Going Through the Old Photos

Me, my dad
and my brother
we were looking through the old photos.
Pictures of my dad with a broken leg
and my mum with big flappy shorts on
and me on a tricycle
when we got to one of my mum
with a baby on her knee,
and I go,
‘Is that me or Brian?’
and my dad says,
‘Let’s have a look.
It isn’t you or Brian,’ he says.
‘It’s Alan.
He died.
He would have been
two years younger than Brian
and two years older than you.
He was a lovely baby.’

‘How did he die?’
‘Whooping cough.
I was away at the time.
He coughed himself to death in Connie’s arms.
The terrible thing is,
it wouldn’t happen today,
but it was during the war, you see,
and they didn’t have the medicines.
That must be the only photo
of him we’ve got.

Me and Brian
looked at the photo.
We couldn’t say anything.
It was the first time we had ever heard about Alan.
For a moment I felt ashamed
like as if I had done something wrong.
I looked at the baby trying to work out
who he looked like.
I wanted to know what another brother
would have been like.
No way of saying.
and Mum looked so happy.
of course she didn’t know
when they took the photo
that he would die, did she?

Funny thing is,
though my father mentioned it every now and then
over the years,
Mum – never.
And he never said anything in front of her
about it
and we never let on that we knew.
What I’ve never figured out
was whether
her silence was because
she was more upset about it
than my dad –
or less.

from Quick Let’s Get Out of Here! (Deutsch, 1983/ Puffin, 1985), © Michael Rosen 1983, used by permission of the author

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