‘Ellie?’ the voice is quiet, careful, but it’s June’s voice and I recognise it. I am so relieved that all the air seems to come out of me at once, in a, ‘whew,’ so loud I think they’ll hear it all over the farm.
‘Ellie? Where –‘ she’s followed the sound and finds me before she finishes the question. ‘What you doing there?’ she giggles.
‘Hiding,’ I hastily explain, brushing dust and hay from my hair and clothes.
‘Hiding? Who from?’ June is incredulous.
‘From everyone else.’ Honestly, I think, June can be so…well, dim!
‘Huh? Oh…yeah. Well really they’d…oh, never mind. You want breakfast?’
Visions of a farmhouse breakfast gather in my mind, but I’m suddenly not sure I can eat, out of my own time and all that. I ask June.
‘Yeah, you can eat. You’re a traveller, not a ghost!’ and she laughs.
‘How do you know? You ever eaten anything at the park?’
‘Yeah. Once this little boy dropped a biscuit and I picked it up and ate it.’
I make a face. ‘June, that is disgusting!’
She looks surprised. ‘I was hungry, weren’ t I?’
I’m feeling cross with her now. I’m hungry, I’m miles from home – I mean years from home. I’m pretty sure Gran’s house is close by, but she’s not likely to be in it, is she? I’m afraid and June has the cheek to laugh at me, like I know the rules of this stupid game! Mind you, she’s like that. One minute she’s your best friend and all, the next she can turn. I’ve a good mind to shove her over, but since she’s the only friend I’ve got, now or then, if I’m honest, I dig my hands into my shorts pockets instead. June sees my face though. I guess she knows I’m in a mood with her now. Maybe she feels bad or something, because she reaches out her hand and takes mine.
‘Look, I didn’t mean it or anything. It’s just – well, I’ve been doing this for years. I’ve got the hang of it now and I forget other people don’t…’ her voice trails off.
‘…pop backwards and forwards in time like it’s normal?’ I finish the sentence for her.
‘Yeah, that.’ She grins. ‘Breakfast? C’mon!’ and she begins to run towards the door.
‘June! Juuuuunnnne!’ I hiss.
‘What about the others?’
‘What about ‘em?’ again, the baffled look.
I tell her about them coming into the barn, but I don’t tell her that they were looking for her. I tell her I hid out of sight, because I was afraid that they’d see me. I was also afraid that they’d beat me up, but I don’t mention that either.
June looks alarmed for a moment and then her face goes passive again. ‘Well, did they see you?’ she asks.
‘No, no they didn’t, but I hid from them.’
‘They won’t see you.’
What on earth can she mean by this? They didn’t see because I kept out of sight, but I might not always be able to do that. She’s so infuriating at times! Half of what she says makes no sense at all. Oblivious to my pained look, she carries on,
‘Well, I s’pose there’s Lillian, but she’s only little and…Tell you what: you wait here and I’ll be back with breakfast.’
Lillian? Was she the younger girl? I’m sure June told me there were at least three children here. Her stories are full of lots of children, none of whom she seems to like. I suppose some of them might be from school, or from other houses – they can’t all live here, even if they have taken in extras as evacuees. I’m trying to remember if she’s mentioned Lillian before. Before I do, June is back, clutching a hanky which has been pinched together at the corners to make a bundle. I do hope it’s a clean hanky!
‘Here.’ She hands over the bundle. My earlier visions of a cooked breakfast evaporate. Instead, June has brought me some bread, spread somewhat clumsily with something white. I’m briefly disappointed, but then I remember there’s a war on and they had rationing and everything.
‘Thanks, June,’ I say. ‘D’you want some? D’you get enough to eat, what with the rationing?’
‘Oh yeah! It’s good on a farm, cos there’s eggs and everything and milk from the cows. I just pinched this quick from the kitchen. All I could get – sorry. I put dripping on it for you, though.’ She says this last bit like it’s a really good thing. I have no idea what she’s talking about, but I take a bite. It’s weird! I was expecting something like butter but this is more like…like a sort of gravy taste. It’s salty and kind of…I think it tastes of beef. My first thought is, ‘I must ask Gran if she ate bread and dripping,’ and my second is, ‘if I ever get back.’ That makes me feel sad. So sad that even the bread and dripping tastes sad.
‘I’ll try and get you some tea in a bit,’ says June. She’s watching me closely and I think she knows I feel sad. I’ve never been good at hiding my emotions. That’s one of my big problems. People upset me really easily and then I cry or get angry with them. You’d think they’d step back then, wouldn’t you, but they don’t. They do it again, and again and if you’re really unlucky, and I think I am, again. My teachers say, ‘You need to learn to control it, Ellie’ but what can I do? I can’t help feeling things more than the others, can I? My mum says, ‘Don’t let them get to you, Ell,’ which is fine for her – she doesn’t seem to feel anything! Talking to my mum is practically like talking to a machine! Gran says, ‘It’s her medication, Ellie. Deep down she feels things like you do,’ and then she looks worried, like I might get like that too and need pills to stop me getting these big feelings that crowd my head and spill over too easily. I worry about that too but I never tell anybody.
‘It’s all right Ellie,’ says June, cutting into my thoughts. ‘I think I can get you back.’
‘Really? How?’ I’m so impressed that she’s worked it out already.
