‘May God take care of my child after I am in my watery grave. Oh, God help me. Dear Emma, The money that is in the Building Society you must apply for, but mind, dear, I never did what Smith accused me of, and that is what made me take this step. God bless you, dear Emma, and dear baby boy. I remain, with kindest love, your ever true and loving husband, Walter Broomway, Foulness Island, near Rochford. P.S, Apply to Blake, at High-street, Southend, for the Building Society money.’
I didn’t know when I stepped off the lonely road across the sands I would end up in Kent alive. But this, like the tide and the boneless wind, was a fast-moving situation. Plans change. Fact is, I did do what I was accused of but for a different reason, and not a coarse one as the busybody generality might suppose. Plus, Smith was a fucking bastard. If I went back, I was sure to sock him and be lagged for it. Might even swing knowing my luck. My luck up to the point I managed my little swim across the estuary that is.
When I finally came to my senses, I was in a coastguard station. I could smell bacon frying. A kettle whistled. A door opened. P.C. Raven entered.
‘Someone told me you caught a fish.’
‘Yes, he’s through here, you stopping for a brew?’
‘Black, two sugars, please.’
‘Now then, what have we here?
Staying silent wasn’t an option. I wasn’t accused of anything. I said the first thing that came into my head.
‘Who em I?’
I didn’t have many cards, but of those that I had amnesia seemed the most promising. How long I could maintain my Dutch accent was another matter. We’d cross that dyke when we came to it.
It was easier than I imagined. The brother of the coastguard offered me his shed in return for some help in the fish market. The locals called me ‘Fritz’ and mostly kept a wide birth. Apart from one of them, a widow, a bit slow and plain but attractive in a plumpish way. She could have been Emma’s twin. She had a boy too, same age as mine. She noticed me out of the corner of her eye. We got married. I moved out of the shed.
It wasn’t a bad sort of life. A bit odd, staring at my old home across the water. I could make myself quite sentimental thinking about it. Over there, I used to meet up with some mates every other Thursday in the pub. We kept a bit of a kitty and every year we’d do something nice: go to Walton or Clacton or go into London to a show. I remember once a writer on a bicycle came in and got chatting to a farmer at the bar. ‘Do you know the miller?’ he says. ‘Yes, he says.’ ‘What’s his name?’ ‘Windy’, he says.
Now, I taught myself Dutch, just in case. I avoided company and to relax, would either walk alone along the strand or build model ships out of matches. The funniest thing was that the local lord of the manor – the owner of the fishing fleet and market – took an interest in me. He was well educated and adopted me like an eighteenth-century idiot boy from the Hanoverian forest. He was convinced that my amnesia had some sort of psychological cause and he sent me to a physician in Chelsea, a Dr Pfeffer. The doctor was German but to my relief insisted on speaking English. He gave me some tests.
‘I think you are autistic, Mr … Fritz, ‘most likely cause, a cold and undemonstrative mother.’
I bit my lip. My mother had died of marsh fever in childbirth.
‘Your “amnesia” may stem from what we call “weak central coherence”: it’s not so much that you don’t remember who you are: rather that there is no you to remember. You are a dressing up box, a cover without a book, a permanent mid-life crisis.’
‘What’s the good news, Doc?’ I asked.
The good news is that once you have discovered your autistic superpower, there will be no holding you back.
‘Fucking great.’ I said, glad that I wasn’t paying.
The problem with fake-amnesia is the same as the problem with the real thing. Your past, at some point, will catch up with you.
Out of the blue, she says, ‘Darling, you don’t mind if Mr Smith from Foulness comes to stay with us for a few days, do you?’
She didn’t notice that I was extra passionate in our lovemaking that night. At teatime, I told my stepson he would never amount to anything. In the morning, I was gone.