Dear Jasmine,
     I read with concern the heartfelt letter
[ie in OVERSPACE #13] from Persecuted of Bognor Regis which expressed paranoia at being hounded by the incomprehensible "stories" of DF Lewis and, on top of all this, by the pursuing shape of that author himself!
     Well, let me tell you, that's nothing! My problem is the unshakeable belief that I may well be DF Lewis in person! I peer in the mirror, see an ordinary bloke who works for an insurance company and lives with loving wife and children in a Surrey semi. But I have that nagging fright that this selfsame image I see reflected before me, as I shave, is none other than DF Lewis himself. I then foolhardily pick up a pen -- only to confirm my own worst fears. I watch it write unadulterated piffle in the guise of high literary prose sown with the signs of the very anguish and self-doubt I'm trying so hard to fight against.
     Blimey! Is there NO way out? Darling Jasmine, you're my last chance before I enter a Hell which threatens to engulf a world that's bigger than the universe. Pretentious of Coulsdon.
PRINTED in OVERSPACE #14 (UK) in 1991

*     *     *

Dear Christina,
I know that last night we spoke again at length on the phone, trying to work everything out. But, really, at heart, what is there left between us -- not much more than a mere touching of strangers on a Clapham underground train. So, Christina, I've come to Brackensea in an attempt to forget you. The ocean (as my mother always said) is a fine companion at such times -- taking stock, while watching waves make and break. Loneliness is listening to the surf at dead of night from a one-bit lodging. It is strange how I can never express myself properly. Yet words could not even hope to connect two skulls socket to socket. My tongue's in knots when you take me unawares with your phone calls. I always end up saying things I never intended and then blaming the words themselves for having clandestine meanings.

Another day and so I'll add a bit more. As you haven't rung since my last letter, I thought you must be dwelling on my fanciful talk of waves and words and so forth. So, yes, I have decided to scribble out a few more thoughts, in case you're still under the impression that there'll ever be anything between us again. Those loud so-called siblings of yours, those who always seemed to be drunk -- they never took to me, did they? They were never able to get me to play their games. Effing stupid (excuse my French!) games, if you ask me. Harry lying on the floor pretending to be a dead cat. Pauline -- that was her name, wasn't it? -- allowing anybody to undo her bra straps (she'd got nothing to speak of 'up top', anyway). And Peter, he tried to make me jump from the box at an Albert Hall live-broadcast concert -- said it would make those wireless listeners sit up. Whatever next! I know they'd have grown out of such pranks in due course (even potty Des!), but not before someone breaking his or her neck in the process. I suppose I loved you too much, Christina, to wait around and see you hurt. We only kissed once, but I'll remember it forever.

Not hearing anything, I assume you must have gone off with your family to Florence -- something which was once planned (in my hearing). [Incidentallly, I take it Uncle Albert is not going with you, in view of what you described as his 'wandering hands']. Upon reflection, it was rather cruel of you all to sit around making such arrangements, without even realising that I might wish I'd been invited to accompany you. You readily accepted my advice on the travel details. Has it occurred to you that we only knew each other in the winter? You must look really nice in summery clothes. Topless, even, when the occasion calls. Brackensea will soon be closing down for the winter. Even holidaymakers with their silly kiss-me-quick hats have tears in their eyes -- from the cold wind perhaps -- or from a grief which only holidaymakers can feel at the end of the season. The amusement arcades have shutter-men making preparations. The Ferris Wheel almost seems to roll along the promenade in search of its hibernation. The cut-down rollercoaster looks more like a contraption that they used in the French Revolution or in Second World War concentration camps. Anyway, I must go now

