The Way We Lied

Alex’s twins had turned out to be far too unruly to be involved in the film, so in the spirit of generosity, and also to ensure that they did not complain that they had been left out, we allowed them to perform their dance before the film began. We had left them to dress themselves and they appeared with their vests rolled up and stuffed with scrunched balls of socks to resemble pert breasts, accompanied by trailing skirts, looking like little princesses from the harem. Daisy even had a jewelled belt of some kind tucked over her skirt. I couldn’t remember seeing anything like it in the dressing up box and I wondered where she had found it as it looked slightly familiar. And as they twirled and wriggled their little girl’s hips, the grownups laughed. At least they all did, apart from Alex. She looked very pale and serious, holding her hand over her mouth.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” announced Ben, who had taken it upon himself to assume the role of compere. “We have pleasure in welcoming you to the world premiere of Murder at the Manor! Please switch off all mobile phones and enjoy the performance. Curtains please.”
Amy and Tom pulled the heavy curtains and behind me I heard Aunt Sarah whispering to Nick, “Sit up properly, don’t fall asleep!” And my mother was offering my father another tea, to keep him awake too.
The show began with shakily filmed, hand drawn titles, proclaiming Amy and me as co-directors and the boys as producers of what we had all decided was a ‘Blats Production’( our initials). Our audience responded politely to our exciting plot and laughed with gusto at our lines and costumes. Tom’s performance as Inspector Widget, wearing my father’s old tweed cap and raincoat, provoked much hilarity and I heard my mother saying she was sure Tom had already been murdered in the previous scene.
At the end, after much applause and promises from our audience that they would love to see it all again, but not just now, we opened a brightly coloured box of Christmas chocolates and prepared to have a second screening on our own. Only Alex stayed with us, her hand dipping into the chocolates nearly as often as ours. “Wherever did you get your costumes, darlings?” she asked when we had eaten half the box. I told her about the dressing up box in the playroom and then she said she would try to remember to find some more interesting clothes for us once she was home.
And little Daisy twirled and wriggled and squealed, “I found my belt in the garden. It’s the most beautiful belt in the whole world. It’s got real diamonds.”

Back in Time for Tea

Chapter 8

‘Gran,’ I say, with what I hope sounds like a brave and determined voice. ‘Gran, you have to help me. You have to help me save June.’ Gran looks at me, startled for a moment, as if she forgot I was there. Perhaps she was, in her own way, back in the past for a moment – back with June.

Gran produces a tissue from the sleeve of her cardigan and wipes her eyes, then blows her nose.

‘You know, Ellie, it is fair to say that I have waited over seventy years for this. I remember you coming to the farm in the War. I remember when you stopped coming and, all my life since, I’ve wondered who this strange child with, with her tales of, ‘my time,’ and the strange goings on there. Of course, when you were born and your mother named you, I wondered. I wondered if you were the one. As you grew older, I’d study your face and character for signs of that other Ellie, but it’s hard to match your grand-daughter with a memory from sixty or seventy years ago. Sometimes I’d think you reminded me of her, but then I’d find your likeness in old family photos and think perhaps you had the ‘family look’ about you. Then when you started having your ‘turns’, I became suspicious. Some of the things your mother described to me were familiar to me.’

‘Because you travelled, too? I ask.

‘Yes. I knew what it felt like. I wondered if perhaps it was an inherited trait. You know – some families inherit huge ears or fabulous cheekbones, while perhaps we inherit a predisposition to falling through time. There were others, you know.’

I raise my eyebrows in surprise. Why does nobody ever tell you this, I wonder? Surely it would be useful to know that you might one day fall over and land in the past – or future. ‘Who?’ I ask.

‘Well, nobody knows for sure, but there were stories about my grandmother. She disappeared, you know, when my mother was young – never seen again. Oh, there were stories and explanations: drowning, run off with a fancy man – that sort of thing – but there were other stories too and what with me, June and then you…I started wondering, you know?’

‘Is that why you brought me here?’ I ask. ‘To study me, or to see if I could save June?’

‘What?’ asks Gran, offended. ‘No! I brought you here because I love you and I was worried about you!’

‘Because of the time travelling?’

