So, the challenge from the writing group is to take a quote from one of Shakespeare’s plays and write a short story. I’m in two minds about the title – Shakespeare’s Will or Shakespeare’s Legacy? Comments please.
I unlock the door and walk into the sitting room, leaving my suitcase in the hall. It’s strange being in Carlton’s flat on my own.
I’d always stayed with him when I came up for the annual visit on June 15th and at other times during the year. We’d go to see one of the London plays and then out for supper, as he called it. Carlton had never been one for cooking.
His first name was Richard, not that I’d ever called him by it. He was the Captain of our unit in the Siggies when I first met him – that’s the Royal Corps of Signals – it was on my first tour of duty in Northern Ireland. I was only a private then.
It was the bombing that brought us together. June 15th 1988. Nine o’clock in the evening. A dozen or so of us had taken part in the half marathon earlier in the day. I was still in the car park at the leisure centre when the bomb exploded. Four of my best mates were blown to pieces. I’d only been chatting to them minutes before; ribbing them about going back to the barracks, rather than staying for a pint in the town.
I remembered one of the papers called it the Lisburn ‘Fun Run’ bombing. I tell you, there was no fun that night, but lots of running. Captain Carlton went out of his way, in the aftermath, to make sure us lads were all right.
I served under him for another eight years, reaching the rank of lieutenant, and when I was discharged back to civvy street we kept in touch.
I’d never been inside a theatre, let alone seen a play, so when Carlton got us tickets for the first ever production at the Globe in 1997, I moaned all the way there. ‘Austin Power’s: International Man of Mystery,’ was on at the Leicester Square Odeon. And here we were inside this old wooden building, which was actually brand new, about to see a play by Shakespeare.
‘Where’s the roof,’ I asked, ‘and what’s with these wooden seats?’
Still, at least we had seats, not like those poor sods standing in the yard. Groundlings, Carlton called them.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers: For he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother,
I was done in. Carlton gave me his pale blue cotton handkerchief with the initials RWC embroidered in one corner.
So, here I am, standing at the window in Carlton’s sitting room. Looking down, I see the traffic building up on the Embankment. Maybe, I should go and book into a hotel. It was Carlton’s sister, Katherine, who’d suggested I stay at his flat.
You are all Invictus. You are now the ambassadors for the spirit of these games. Never stop fighting and do all you can to lift up everyone around you.
In my book, Harry could give Prince Hal a run for his money. Carlton would have loved this. And we’d have argued about what Harry is wearing. I love the fact that he hasn’t bothered to dress up. I decide Carlton would want me to stay in the flat.
Four days later, I’m sitting in the reception area of Holt, Fairweather and Styles, Solicitors in High Holburn. The door opens and Katherine Carlton enters the room. I’ve always thought of her as Katherine, but at the funeral she told me that everyone, except for her brother, calls her Kate.
I stand up to shake her hand, but she kisses me on the cheek. She looks like a smaller, more delicate version of Carlton. When she smiles, it’s his eyes that are looking at me.
‘We didn’t get a proper chance to talk at the funeral,’ she says. ‘Richard often spoke of you over the years.’
The receptionist interrupts, ‘Mr Fairweather will see you now; it’s the first room on the right, through the glass door.
I place my hands palm down on the dark oak table. I suppose I thought Carlton had left me some money in his will. His London flat? What will Kate think?
‘Finally,’ says Mr Fairweather, ‘there are letters for both of you from Captain Carlton.’
The solicitor gives Kate and me identical, pale blue envelopes. I read the contents.
Don’t get yourself into a panic about the flat. Katherine has our parent’s place in Hampstead. Enclosed are two season tickets for the Globe.
I’m almost certain, my dear friend, that I will be gone before the first performance.
I know you; you’ll take yourself back to Devon and never venture to the big smoke without me to chivvy you. So it’s my dying wish that you and Katherine go to the theatre together this coming season. I’ve always thought you’d get on well.
Yours, Richard Carlton
I stay in London for another week. Kate and I go to see ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream.’ Afterwards, we eat at an Italian restaurant on the South Bank.
‘Do you mind that Carlton left me his flat?’
Kate laughs. ‘I can’t think of him as Carlton. Without you, we’d have lost Richard twenty years ago. You saved his life and lost your leg by doing so and your career in the army.’
‘He’d have done the same for me.’
‘I know,’ says Kate. ‘I wish we’d met before he died. He was always trying to get me to come over when you were in London. Somehow, it never happened.’
‘Well, it has now,’ I say. ‘Let’s drink a toast – To Carlton and the future.’
Kate fingers the stem of her wineglass.
‘To Richard and to our future,’ she says, smiling at me with his dark, blue eyes.