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Oh for the Wings of a Dove

by Nick Deverill

This story features no actual sex. Some liberties with historical details have been taken but the events described in the second World War could have occurred.

©Nick Deverill 2010

The solo choristers voice soared.

O for the wings, for the wings of a dove!
Far away, far away would I rove!
O for the wings, for the wings of a dove!
Far away, fair away, far away, far away would I rove!
In the wilderness build me a nest,
And remain there forever at rest,
In the wilderness build me,
Build me a nest, and remain there for ever at rest,
In the wilderness build me a nest,
And remain there for ever at rest,
And remain there for ever at rest,
And remain there for ever at rest.
And remain there for ever at rest.
For ever at rest, and remain there for ever at rest,
And remain there for ever at rest.

An image of an English summer, and a small barelegged boy enchanted by the song of a skylark appeared in Mrs Jones mind as her son sang and filled the parish church. At the back of the congregation two audiology students whose hobby was recording smiled at each other, this performance would go down in local history as the voice of Jason Jones, boy chorister, would surely break soon yet it was the most crystal clear and wide ranging boy treble anyone locally had heard.

The song finished, and as is customary in English churches, no applause was given or expected. Instead the organ softly began to fill the church with the refrain of 'Ave Maria'. As one the whole choir sang out.

Ave Maria
Mater Dei
Ora pro nobis peccatoribus
Ora, ora pro nobis
Ora, ora pro nobis peccatoribus
Nunc et in hora mortis
Et in hora mortis nostrae
Et in hora mortis mortis nostrae
Et in hora mortis nostrae

The Rev Faber was shaking hands as the audience left. He knew even before anyone spoke how much the choir's performance was appreciated and heartily suspected Mark and Derrick's CD for the church would sell more than a few copies. Mrs Jones took a grinning yet strangely silent boy home; Jason knew he'd done well and was basking in the admiration he had received.

Three days later, "breakfast is ready" called Mrs Jones up the stairs. "Go away" a strange and rough voice tearfully replied. Jason's voice had begun to break. Mrs Jones padded up the stairs, "Jason, can I come in?". A mumbled "yes" was the answer, and a mother comforted her son, last night a boy, now on the road to being a young man, yet only one day older.

After that incident, life carried on with the guitar lessons Jason had missed for choir practice playing catch up. Whilst it was unlikely Jason would be another Segovia he was good and more than one band had sought his services only to find he was a classical boy throughout and only occasionally played more modern music, just for fun as he put it. For the most part when he did, he blew the others away and comparisons to a junior Marc Knopfler were never far away. His school knew of his talents and would dearly have loved the school orchestra to perform a guitar concerto but all the ones they could have performed were at a level below Jason's, stretching them and too simplified to do the soloist justice.

One day, in about the middle of November, the young church organist came calling. "Jason, Sam Smith for you!" Mrs Jones called up the stairs. Jason of course knew Sam from his time in the choir and hurried downstairs.

"It's a favour I'm after actually" Sam said. "You know the old people's home?"

"The one on Canterbury Way?" questioned Jason.

"Yup, it's their carol service in the home on 2nd December and your guitar playing would be very welcome, and oh and before you say no, your singing voice does not matter, you'll be loads better than old folk". Mrs Jones looked on encouragingly as she was conscious her son needed to do other things and spent, in her opinion, too much time alone. Jason picked up on this sentiment and a slightly reluctant "ok" was the result.

The time of the concert rapidly arrived and as the home was near, Jason walked there carrying his guitar in a case that had been a surprise present on leaving the choir. Much as expected the carol concert had a high degree of audience participation. As he played, Jason looked round the room, all except Mr Smidt were joining in and having a good time. 'Smidt', he thought, 'sounds German to me' as the carol "Silent night" drew to a close. He mimed to the small group of players, "Take a rest, I'm going to play".