I tried to ring your flat, but the phone didn't answer. You must still be away with the "family." The moment I realised you were going to a foreign country, I thanked heaven that you'd be away from some of those godawful friends of yours. See? -- my first thoughts were for your well-being, not mine. Your father said he'd always wanted to go to Florence. Hasta la vista! (excuse my Italian). Your father was certainly young for his age. Working on Albert Dock seems to have kept him spry. Did I tell you that I can actually see the beach from my lodgings window? It was cluttered with wind-breaks and crouching children for most of the summer. Now, it's almost deserted. I can barely distinguish the dark shapes of a couple throwing pebbles into the sea -- trying to make them skim, no doubt. They're now strolling along the sea's edge -- it's the blurring of the late afternoon which makes them seem joined at the waist rather than hand-in-hand. I wonder if their 'touching of strangers' will last. I can't stop giggling, Christina. I've just imagined that couple out there on the beach being two of your crazy 'siblings.' That's why they're now lying down on the cold puddly sand, pretending to be beached whales, presumably! I didn't know, until recently, that all you lot were really what people call 'yuppies.' I've read about them in some old colour supplements in the lounge here -- that they go around saying 'Yah!' and 'Crikey!,' wearing pin-stripe shirts with studs through the collars, and sloane-ranger costumes. Seems to fit them, eh? But, now, a dying race -- quite out of fashion. I wonder if Harry, Pauline, Peter et al have sobered down. Anyone reading this letter in a few years' time will probably never have heard of the word 'yuppy,' let alone know its meaning. I still can't stop giggling -- better than crying, I suppose.

I expect you'll get my letters all in one go, when you return from overseas. If I'd thought, I'd've numbered all the envelopes. The lodgings are suddenly full of people -- come here for Christmas. (Incidentally, while I think about it, when you've been abroad for a significant length of time, don't you feel that your own street is either narrower or wider, like a foreign country itself, don't you think? (excuse my English!). Anyway, that couple on the beach I told you about last time -- they wave at me sometimes when they see me with my nose plastered to the window. I can just see a flicker of black at their shoulders. During the night, I expect they're no longer there. The sea sounds more brittle in the winter -- no longer the hissing strains of the spume running over the shingle, but more like glass shattering -- each wave a suddenly crazed car windscreen with its own brand of migraine. All this is to give you a sense of ambiance, Christina. And I sit in the corner of the dining-room at my own separate table. The other guests stare at me. Surely, I should be staring at them, since they are the newcomers, after all. Most of them are downright obnoxious, as silly as your so-called friends used to be. In fact, one of then does remind me somewhat of Pauline (if that was her name). I begin to wonder whether it may indeed be Pauline. She often smiles my way (underneath the stare), when I look up from the soup. After Christmas, I wonder whether I should leave Brackensea and return to London. I expect Florence is wonderful at this time of the year. A renaissance of a place.

It's too cold even for that couple to be on the beach. Snow instead of sand. Chunks of frozen lumber being landed from the sluggish sea (excuse my sudden ambition to be a poet!). The whole place looks a frigging dump. The Christmas roisterers left the lodging yesterday. The one who looked like Pauline had a most unfortunate accident. During a party game, she had an eye pierced with a knitting-needle. The ambulance was here relatively quick, despite the weather. The landlady's currently awaiting news as to her condition. The girl's companions told us they would try to return in a few weekends' time -- to visit her in the local hospital.

Later -- you won't believe it, Christina -- but I've see that couple again. Not walking on the beach hand-in-hand, this time, but actually cavorting in the cold sea! I don't judge the incident, merely describe it, and leave it at that. (Excuse my sang-froid). The lodgings are quieter now. The landlady and I often have a hand of whist. Mrs. Roper is her name, if I haven't mentioned it before.

Well, today's another day. Nice of you to ring, after all this time. Yes, I can confirm that I am still in the land of the living. It is peculiar, however, that you never received my letters since the first one -- especially as you never went away as planned. Little matters it, though -- I never had anything more to say to you really. I'm writing this in the dining-room at my separate table. No guests, except for a man introducing himself as DF Lewis who grunts under his real words. I can't say I like the cut of his jib. Looks strangely unfamiliar under the beard. And, no, I don't think I'll be able to accept your kind offer to accompany you and your "family" to Florence this spring. It would never work out, you with your sparkling personality and me with mine. Sorry to hear about Pauline. And about Harry and Peter developing racking coughs. I'm nothing, if not in love with you. Pity about the age gap, though. Godfrey.

*     *     *

Dear Maude

Afternoon. Anyway, you know what it's like. As soon as the family gets home, I've got not time even for the natural bodily processes, or almost! Des always arrives first (he comes on the overnight coach), clutching a potted plant -- sometimes I think he must be shy, hiding behind the biggest bloom he can buy. I soon packed him up to his old room to get ready for dinner while, with nose duly pegged, I drop a whole term of his dirty washing into the twin tub. I don't resent doing it really -- I know how hard students have to study.

