Back in Time for Tea

Chapter 3

I want to find out more about Lillian, about how come she can see me and about what she might know. I can’t ask her now though, because she is busy returning eggs to the farmhouse. June says that egg collection was the task she was given on the farm, but that she broke too many eggs, so Lillian was given the job instead.

‘What job do you have now, I ask?’

‘Tea,’ she replies

‘Tea?’ That seems like an odd job, I think. Does she make the tea, as in sandwiches? Or does she make pots of tea, or what?

‘Yeah. I have to carry the tea out to the men, don’t I?’

‘What men?’ and from the look June gives me, I can tell that now it’s her judging me to be dim.

‘The workers, silly! The farm workers. There’s loads of ’em at the minute – harvest time, you see. Extras come in to get the wheat in and they need tea, so Aunty Doris said I have to take the tea to them, long as I don’t spill anything, and I don’t, do I? I’m not clumsy!’

‘You broke the eggs,’ I offer.

I didn’t,’ she says, managing to sound both emphatic and mysterious.

‘Well, who…the others?.’

She nods. ‘They figured out I was using the hen house to hide in and they didn’t like it. Said I was shirking, didn’t they?’

‘And they broke the eggs, to get you moved from that job? That’s mean!’

‘Well, I s’pose you could say I did break them, because they was in my hands when they smashed, but I didn’t never trip myself up, did I? Anyway, I got a trolley for the tea and that makes it harder to get knocked over. Plus, everyone could see me going from the kitchen to the field, so that ‘orrible lot’d never dare pick on me while I’m doing that.’

Poor June. I can just imagine her relief at finding the hen house to hide in and then how she must have felt when the others sabotaged that for her. I’m both sad and cross on her behalf now. ‘Don’t you wish you could fight them off, June?’ I ask.

‘Course I do,’ she says, shaking her head a little, indicating that she still thinks I am pitifully slow, but there’s three of ’em and they’re all bigger’n’me. I’d just get beaten up. I already do get beaten up!’ She goes quiet for a moment and I am quiet with her. ‘Tell you what though, Ellie, I will get ’em in the end – you’ll see.’


Later that morning June and I are sitting on hay bales in the barn, trying to work out how to get back (or is it forwards?) to the right time. I think it would help if we could remember how we got here, so I try and describe it. I feel like I’m setting out a mind map – like each of my memories of the event is set out on a Post-it note. However, they haven’t been invented in 1942, so I don’t bother telling June that part.

‘Right,’ I say to her. ‘So, I went to the park and you were there already.’

‘And you could see me!’ June adds.

‘Yes, I could see you and you spoke to me. You said-‘

‘No, YOU said. You said, ‘What are you looking at?’ remember?’

‘That’s right,’ I say, ‘and you nearly fell off your swing in shock, but I don’t think that’s the part that got us here, is it? It’s important, because it’s how we met and it shows we both had a connection and-‘

‘Yes, cos we’re both travellers, aren’t we?’ June interrupts. ‘That’s the most important thing of all, Ellie!’

She’s right, but I still don’t think it will help, unless we can pinpoint the actual moment we fell through time. I screw up my face, trying to make myself remember everything, exactly as it happens. June laughs, which doesn’t help. I open my eyes and scowl at her.

‘Sorry,’ she says, grinning, ‘but that did look very funny. You looked like you needed more prunes for breakfast.’ She cackles at this and I respond by sticking out my tongue at her. She carries on laughing.

‘Look, June,’ I explain, ‘If we can remember how we got here, we can maybe reverse the process to get back. We were at the park, weren’t we? Maybe if we go back there now-‘

June says she’s not sure there is a park here in 1942, so that’s no help. I wonder what else has changed. I try and think again, being very careful not to pull my apparently ‘constipated’ face while I do so.

‘June, when you travel, can you do it on purpose or is it always an accident – a surprise?’ I ask her.

June chews on a stem of hay from her bale, thinking carefully.

‘It’s an accident, I think,’ she replies. ‘The strange thing is, though, I always end up in the same place – in that park. I don’t know I’m going to go, but when I get there I feel safe.’

This doesn’t seem to help us much either. I ask June if she knows how long she’s been going there.

‘No, it’s hard to tell. I s’pose I’ve been going there a few years now, because it’s changed a bit. There used to be this tall climbing frame thing that spun round. It had a wooden seat going all round the bottom of it. It was like a cornet, sort of – like you get an ice cream in, only upside down. There was a long horse, too, with seats – you could make it rock.’

It all sounds quite different to the park now with its steel and plastic play equipment. I ask her if she ever gets bored, all that travelling and waiting around, for so many years.

‘No, not really,’ she says. ‘The time spent travelling ain’t like everyday time. I can be gone for ages, but when I come back, everything is the same. The sun is in same place in the sky, everyone else is doing the same things and they only ask, ‘Where’ve you been?’ as if I’ve been hiding somewhere and not doing my chores…which is nearly always,’ she adds.

