‘Are you teaching the first world war now, then?’ said Eric, as he helped me gather up the papers I’d scattered across his kitchen table while I was child-minding.
‘Well I was,’ I said, ‘earlier in the autumn… in a way. We were discussing short stories about the first world war. It’s a course I don’t get to do very often, which is a shame. It’s such a great anthology, and I can’t seem to persuade many groups to do it, even though next year will be the anniversary of the armistice.’
‘I suppose,’ said Eric, ‘there are so many books and diaries from those times that there’s not much need to read more on the subject.’
‘Oh, but stories aren’t exactly about the knowable facts,’ I said. ‘We don’t talk individual battles, or much about the trenches. These are imaginative responses to experiences.’
‘Everything’s been said, though, hasn’t it?’ said Eric.
I paused, as always struggling to find a way to explain the joys of cracking open a short story, when not actually discussing a specific example. ‘Do you think so?’ I said. ‘There are so many ways it impacted, not just on the people who were at the front, but at home, then and later.’
‘Maybe,’ he said, as he walked me to the door.
I know that ‘maybe’.
Eric reads a lot. He likes history, biography and novels and I share some of that taste, so sometimes we swop books. He’s not a great talker though. If I ask, ‘What did you think?’ he uses one of three basic responses: ‘it was okay’; ‘that one was a bit of a struggle’ or ‘I got a couple of pages in and couldn’t be bothered’.