Evening. Harry and Peter are late. Christina's come, of course, bringing me a bumper box of Black magic. I can't tell her, can I, that I've been off chocolates these last two years, because I suspected a link-up between them and migraines. You can understand, can't you, Maude, you of all people, embodying such allergies, vulnerabilities, sensitivities and weak constitutions with which God saw fit to curse us all in the autumn of our days. Sorry, I'm getting so wordy, but these letters of mine to you are almost like serial confessions! Must break off now, as I can hear the sound of Harry's jalopy coming up the drive. I expect Peter's with him.

Morning. Des's potted plant looks so pretty in the middle of the dining-table, I've cooked a hearty breakfast -- I know how Harry likes mounds of fried bread when he's here at home. Des will be a bit annoyed when he discovers I've no mushrooms. Went clean out of my head yesterday. Christina still avoids cooked stuff for breakfast, but there's plenty of fruit juice and cereal for her. It's a pity, though, her feeling a bit off colour this morning. I'm a bit worried that Peter's a day late because of some trouble he's in. Harry says he wasn't waiting outside Clapham South tube at the appointed time to be picked up in the jalopy. I must say Harry could have waited around a bit -- something about the parking being bad round there. Des came down late for breakfast, of course. If you'd had a son of your own, Maude, you'd understand. Despite the lack of mushrooms, he managed a bit of something.

Afternoon. Christina's in the garden, sun-bathing. I told her she'll only catch a chill. I must say, though, I simply love her wide-brimmed hat. Her Godfrey bought it for her in Florence. But Godfrey's persona non grata these days. Pity, I liked him -- ever a good card at whist. He was fond of me, too, always untwirling my apron strings when I'm in the middle of something dangerous in the kitchen. Laugh? I nearly died! Harry and Des (who, I may have told you, never got on together as little boys) have gone off in the jalopy. Peter's still not arrived! He could have tried to give me a ring. All the boxes must have been vandalised by those lager louts, I shouldnÕt wonder. I don't like using phones.

Evening. Raining pretty hard now. Christina stayed out in the garden till the very last moment. She hasn't told me yet how her little florist business is going these days. I expect she'll get round to it. The jalopy's not back yet -- they said they might be a bit late for dinner. Something about finishing up visiting you, Maude, of all people. They're probably with you now. I hope they're not too much of a nuisance. They always called you Auntie, I know, but they shouldn't have visited you unannounced like that.

Bedtime. I'm not tired at all. Though it is time I made the Horlicks. Nice of you to ring, Maude, with the news that Harry and Des are staying over with you. I know you said it's no trouble, but I can't help thinking that they're imposing on you. Christina's here, sat by the television watching something or other called Buzzcocks. They keep pulling faces on it. I hope Christina wonÕt be left on the shelf. Good Friday often seems the right time to take stock. I wish my Dick was still alive. My bed's been more lonely the last two years. I know you had a soft spot for him too, being a real gentleman as he surely was. Peter's not rung. It is strange that I worry more about him than the others, him being adopted.

Morning. It's taking me a long time to finish this letter. Peter's absence is now really beginning to worry me. Christina's gone off to meet the next train, she says. How she knows he'll be on it, I donÕt know. Perhaps she has some other errand in town while she's there. You rung up again, told me the boys are OK. The potted plant looks a bit worse for wear. I think it was dying on its legs when Des first bought it. He's got no common sense between his ears. A bit like his father. But there's no good in trying to change people. It's a nice blow day -- I think I'll hang out the washing. It's hard to make plans for meals, when everybody's out and about doing their own thing. Must go now, phoneÕs been ringing again. I'm a bit slow on the uptake these days. Oooh, I hope it's Peter.

Two days later. Sorry -- I've been very busy cooking. But I promise I'll get this letter off in the post today. Christina's in the garden -- it is certainly warm for Easter. But I do wish she wouldn't go topless -- I donÕt know what the neighbours must think. Peter rang at last. Apparently not coming. Something cropped up. Youngsters these days have a lot of commitments. I'm glad you kept me informed about the jalopy. Broken down in your drive, you say. They'll go back to college straight from yours. Well, it's on the way, any rate. When I next see you, I'll give you the Black Magic for looking after them. But what about Des's washing? He's probably forgotten. He'll live in those jeansful of holes for the whole of next term. You say I shouldn't carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I wish Dick had never smoked. I think I've got a migraine coming on. In my back, this time. I shouldn't have got so much food in. Christina eats like a bird. Well, Maude, I hope the boys weren't pests and that your rash is under control again. I'll write you a proper letter tomorrow when I'm no so racked with pain. All my love, Florence.

