All entries for Wednesday 06 April 2005
April 06, 2005
You all know me, every single one of you. Maybe itís the real me you know, or maybe itís only the public mask. Iím afraid I wouldnít know. My mind is cloudy, covered over with a blanket of lies, and left to rot.
Iím a sister, I know that. Lilibet, thatís what I call her is it? If you say so. Lilibet. Lil-i-bet. Sounds like the name for a dog, doesnít it? Yes, I think I could call that across Hampstead Heath, ďLilibet! Lilibet!Ē, and stand patiently under a large, old oak, in the rain, watching for a black poodle, clean, but raggy around the edges, to come bounding up to me. ďLilibetĒ. An old lady seeking comfort in a false net of security. Itís strange what comfort we can find in a string of strange syllables, used to convey a sense of endearment, love, history, a sense of humanity from a far away figure that we cannot hope to touch. But I must have touched her once; she is my sister.
Why do I call her Lilibet? Whereas Elizabeth was marble, Lilibet is plastecine, easily warmed up. Elizabeth was brutal, decisive, prominent; Lilibet is forgotten. See, even I canít remember her. I remember Elizabeth. The figure knew before she disappeared behind her mask, and was forgotten. I remember her glare, her simpering face, trying to be sympathetic, whilst all the time she knew she had to get the job done. I am trying to remember, trying not to forget. I know there is something, something you all loved, something that I loved. I felt something once, something that warmed me, and gave me life, a breath of fresh air after the dust of thousands of years setting in my lungs, and in my blood, and stifling, until I could not speak, or breathe, or think. I want to remember, but the details are foggy. I remember a warm summer afternoon on the grass in Balmorral, far away from everybody, he and I were alone for once, and then he fell asleep, and I watched him, looking like a child who has forgotten how to play. No, Iíve forgotten. I canít remember.
I remember my father. We were very close, I think, were we? Yes, very close. He was tired, and trapped into a profession he didnít like, and didnít want to be in. I see you smirk; King of England is hardly a profession, is it? It was a job. Didnít require much skill, just a lot of time, doing menial jobs someone else could have done just as well. Most of the time, someone else does do them, did you know that? Maybe I am bitter, but you asked me to tell you all this, so the least you can do is listen for once.
Daddy died, ďon the jobĒ, as they say. It wasnít like it could be any other way, was it? The day he died, they brought him home in a coffin, and buried him in state. The press reported how heartbroken we all were, but all I felt was numb, and blind, and deaf, as I watched my father swallowed by the country in a haze of endless faces and cameras, and forgotten as we all moved on.
As she was crowned, I fell in love. I remember the coronation day. Iíd been there at fatherís and now I was here at hers, the woman whom I did not know, standing with a man they told me was my brother-in-law, and his two dark-haired children. The girl looked like me, I remember that. Anne. They called her Anne. Yes, I remember her. Anyway, I tried to keep out the way, made sure I was dressed down. But he had come to me, smiling, and he bowed his head – a tradition. How comical it all is. There he was, a man who had fought for his King and Country, bowing before me, a girl who had six maids simply to help her get up in the morning. He bowed, and we talked. Is it sad to say that I donít even remember doing it? That small action that I didnít know had ever occurred until afterwards, the next morning at the breakfast table, and the angry telephone call from my sister, saying now the whole country knew. Sometimes I play it to myself, that snapshot photo, seeing myself lift my hand and brushing carelessly at his shoulder. Was it some fluff, or perhaps a feather? I donít know. I donít remember the moment my life was turned upside and shaken like a child plays with a snow-globe. Only, I never floated back to where I had been.
Theyíd married before the war, quickly, not wanting to wait, incase he didnít come home. He said sheíd been pretty, and that theyíd known each other since theyíd been children, so they understood each other well. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe they had nothing to talk about. I remember I used to be frightened heíd end up thinking the same thing about me. Maybe he would have. His father had been a general during the first world war, so heíd risen quickly within the army, but not only because of his parentage; he was an English hero, and was treated like one. He loved his plane; it gave him a freedom he said he never felt anywhere else. Only in his plane was he completely in charge, he was his own king. I always thought that was ironic. But the war had made life for him as a husband hard, and they divorced. Just like that, a slip of paper separated not only him and his wife, but also he was separated from me, then and forever. We didnít meet until a good few years later, by which time she was remarried, and had two young children. Her name was Jane. I never met her.