‘Because of the possibility that you might be, yes. Ellie, this isn’t an easy thing to talk about, unless you’re with another traveller. Nobody – absolutely nobody else understands. It’s not…’

‘Normal,’ I finish her sentence for her.

‘Well, quite. But here you are, my abnormal girl, and it seems we have a problem to solve. What can we do about it, do you think?’

‘Gran, I need you to come back with me. I need you to talk to June and talk her out of whatever it was that nearly killed her. It was something she did, wasn’t it? You know what she’s like! She’ll listen to you, Gran!’

Gran leans back in her chair and sighs. ‘Oh, Ellie, I can’t do that.’

‘Why?’ I ask ‘You could do it then – you can do it again now! You know where stuff is on the farm, you know what she did. I need you, Gran!’

‘Ellie, I stopped time travelling the day June disappeared and we all thought…we all thought that she’d died. I couldn’t do it again, or I would have done it before now. Besides which, how would I explain my presence to little Lillian? I’m not sure what the rules of time travel are, but I’m not sure you can go barging in on your own self. We need to think of another way.’

I had been pinning all my hopes on Gran coming back and sorting it all out for me, that I hadn’t thought beyond this plan. I slump in my chair, thinking that the whole thing is doomed, that I wish I’d never travelled back in time in the first place. Then at least I wouldn’t know there even was a problem! I’m cross with Gran, who sort of got me into this, I think, and I’m cross with June, for being stupid enough to do whatever it was she did to catapault herself through time for over half a century. That reminds me: June! It’s no good being cross with her, I think. I do know about her and I do need to save her, although I’m still not clear on what it is I’m saving her from.

‘Then I need to know everything, Gran. I need to know what happened on that day and on the day after and why you all thought she’d died. If I can get myself back to exactly the moment before she did whatever she did, maybe I can stop her, yeah?’

Gran nods. ‘I’ll tell you what I know, Ellie, but I warn you, it isn’t much and it may not be enough. Maybe it will help, though. Maybe we can work out the rest.’

I grit my teeth, hoping we have enough time left to solve the puzzle of June’s disappearance, before it’s too late and she’s gone for good. ‘Tell me what you know,’ I say.

‘June was always hiding out in that barn,’ says Gran. ‘She was either shirking her jobs around the farm, or avoiding Freddy, Beryl and Ida – the twins – or maybe a combination of both. Of course, the children soon found her out and would go and taunt her out of her hiding place. Freddy was all for dragging her out, at least to listen to him you’d think he was, but you know I think he was a little afraid of her. She was like a wild cat, that girl, and could she put up a fight? Oh, if she felt like it, that one could box your ears, scratch your face and knock you over into the dirt. She got into fights at school, mostly with the other evacuee children. Only once did she box Freddy and Aunty Doris gave her such a telling off for it that she never tried again. For his part, though, Freddy remembered the pain and the shame of being beaten by a girl younger and smaller than him and he was wary. Beryl and Ida fought with words, mostly. She never went for them. To be honest with you, I think she scorned them and they knew it and didn’t like it. I suppose nobody wanted to play second fiddle to this interloper, as they saw her and, in their different ways, they all wanted to get even with June.

‘That one day, though, Freddy and the girls came into the barn. I remember it very clearly, because I was in there too – or just outside, or very nearby, or-‘

‘The day you saw the same thing lots of times?’ I ask.

‘Yes, it must have been that, because I can remember it from different angles. The oddest thing, though, is that it was different each time. It wasn’t hugely different – there was always June in the barn, the children coming in and taunting her, an argument…but sometimes it ended in a fight and sometimes it ended before then. I can’t explain that, except maybe the times you were there, or I was in the barn, it played out differently. What do you think?’

‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘Yeah, maybe.’ Hope begins to fill me then, because I think that maybe we did influence things a little, Lillian and I. If we did it then, maybe we can do it again. I put this idea to Gran, who is enthusiastic.