*     *     *

Dear Albert
Just a short line to set your mind at rest and tell you I'm getting on all right in this new home. The other guests are really quite friendly, especially Desiree & Agnes. And, yes, I mustn't forget Godfrey -- heÕs a real sweeties. Does up my shoelaces for me.
          Stop worrying. I'm getting along fine.
          Love, Florence.

Dear Florence
Thanks for your letter. It certainly set my mind at rest. After I left you, I donÕt mind telling you, I cried, I literally cried to see you sitting in that bedroom all on your own, looking like a lost soul. You were sure that all the others would be off their rocker, as you put it, so I bet youÕre pretty pleased to be wrong on that score.            Everything you wish yourself,
PS: Your handwriting seems to be getting worse. I suggest you use block capitals next time you write.

Dear Albert IÕll start this letter the way I mean to continue it. I was rather upset by your attitude when you last wrote. Pretending all was hunky-dory. Well, I can tell you, I'm very sad. Desiree has left (here one day, gone the next, without even a bye or leave -- and she pinched my potted plant I'd left downstairs on the telly!). Agnes is always in her room, whatever's going on downstairs. The lady-who-does says she'll be surprised to see her up and about ever again! Godfrey's not talking to me, ever since I said I didn't like men because of the skidmarks on their long johns -- my late Dick's being the worst of a bad lot I have to say!
           And, Albert, the food's gone right down the drain in the last few weeks, ever since new management came in. Can't you spare the time to come and see me for a weekend? Older brothers are meant to look after their sisters, I always thought. If Mum were still alive, I'm sure she'd make you come.
            I still love you, Florence.

Dear Florence
It took me a long time to read your last letter. I'm sorry to have to say this, ducks, but your writing's really gone to cock now. I can only just manage to make out every three words, even with my best glasses.
           It's been busy, now that Dick has gone. I'm off up north next week, on a new campaign. Wish me luck. Glad to see that the home's still up to scratch.
           Your endearing brother, Albert.

Dear Albert
I've had no letter from you. Have you forgotten the address? There's yet another firm running the place now. They look foreign. Agnes is up and about again. I told that lady-who-does (who hates the new bosses as much as us guests) that Agnes would get better. But she is much thinner. I joked about her and the toasting fork, only yesterday. Godfrey's come creeping back to me, ever since Pauline talked him off his trolley (Pauline attached herself to him since, you can tell, she likes sitting next to men at the dining-table, giving her a status, I reckon she must feel). I have to undo my shoe-laces, just so that Godfrey can do them up again! His back's playing him merry hell, the poor dear. Pity there're not more men in places like this. But they say they die earlier than us women, because they work harder. Tell me another one, do! Mr Roper has just come in the guests' lounge. Funny, it's an English sounding name, but he has a twang in his speech. He says we've got to do without the telly while it's being mended. Can't remember the last time you visited me, Albert. Love to Maude.
           All my love, Florence.

Dear Albert
Mr Roper says the telly will have to stay away a long time getting mended and, because of the war, we'll have to ration out the food and the electricity even more sparingly. Is there a war going on? I thought the last one would be enough to stop anyone wanting another one, wouldnÕt you? I expect those noises in the back garden we hear at night (those of us who can hear!) are something to do with it. Building air raid shelters or something. Mr Roper says we may have to live out there soon. Godfrey's gone missing. I pity any undertaker cleaning up his body! Agnes is a real scream.
          See you soon, Florence.

Dear Florence
Haven't heard from you recently. Are you sure you address the envelopes clearly enough? The postman always shrugs when I ask him if he's seen any of your missives hanging about the sorting room. Anyway, I'm sure you must be doing OK, or I would have heard something. I will definitely be down to see you in a few weeks, now the job's in its off season. By the way, Maude's been off colour recently but she sends her love.
          Affectionately, Albert.