‘Er…well I don’t quite know yet, but…anyway, don’t you want to look around a bit while we work it out? You might be surprised by what you see. Things are different to what you’re used to, you know!’
I smile at her. It’s a bit of a weak smile, but she’s right. It’ll be like my last term’s topic at school, only more…real – more now! I tell her that we studied the Second World War at school. June is astounded by this and keeps asking me, ‘Really? Really?’
I laugh, ‘Yes – it’s history, isn’t it? From where I am – was – anyway. Big history, too – there’s a war on, after all.’
June sighs at this and says, ‘Don’t I know it!’
I tell her I did a homework project on evacuees. She says I should have asked her. I point out that I didn’t know her then and then we both laugh.
‘But after – when you did know me. Why didn’t you ask me then?’
‘I didn’t know you were one!’
This is met with more exclamations of, ‘Really? Really and truly? What did you think I was, then?’
‘I don’t know, do I? You were just some kid I met down the park now and then. How was I to know you were a time traveller?’
Another barrage of, ‘really’s and then, ‘I knew you were one!’
How? How on earth could she tell? ‘I didn’t know myself!’ I tell her.
‘Then how did you think you could see me?’
‘With my eyes, June! I saw you down the park on the swings, remember? And you…’ my voice tails off, as my brain catches up with my mouth. ‘June, could anyone else see you? In my time, I mean.’
She shakes her head. ‘Nope. Just you – oh and this one old lady once looked right at me and sort of gave me a funny look so I thought maybe she was one, but I’m not sure. Maybe she was mad? I don’t know.’
‘Can the others here see me? If I go out of the barn and walk around, I mean?’
‘No. Least I don’t think so. ‘Cept maybe Lillian.’
‘Is she one?’
‘I don’t know. She’s only little. It’s just, when I told the others I’d travelled – through time, I mean, not just from London, she was the only one who didn’t laugh. It was like she knew and…understood.’
We decide to test the theory – that non time travellers can’t see anyone who’s out of their own time. At first we leave the barn cautiously, in case June is wrong and everyone in my time has just been ignoring her. A few people are up and about now. One of the farm hands is walking across the yard with a couple of buckets. June calls out, ‘Morning, Billy!’
He looks at June and says, ‘Morning Junie’ but to me says nothing. Next person we see is a woman, whom I presume is the farmer’s wife. She’s wearing a floral print dress, an apron and has her hair tied in a scarf. She looks tired. She glances up and frowns at June.
‘Where’ve you been, June? I’ve been looking for you. I had to send Lillian for the eggs by herself. This is your billet and I’m glad to have you but it’s not your hotel, do you understand?’
‘Sorry, Aunty Doris,’ June replies. ‘I’ve been talking to my friend’ and, to my horror, she gestures towards me. Aunty Doris looks in my direction, but seems to see nothing. She sighs.
‘I haven’t got time for your games, Missy.’
She hasn’t seen me at all! I am like a ghost! For an awful moment I think maybe that’s what I am after all – that I’ve died and that this is what heaven looks like. Not quite how I’d imagined it, if I’m honest, but then I remember the bread and dripping and June saying that we’re not ghosts. No – it seems that they genuinely can’t see me.
We slip round the side of the house out of sight, with Aunty Doris still muttering darkly about June’s ingratitude. ‘Now Lillian,’ she says. ‘Should be easy to find, because she’s collecting eggs, instead of me.’
June appears to skulk across the farmyard as we head for the hen coop. We don’t seem to take a direct route at all, instead darting from one area of cover to another. She motions for me to stand still on occasion. I’m puzzled at first, thinking I could waltz across the yard if I wanted and no one would notice, but then I realise what she’s doing. She’s doing what I do. She’s avoiding the other children, sticking to the shadows and keeping out of sight and out of trouble. Finally we reach the coop. There is a little girl there, no more than six, carefully putting eggs into a basket. She turns around as we approach.
‘Hello, Lillian’ calls June. It is the little girl from the barn. I recognise her voice and her brown sandals, which is about all I could see of her from my vantage point under the tractor.
‘Oh, hello June! Where’ve you been?’ She looks in my direction and gives me the briefest of frowns, but she says nothing and turns quickly away, so I’m not sure if she’s seen me or not. I decide to risk everything and test something.
‘Hello, Lillian’ I say, smiling. Lillian looks startled, then peers at me and leans in closer. Turning to June she asks,
‘My friend, Ellie.’
‘I don’t know anyone called that name,’ says Lillian, eyeing us both suspiciously. She’s no longer peering at me. It’s like I’ve come into focus for her.
‘Well, you do now. Listen, Lillian, have you ever been anywhere you shouldn’t?’
‘No, June, I haven’t,’ she says firmly. There’s an air of disapproval in her voice. ‘I’m a good girl, not like…oh, June, you know what I mean. I’m sorry. I like you, really I do.’
June laughs, ‘No, Lillian, I mean – not where you shouldn’t…where you’ve…never been before. Where everything’s sort of wrong and different, only some of it looks a bit the same.’
‘No June, I haven’t. ‘
‘Oh well my guess is you will. Let us know when you do, all right?’
Lillian nods. She doesn’t seem puzzled by June’s request. She just accepts it. Perhaps she’s used to June’s odd ways, I think, or perhaps…perhaps she knows more than she’s letting on.