the truth about john

“A guy who loved his family”
says the vicar, smiling amiably
getting through the service as best he can
because really he’d never met the man

“I’m told John was captured in Italy”
(checking notes surreptitiously)
“but demonstrating the bravery for which he was known
escaped the camp and made his way home
after six months fighting with the partisans
living on bread and parmesan”

it was a nice touch
but I didn’t believe it all that much
the accepted family version?
Ollie was told he was killed in action
her grief short but pronounced
until John turns up unannounced
skipping down Marsham Street
with – weirdly – nothing on his feet

it was a miracle
caused quite a spectacle
you see – Ollie had moved on, of course
KIA being a brutal kind of divorce
she was engaged to a GI – one Flight Sargent Ridge
Who climbed on the parapet of Lambeth Bridge
and threatened to throw himself into the Thames
when she kissed him once and hoped they’d be friends

So John and Ollie tied the knot
and over the years moved around quite a lot
but they’d come down to visit us now and again
in a Zephyr Zodiac with a fancy trim
bags of sweets, a dog called Rusty,
Ollie in furs, huggy, busty
John with his laugh and essential tremor
joking about whiskey, racing, the weather

Some years later, when I visited Ollie
I asked her about that partisan story
no she said, that’s a load of old crap
he was shacked up with this fruit farmer chap
John took a fancy to the eldest daughter
so he’d stand there, drunk, holding the ladder
We’ll fight them in the streets? We’ll fight them on the beaches?
Do me a favour! He was harvesting peaches

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