Dear Florence
I'm a bearer of some really terrible news. Maude passed over last night. It was all so sudden. The priest arrived too late to give the last rites, so he had to make the best of a bad job. I donÕt expect you'll be able to come to the funeral and I'm going to be a bit pushed myself, now the job's picking up again. But I promised her a good send-off. She's my sister as well as yours, when all's said and done.
            You must keep yourself in good nick in these current times, Florence. Dick would tell you the same thing, were he still here. Your ever-loving brother, Albert.

Dear Albert
My eyesight is now so shocking, I can't make head nor tail of your letters. They're just words to me. Mr Roper's been replaced by a nice lady who used to be a district nurse, though I'm sure I've met her before, somewhere. We've had workmen here all day, dismantling something in the garden. They shake their heads and mutter something being worse than the bloody French Revolution (excuse my French!) I'm put in mind of those women knitting away as the heads came off! Agnes says she's going back to live with her relations in Kidderminster. She's lost so much weight, they now feel they've got enough room for her. Makes sense, I suppose.
           I hope Maude is well. Pauline's my best pal now that there's not even a sniff of a man in the whole place. Must be that war which does it. Have you been called up yet? The food's looking up, too. We get proper plates now and more than just a few nameless lumps pretending to be spuds. No wonder, Agnes is nothing but a garden rake with crumbs on its teeth.
           The telly's coming back tomorrow, they say. No longer on its last legs. But I've lost track of all my programmes and it'll be the devil's own job to catch up on all the gossip. Don't think I'll bother watching it. Might pick up on the snooker, though. All those nice young men. If they're not already in the trenches... ItÕs so good in colour. Hope to see you before Christmas. Bring Maude with you. Love, Florence.

Dear Albert
Pauline says they're going to close the place down, because it doesn't pay. I might have to come back home and live with you. I'm not so active as I once was, so don't expect me to be the life and soul of the party. I'll help where I can. I know how busy your job keeps you, Albert, especially with my Dick dead. If I can get the right glasses, I may be able to do some of the paperwork for your job. Bugger my eyes (excuse my French!) but theyÕll be the death of me.
           A new male guest has arrived. He looks terribly wounded, judging by the way he walks. He has his eyes all over Pauline. She keeps hiding his pipes, and laughing all over her face. I reckon she's slowly going round the bend. Did I tell you she only has the use of one eye? Doesn't stop her, though. She was too young to be put in the likes of this place, methinks. Oh, by the way, Albert, thank Maude for her nice letter. It sure did buck me up. Love and flowers, Florence.

Dear Mrs Tidy
Thank you for taking the trouble to inform me of the sad news. Reading between the lines, I'm sure you must have been very kind to Florence in her last days. She and I were always very close, but my legs are not what they were and I can't make it down to the funeral. I've pinned a small cheque to this letter for a few flowers. It's not so much as I would have wished but, unfortunately, I've recently lost my job. I hope the authorities see to her things properly. I only wish there was more of us family to care,
           Yours sincerely, Albert Rack.

Dear Mr Rack
I return your cheque as you did not fill it in. Florence was one of our favourite guests at Homeleigh, so we shall miss her dearly. I'm afraid I can't answer your letter properly, as we could only make out every fifth word. Incidentally, I'm bewildered at how the letter got here at all, with next to no address on the envelope. Perhaps you've got friends in high places at the post office.
            Pauline, whom Florence may have mentioned to you, I'm pleased to report, put up the money for the whole affair. I believe she made all her money from knitting machines. It was a very nice service, so you have no need to worry, if indeed you were worried.
            I attach a memento of Florence. She told me she wanted you to have it. There's something included for your sister Maude, too. By the way, if you are looking for a good home, in the autumn of your years, Mr Rack, our rates are reasonable, the grounds picturesque, the area select and entirely under new management since that minor scandal last year. (It was exaggerated anyway and the numbers involved were not nearly so many as the newspapers indicated).
           Must go now. Time to frapper le gong de dinner (excuse my French!)
           Yours sincerely, Agnes Tidy.
           PS: I attach a photo of myself in the garden. Some people call me the lady-who-does. PPS: It was a great pity Florence's children never bothered with her in her last days. In fact, I think she tried desperately hard to forget they existed, in the same way as they had her.