‘Yes, maybe we can, Ellie. Good thinking! Where was I? The barn, yes. So this one day, Aunty Doris was going frantic over June disappearing, because she’d switched her jobs from egg collecting to taking the tea out to the farm workers in the field. This had been going about as well as anything could where June was involved and yet today she was nowhere to be seen and the tea was ready, stewing and in danger of going cold. I remember I said I’d go and get her – I was too small to manage to tea things myself, but I knew where she was and going to get her would be a welcome relief from Aunty Doris grumbling and crashing around because she was cross, I remember. So I ran out of the kitchen and over to the barn. When I got there – at least one of the times, anyway – the children had made it there before me and were standing in front of…I think it was hay bales we had there.’

‘Yes!’ I interrupt her. ‘Hay bales and a tractor!’

‘So it was!’ says Gran, amazed that I have seen it too, even though that’s the whole reason for our having this conversation. Still, I suppose it is odd that, in a way, I’ve seen it more recently. Perhaps it’s odd that I’ve seen it at all, but I think we’re way past caring about that. ‘Hay bales and a tractor,’ she continues. ‘I stood behind the children for a moment, wondering what would happen. I remember standing very still and quiet. There was a tension in the air in that barn that I was afraid to break. It was almost as if the air could crackle. Oh, Ellie, I’m not making any sense, am I? It was a long time ago and-‘

‘You’re making sense, Gran,’ I cut in. ‘Go on!’

Gran pauses again. I’m uncomfortably aware of how much time this is taking and how much time we don’t have. I don’t think she wants to tell me everything but I really, truly need to know. She sighs and continues, slowly, almost haltingly.

‘So there they were, and there I was and, somewhere, I assumed, there was June. Freddy called out to her and I remember looking at him then and he had a stick in his hand. I was fairly certain he meant to hit her with it, or perhaps he just had it by way of self-defence, but I wanted to protect her – to warn her.’ She stops again.

‘What did you call out?’ I ask.

‘That’s just it, Ellie. Nothing. I called out nothing. I could have warned her, I could have stepped in – I could have done something and I did nothing. Oh, Ellie, I’m so ashamed. I was ashamed then and I’ve been ashamed ever since.’

‘So, did he hit her?’

‘No.He didn’t have time, as it turned out. I was still watching him, standing silently behind the three of him when I saw him lean forward, over the hay bales – I remember them clearly now.’ Gran pauses again. I want her to tell me more but I can see this is difficult for her. What I can’t tell is if she’s struggling to remember, or struggling to forget. ‘He leaned forward – I think he was planning to seize hold of her and drag her out, you know? But she was too quick for him, our June. She’d been watching him like a hawk, of course, and she was ready for him. She reached out her hand and grabbed hold of him – by his hair, I think. I remember he hollered in pain. Then she sort of stood up and tumbled him into the hay bales. It was almost comical, just for a moment: the sight of that big, silly boy, falling head first into the hay, with his shorts and sandals sticking straight up in the air.’

‘What happened next? What did Beryl and Ida do?’

‘Oh, nothing at first. They were as taken aback as the rest of us, I suppose. June had the upper hand for a minute and then Freddy managed to roll and loose her grip on his hair. He was shouting about her pulling out his hair, she was shouting – I wouldn’t like to tell you what she said – and then the scuffle began.’ That must be when she got the cuts and bruises, I think. ‘Of course, she was tough, but he was bigger and stronger. He overpowered June and at that point I couldn’t bear to watch. I ran out of the barn.’

‘Were you going to find help?’ I ask, sure that my brave Gran was going to sort things out somehow.

Gran shakes her head. ‘I’m afraid not. I was scared and I wanted to escape, so I ran for the hen house. Oh, Ellie, if only I hadn’t. If only I’d been brave – sensible, even.’

So, what did happen? I wonder. Did Freddy beat her so badly they all thought she’d died? But that wouldn’t make sense, would it? There would be a body and no time travelling. Or did she get stuck in a loop of endless travel? No, that’s ridiculous – she kept going back to the barn. You can’t think someone’s dead if they keep reappearing, can you?

‘What happened, Gran? What happened?’

