The Temple of the Muses by Bobby Minelli
My father’s absolute favorite book was Jane Eyre. He read it to me nightly while we cuddled beneath blankets upon his bed in our flat at 11 Broomfield Rd. We were of modest means, and yet by sheer coincidence, we shared our surname with our street name. My father was Alan Broomfield, and, due to his distinguished World War II service record, as well as the aforementioned, uncanny, geo-specific coincidence, the entire neighborhood called him General. I was Tilly Broomfield, his sole child, and only argument for the existence of joy in a grey-skyed world where men killed each other for no good reason at all. My full name, which I abhorred all through childhood and well into adulthood, was Matilda Christine Broomfield. My Mother had been Christine Broomfield, and had been drowned on the 14th of October, 1940, during the bombing of Balham Station. I was eight months old and in the care of a nursery that day. Nearly all of the Londoners sheltering in the station were killed by debris, but my mother, a natural athlete and swimmer, had drowned trying to swim to the surface inside a broken water main. Three and a half years after my mother’s death, when the war was nearly finished, my war-decorated father came to collect me from my Aunt Claire, who had cared for me while he fought. The only remains of my mother my Aunt could present him with were a wrinkled copy of the novel she had been reading in the tunnel to pass the time, Jane Eyre. It had been recovered with her body.
My mother’s copy of the classic novel, soaked and ruined and then dried and withered, sat somewhere near my father’s bedside until he died in the year 2000. Upon which time, it passed along to me. My mother had named me Matilda after her Great Aunt Matty, who had been stoned to death by the people of her town, idiots, claiming the old woman was guilty of practicing witchcraft. According to my father, my mother named me so, “because the woman deserved a legacy beyond being the victim of backward religious cunts.” It was the General, however, who decided to call me Tilly. He read somewhere that the definition of the nickname was “battle-mighty” and insisted that I wore the phrase like a crown. I lived the majority of my life under the opinion that the name Tilly, and all its predetermined glory on the field of battle, was a reassurance to a very scared man who had no idea how to raise a daughter alone. As it turned out, I was wrong.
Either way, Tilly I was. My father’s pet name stuck, although it ended up being my mother’s book that determined a majority of my life’s trajectory. That ragged copy of Jane Eyre is the singular reason I became a collector of books as a child, and the reason I worked in a bookstore for years as a young girl, teenager and young adult. It was even the reason I became a librarian, a position I held until I retired at sixty-eight years young, to return, full time and full circle, to book collecting. The ruined copy of Jane Eyre that my mother had died with became our shared treasure, my father and I. It was, in fact, my first glimpse at magic. As I grew older, it would become clear that my father had seen more magic than I could have ever imagined, but for the two of us alone on the street that shared our name, what little magic we had was enough. That battered book was my great consolation, my proof that there were, indeed, other worlds than these.
Underneath the quilts, warm in his bed, listening to the haunting, lovely rattle of my father’s words, and imagining the foggy beauty of Jane and her story, that is how I remember my childhood.
When I would begrudgingly surrender to sleep, Father would tease me, “Are you still interested?” he would ask.
I would look up and whine at my father, “What was mother like?”
After feigning resistance, he would give in and say, “She was, much like Jane herself, a relentless woman, interested, and interesting, and kind.”
“What on earth does that mean?” I would shout every time.
“Quite a lot,” Father would say.
We did not pray, save that small exchange, but in so far as things that are not prayers go, it was a good prayer.
The rest of this fascinating, historical horror can be found in SN11: Collect Rocks – available on Amazon September 16th!