Casualties – Dan Davin short story extract

dan davin

Dan Davin is one New Zealand’s best authors.

Sadly he is not as well known as he should be.

Here’s the beginning of his short story Casualties:

The lecturer paused and looked over the top of the reading-desk and out of her circle of light down into the less brightly lit schoolroom. It was the first lecture of her W.E.A. series. She had been nervous, had read too fast perhaps and had not taken the feel of her audience. Not that there were so many of them; and the eyes lifted to hers now seemed humble enough. Too humble, eyes that looked without reproach at the stone you gave them. But what bread could they want, these faded women, this sprinkling of men? What did they expect of books, of poetry at second- hand? What they had not got out of life? But books, like God, give only to those who have.

But it was nearly over: just time to read the verse on which she was to end. Then a few perfunctory questions, a sluggish discussion decently prolonged, and she could hurry away along the wet streets that glistened outside under the lamps to Olive’s place and there everyone would be drinking coffee and talking for themselves as if they meant it and not drearily waiting to hear the oracles of others.

‘And so it is not unfair to say that, except for Rupert Brooke whose untimely death came before his second thoughts, Siegfried Sassoon speaks for all the war poets I have been discussing when in The Heart’s Journey he says:

Here was the world’s worst wound. And here with pride
Their name liveth for ever,” the Gateway claims.
Was ever an immolation so belied;
As these intolerably nameless names?
Well might the dead who struggled in the slime
Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime.’

The last accusing syllable flung by her voice, clear and mercilessly young, rang against the misted windows and steady rustle of the rain outside. In the ensuing pause there was a shuffling under the children’s desks as elderly knees tried to accommodate afresh their aches. Or, she thought, as if they had suddenly felt her, so much their junior, as a teacher taking their generation to task and were uneasily at a loss to know whether their vague resentment sprang from guilt or innocence.

She closed her books and squared her sheaf of papers. All over now except the few, flagging questions the dutiful ones would be bound to ask.

‘If anyone has any questions I shall do my best to try and answer.’

The shuffling ceased. …

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