There is another pause I can’t afford and then Gran says, so quietly I’m not sure I hear her right, ‘Fire.’ I lean in, trying to catch her words and she says it again, this time more clearly, ‘There was a fire, Ellie – a fire in the barn. It went up in flames so quickly, they said. I suppose the hay and the wooden walls and everything – it was like a tinder box. Freddy, Ida and Beryl got out, somehow. Everything was in chaos – there were people looking for me, thinking I’d perished in the fire, when really I was in my coward’s retreat, unaware of the drama unfolding a short distance away.’

‘And June?’ I ask, although I think I know the answer.

‘We never saw her again. The barn was razed to the ground, along with everything in it and, we all thought, June.’

‘But I’m still seeing her, so there’s hope, right?’

‘Yes, there’s hope. Maybe not much, but there’s a chance…oh, Ellie, if there’s a chance, we have to take it!’

I nod. I am going to take that chance, I know I am. I am going to save June and I am going to stop Gran from thinking it was all her fault and I am… completely clueless as to how I’m going to do all of this. While I’m thinking, Gran places her hands either side of my face and says, ‘Go, Ellie – go and make this thing right. Neither of us know how but just go.’ She lets go and I get up, and run out of the room and towards the front door. As I’m about to shut the door behind me she calls out, ‘Ellie!’ I turn around and look back at my Gran, now looking small and old in the hallway. ‘One last thing – be back in time for tea!’

The Way We Lied

Downstairs, my mother was remonstrating with Ben who wanted his contribution to be contained in an old Nike trainer. “But Ma, that’s how we dress now! It’s cool and people will want to know what we thought was cool in a hundred years time !”
“Absolutely not Ben. It’s a dirty, smelly old shoe and anyway there won’t be enough room in the chest for it. Take it away, right this minute!” She dismissed him with a wave of her hand and he stamped off.
We all gathered around the kitchen table and the gold envelopes, our sweet wrappers, crisp packets, newspapers and videos were placed in the box. Uncle Nick sealed it with lots of brown sticky tape and wrapped it in a plastic bin bag, then it was carried out into the garden.
“Count how many paces it is from the back door,” my mother instructed. “We want to leave a note recording its whereabouts somewhere in the house.”
Charles and Nick lowered the box into the hole they had dug earlier and we all stood around looking at the plastic chest in its crypt.
“Goodbye 20th century,” said my father solemnly. “Farewell to the past.” He looked tense and serious, as he frequently did when he came home from work. I thought he must be worried about something bad in the news, as he often was.
“Bye, bye box!” Daisy and Lily squealed, jumping up and down, then running away across the lawn to hide.
“Good riddance more like,” I heard Simon mutter. He looked even grumpier than usual. Helen was by his side and she looked sad and tired this morning.
Aunt Sarah was the most cheerful of all the adults. She was smiling. “New Year, fresh start I always say. I hope you’ve all made your New Year resolutions and are going to stick to them. I know I’m going to. I love making resolutions.”
My mother held me close. “Remember where it is,” she said softly. “Then you might come back one day to find it. Wouldn’t that be fun?” She kissed me on the top of my head, the way she had often done when I was much younger. I thought she looked sad today too, or perhaps she was just very tired. She had done such an awful lot of cooking yesterday.
Charles started to fill the hole with soil, murmuring, “The present is the funeral of the past, and man the living sepulchre of life.” I think someone asked him what that meant and he said it was a quote.
My father replaced the coverlet of turf on top of the freshly dug soil. He patted it down then stroked it very slowly, almost caressing it.
Then he stood up and walked away while Ben and Tom jumped up and down on the spot to firm the turf, shouting, “Wake the dead! Arise Dracula!” The grass was soon flattened, but you could still see where the hole had been dug. “Film us Amy,” they screamed. “Put this in the film!”
Later, at three o’clock in the afternoon just as the red winter sun was starting to set behind black trees, we gathered in the living room for the first showing of our film. It was reminiscent of many such first nights we had experienced during our childhood. Every year we had concocted some form of drama to supposedly entertain the adults, but in reality to entertain ourselves, since the planning, the rehearsal and the making were really the heart of the matter.
When I was six we had re-enacted scenes from The Sound of Music; when Amy and I were eight we were both taking ballet lessons and so we presented our own version of the Nutcracker Suite, which we had been taken to see just two weeks before Christmas. And now it was a film premiere, with the adults fidgeting like bored children, tinkling their tea cups instead of beakers of coke and nibbling mince pies instead of popcorn.

