Back in Time for Tea

Chapter One.

My name is Ellie and I don’t belong here. I don’t seem to belong anywhere really, but that’s not what matters right now. What matters now is that this is 1942 and there’s a war on. That’s bad, you know that, right? The thing is I wasn’t born until 2003, so that makes it catastrophic.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that this isn’t possible, that someone born after 1945 cannot be alive during the Second World War. Until today I’d have agreed with you because, until today, I wasn’t stuck in somebody else’s time. Whose time, I guess you’re wondering? June’s time: my friend June. I guess you might also be wondering how I got here.  Yeah, I’m wondering that too, along with how I get back, but for now you’ll just have to stick with me, OK? When I know more, I guess you’ll know more too.

So try asking me another question. Try putting it another way. Like, how did it all begin, maybe? I’m not sure I know that either, but I can tell as far back as I remember, or maybe as far forward. That’s the thing with being in the wrong time: the past, the present and the future seem to get into the wrong order. Where shall I begin, though? At the start would seem sensible, but my own story appears to start long after it begins. I think I’ll leap right in to where I am now. Or is it where I am then? I’ve no idea anymore. No idea at all. I’m going to call it, ‘now’, I think. I’m here and it feels like now.

I’m at a farm, I think near to where my Gran lives but I don’t really recognise it. Everything is different. I’m hiding out in a  barn, because my friend June said I’d be safe there. I don’t know anyone here, except June, and, anyway, I’m dressed all wrong. I’m in shorts and a T-shirt. I don’t suppose  any of the other girls here wear shorts. I expect they are clothed like June, who wears a cotton dress. I imagine the boys wear shorts, but with buttoned shirts and the sleeves rolled up. Oh, look, we all know what they look like – you’ve seen old photographs, even dressed up like them, I expect. I did, for school, when we learned about the War. Picture that, only without the gas masks and labels, because I guess they got to take them off once they’d arrived and settled in a bit. Then look at yourself and you can sort of imagine what I might look like. Not exactly going to blend in, am I?

So I’m worried the others will see me and know something’s up and I don’t know how to explain that. I’m not bothered about hiding, or being on my own. I’m used to staying out of sight. I’m used to not having friends. Almost all the time I’ve been in primary school I’ve been picked on by the other kids. I don’t know why, exactly. I don’t fit in, my mum’s not like their mums, I don’t wear the right clothes, I don’t like the right bands and stuff…I don’t know why any of that matters, but it does. So anyway, although I’ve never worked out how to blend in, I’ve got good at keeping out of sight. In my old primary school I knew where all the quieter spots were, how to get from one classroom to another without really leaving the shadows – that kind of thing. Shadows and edges – I’m good at them, so the dark barn suits me fine. I’m waiting for June. She said she’d check if the coast was clear and then come back to me. She’s been a while and I’m getting bored.

I wonder what time it is. Sunlight is filtering in through the window, in what must be the hay loft, so I know that it’s day. It was mid morning when I left the park and my time. Perhaps it’s the same time here. Perhaps I can travel through years but not hours. I don’t know. I never asked June that. I hope I’ll find out. I hope I can find my way back. June said we’d work out a way back. She’s been doing it for years, this coming and going, but she says she’s not sure she knows how to do it with someone else in tow. I came back with her this time, of course, but that was an accident that neither of us saw coming. I don’t want to try going back yet though. For one thing, I haven’t a clue how. For another, I can’t risk being seen by anyone here and for yet another, I am slightly curious to see how things are in the past. I mean, I don’t want to find I went back in time, sat in a dusty barn and came back again. What’s the point of that? Mind you, June’s only ever seen the park and you have to wonder, what’s the point of that?

There’s still no sign of June, so I decide to have a look around the barn. Outside the shaft of sunlight, it is shadowy in here. I am sitting on some hay bales in what looks like a pen, maybe for sheep or pigs, but there are none here now and it doesn’t smell too bad. There’s some farm equipment here – mostly stuff I don’t recognise – and some sacks and stuff.  Clambering over the edge of my pen, I can just about make out more farm equipment. Some of it looks like it goes with horses. I wonder if they farm with horses here, or a tractor? Or maybe both? Is that what they did back then? Edging up to the front of the barn, I see a tractor. It looks like one of those you see at a country show or a museum, but it’s all shiny and new. That’s something I hadn’t considered about moving through time: that stuff you think of as old is suddenly brand new. I wonder what it would be like to bump into Gran here? She’d be young, wouldn’t she? I can’t even imagine that! Gran’s pretty old, although she’s always telling me, ‘I’ve still got it, Ellie! Don’t you forget that.’ She says that whenever she thinks I look, ‘a bit shifty,’ which is apparently quite often. She’s alright though, Gran. I feel safe when I’m with her. I’d feel a lot safer if she was here now, but she’s not. Instead I will have to rely on June. This thought doesn’t fill me with confidence. She’s not the most reliable person I’ve ever met.

