“Uncle, Uncle, I’ve found your picture!”
And then the little bugger starts pulling my sleeve with chocolate-stained hands, just like I hate. Almost as much as I loathe art galleries. But I smile and follow Jax, because he wants me to, and because I’m near death with boredom.
Sophie, his mum, smiles encouragingly as we pass. Encouragement with that overlay of sisterly condescension that she does so well. She’s convinced once again that a family outing will do me good. She is also convinced my travelling was feckless slobbery and I’ve been a spaced-out weirdo ever since.
I mutter something non-committal at her and let Jax lead me into the next gallery.
“See?” Jax says a short walk later. “He looks exactly like you.”
And he certainly does. I shudder. Row upon row of red-coated soldiers joyously marching off to war with Napoleon. And the one in the foreground, head held highest of all, is a cocky dun-haired big-nosed private. Soon the proud tilt of the head will be replaced by a haunted look of desolation, loss and blood. Battle is fascinating until you’ve been in one. I know. All the places I could have gone, all the pleasures of the past to be sampled, and I picked this era. The calculations worked a dream. Some trivial algebra later, as they used to say at Cambridge, and I was on my way.
“What’s algebra?” asks Jax. I hadn’t realised I’d spoken out loud.
“Something that gets you into trouble,” I mutter, scowling at the painting. Ordered ranks blown to pieces by canister shot in alleys thick with the stench of powder smoke. Street-to-street combat becomes hand-to-hand, using the musket as a cudgel once reloading turns into a luxury. Scavenge the dead for ammunition and coin, silence the dying. It isn’t war, it’s murder.
“Fuentes de Onoro,” I whisper. “I was there….”
Jax frowns. “Now, Uncle, that’s just silly.”
I smile placatingly. “‘Course it is. ‘Course it is.”
He grins back. It’s all a game. He leads me off on another ice cream hunt.
Because I can never tell anyone.
Josie Gowler has had short stories published in Ethereal Tales, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, Delivered and Linkway magazines. Her specialties are weird tales set in the East Anglian Fens and science fiction and fantasy short stories; sometimes these all overlap. In her non-writing spare time, Josie is a Napoleonic re-enactor, another source of short story inspiration. She’s currently working on a trashy coming-of-age space opera.