pause for thought. He remembered a man he used to work beside who always said that. ‘That should give them pause for thought.’ He could see his face but the name was out of reach. Who was he talking about? The unions? The competition? A curmudgeonly old bugger he was anyway.

Maybe he was one of those himself. She probably thought that, the way he sometimes snapped at her.

Later he said, ‘Sit down, will you? I’ve got something important I want to ask you.’

She sat. She waited. She bloody knows already, he thought.

‘Tell me the truth now,’ he said. ‘That’s all I want. The truth.’

She nodded. ‘Go on.’

‘Have I got it?’ he said.

And now, at this moment, his mind failed him. He’d forgotten the bloody word. He’d had it only a minute ago.

‘Got what?’ she asked.

‘That thing.’ His fist thumped the arm of the chair. ‘That thing.’

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium and Piano: Kit Downes
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