There must be other people here, though I’ve so far seen no sign of them. Perhaps the barn is tucked out of the way. Perhaps the children are in school. I know there are other children here because June told me a little about them. They are the farm children – the ones who belong here. June doesn’t belong here. She’s an evacuee from London. I’m a bit nervous about meeting the others. June doesn’t like them much. She says they laugh at her and tell her to go back home. She says sometimes they say worse things and I get the impression she’s frightened of them, though she’d never say so.

As I’m edging about, being careful not to bump into anything in the half-light, I hear voices. They are a little way away and I can’t make out what they are saying, but they are children’s voices. I think I can hear the sound of them carried on the breeze. It’s a mix of chattering, shouting and laughing. I can only catch part of it. I strain to hear better and the voices are getting nearer. I decide it would be safest to hide again, so I clamber back over the side of the pen and hunker down among the hay bales. Just then, I hear the creak of the door and the barn suddenly floods with light, a path of light where the door has opened inwards. I want so much to see who it is, but I daren’t. Suddenly a boy’s voice speaks,

‘Where is she? We know you’re here, you dirty girl! Come on, show yourself!’

I am terrified! How do they know? Did June tell someone? Why would she do that? This boy doesn’t sound friendly. He speaks again,

‘Not coming out? Scared are you? Aww, little Junie fwaidy waidy?’

There is laughter and then a girl’s voice,

‘If you’re not going to come out by yourself, we’ll just have to drag you out, won’t we Freddy?’

They’re looking for June, not me. For the briefest of moments I feel relief. Then I realise that they mean to come looking for her and that’s when they’ll find me. I dread to think what they’ll do to me. I shrink back into the pen, using the shadow of the big tractor wheels as extra cover.

The boy’s voice – Freddy – says, ‘Yes, drag you out and teach you a lesson, you lazy shirker!’

My heart is in my mouth now and I can hardly breathe. This doesn’t sound like a lesson I want to learn. A third voice, another girl’s, says,

‘Because if you won’t do the work and you won’t come when you’re called, we’re certainly not going to do it for you!’

That’s when I notice something: they’re all standing there talking to the air and, they think, June, but none of them have actually taken a step forward. It’s all just words and threats. Cowards, I think. Are they scared of her, just as she’s scared of them? I hope this is true and I hope they’ll go. Just then I hear more footsteps and I hope, for her sake, they don’t belong to June. They might be scared of her but her turning up like that might be too good an opportunity for them to miss. A voice speaks. This time it belongs to a much younger voice,

‘Freddy, Ida, Beryl! Aunty Doris is looking for you.’

‘Well we’re looking for June,’ says Freddy. ‘Have you seen her?’

‘She’s not here,’ the younger girl says, flatly. ‘Aunty Doris said-‘

‘We’re going!’ said Freddy. ‘Come on, you two.’

There is the sound of retreating footsteps. I am still crouching in the shadows, waiting for the sound of the barn door, waiting for safety. Nothing. As quietly and as carefully as I can, I lean forward slightly and peer under the tractor. I can see two small feet. The older children have left, but she is still standing here. Is she waiting for June? I stretch out a little further and lower myself onto my stomach. I’m lying flat on the barn floor and I have a better view from under the tractor. Plus, it feels good to stretch my cramped limbs. The little girl is standing still holding a basket. She turns her head from side to side, then crouches down and tried to peer into the gloom. I hold my breath. Surely she will see me!

‘Hmm,’ she says, thoughtfully, before turning around and leaving the barn, leaving the door open behind her.

