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Text: World Copyright
Martin Foreman

Copyright of pictures acknowledged where possible






A Sense of Loss
Gay Men's Press, 1993

"Accomplished, literate, dignified, deeply felt"
Times Literary Supplement, London
more reviews

A Sense of Loss comprises fifteen short stories displaying - the blurb says - "a counterpoint of different voices, each with a ring of authority. Some reflect the shifting kaleidoscope of gay reality in Britain today: the sexual compulsion of 'Room With No View', the high-energy rhythm of 'Discotheque' or the cynical manipulation of 'Simon's Dinner Party'. Others take us to wider horizons - to Brazil, and off into landscape of allegory and myth.
A Sense of Loss

Thomas Mann's classic story Death in Venice describes the obsession felt by the aging Aschenbach for the adolescent Tadzio, whom he sees daily but never speaks to. Mann gives us deep insights into Aschenbach's mind, but the youth remains a cypher. In the title story of this collection, we hear Tadzio's voice.

Martin redrafted the story as a one-man play with the same title, which was performed at the 2012 Solo Festival in London by Christopher Annus. (Martin won that year's Festival New Writing Award for that and three other one-man plays, based on stories in his collection First and Fiftieth.) A revised version of the story, entitled Tadzio Speaks . . . was performed by Christopher Peacock in the 2013 Solo Festival and may be revived. For further details, see tadziospeaks.co.uk.

Below are the introductry paragraphs of A Sense of Loss. Click for Oblivion, another story from this collection.


I never spoke to him. And although I knew his name, it was years before I realised who he was. I was in Paris, a student at last, searching for something to read among the bouquinistes. A small, thin, unshaven man with a collection that was tired and dog-eared pushed a volume into my hand. "There, sir, you should read this. A marvellous book, the story of our times." It was The Abject, an old French edition. I took it, if only because the price he was asking was the small amount I could afford, and showed it to the friend I was with. He nodded absently. "You know him?" I asked. "Of course." I was ashamed of my ignorance and asked what else he had written; there followed several familiar titles. "He died," my friend added, "before the war." It was later that day as I sat down to read that the two facts came together in my mind; I looked at the spine and saw his name, remembered the old man in his chair, the hazy sun, the sea and the sand.

We had been at the hotel for a week when he appeared. Father had insisted on us leaving early that year. It was for my health, he said, but I was old enough to understand that my health was no more than an excuse to send us away. He was proud of his children in his way but he did not quite know how to speak to us, how to treat us. We did not fit into his world of book-lined offices, of stern portraits overlooking industrious young clerks and white-haired old men with ponderous voices. Although he liked me as well as he could, he liked the girls more, perhaps because he had no expectations of them. It was enough that they were pretty and dressed in frills and bows and wore demure expressions when the old ladies of the town stopped to pay compliments. Meanwhile I, the youngest child and only son, was neither athletic nor studious, humble nor rebellious, displayed no virtue he could encourage nor vice he could condemn. We were not disappointments to him but we were an embarrassment, an embarrassment that could be relieved each summer if we were all sent away on the pretext of education or health.

As a small boy I had always loved the train journey, the swaying of the carriages, the clatter of the wheels, the trees and the fields rushing past. We children would stand in the corridor with our noses to the window, playing games spotting animals and imagining scenes behind distant hills, or sit in our compartment with enormous serviettes on our knees as Mother handed us bread and pickle and thick slices of ham. Mademoiselle would sit opposite, trying to keep us under control, reminding us of our manners and to keep our clothes clean. For a day and a night, however, our excitement was unrestrained, sleep came reluctantly and routine held no sway.