All of this is interesting but none of it is helpful, I think. We sit in silence for a few minutes. I glance over at June. She hangs her head and starts to pick at the hem of her dress. I think she’s disappointed that she can’t be more helpful. I think it must be awful to be stuck like that, falling in and out of time and never knowing when, or if you can get back. Surely she was lonely, all those times she travelled and no one to see her when she got there? Imagine all those years of waiting and not a single person knowing you were there? The thought makes me shudder. While we are sat like this, each of us thinking our own thoughts, we hear a noise. The barn door opens a crack and someone slips in.

‘Who’s there?’ calls June. She sounds as if she’s daring the intruder to declare themselves, but there’s a note of something else there. Fear, I think.

‘June?’ it is Lillian’s voice. June looks so relieved. I wonder who she thought it might be?

‘Oh, Lillian, ‘s’you. You all right? We’re on the hay bales – over in the back.’

Lillian steps carefully through the dim light of the barn, her eyes still accustomed to the bright sunlight outside. Joining us, she says, ‘Aunty Doris is looking for you, June.’

June sighs. ‘I’d better go. You two stay here. Lillian, you can keep Ellie company.’ She gets up and walks towards the door and then stops suddenly and tilts her head to one side, apparently listening. I listen too. At first I can hear nothing, then the sound of voices, children’s voices.  June looks back towards us for just a moment. Her face is frozen in an expression of terror. Then, in an instant, she is gone. Not gone as in walked out of the barn, but gone as in vanished. The space where she stood is now suddenly and completely empty.

A second later, a small group of children run into the barn. I recognise their voices and, instinctively, I crouch down, afraid of being seen. The boy, Freddie, calls, ‘June? June? June! Where are you, you fat head? I know you’re in here.’

Another voice, this time a girl’s joins the first, ‘Yes, you lazy girl! It’s no good hiding, thinking we’ll do all the work. Don’cha know there’s a war on?’

Then the boy’s voice again, ‘I’ve a good mind to box your ears, you dirty little…’

Lillian stands up beside me at this point. ‘She’s not here. I came in here looking for her, but she’s not in here.’

I’m impressed at Lillian’s ability to conceal the truth, without actually telling any lies. This kid is good! I think she’ll make a good ally. I resolve to look after her as best I can; not easy when you’re lost and invisible, but I mean to try.

‘Oh’ a third child speaks. This one sounds slightly less menacing, but perhaps they’re all just disappointed. They sounded as if they came looking for a fight and yet the fight has, well, taken flight. ‘Did you see her at all, Lillian?’

Did you see her! These words remind me that I can’t be seen at all. I’m safe, safe to have a good old nose at the three children, who can’t get a good look at me. I kneel up in my pen and see three children, a boy and two girls. The boy is about my age. He is wearing long shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. On his feet he has slouchy grey socks and brown sandals. His brown hair is combed over to one side, but I notice there’s a shock of it at the back that won’t stay down. This makes him look faintly ridiculous, I think. The girls are identical, but their hair, neatly parted and held back with clips, is parted on opposite sides of their heads, making them look like mirror images. I guess they are about nine years old and they must be twins. They have on cotton dresses, a bit like the one June wears, but theirs are neater, cleaner and better fitting. They all look like they’ve stepped out of an old fashioned story book, although of course I’m the one who’s dressed like a work of fiction – science fiction, probably. It’s funny – June never looked that quaint, but maybe that’s because the thing I noticed most about her appearance is how unbelievably scruffy she looks. I can see why she doesn’t fit in here, among these neatly dressed, strong-looking country children.

Lillian, meanwhile, shrugs and says, ‘I already told you: I came looking for her and she’s not here.’

‘Well, if you do see her, tell her we’re looking for her. And be careful, Lillian. She’s trouble, that one.’

Lillian nods. They turn and leave. Once I’m sure they’re out of earshot, I turn to Lillian and ask, ‘Who are they? Are they your brothers and sisters?’

‘No. They’re my cousins. Aunty Doris looks after me when my mum’s at work, see.’

‘What about your dad?’

‘He’s in the army.’ I feel bad, because of course he would be, but Lillian doesn’t look upset. She’s as calm as ever. I change the topic, anyway, ‘Where is June? Have you any idea?’

Lillian gives me a level look. For a small person, she’s unnervingly switched on, I think. ‘Wherever she is when you usually see her, I expect,’ she says, then adding, ‘Where is that?’

‘In the park,’ I reply. Lillian looks puzzled, so I explain that I don’t think the park has been built yet, or not turned into a park, anyway. ‘Why did she go like that?’ I’m asking myself and the air, really. I don’t imagine Lillian has the answers. ‘She didn’t even warn us!’ I say. I’m sore that June didn’t take me too. ‘She said she wasn’t sure how to get back, but she seems to have managed it alright, only without me.’

Lillian shrugs. ‘She often does when that happens – when the others come in.’

‘Don’t they think it’s a bit funny,’ I ask her. ‘A bit suspicious? If it keeps happening, I mean?’

‘I don’t think it does keep happening…I…I think I just keep seeing it happen.’

I am puzzled by this and sit quietly for a moment, trying to work it out. ‘So…so, it’s like the same thing, happening over and over? And you’re here to watch it every time?’

‘I think so, yes. Mmm…maybe.’

