‘The Things We Never Say’ is a very painful story to read, especially for those readers who like to see our much-loved Commander Straker as the dashing and perfect hero. It’s a companion story to the article ‘Mary’s Place, or Who is to Blame’ and as such takes the reader into a world that has a flawed Commander at its helm.
The story, which is a brief ‘One Hour’ account, starts with Straker leaving the hospital, and that lovely ‘Distracted, he placed his scrawl…..’ puts him firmly into our mind’s eye. The first paragraph is a gentle opening that doesn’t prepare us for what is to come. It is a truthful account. The bland details, the facts. A short reminder of the events of Sub-Smash.
Then, that word. Nina. And his thoughts are constantly returning to not just their last exchange, but to her. Nina.
The things we never say.
At this point I realised that this was not going to be a tale of Straker returning to work, walking back into headquarters to be lauded and praised by all and sundry. The things he never said. To whom? To Nina? Or perhaps someone else.
That simple description of Nina is so wonderful. Straker’s words ‘liquid regard’ and ‘a doe on the surface’ show us more than a mere respect for a loyal worker who is, in his own words, willing to go through hell and back for him. He cares for her, more than he should do. But we know that he will never admit it. The things we never say. That he can never say. Why? What is it that prevents him from telling her how he feels?
The things we never say.
I love the way the writer repeats this simple sentence. And the way it is not just with regard to those unsaid words in Skydiver. There is a far deeper meaning to the title than that brief exchange of words in the crippled submarine. We see that Straker is the consummate soldier, holding fast to his military training, even when facing death. Or is it more than that?
The ‘nail in the coffin’ comment brought me up sharply. Perhaps THAT was the reason that Straker could not speak those unsaid words to Nina. But no. He would never have reacted to her as he did, had he blamed her. So why was he so reticent? What was it about Straker that prevented him from turning to a woman who declared, even so cautiously, that she loved him?
Then we get to the dark secret. That thing that Straker has never said. That he is the only one to blame for the events of the past. And not just one secret. Not just the fact that he hit her, not just the fact that he had frightened her, but the far worse secret. That for that one split second he had enjoyed it. That is the thing that he had never said, never admitted even in the depths of his heart. Until now. That acknowledgement and the realisation that he was also guilty of not only physical abuse, but also emotional neglect.
So now he speaks to himself. Alone with no one to hear or see, he cries as, in silence the thing he has never said comes to the surface, wanting to be spoken. A truly heartbreaking moment as he accepts the blame, and says, in his mind, that he was, like his father before him, a wife-beater.
Again, a thing we never say, never admit.
The story ends, not on a positive note, no heroics, no saving the world, getting the girl. Straker finally admits the truth about himself and in a beautiful and yet tragic final scene, he arrives at Mary’s house, as nervous and scared as we saw him in Question of Priorities but this time, he will speak. He will say the words that he has never said. ‘I am sorry.’ And we leave them there.
A beautiful depiction of a short moment in Ed Straker’s turbulent and troubled life. An honest account as well. Not glossing over an incident in the past, but instead giving us a believable and realistic version of events.
And yes, I cried as well.