That year, however, the only games were the riddles an acrostics initiated by Mother and the familiar French memory tests which formed the heart of the education given by Mademoiselle. At our posts in the corridor the girls would not talk to me except to say I should go off on my own. "Find a boy to play with," Maria, the oldest, said several times. "But there are none in this carriage," I told her, "and Mother won't let us go into the others." "Always doing what Mummy says," Olga jeered. "Don't you?" I asked. "Yes, but I'm a girl," she replied with a vehemence that hurt as much as it surprised. For the rest of the long journey I stared at the passing landscape wavering between self-pity and anger, my dislike of being alone, of watching while others talked and laughed, giving way to the hatred I felt for all three sisters. Zosi I could forgive, for she looked at me sympathetically, but Olga I resented most, for she was only a year older and I still thought of her as my closest companion.

At the hotel my mood lifted. We went into dinner the first evening to see people we knew; standing behind Mother as she greeted the Andrzejewskis I smiled at Jaschiu, a boy my age I had met the year before. Of all the children I had liked him best, although at times his constant presence had irritated as much as pleased. There were others I recognised and new families we were sure to get to know, but looking round the dining-room I was aware of slight disappointment, as if I had been expecting someone, an old friend or a new acquaintance, who was not there.

Those first days the weather was dull, the days warm and the evenings cool. After breakfast we would go down to the beach where a parasol and table were set up in front of the cabin and Mother sat with her books and correspondence while Mademoiselle fussed over towels and her handbag and little baskets of sweetmeats and fruit. The girls sat and talked, taking care not to get sand or dirt on the hems of their dresses or over their shoes. It was only later that I realised they did not enjoy themselves as I did; too old to play games, they could only sit and watch or go for walks together along the beach no further than Mother could see. To swim required great preparation, carefully changing in the cabin while Mademoiselle fretted outside, calling to them to check all their buttons and to be sure to pull their bathing caps down, the whole procedure being reversed when they came out of the water. I, meanwhile, was free to go wherever I pleased, to build castles or play tag, to rush into the sea and lie on the sand. There were plenty of children to share games and because I was the tallest and eldest I was never left out, could decide what we all should do. All I had to suffer was Mother's occasional reminders to dry myself thoroughly and not exert myself and even then she spoke gently, encouraged rather than chastised.

At night after dinner we would sit on the terrace or in the lounge. Sometimes I was happy to watch the people around us, to listen to the different languages, the greetings and conversations. I would feel very adult and try to behave with an adult's gravity, speaking slowly and paying great attention to what I said. My sisters, however, would laugh at my comment and the I would be angry and sit stubbornly silent until Mother made me answer politely or sent me to bed. At other times some of the older children and I would play a quiet form of hide and seek. My favourite refuge was an alcove in a corridor seldom used at night. If Jaschiu was the hunter he knew where to find me always left me to last. It had taken no time to fall into our old relationship - a few months younger than me, he could never be the older brother I sometimes wanted, but he was quiet and faithful and I was glad he was there.

I do not know when the old man arrived. He could have been at the hotel for some time, dining in his room, spending each day in town, before the morning that I first noticed him. It was on the beach, I had come out of the water, shivering with cold, with life, wrapped myself in a towel and lay face down on the sand. There, my eyes closed, the sun on my back, my mind was free to wander in that limbo between consciousness and sleep, between individuality and the universal, between awareness and death. The thoughts that came to me in that darkness were not words nor pictures but emotions that were new, that I neither recognised nor understood. More reticent than afraid, I opened my eyes and in the harshness of the light saw only one thing, a man in a deck-chair reading a book. He looked older, I now know, than he was; his old-fashioned clothes - the dark trousers and dark shoes, the high collar and sombre hat - the concentration with which he read, the careful manner with which he turned each page, the calm expression with which he occasionally looked up and round, all identified him in my ignorance as one of Father's partners or more venerable clients. At that moment he was unique, the rest of the world a void in which only he floated; unthinkingly I stared until his glance fell on mine. Suddenly aware of my rudeness, I jerked my head away and closed my eyes, returning to the world I had only begun to explore. The day was warm, the swim had tired me, I began to doze; when I woke I had forgotten him and he had gone.

That is not the end of the story . . .
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