Oh I knew what Tinker was going to

Oh God, how I am frightened.

Now that I am alone I don’t have to hide it; I don’t have to hide anything any longer. I can let my face go because no one can see me; because there’s twenty-one thousand feet between me and them and because now that it’s happening again I couldn’t pretend any more even if I wanted to. No I don’t have to press my teeth together and tighten the muscles of my jaw as I did during lunch when the corporal brought in the message; when he handed it to Tinker and Tinker looked up at me and said, �Charlie, it’s your turn. You’re next up.’ As if I didn’t know that. As if I didn’t know that I was next up. As if I didn’t know it last night when I went to bed, and at midnight when I was still awake and all the way through the night, at one in the morning and at two and three and four and five and six and at seven o’clock when I got up. As if I didn’t know it while I was dressing and while I was having breakfast and while I was reading the magazines in the mess, playing shove-halfpenny in the mess, reading the notices in the mess, playing billiards in the mess.

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I knew it then and I knew it when we went into lunch, while we were eating that mutton for lunch. And when the corporal came into the room with the message – it wasn’t anything at all. It wasn’t anything more than when it begins to rain because there is a black cloud in the sky.

When he handed the paper to Tinker I knew what Tinker was going to say before he had opened his mouth. I knew exactly what he was going to say. So that wasn’t anything either.

But when he folded the message up and put it in his pocket and said, �Finish your pudding. You’ve got plenty of time,’ that was when it got worse, because I knew for certain then that it was going to happen again, that within half an hour I would be strapping myself in and testing the engine and signaling to the airmen to pull away the chocks. The others were all sitting around eating their pudding; mine was still on my plate in front of me, and I couldn’t take another mouthful. But it was fine when I tightened my jaw muscles and said, �Thank God for that. I’m tired of sitting around here picking my nose.’ It was certainly fine when I said that. It must have sounded like any of the others just before they started off. And when I got up to leave the table and said, �See you at tea time,’ that must have sounded all right too.

But now I don’t have to do any of that. Thank Christ I don’t have to do that now. I can just loosen up and let myself go. I can do or say anything I want so long as I fly this aeroplane properly.

It didn’t used to be like this. Four years ago it was wonderful. I loved doing it because it was exciting, because waiting on the aerodome was nothing more that the waiting before a football game or before going in to bat; and three years ago it was all right too. But then always the three months of resting and the going back again and the resting and the going back, always going back and getting away with it. Everyone saying what a fine pilot, no one knowing what a near thing it was that time near Brussels, and how lucky it was that time over Dieppe and how bad it was that other time over Dieppe and how lucky and bad and scared I’ve been every minute of every trip every week this year. No one know that. That all say, �Charlie’s a great pilot,’ � Charlie’s a born flyer,’ �Charlie’s terrific.

’ I think he was once, but not any longer. Each time now it gets worse. At first it begins to grow upon you slowly, coming upon you slowly, creeping up on you from behind, making no noise, so that you do not turn round and see it coming. If you saw it coming, perhaps you could stop it, but there is no warning. It creeps closer and closer, like a cat creeps closer stalking a sparrow, and then when it is right behind you, it doesn’t spring like the cat would spring; it just leans forward and whispers in your ear. It touches you gently on the shoulder and whispers to you that you are young, that you have a million things to do and a million things to say, that if you are not careful you will buy it, that you are almost certain to buy it sooner or later, and that when you do you will not be anything any longer; you will just be a charred corpse.

It whispers to you about how your corpse will look when it is charred, how black it will be and how it will be twisted and brittle, with the face and the fingers black and the shoes off the feet because the shoes always come off the feet when you die like that. At first it whispers to you only at night. Then it whispers to you at odd moments during the day, when you are doing your teeth or drinking a beer or when you are walking down the passage; and in the end it becomes so that you hear it all day and all night all.

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