The Way We Lied

Lisa
New Year’s Day,
January 1, 2000

We woke quite early that morning, considering none of us had been to bed until about two o’clock. Amy nudged me awake and said, “We’ve got to make our film right now. Come on.”
I yawned and stretched. “And we’ve got to make something for the time capsule as well.”
We crept downstairs to find my mother already organising the kitchen. She told us to help ourselves to cereal for now, as she would be cooking bacon sandwiches and sausages later when everyone was awake. Taking our bowls with us, we shuffled into the playroom and set up the video tape Amy had filmed the day before.
“We’ll have to put this one in the time capsule and use another tape for filming later on,” she said, pressing the play button on the video recorder. We curled up on the shabby old sofa, crunching our cornflakes and watched the scenes Amy had filmed the previous afternoon. There were shaky shots of cars arriving, Aunty Sarah telling Amy to be careful with the camera and Uncle Nick hugging and kissing everyone. “Ugh, did you see that? He patted Alex’s bottom as well,” grimaced Amy. Then there were the boys pulling faces, the dogs begging and panting and lastly my father, walking through the garden.
“What’s he doing, Lisa?” Amy froze the image so we could study it more closely. She had been filming from the window and had caught him coming up the lawn from behind the hedges at the bottom of the garden. He walked very slowly with his head hanging down, his hands in his pockets. Then he stopped and leant against the big oak tree, holding his arms above his head and slowly banging his forehead on the tree trunk. His shoulders seemed to be shaking.
“What’s he doing? He looks like he’s crying,” I said quietly. “But dads don’t cry.”
And then the boys burst in, each with a freshly baked croissant. Amy stopped the tape and ejected it from the machine. “We want to make a film,” Sam yelled. “Where’s the camera?”
After much shouting, in which our cereal bowls spilt on the carpet and Amy crossly stomped out saying she would not fetch the camera until they had decided to be nice to us, the boys became quieter and more friendly. We sat on the sofa and they lay on the carpet and we planned our filming schedule.
By mid-morning we had filmed a scene in which Ben had examined a silver tankard for fingerprints, Tom had crept through the back door of the house in an old black eye mask and Sam had dug a hole in the garden. I had decided to be the beautiful lady of the house and had dressed in what I considered to be an elegant outfit with one of my mother’s borrowed handbags. Alex’s twins kept trying to join in and we were told to entertain them while the adults finished their late breakfast and had further cups of coffee. Amy and I decided to teach Daisy and Lily how to belly dance, thinking they would look quite ridiculous and might even fall over. “Then they’ll go away and leave us alone,” Amy said. However, they both enjoyed our dance class and even began to get some idea of how to wiggle their little hips and we all laughed together and even the boys attempted to copy us.
And then late in the morning, we heard my mother calling us. “Darlings, we’re going to bury the time capsule in the next half hour. Have you all got your contributions ready?” Amy and I stopped and looked at each other, as we had done nothing about this since talking about it the night before. We both ran upstairs to my room and began scribbling notes, then sealed our envelopes and grabbed the video tape.

One for the Gang

The moment their captive’s densely tattooed billiard-ball pate touched the steaming gloop below he became eagerly co-operative and unstoppably talkative. His accent was pure Louisiana swamplander.

“I am become Nimitta Matram, Petty Officer, 984-31-78. This here is what happened to us. Before He was wi’ us we was getting nowhere. Wi’ help from us Seals Mr Fluffy’s band a patriotic no-hopers could jus’ about have defeated the Jersey police and a bunch a locals wi’ pitchforks, but not when the Résistance was operating behind our lines. Then Captain Midlands turn up wi’ his irregulars, guerrillas to fight guerrillas. Self sufficient, independent, autonomous units, living off the land, free to respond instantly to rapidly cchanging conditions, genius. Pretty soon we was starving, diseased, demoralised and out a supplies.

“That was when He had an epiphany. You should hear Him. ‘War is not a game. War is lunacy. It can only be legitimised by victory. Victory at all cost. No atrocity, no perversion is unconscionable if the result is victory. Armageddon!’