I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Cautiously, I get to my feet and look around. Nobody is there and I can no longer hear voices. My legs ache something awful and I am desperate to stretch them. Awkwardly, I clamber over the side of the pen again and rub my sore muscles. I stretch my arms outwards and blink, hard. That was much too close, I think. I can’t risk being found out again. I wonder if the barn has a better hiding place. I decide to explore a little further and am walking around the side of the tractor, enjoying the return of feeling to my legs, when I hear footsteps and a voice. I dive for cover behind the tractor, terrified of being found out. What will they do to me if they find me here? Evacuate me off somewhere else? Then I’ll be in the wrong time and the wrong place. I’ll never get back! Hardly daring to breathe and pressing myself as far as I can into the gap between the tractor’s huge back wheels, I hold my breath.

 

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The Way We Lied

Simon’s Millennium Letter

There’s only one thing I can think about writing. I can’t write about anything else for this bloody stupid box of Caroline’s. It’s on my mind day and night. Where is she? What has happened to her? I daren’t go back there, but I have to know.
I’m sure I couldn’t have killed her. It would have been in all the papers if I had and the police would be crawling all over the village. Oh God, what if she’s dead and no one’s found her yet? What if she’s lying there, stiff, cold, decaying….oh stop it, I can’t bear it. I mustn’t think about it. If I keep thinking about it, I’ll feel I have to check and I can’t go back there. I can never go back to that awful house. Oh God!
But Helen hasn’t mentioned Mary for ages and when I asked if she had seen her recently she said she thought she must have gone away after the exhibition and she didn’t know where she was. So she must be alright. She must have recovered. Of course she’s got over it.
I never meant to hit her anyway. It was just a simple accident and it would never have happened if she hadn’t laughed like that. I will never forget her dreadful words and her cruel laughter. Oh God, I can still hear it. Shut up, shut up, shut up!
And if she has died….well, I don’t care…. In fact I hope she is dead. We were all perfectly happy before she came. Helen was happy, the children were happy and I was happy. I saved Helen at her lowest point and gave her a family and security. We didn’t need that interfering woman trying to change things and telling us how to live our lives. We’d all be better off if she was dead.

The Way We Lied

Lisa

Ooh, yuk! Uncle Nick, that’s a bit grubby even for you. I always thought you were good fun, though I remember Mum and Aunt Sarah ticking you off about some of your jokes. But I really never thought you were this crude. I don’t want to touch your letter any more. I push it away. It feels dirty.
You’ve paid for your sins though. How long have you been in that nursing home? Fifteen years? That’s a cruel punishment, whatever anyone says. A stroke, wasn’t it? One moment that robbed you of movement and speech. You, the life and soul of the party, condemned to sit in a chair, unable to laugh, joke or kiss. Sarah visits, I know, but not often. She says she can’t bear to see you cry when she leaves. You, a big bear of a man, cry? Or are tears the only message your brain can muster?
Oh, Nick, I shouldn’t be so harsh. I’ve seen you now and then. It isn’t pleasant. I must visit you again. You may be my wicked old uncle, but you were never unkind to us. And your life must be so painful to you now. You don’t deserve to end your days like this.
I pick the letter up again. You silly old fool. Why are you so resentful? You were big enough in those days to shrug off slights. What did she really do to you, I wonder. What hurt the most? Rejecting your advances or the commission you wanted her to take?
There is something at Dover Court, I think. A fountain. But it’s pretty standard, not an original. I must say, you did some good work there and at your other developments. They always had style and they’ve held up well. You may have profited from them, but you’ve left a legacy of good housing and good design. You’re an old rascal, but not a criminal.
I read the letter one more time. You’ve given me some clues, Nick. So she was a sculptor. Tits, you say. Now, does that sound familiar?
I look at the unopened envelopes. Just three more to go. Will they answer all my questions?

Next of Kin

As my son prepared for deployment to Afghanistan, he asked me to be his next of kin. By Friday 21st May he had been on tour for two months.

I had just returned from walking the dogs when the doorbell rang. I retraced my footsteps through the back gate to save removing my muddy boots and as I approached the front of the house, I caught sight of two men looking at our front door, waiting for it to be opened.    They introduced themselves. One was a Royal Marine Lieutenant Colonel, acting as the Casualty Notification Officer, the other was a Padre – both wearing suits.   They told me that our son Edward was very seriously injured.   Shock overcame me and I slumped to the ground, they escorted me indoors. They continued to relay what information they had. The Royal Marines were searching for a wire leading to an Improvised Explosive Device when it exploded.  Edward’s injuries were extensive. He was having life-saving surgery at Camp Bastion but I should prepare for the worst.  His survival was unlikely.  The troop’s corporal had been killed in the same blast.