Iím tired. I donít want to talk anymore. Ask other people, read the newspaper archives, Iím sure I canít tell you anything you didnít already know. My head hurts, and my tongue is stuck to the top of my mouth. Is there any water? No, doesnít matter. Let me out. Please let me out. Iíve done nothing wrong, why are you holding me here? I want to be free, but Iím caught and I canít get out, and Iíve had enough, and I just want to go. I donít want to remember. Donít ask me to.
You want me to tell me what happened that day donít you? Everyone wants to know what happened then. What do you imagine, a big argument, tears, screaming, vows of eternal love? Thatís not what a family does. Or at least, not what our family does, but then do we even qualify as a family? What do we share? No, we did not shout and scream, we did not cry, and we did not throw anything. That is not dignified.
Instead, she was cool and calm, explaining to me that I had a duty, and that that was more important than anything. She reminded me what the abdication had done to father, and said she needed me by her side, and so did her children. She told me to think of mother, and how would she cope? Sheíd lost her husband, how would she deal with loosing a daughter too? It was like I was thinking of killing myself, when all I wanted to do was to live. Not once during the day did she call me Meg, and from then on I have been Margaret, always Margaret. I hate the name.
Oh no, she did not show any emotion, and neither did I, but instead she, the queen, talked to her subject, and how could I refuse? Her command was my wish, and I knew that although I might always regret what Iíd done, there was never a choice for me. I could not marry him, I always knew I couldnít, and so I accepted and I obeyed.
The telephone was cold and heavy in my hand, the contours of it biting into my skin, and making my palm red. It was an effort to hold it to my ear, it felt so heavy, pulling at my arm, and making my wrist ache. It was hours before the operator finally connected me, and then suddenly, time, which had been going so slowly, suddenly sped up, and he answered, and I told him. I cried then. Not hysterically, but calmly and sadly, as I let him go, and in my mindís eye I saw him walk away from me, down the road, his step even, and his jacket blowing in the breeze. I stand and watch him go, the tears running forgotten down my face, but he doesnít look back.
He accepted what I said, knowing as I did that it was all inevitable, and that our dream was over. He didnít cry, though I knew he would later, as he walked away from me and realised he couldnít remember the sound of my voice. We told the papers three weeks later that we werenít going to be married, and the public were horrified, saying we deserved to be happy. But a week later, I was forgotten. They printed a picture of us along with the story, and as I looked at the photo, I was scared to realise Iíd forgotten the way his face moved, the way he lifted an eyebrow slightly as he asked a question, and the way he moved his mouth as he said my name, as though he was embracing it.
I saw him once, years later Ė we went for lunch. We didnít talk about what happened then, but concentrated on our lives as they were now. He hadnít changed, except to grow older and greyer, and slightly heavier. But as I looked across the table, I saw the young fighter pilot, gazing at me with glittering blue eyes as he told me tales from the war, and I felt his knee pressed up against mine, his laugh bubbling through my veins. And I was the young girl, happy and in love, and living in our little world, where we were to be married, and weíd have three children, and live in Cornwall in a quaint little cottage.
It didnít happen. None of it. Not really. We moved on, and forgot those little things that we used to love about each other. He became a presence to me, a memory that I treasured, without being entirely sure what it was. I stood by my sisterís side and smiled, and made polite conversation, as though we were strangers. She was at my side the night I died, but she didnít cry, just watched, her face impassive, and told me it was ok.
Youíve questioned me enough, you have my story. Let me rest. Let me live. I deserve that donít I? Let me live, and breathe, and be. Let me sink into an oblivion of his embrace, his arms, his smell and touch, and let me remember. During death, I stood by her side. Now let me stand by his in life. I want to rememberÖ