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by Peter Wakefield Kitcher

I’d met Frank many years ago. I think it was at a Remembrance Day service because we’d both been wearing our medals. Anyway, we’d both been in the Forces and had been in a lot of the same places but not at the same time. We used to meet fairly regularly after that although sometimes I wished we didn’t. Our first meetings were quite interesting as we reminisced about places we’d been in during the war and we had a lot of laughs. But then those sorts of conversations faded away and we really had little in common. One of the problems was that he had few, if any, original ideas. He quoted others as if their opinions about anything were always true and I found out very quickly that there was no point in arguing anyway since seldom did he have any real facts.
Frank had never married but shared his house with Jessie and his sister Margaret. Margaret was a happy, bustling sort of person, very friendly, and she always made me very welcome. I thought that sometimes my visits gave her a little respite from Frank. I often wondered how she put up with him, and when he was in the middle of one of his harangues, I’d see her shake her head and cast her eyes up at the ceiling.
Jessie was really strange. She was quite old and very shy. It was very difficult to make any contact with her. I found it impossible and finally had to give up. During the summer, for example, she’d be sitting outside the house when I arrived and she made no effort to greet me or even to acknowledge my existence. Then I remembered that fourteen years ago she’d had that terrible experience when, with Frank’s help, she’d managed to escape from the dreadful fire that demolished the house where she had been living. The old man in the house never did get out and died and since Jessie seemed to have nowhere to go, Frank and Margaret decided that she could stay with them. This was one of Frank’s better moments. I never knew her before that but I always thought that the experience had certainly affected her in some way.
As I said, I was getting a little annoyed with Frank sometimes and was at the point of breaking it all up when his life changed. My own life, as well, for that matter. A couple of years ago Margaret developed some rare disease that was not treatable and she died quite quickly after a short time in hospital.
This meant that I couldn’t just stop visiting so I still went to see him and sometimes we went for a drive when he didn’t talk so much. I always felt very guilty when I didn’t go because he didn’t go out very much on his own. Jessie used to sit and look out of the window and Frank used to ignore her. In my mind I made up situations that would force Frank and Jessie to make some contact but nothing ever seemed feasible. I could never get closer to her anyway.
Finally, something did happen but not anything I’d ever considered in my wildest imagination. Frank and Jessie had started out for a walk. They shouldn’t have done, it was stupid, but once Frank made up his mind about something there was no stopping him. The snow was piled up and it was slippery and then it happened.
I saw it all. I’d gone to visit them and had just missed them as they were walking a short distance up the road. Frank stepped into the road when he shouldn’t have and slipped onto his back. A car tried to miss him, skidded, hit Jessie first and then just avoided running over Frank but caught his leg.
I rushed over and dragged Frank from under the car, and then he was gasping, “Where’s Jessie? Where’s Jessie?” And he was crying. Jessie wasn’t moving. She was unconscious but at least she was alive. I ran back to my car and, with Frank holding Jessie in the back, I drove off to get some sort of medical assistance. I suppose, thinking about it now, I should probably have stayed there but I wasn’t exactly thinking very much. In the back Frank was talking away to Jessie but I could hardly hear what he was saying through his tears. I thought to myself, “What a way to make a contact with somebody!”
A couple of days later I went round to see how they were. I rang the bell and the door was opened by a Mrs. Harrington who had done a lot of cleaning for Frank after Margaret had died. She was all smiles. “Have you come to see them?” she said. “Be quiet, I’ve just looked in and they’re both asleep. They’re both together, downstairs.” I went into the living room and there they were. Frank was in an armchair with his leg in a cast propped up on another chair. He was fast asleep. Jessie was lying on the couch. Her eyes were shut. She’d had a blanket over her but it had fallen to the floor.
Mrs. Harrington said, “He looks so peaceful lying there. He’s come through that accident very well considering how old he is. And look at Jessie, she had to have a little operation of some sort and she can’t walk properly yet but they say she’s going to be alright. Frank never leaves her alone now and the way Jessie looks at him you’d think she’d fallen in love.”
Then I saw Jessie’s eyes half open and she looked at me and then they opened a bit more and it looked as though she really recognized me for the first time. “Look!” said Mrs. Harrington. “She knows you. Look at her tail.” It gave a couple of thumps and then her eyes really opened wide and the tail got really excited.
I’ll never forget that moment when she acknowledged that I was there and she knew me and told me so. It’s lasted ever since.