Clusters of words circled in my mind that I remembered Edward saying before deployment. “I’m well trained; I’m battle ready; it’s what I’ve trained to do; I’ll be fine Mum.”  I bowed my head focussing on my feet.  It was an attempt at blocking out reality. Icy cold fear crept from my head to my toes.

The Casualty Notification Officer explained that there was a 24 hour curfew preventing the media from reporting this incident. I had to reach family and friends within this period.  I prepared to phone my husband, not in the City, not nearby but thousands of miles away as captain of a merchant ship. The first attempt failed – I was cut off. The second time worked.  I heard his voice.  My heart melted.  I tried to tell him the news gently. I wanted to hug him, comfort him, to tell him that we would get through this together.  If Edward should die, the Casualty Notification Officer explained he would return in full military uniform to tell me.  That long night I barely breathed as I listened for his footsteps on the drive.  I began to plan Edward’s funeral – preparing for the worst was my coping strategy. The underlying meaning of ‘next of kin’ began to dawn on me.

The Way We Lied

When he returned home it was Friday, a day when Sarah was slightly less tense because the pace of the week relaxed and she would respond to his advances after a few glasses of wine. He took her roughly from behind and imagined she was dark and tall.
But there was still Alex to divert him and she was pretty enough to amuse him for now. A few weeks after he returned from Cornwall, they met up at a country house sale and he thought if she was in the mood they might manage to nip along to the show house later. Alex was always good fun and she looked and smelt gorgeous today. Nick could not help rubbing his hands over her rounded bottom and nibbling her neck as they walked around the house, commenting on the lots listed in the catalogue. Most of the contents were not his style, but he sometimes liked to pick up the odd artefact for home or one of his show houses. It gave them an individual touch. A bit of character and class.
But today, to his surprise, it was not the garden statuary, or the bronzes or the ornate candelabra that caught his eye, it was the paintings, or rather one painting in particular. Amongst the fruit and flowers, the portraits and the landscapes was a striking painting of a man that grabbed him. Yes, that was what it did. It grabbed him with its dark strokes and its pitiful eyes.
He was surprised by his reaction and wanted to study the painting at length, although it was clear it did not appeal to Alex. He checked the catalogue and realised it was by an artist Mary had mentioned at some point during his time with her in St Ives. He almost laughed at himself; some of her instruction must have sunk in then.
And then he heard her voice. He turned instantly, but it felt like an age. Her voice pierced his heart and his body thrilled with the sight of her. She had not changed. She even wore the same kind of clothes still. She had obviously heard him talking about the painting as she asked if he was thinking of bidding for it.
Moments later she was walking away and he had no choice but to follow. He made excuses to Alex then ran down the stairs, through the hall and out into the driveway. She was striding along the gravel, her head held high. He wanted to stop her and called out. “Mary! Mary, wait for me! Please don’t go!”
She stopped and turned towards him. He ran to her breathless. “I need to talk to you. I couldn’t talk to you at the concert in the cathedral, but I’ve been thinking about you ever since we were in Cornwall.”
But she seemed unmoved by his urgency or his reference to their time together and with an unsmiling face just said, “Are you really planning to buy that painting?”
“Yes I am. And if I’m successful, then you could come and see it whenever you wanted to.” He felt hopeful. This could be a new beginning. He felt sure he could make her want to see him again.
She raised an eyebrow and stared at him. “That wonderful painting should live with a philosopher, not a Philistine. Don’t even think of buying it. It is not for the likes of you.”
He was stunned for just a second and then a second or two later he was angry. How dare she insult him. “Bloody cheek! I’ll buy it whether you like it or not!”
“Don’t be so sure. It will only work for those who have pure intentions.” Then she walked away, striding towards the parked cars.
“Just you wait and see! I’ll damn well get it. You’ll see!” Nick clenched his fists and ground his teeth. He would have it. And she would never see it again. He would bid by phone. Anonymously.
He turned away from the maddening sight of Mary, back to the house. Alex awaited. There was always lovely, comforting, forgiving Alex with her warm thighs.