The spirit is willing

Diary of a single father

I've nothing against ghosts personally; some of my best friends are dead. This does not make for an active social life, needless to say, but once in a while the departed do pay calls. These are always unexpected (for the deceased do not keep diaries) and usually occur at night. In fact it is after midnight when my late wife shows up. I can see at once that she does not know she is dead. Why should she? She looks in her prime. She has been absent for nearly two years; what else can we do but hug? I note that she feels unexpectedly solid. We continue in a conjugal manner, caressing and kissing, but I am restrained by the knowledge that the living cannot couple with the dead. My wife is hurt by my apparent reluctance. "Go upstairs and wait for me," I say. Meanwhile I sit on the sofa, at a loss how to proceed.

"What do you make of that?" I ask Seth over breakfast. My 15-year old analyst dips his spoon in the yoghurt. "You miss Mummy," he announces. "But for some reason you also feel guilty." "That goes without saying," I reply. Why guilty? Because I am a writer. Had I surrendered to the succubus you would have read all about it. Not that intimate descriptions were less of a dilemma in happier days. If the act were familiar, my wife would accuse me of sacrilege; if it weren't, she would wonder if I were researching elsewhere. "I feel I know you very well," a reviewer once said to her. "Especially your organs." Fran's look cut me deeper than a Sabatier knife. "Yes," he said. "That Caesarean in your husband's new novel certainly read like an eyewitness account." Internal organs, not private parts! "I invented the whole thing," I replied, mightily relieved. "Seth made his entrance through normal channels."

"Is there nothing you wouldn't write about?" my son asks. Alas, I have no concept of the sacred. If it weren't for bad taste, I wouldn't have no taste at all. "Nothing," I reply, "except perhaps the Holocaust." "What about other people?" he asks. "Should they also maintain a dignified silence?" A good question. Recently Elie Wiesel told an interviewer that, as he recollected the unspeakable events he had witnessed as a child, the manuscript became soaked with tears. This seems an entirely appropriate response, though perhaps the image would be more complete if the salt water cleansed the page of words altogether. Committing such memories to paper would thus become a Sisyphean task; a fitting punishment for writers who draw sustenance from the misfortunes of others. But how otherwise are memories to be preserved, historical knowledge transmitted?

"How about through the medium of synchronised swimming?" asks Seth. I try to fathom the sequitur in this response. The pool as a vale of tears? Unlikely "Are you taking the piscine?" I enquire. "Of course not," says Seth, somewhat offended. "As it happens, the French Olympic team were preparing a routine inspired by the Holocaust."

"You're kidding," I say. So he shows me the evidence. It's there in the paper, in black and white. It seems that the all-women squad of precisely co-ordinated swimmers, presumably in fetching, Frenchified costumes, were planning to goose-step into the water and then mime the selection, and worse. And afterwards, no doubt, wash the chlorine from their perfect bodies in the showers. I could only echo the words of a Jewish protester. "There are subjects you just cannot deal with in a swimming pool." Obviously the sirens begged to differ. "No one complained last year," they argued, "when the Japanese team staged a re-enactment of the Kobe earthquake." Nevertheless, they were ordered by higher powers to abandon the routine. "What do you think, Dad," asks Seth. "Do you think they should have been censored?" "Who knows?" I reply, "though I'm inclined to believe that suffering should not be turned into a cliche. On the other hand - or flipper - I can see no justification in limiting freedom of expression to sensitive types like me. Poetic licence shouldn't need an intelligence test."

At which point - it being 8am - the letter box hiccups. "I'll get the post," says Seth. He returns with a Manila envelope, postmarked in the usual manner, but also stamped with the motto, "Working for English National Salvation". It is another communique from the Dowager Lady Birdwood, recently hailed by a West Coast militia as "the greatest living Englishwoman". The mailing, as usual, contains an issue of her newsletter, essentially a digest of every defamatory article about non-indigenous life forms culled from the local and national press. In addition there is a leaflet which denies the Holocaust, the aim being to provoke an angry response, and thereby gain free publicity.

For a long time I assumed I received these reminders because I am listed in the Jewish Year Book as a writer and journalist. Recent events, however, suggest another possibility. I was watching the news with my father when the Dowager was featured, making one of her frequent court appearances for contravening the Race Relations Act. "Good God," cried my father, "that's no Lady, that's my cousin Fima Smolensky." Long thought to have been incinerated in a factory fire in New York, she had, it seemed, shed her former identity and built a new life in Acton

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
Drinking - often heavily - is a running theme throughout HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation
food + drink
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living