Lillian isn’t sure either. I can tell that, but she’s beginning to form an idea. Maybe she has more answers than I thought. I determine to ask her more.

‘Don’t you get a bit desperate – a bit bored? As if you’d like to skip to the next scene, instead of being stuck in this one?’ Now Lillian looks puzzled. ‘I mean,’ I try and explain, ‘like you’d like to see something else – maybe what happens next?’

‘It doesn’t happen all the time, Ellie,’ she explains. ‘I’m not even sure it’s exactly the same every time.’

‘How do you mean? If you’ve seen it over and over, you must know – must know if it’s different or not? And how is it different?’

Lillian thinks for a moment. ‘Well you weren’t here on the other times, to begin with. And one time I think she was too late. I think they caught her. I think it’s remembering that that makes her pop off like that.’

‘What happened? What did they do on the time they caught her?’ I am imagining all sorts of terrible things, a beating, at the very least.

‘I don’t know. I wasn’t here that time, but when she came back to the farm house she was crying and was all covered in hay. She had a cut lip, I remember. I think she’d been fighting with them, or maybe they just picked on her. I don’t know, Ellie.‘

‘So, you think she goes away to stop that happening?’

‘Maybe. I’m not sure.’

‘So maybe being scared makes her do it…’ my voice trails off. Maybe that’s it: maybe June and I were scared and that’s what brought us here. I try and remember. If I can repeat the same sequence, maybe I can do it again and get back.

‘Aren’t you ever scared, Ellie?’ Lillian interrupts my thoughts.

‘Yes, quite a lot, but never so much that I go back in time! Are you? Are you scared, I mean?’

‘Sometimes,’ she says. ‘I didn’t like the air raid siren at first. It’s like a storm howling, trying to get you and you can’t think straight when it’s going. I’m used to it now though, sort of. I’m scared Daddy won’t come back from the war, but I have to pretend I don’t worry about that, to stop Mummy from worrying too much.’

To be honest with you, I can’t remember my dad. He left when I was a baby. Actually, I think he might have left before I was born. I can’t imagine what it must be like to worry about him not coming back, because the nearest I have is worrying that he might, and, if he does, that I might not like him. I decide to change the subject a little. It’s a bit rude of me, I know, but I don’t know what else to do and, anyway, I am on a mission to get back to where I came from.

‘Are you scared when they come looking for June?’ I ask her.

‘Sometimes I am. Sometimes they sound more like they mean it – like they’re really coming to get her. I was scared when I saw her after the first time. I was scared because she looked so frightened and so…so angry. I was frightened for her. I was sure she’d try and get her own back and I didn’t know where that would end. I was scared, too, because I knew the others had hurt her, but I knew I couldn’t make them stop. But I can’t have been as scared as June, because I don’t disappear, do I?’

‘Most people don’t, Lillian,’ I tell her. ‘I think time travel is pretty unusual.’ I think about this for a few minutes and then add, ‘But, Lillian, you do, just a little. You see the same thing, over and over. If the others don’t know it’s happening again and again but you do, you must be the only one who can tell. I mean, it isn’t just happening on Monday and then again on Tuesday, is it? It’s happening once, but you keep going back to it.’

Lillian frowns. I’m not sure if she understands what I’m saying, so I try again. ‘Look, there’s got to be a reason why you can see me. Nobody else can, except June. She says only other travellers can see each other, out of their own time I mean. Maybe, instead of June’s big leaps through time, you are making just little hops.’

Lillian now looks more confused than ever. I remember then that we never explained any of it to her, June and I. I wonder if Lillian understands much at all. I don’t understand much at all, but at least I now know I’m doing it.

‘OK,’ I give it a third go. ‘Look…it’s…a bit weird, OK? I don’t belong here. The others can’t see me, right?’ she nods, so I carry on with my explanation, working it out as I go along. ‘I’ve come from…’ I want to say, ‘from the future,’ but I think that makes me sound like a cheesy sci-fi film and, anyway, Lillian probably thinks the future is full of people wearing jet packs, whereas the reality is, frankly, much more disappointing – I haven’t even got a skateboard! ‘I’ve come from…er…2017.’ Lillian’s eyes widen, like saucers, but I keep going. ‘Yeah, I know – that’s ages away, right? But I promise you, it’s true. Anyway, that’s where I met June. She must do great big leaps through time – she time travels. I never did anything before, until yesterday, when I wound up here.’

‘You never did anything before?’ Lillian asks, still looking incredulous. To be honest, that wasn’t the part of my hazy explanation that I expected her to pick up on. ‘Nothing?’

‘No, nothing, Lillian.’ What an odd girl she is, I think.

‘Oh, come on, Ellie – there must have been something? Did you never feel…a bit queer?’

I think back – forward – to 2017, trying not to get side-tracked by how much some words have changed their meaning over the years.  Did I feel anything, ever? Did I?



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About Jacqui Searle

I live with a husband, two children and a small, crazy dog. I write when I can, usually about grandmothers, although I haven't figured out why that is yet. In my spare time I walk the dog, bake cakes, sew badly and write. I once drove a steam train - that was amazing. I've also driven a vintage tractor and crewed narrowboats.

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