SHORT STORY FOR THE WEEKEND: Committed by Diane Ashman

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Here is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub

St James’ Hospital. Journal. June 1946.

I have so much I would like to achieve this summer. It is difficult, with the shortage of materials.

The locals here are so helpful, I have made some trusted friends, they never pry. They always come up with so many items, even things I have not asked for.

I am grateful, they seem quite happy when I offer up a painting in return. My old easel needs some attention, like me it tends to wobble about. I do believe it might need some new legs.

I will visit the workshop here in the hospital grounds and ask if they might help me out.

What I must do is compose a list, or I will find myself in a muddle.

My dear wife would always say, ‘Edward, a list, dear, it will work every time’. She was always right.

Oh, I do still miss her. Life would have been so different had she... I digress, but then it’s good to have thoughts of one’s youth. And remember, my dear friends, they sadly are no longer with us.

I learnt so much from each of them. Walter was a very good teacher, and being with John and James gave me the confidence to paint with feeling and bring through the emotions onto the canvas.

My father would take me to Eastbourne to visit my brother William. I was only a child, but we would all go off together sketching. I think that’s when I first realised I had this fascination of creating a picture.

Vincent was an inspiration. He would admire my work, he was so young and with so much talent.

I suppose it was their input in my early years that put me in great stead for painting the Blitz, back in ’41. The emotions were raw, the destruction and loss. But I think I managed to get across the devastation, the silent hush of death.

I can still smell the smoke, it hung for days, lingering at the back of the throat,as I breathed it in through my nose.

I only wish I could have gone into the dock area, but they already had someone, Richard Eurich. He was an official war artist. I remember feeling quite irritated at the time because he had been given unrestricted access to the dock area. How I envied him.

Oh dear, where was I? Oh yes, my list. Sketching paper, canvas boards, large, medium yellow, burnt umber, cerulean blue and titanium white. Repair easel, and I need my shoes heeled. That might stop me shuffling.

Preparation should always be in place, that way when I arrive at my destination, I will be able to make a start.

I intend to visit Milton Quay this summer, it has become somewhat of a coastal shanty town but so full of curious house boats and real characters.

I often think the colours and the light reflect the mood and the emotions of the people who live there. I am drawn in by all these diverse and down-to-earth people.

Maybe it’s because we have a common bond, loss. I can relate to their dilemma in so many ways.

I do believe it will be a very good summer. Enjoyable and satisfying.

What an absolutely glorious two months. The weather has been so good, the light on the water up at Milton Quay was perfect.

The poplar and Cyprus trees appeared taller than they ever did. Strange how your mind creates barriers, I used to think the trees were like bars at a window, keeping me locked away, like a prison.

Now I see them for what they really are – tall, elegant, reaching to the heavens, as if they are competing to see whose top branch will dip into the blueness of the sky first.

I have had so much burnt umber given to me. It’s amazing how generous these people, now my good friends, have become.

Nothing is too much trouble. My easel is now repaired. A chap called Jim, who is also an inmate, has made a complete new lower tripod. Apparently he worked as a carpenter prior to be admitted to St James’.

I am very content, this summer has been a turning point. My painting has been my salvation, I truly believe without the encouragement of the nursing staff, in those dark, early years, I would have remained in that unresponsive state for the rest of my life.

When painting the house boats, I encountered a young lady. She always sat on the quay, as if waiting for someone, so much so that I have included her in one of my paintings, wearing a very bright red dress.

She would occasionally walk back to St James’ with me. Never had much to say, I think she found me perhaps a bit arrogant. Amelia always said I was, but then I am my own person.

Nearing the end of August, the light fades earlier. I have been finding it uncomfortable to sit for too long, so decided to finish earlier.

There are days when I just feel sad. The young lady reminded me of my daughter. I have not spoken to her since she had me committed to this place in 1926, some 20 years ago.

I have not seen or spoken to her since that day. I will never forget her, but I will never forgive her.

There are many thoughts that will remain unanswered. These thoughts are like me, committed. Yes, committed to silence.

I can never forgive her. There are many things I will never understand, and perhaps those thoughts are best left alone.

Originally from Warsash, Diane Ashman started writing poetry whilst living in the southwest of France. Diane returned from France in 2012 and decided to self-publish all of her poems, which are based on real life events all with a positive message.

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