“He reinvented Hi’self as Capitáno Tierrasmedias and we became His willing acolytes. Magic mushrooms and all-night line dancing orgies helped win over the sceptics. We are His lunatic tools.”

“OK, Mr Matram, that be all most fascinating.” Rotskagg leered into the Petty Officer’s inverted face, intimidating, invading every last vestige of spoliated personal space. “Let’s get you down. Lower away Roger. Ah, sorry. Smee, remove the bucket please.

“We be contemplating a cautious first contact with your metamorphed commander. I trust you be able to expedite a meeting.”

Nimitta Matram was hauled upright from the floor and dumped in a chair.

“I think we’ll leave you in the straight-jacket just now. We have yet to establish even a modicum of mutual trust.”

“Why, yeh. I can get you to the Boss. He will blow your minds. Believe me, I can be really useful to you.” enthused the pathetic prisoner.

Boz stepped forward. “I believe this is one for the gang. Queen Anne’s Bounty is required here to keep the barbarians from the gates and we need your corsairs…” he was addressing Rotskagg, “…in reserve. I bet we can talk Captain Midlands back down. He’s probably just a bit frustrated. We’ll have this here Nimitta with us while we check out the situation so we should be safe… -ish.”

“Er… Does ‘the gang’ include me?” said Phoebles, “It doesn’t sound all that safe-ish.”

“Yes, you and me, and Ferdy and Ginsbergbear, the old team. We’ll take the bus. Zelda, can you install a transceiver so we can keep in touch?”

 

And thus it was that the Kronstadt Sailors’ bus disappeared into the forest, trailing a cloud of oily exhaust. Phoebles was at the helm, Boz and Ginsbergbear keeping a cautious eye on Petty Officer Matram and Ferdy checking out the radio.

“Testing Testing, Roger Wilco.”

Dark Flo watched them depart.

Turning to Rotskagg, “I’d best keep an eye…” She pulled the Mountbatten pink veil of her Shinobi shozoko across her face and vanished.

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The Way We Lied

Lisa

And then I cried. After reading my mother’s letter, I really cried. Was that all she had been worried about? A crush on another woman, a crush that may never have had any consequences? Oh Mum, it really doesn’t matter. I won’t tell.
I sniffed and blew my nose. I couldn’t break down. Not now. I had to stay calm. Enclosed with the letter there was a newspaper cutting. It was yellowed and folded. I imagined her looking at it many times before sealing it up and letting it go forever. It was an article about Mary Reid and her work. The picture showed a striking, handsome woman with dark hair and compelling eyes. I felt no animosity, looking at her face. I could only see compassion. I thought I would have liked her.
But was this all she had of her? Did she keep nothing for herself? I couldn’t criticise my mother or Mary, whatever may or may not have happened. She devoted herself to us and to Dad and she has been a loving grandmother. Mum, you did nothing wrong.
I read the cutting again. It covered Mary’s achievements as a sculptor and her art therapy work. I thought I’d heard of her and seemed to remember a retrospective at the Tate a few years ago. So she was an acclaimed artist and she survived whatever Simon thought he’d done. But first and foremost, she was my mother’s friend. And my mother loved her, but felt she had to hide her love to concentrate on the task of being a good wife and mother.
I didn’t feel sick, like I did when I read Dad’s letter about his infatuation with Mary. Mum’s words made it clear that she wanted to devote herself to her husband and family. I believed she loved and still loved my father. There was no need to forgive her. There was nothing to forgive.
And then suddenly it all became clear. Of course she wasn’t concerned about what everyone else had written that New Year’s Day. She had never known what they had written. She picked up the envelopes and put them straight into the box. She only knew what she had written herself and that she never wanted anyone else to read it. That is why she was so worried about the letters being found.
Oh, my dear mother, you’re so afraid of what we will think of you, what the world will think of you. My tears fell again. Don’t be afraid Mum. Please don’t be afraid. You gave us a wonderful childhood, you supported us as we grew, as we too became parents, you did everything you ever could. I owe you so much, I have to try to make amends and help you find peace. Perhaps if I go back to that day and remember everything that happened, I can see how to put it right.