Keith’s enduring memory of the decade of love wasn’t the glossy flowing hair intertwined with buds and blooms on boys and girls alike, it wasn’t the parties that went on all weekend with free beer and freer sex, it wasn’t the music of the Beatles and the Stones who spoke for his generation. It wasn’t even the acres of pale thigh Karen Marmaduke showed in her plastic mini-skirt, that Keith slid his hand along in more than one cinema back row.
It was the images of fallen US troops returning from Vietnam in flag-draped coffins. The coffins of young men maybe no older than himself. He imagined inside clean, peaceful young faces suitable for kissing by a distraught mother and tight-jawed father. It was better than imagining the more realistic bodies with ragged raw holes in, limbs missing, brains spilling out across the wooden insides.
No generation before had been able to question war or the government or how people were treated. People like Keith discovered a passion in the 60s, a passion for human rights and sticking it to ‘the man’. They marched and made banners late into the night, passing round special cakes and swapping stories of how great the world would be when they, the young people of the 60s, made it all alright.
Keith looked at his image in the mirror. He took in hand-stitched Italian leather shoes, bespoke navy pinstripe suit with five buttons at each wrist, a monogrammed fine cotton handkerchief in his breast-pocket, the £12,000 vintage Bubbleback Oyster watch made the year Keith was born and a treat to himself when he became CEO. There was no trace of the former glossiness to the neat gunmetal hair. No cakes, special or otherwise, passed those lips in case they meant another 30 minutes workout in the corporate gym.
Keith looked at his image in the mirror and he saw ‘the man’ looking back. Passion for fair treatment and equal rights had been long-since replaced by a passion for streamlined corporate management and pursuit of profit above all else. Free love came by the way of expensive escorts on the company tab in anonymous hotel rooms across the globe, Keith’s wife unaware at home in Kent and missing him as always.
He wondered if it was too late to change, if he even could change. His 20 year-old self would be ashamed at what he had let himself become. Keith straightened his cuffs, removed a speck of lint from his lapel and returned to the fundraiser, pushing down the feeling of self-loathing rising in his throat. His body edged towards a coffin which his soul had already found, one that would deserve no draping flag or any other display of honour.