Back in Time for Tea

Chapter 4

I’m thinking about Lillian’s question: about whether I felt anything odd, or as she puts it, ‘queer,’ before. I have had my ‘turns’ as we call them at home – funny fainting episodes, where I feel as if the world is turning too fast and I’m about to fall off it. I tell Lillian about them. She looks at me very seriously, as if weighing up my words.

‘And when that happens,’ she asks ‘do you ever hear a strange grinding noise, like farm machinery that needs oiling?’

I am so surprised at this that all I can manage is a whispered, ‘Yes.’ This is exactly what happens! I’m starting to wonder if I’ve been on the brink of time travelling all this time?’ I’ve been having these ‘turns’ for a few months now. I look at Lillian, trying to figure her out, but she has that same, level look she always has. Was June right? Is Lillian one too, a traveller like us? She certainly seems familiar with some of the experiences I’ve had. How come I never met another time traveller before, in my whole life, and now I maybe know two – three, including me.  She’s the oddest six year-old I’ve ever met and now she’s asking me if I ever feel odd.

‘I’m always feeling odd,’ I tell her, ‘so it’s hard to tell.’

It’s true’ I am always feeling odd. Or, rather, I feel normal, but everyone else tells me I’m odd. Think about it: you go through your life doing the things you do and suddenly someone will say, ‘That was weird! Why did you do that?’ Only, it wasn’t weird to you, or you wouldn’t have done it, would you? I suppose what they mean was it was weird to them, but they never say that, do they? I sometimes think I’m the only normal one and everyone else is bonkers! Then again, I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in my class to have ever seen 1942 up close and personal, so maybe I’m wrong about that.

This reminds me of something Gran once said to me, when I told her about the kids at school. ‘Ellie,’ she said, ‘don’t worry so much about fitting in. Some of us just aren’t like the others.’

At the time, I thought that wasn’t very helpful, because nobody seems to appreciate it if you’re different, do they? All, everyone wants is for you to fit in and to stop being such a bother to them. However, now I’m starting to wonder about something I perhaps missed at the time: the second part – the part about, ‘Some of us just aren’t like the others.’ Some of us? Did Gran mean she’s a bit odd too?

‘Lillian,’ I say, ‘Are you a bit odd?’

‘I don’t know,’ she replies. ‘There’s a war on – everything’s strange.’

Well, she’d got a good point there, I think. I suppose nobody is doing things quite the way they were before the war. Maybe that masks a lot. Maybe being in a war wouldn’t be so bad if you could get away with more. I feel bad for thinking that. I don’t actually wish I was in a war. In fact, right now I’m very much wishing I wasn’t. I’m wishing I was back with Gran; Gran who knows what to do when everyone else doesn’t. Gran who doesn’t treat you like a medical mystery, or a nuisance. Gran who just thinks you need fresh air, good food and some early bedtimes. Gran who makes you feel almost normal, even if you are accidentally using her local park as a springboard to the past.

I’m looking at Lillian now and thinking about Gran, and what she might be doing, while I’m stuck here in a 1940s barn. I wonder if she’s missing me or if she even knows I’ve gone. I try to picture what she might be doing: watering the plants, making my tea, and I can picture her so clearly that I feel suddenly very homesick. ‘Gran,’ I whisper, and in my image of her, she turns around and looks right at me. This makes me feel really odd – kind of giddy and unstable. I can feel the barn start to spin – not fast, but as if it shifts slightly, like the turn of a wheel. There is a grinding noise, as if of gears crunching together and the images in my head start to blend with the images before me. I feel horribly sick and can feel myself falling, as if down a hole. Then everything goes black.

Moments later, I feel myself coming around. I think I might have fainted, but it all seemed so sudden. I open my eyes carefully and squint, as harsh, bright sunlight streams into them. Who opened the barn door, I wonder? There is a voice and someone bending over me, sheltering me a little from the light.

‘Ellie? Ellie, are you all right?’

It is June. June!’ She’s found her way back,’ I think, but as my eyes adjust, I see that it is I who have found my way back. I’m in the park again just like before. June is standing over me, looking very concerned. It almost makes me laugh, except that my head hurts. She leans in closer.

‘You all right, Ellie? That was very sudden! Here, look – you’re a bit foamy round the mouth. Let me…’ she leans in and, to my horror, wipes the corner of her mouth with her cotton dress, her grubby cotton dress. I suppose it is kind of her, though it is a bit revolting. ‘Anyway, how’d you do it? How’d you get back?’

I think for a moment, rubbing my head, trying to rub away the pain. ‘I…I don’t know. I thought about Gran and – June, I thought about Gran and imagined her, only it was like I could really see her and like she could see me. Then I felt everything turn. It was like the world turning and I was going to slip off the edge of it and…and then I sort of did.’

‘And you landed here,’ June finishes my tale for me.

‘Is that how it happens for you?’ I ask her.

‘No. No mine is quite different. There’s a bang and a flash and I fall down and land here.’

‘Or there,’ I add.

‘No. Funny you should mention it but no – there is no bang here and no flash to get back. I get back there because…because…I don’t know.’

‘But you’ve been doing it for over sixty years!’ I protest. ‘You must have figured out something by now!’

‘No, I’ve been doing it through sixty years – not for sixty years. They’re two different things, Ellie.’ She scowls and turns away. Over her shoulder she adds, ‘I’m not any older, am I? Time doesn’t move in the same way when you’re travelling. I told you that already!’

I turn away too. June has got me into all this and I think she at least owes me some answers, which she either can’t – or won’t – give me.

‘Ellie?’ a voice calls from the park gate. It is Gran. ‘Ellie, is that you? Oh thank goodness. I was worried you were…’ her voice trails off. I was what, I wonder? Travelling through time? (Hardly!) Late for lunch? Sitting on the grass at the park, looking grumpy? This last one is true, at least.

Gran opens the park gate and comes over to me. She looks worried. ‘Are you all right, Ellie, love? Did you have one of your turns?’

Her face is full of concern and I feel safe again. Gran is concerned about me! She thinks it’s all to do with my ‘turns’ too. I’m honestly wondering how come I never made the connection before, between my strange fainting episodes, which the doctors can’t quite diagnose, and suddenly appearing in a dusty old barn, more than seventy years before lunchtime.

Gran offers me a hand and helps me up. ‘Come on, love. I’ve made your lunch. You look like you need a rest. Come on, let’s get you home.’

On the way home she asks me, ‘Who was that girl you were with?’

She can’t mean June, I think, because June is invisible. ‘What girl?’ I ask, carefully.

‘The girl in the park’ says Gran. ‘The one in the quaint little dress – funny old fashioned little thing she looked.’

She does mean June! In our time, June does look funny and old-fashioned, like a character straight out of the pages of a Famous Five story, only less well-groomed. I am so surprised, I stop suddenly and almost fall over my own feet. Gran can see June? What does this mean? That I imagined the whole thing and June is just an oddly-dressed girl who makes up good stories? Or that Gran is – even in my head, I can’t quite form the words. Gran is…a time traveller?

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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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