Instead of two guitars and an organ, a single guitar softly picked out a variation on Silent Night, followed by a more recognisable version. A lone voice was heard, hesitant at first for Jason had taken no vocal part that night and a voice that had not long broken was hardly dependable. His voice range was obviously a tenor and while it had now lost that boyish flute like sound it was still perfectly pitched.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Mr Smidt reacted, and a deeper voice which had been long silent, joined in. When they had finished the old man hugged the young one and to Jason's embarrassment, kissed him on both sides on the face. "You remind me of Pieter" he quietly said. Something in this caused the old man's eyes to water but luckily the vicar announced the final carol, "Oh come all ye faithful".

The next morning, Jason asked his mum "who was Pieter?".

"Ah" said his mum, "there's a tale there. You do know Mr Smidt left Germany as little more than a boy at the end of the war having been in a concentration camp for a short period? Local talk was he'd been imprisoned in a concentration camp as a homosexual and only his age and the nearness of the war end saved him. He never formed an attachment after coming here with anyone of either sex, so no one really knew the details, but a district nurse who was a notorious gossip claimed he had odd tattoos on his right arm, including a faded, but still pink triangle in the mid 70s. It's assumed that Pieter was his love in Germany, although I don't actually know for sure. He is a lonely man now though".

"Perhaps I should visit him" Jason said "he seems nice and now you tell me this, he must have had a very difficult time at my age."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

'Knock, knock' Jason tapped on Mr Smidt's door "It's open" a flat voice called out."Ah the young man with the guitar" Mr Smidt said in a more interested fashion.

"I thought I'd visit you as you must be lonely now." Jason said somewhat awkwardly.

"Thanks, I feel I owe you an explanation for the other night of who Pieter was, although the memories still are painful" Mr Smidt said. He went on to relate a sad tale of being found with his first and only love by his mum, being reported to the Gestapo by her and only surviving the concentration camp because a guard fancied him. His boyfriend, Pieter was not so lucky and Mr Smidt still had the unhappy memory of a young smiling face headed for a "shower".

Jason did not know what to say and did the only thing he could think of and hugged Mr Smidt. The gesture was returned and young and old embraced for a long time. "You know, you are the first person I've hugged since I was little older than you, and that was Pieter. I think he'd approve.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As time went on Mr Smidt became a surrogate grandfather to Jason and Jason for his part took part in the monthly sing-along's at the home. At the one in April he had an unusual piece ready for the home, and after asking the residents not to sing along, gently began to pick out "Lilli Marlene". What came next however was a complete surprise.

Vor der Kaserne,
Vor dem großen Tor,
Stand eine Laterne
Und steht sie noch davor.
So woll'n wir uns da wiederseh'n,
Bei der Laterne woll'n wir steh'n,
Wie einst, Lili Marleen.

Unsere beiden Schatten
Sah'n wie einer aus,
Daß wir so lieb uns hatten,
Daß sah man gleich daraus.
Und alle Leute soll'n es seh'n,
Wenn wir bei der Laterne steh'n,
Wie einst, Lili Marleen.

As if the German words were not enough, the voice which at the carol concert at Christmas had not long broken was now maturing nicely and was one that hinted at a future occupation.

The boy had become a most interesting young man Mr Smidt thought. He managed to beam as the boy sang, but was a bit red eyed as well. "Pieter liked that one" he said at the conclusion and many of the audience wondered just who Pieter was, as although a few knew, most didn't.

That night, Mr Smidt died in his sleep. Jason when told was in tears and in no state to go to school that day. Later, the same day, the vicar called and having heard of the events of the earlier sing along, had a request for Jason.

"Mr Smidt is being cremated and normally it is recorded organ music playing as the actual cremation takes place. As Mr Smidt so obviously enjoyed your playing of the song, it would be a better way to send him off. Could you oblige?" he said.

A still teary Jason assured the minister that yes, he would oblige and he'd vary the tune as needed.

"Better than the crematorium organ then." The vicar said "as that is a rather lacklustre and basic recording. Sam would do much better but he's not allowed"

And so, three days later, a suited young man played the guitar with variations on the song "Lilli Marlene" as the coffin disappeared. As he played, Jason, the vicar, and a few of the congregation had the same vision, that of two happy smiling young men walking away through a meadow. As they did, one turned, smiled and said "I've found my true love again".

And that is why the memorial bench in the park carries this plate.

Pieter Fassbinder 1929-1945
Jürgen Smidt 1930-2010

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