Kipling & Trix: an excerpt

Carrie Kipling ran her fingers over the page where she had pasted in her husband’s obituary. This was one scrapbook that Rud would never take down from the shelf. She looked up at the row of tall green volumes that housed his newspaper archive, then round at the packed bookcases, the bare plain of the desk. His brief-case appeared absurdly small, like a child’s toy, propped against the vacant chair.
            Two years on, she was almost used to missing him. But today, as January 18th came round again, she’d had Rud in her thoughts ever since waking. It was the anniversary of their wedding, as well as the day of his death.
They’d lived together forty-four years.
Reading down the column from The Times once more, she felt a gathering indignation.
            ‘A great mind? A great man?’
             ‘Impossible to tell under the blow of a great loss.’
            She let out a scornful laugh.
            How could they know anything, these men who took account only of scenes played out on the public stage? The world’s honours, even the Nobel Prize had meant little to Rud. ‘What does it matter, what does it all matter’, he used to say.
            She shifted in her chair, under the weight of his sadness.
            For Rud, children were always the thing. And childhood. If they wanted to ask about minds, surely, childhood was the time when minds were formed? Or deformed. That certainly was the case for Trix. At the thought of her difficult sister-in-law, Carrie sniffed.
            She turned back to Rud’s obituary.
            They were not asking the right questions.
            ‘Loss is the word that really applies,’ her voice was harsh in the empty room. ‘Why don’t they ask about what Rud himself had lost?’
            It was only after they lost Josephine that Rud changed.
            Remembering, her breath came short, she flinched, hearing the echo of that high child’s voice, gasping through fever.
‘            Give my love to Daddy and all’.
            And what had it done to Rud to receive that message, to learn those words were all that was left of Jo?
            She could do no more than guess. Too frightened of giving way completely, of a weeping that would never end, they’d clung together wordlessly. Later, when John was killed out in France –her eyes closed for a long moment –they’d been able to talk about him. But through all the years after Jo died, she was never mentioned between them.
            Such a terrible mistake. Rud must have longed, as she did, to hear Jo’s name spoken.
            Forty years on, Carrie could look back on those dreadful months of 1899 with a measure of calm. She also thought she could understand more about Rud himself. His whole character seemed to alter that year.
            The war in South Africa had come at just the wrong time. She was certain Rud would never have taken up with Mr. Rhodes, never have been so angry and so blind.
            She found herself speaking aloud, her right hand with its swollen knuckles beating the table.
            ‘If you want to make out what kind of man Rud was, why he acted as he did, try looking at all that he lost.’
            Set it out, year by year, as in these scrapbooks, she thought fiercely. See the pattern.
            Begin with his childhood, when he left behind in Bombay a whole world that loved him . . .
            The light was going. She switched on the lamp.