‘Pillars of Ice’ by Charles Wilkinson

Charles Wilkinson has been a London Magazine regular, to the point where he, too, had a collection, The Pain Tree and Other Stories, published by London Magazine Editions in 2000. Something went awry with the timing of publication, however, and the collection was largely overlooked, so it gives me pleasure to highlight his work by including one of his stories in this fantasy anthology. In his London Magazine stories Wilkinson writes about unfulfilled teachers and failing marriages with a keen but sympathetic eye. ‘Pillars of Ice’ is a bit different, being the story of a grammar school boy visiting a resident in an old people’s home. Restriction of point of view appears – in this and other stories – to be something Wilkinson was not particularly interested in. (In a more recent story of his, ‘Fresh Water’, published in Unthology 5 in 2014 and reprinted in Best British Short Stories 2015 (Salt), his numerous switches of point of view achieve a fluidity that is clearly a deliberate strategy.) As a result, we enjoy the perspectives of schoolboy Peter and his visitee, Mrs Howell, who asks him to bring in the latest Agatha Christie. Wilkinson uses this prop to devise a poignant ending which gets me thinking about the many books I buy in charity shops and second hand bookshops that contain bookmarks, or often personal artefacts used as bookmarks, such as bus passes, concert tickets, exhibition flyers etc. While it may be safe to assume that many of those mark a point beyond which the reader did not proceed, it’s quite another matter to wonder about the reasons for not proceeding. Did they choose not to reach the end of the book or did they reach the end of their life?

(London Magazine, August/September 1982)