Back in Time for Tea

Chapter 6

I am looking at June and wondering what she’s planning. How does she intend to win her own war, I wonder, when she suddenly reaches out and grabs my hand. There is a pull, the now familiar sound of turning gears, a rush and I’m sitting on the floor of the barn. June has brought me back and I still don’t know how she does it. I’m in my usual landing spot, among the hay bales and beside the tractor. It looks a little different though. I take a moment to look around and work out what’s different. The same things are there, the light is still filtering in from outside, but it looks…dishevelled, much as June did when she arrived in the park. The hay bales are partly knocked out of place, there’s loose hay on the floor, the door is slightly ajar. It looks like the scene of a scuffle. I start to wonder if Lillian is right, if we are all just revisiting the same incident, at very slightly different moments in time.

June is sitting beside me, head in hands again, still cut and bruised.

‘What happened?’ she asks.

If only I knew. ‘We were at the park. Well, I was. Then you arrived – on top of me and-‘

‘Oh yeah,’ she manages a smile, remembering kicking me off the swing. ‘Yeah, but why are we back? I was running away.’

‘I don’t know, June, you grabbed my hand and pulled me back.’

She is quiet for a moment. We both are. The  she says, ‘Sorry, Ellie. I didn’t mean to pull you into this  – into any of it. You were just the first person to speak to me in the park. I wanted someone to help.’

‘Don’t be sorry,’ I say, suddenly feeling much older and responsible. ‘Imagine the conversations I can have: ‘What did you do in the holidays, Ellie?’ Let me see, well I time travelled.’

She manages a weak smile and then looks me in the eyes and says, ‘What if I’ve pulled you into danger, Ellie?’

‘Well there is a war on,’ I say, making another feeble attempt at a joke, one which June glosses over.

‘So what happens next?’

‘I don’t know,’ I reply. ‘Don’t you? I mean, hasn’t it happened?’ June is quiet again. I can’t believe recalling something you’ve already done takes this much thought, although I suppose she’s always caught between being five minutes and seventy odd years from it. That’s when it hits me. ‘June, are you an old lady?’

She looks at me, like I’ve gone mad.

‘What do you think?’ she asks and she sounds exasperated with me, for asking such a question.

‘Not now! I mean, ever? Is there a point where you’re an old lady and you’re looking back on your life and thinking…oh, I don’t know, maybe thinking that you’re glad this barn business was over long ago and then your children…no, your grandchildren come round and…’

‘How would I know? Why would it matter?’ June is still giving me the exasperated look.

‘Because if it turned OK, June, you’d be an old lady by now – so long as you looked both ways when crossing the road and everything. Look, my gran was alive in the war and now she’s an old lady and…’ I pause. I give myself time to think how incredibly stupid I’ve been. ‘We need Gran,’ I say. She might know. June, I think she knows!’

June’s eyes are wide now, wide with fear. ‘I don’t think I wasn’t never an old lady. I think I’m just stuck travelling.’ Her eyes fill up with tears. I’m not sure I can cope with this and she evidently can’t. I need to know why June never grew up. I need to know what happened in 1942 and the one person who, I am sure, can help me is seventy-something years away.

‘Get your gran, Ellie,’ says June. ‘Get her! How did you get back last time? Think!’

I can’t think: June’s words and those sad, frightened eyes are filling my thoughts. If only Gran was here, if only she could help me now, if only…

There’s a rushing noise, a grinding of gears, the world tilts and I’m sure I’ll fall off it. I try to cling on but there’s nothing there. My hands are flailing, grabbing at nothing, snatching the air. I know what’s happening now, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I land with a bump. Everything is dark. I open my eyes. I’m back at the park. I sit up and there’s a horrible taste in my mouth. I notice that I’ve been sick a little, like babies do, I think. I wipe it away with my arm, hoping nobody saw me. I wait for the spinning sensation to stop and the pounding in my ears to go away, then I stand up carefully and look around. No one else is here and I got away with that, I think. Now what? Landing in a heap in the park means my brain is slow to work. It’s like wading through a field of treacle. I rub my fist against my forehead, trying to restart my brain, and then I think, ‘Oh yes! Gran!’ I want to run back home to her but my legs are still wobbly. It’s like one of those nightmares, where something is chasing you and yet you can’t run away because your legs are like lead. What’s chasing me though? The past? I wobble off, as fast as I can, heading for home.

Across the road and around the corner I seem to recover my balance and some of my strength, so I break into something of a clumsy jog and arrive at the front door panting, out of breath. I push the handle and almost fall into the hallway. Gran is just coming downstairs with a  basket of laundry, which she hastily puts down on seeing me. She is busy asking me if I’m OK, if I had another ‘turn’, if I’m hurt, when I cut right through it.

‘June. Gran, do you know anyone called June?’

Gran steers me into the living room, sits me down on the sofa and sits in her chair.

‘Who?’

‘June. She’d be…she’d be an old…I mean…about your…she’d be a lady a bit older than you, Gran.’

Gran folds her arms, looks thoughtful and says, ‘June…June…not Jean? Joan? I don’t think so, no Ellie.’

So I have to go for the part I’ve been carefully avoiding; the part where I admit these aren’t ‘turns’, but something quite, quite different. The part where I admit that I know and that I think maybe Gran knows and we have to stop talking about it as a small thing that might go away and admit to our outstanding levels of weirdness.

‘Did you ever know a June? When you were little? When you lived on the farm with Aunty Doris in the War?’

Gran makes an odd, choking noise and her hand flutters at her throat. For an awful moment, I think maybe I’ve killed her – that the shock will kill her. I leap forward but she motions for me to sit back down.

‘Ellie, how did you…? I mean, I never spoke about…I never told…’ she has tears in her eyes, I notice. This frightens me a little. I have upset Gran, Gran my tower of strength and my refuge. Now what will happen to us all?

‘Gran, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…’ I begin, but then I remember how important this is, how June is counting on me. ‘Gran, I’m really sorry. I need to know….I need…I need your help.’

‘Come here,’ says Gran and, big as I am and old as she is, she makes room for me on her lap. I curl in and, for just one moment, I am little again and safe in Gran’s arms. She strokes my hair as she says, ‘It’s a long story, Ellie. It’s a long, long story that I’ve never told to anyone but I’ve been waiting so, so long to tell you – you and only you, Ellie.’

 

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About Jacqui Searle

I live with a husband, two children, a small, crazy dog and an elderly guinea pig. I write when I can, usually about grandmothers, although I haven't figured out why that is yet. I work part time in a school. 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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