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.

Back in Time for Tea

Chapter 13

The next few weeks went go in a whirl of activity. Mum moves in with us, there is school uniform, shoes and stationery to sort out. Mum, Gran and I spend an age in the uniform suppliers, with me trying on every possible uniform combination. It is hot today and my new school clothes feel stiff and constricting, although not nearly as constricting as Mum’s fussing over me. ‘Are you too hot? Is it too much? We can come back another day if it’s too much? You must say if it is.’ Then, to the shop assistant, ‘She has these turns, you know. I’m worried about her overheating.’

Gran and I exchange sneaky smiles and the shop assistant, completely missing Mum’s point, says, ‘It’ll be cooler in September and they let them remove the blazers in lessons.’

‘Well, well,’ says Gran, seeing me in the final and full get-up, ‘you look grammar-school smart!’

I’m not going to a grammar school: there have been no grammar schools in this area since before Mum was born although, going by my peculiar timeline, I suppose you could say, ‘since a couple of weeks ago,’ but let’s not. Then Mum and Gran exchange a look and I notice they’re both dabbing at their eyes, Gran with a little hanky and Mum with a rather frayed tissue. I roll my eyes and Mum does a sort of snivelly laugh, ‘Oh, you’re a teenager now, are you?’

I’m glad when that’s over and the new clothes are bagged and paid for. Gran and Mum have a little argument on the way out, over whether sewn in labels are essential or whether a biro on the clothes label will do. No prizes for guessing who’s in which camp, there! I take advantage of the confusion this causes, to fleece them both for an extra-fancy pencil case. Mum is worried it’s the, ‘wrong thing,’ and I won’t ‘fit in’. I assure her it’s perfect and that I’m sure I will fit in just fine. I’m sure of nothing of the sort but if there’s one thing primary school taught me, it’s that it’s not just your pencil case that can mark you as different. Anyway, this one is really nice, with three zips and several compartments, so I don’t really care. Gran admires it, squeezes my shoulder and says, ‘She deserves such a beautiful pencil case,’ so that’s that sorted although, really, I think, it is just a pencil case!

Finally, suited, booted and kitted out, we head home, where there’s an envelope on the doormat, with a Canadian stamp and the now-familiar handwriting. ‘June!’ Gran and I say together and there’s a scramble to be the first to open it. Gran wins, because Mum tells me to mind my manners and then asks,

‘June who?’

Gran and I both look guilty and then talk over one another.

‘June!’

‘Canadian June!’

‘You know – June-June.’

Mum shrugs and then flops into a chair, declaring herself worn out by the heat, the outing and the stress of seeing her daughter grow up before her eyes. I’m briefly glad that everyday things tire her out, before feeling guilty for thinking that at all.

‘Read it, Gran, read it!’ I plead. Gran shoots me a look, which is when it occurs to me that it might be full of clues that we don’t want to tell mum about. Not just yet, anyway. We’ve both agreed to let her settle in and make sure she’s feeling up to it, before we hit her with news that her daughter spent the summer time travelling, hanging out with a much younger version of her mother. Yeah, you put it like that and it’s not the easiest thing to explain, is it?

Gran opens the envelope and scans the letter. ‘…weather’s very hot here…forest fires…not near enough to be a danger to us but we keep an eye on the news…’ she reads aloud. She’s editing it as she goes along. Mum thinks she’s missing out the boring bits, I know she’s missing out the really interesting bits. ‘Ellie, go and pour your mum a glass of water,’ she says, and slips me the letter as I walk past. I tuck it into the waistband of my shorts, fetch a cold drink for mum, and then slip quietly upstairs to read it in peace.

The envelope was hand-addressed, but the letter is typed on a computer, which seems odd when you think that, until recently, June was a scruffy 9 year old, running around a farm and I’d never even see her pick up a pencil. How on earth did she catch up on all the intervening years? I’d asked her that in my last letter to her. Gran had agreed that might be a good thing to ask about since she’d tried to explain it, but not really managed. I read the letter as I lay on my bed: ‘Dear Lillian and Ellie,

‘Thank you for your letter. I was so thrilled to receive a reply from you both! I have to tell you, I’ve hardly been daring to wait for the mailman, although, if I’m honest, that’s pretty much all I’ve been done, I look back on my life and it seems, at times, like a dream – no one could live a life that full of adventure, surely? For many years, I hardly thought about it, it seemed so fantastical an idea. I genuinely viewed my adoption in Canada as the true beginning of my life and have celebrated the anniversary of that as my ‘birthday’ ever since. I never told my adoptive parents all of what happened to me before, which is something I’m sure you’ll understand. Mostly I pretended it hadn’t happened, but of course a small part of me knew that it had and, however hard I tried to forget, I always wondered. Receiving your reply was like a homecoming to me and it reminded me that all that upside-down, here and there stuff really happened. (You know what I mean by that, of course!) You asked me some questions, which I’ll do my best to answer, but first…

‘YOU’RE ALIVE! YOU’RE ALIVE AND I’M SO HAPPY! Ha – I had to get that off my chest.

‘You asked me what Canada is like…’

I skim read this bit. It’s not that I’m not interested in Canada, the wildlife (very interesting!), the weather (very varied!) and the wildfires (very scary!) but that belongs to a more ordinary kind of letter and life. I need to cut straight to the juicy stuff because, trust me, I have questions!

‘You also asked me how I managed to fit in a full life here, while you were meeting me between now and 1944, in an English park and farm. That’s a very good question! I’ll be honest, I don’t really know. All I know is we did it – we really did it – and that we share a bond that goes beyond being family. How many time travellers have you met? Besides myself, I’ve met two: you two. Perhaps we’re bumping into them all the time – perhaps there are many of us – but nobody ever talks about it, do they? I haven’t spoken about it in over 70 years. Imagine that, Ellie! Mind you, I also haven’t done it for over 70 years. I gather it’s the same for you, Lillian? Shame – I always thought you had such potential. I wonder if we stopped for the same reason? We no longer needed to: we were safe.

‘That’s thanks to you, Ellie. I stopped running away, I suppose. Once you fixed things for me, I stopped all of my time travelling – all of it, just like that. Ellie, we should be having a hero’s parade in your honor really, shouldn’t we? Except then we ‘d have to answer some very awkward questions and no one in their right mind would believe us.’

At this point I think I’m glad I just got a fancy pencil case. A parade would be so over the top! Eleven years perfecting the art of being invisible and then a parade? I laugh at the thought.

You know what, perhaps that’s another reason why I stopped! I never thought of it before now, but perhaps I shut myself off from the possibility. I don’t think I could do it again now if I tried. Could you, Lillian? Well, either way, you should try not to stop, Ellie. You should keep on travelling through time, solving mysteries and saving the day – it’s like your superpower. Try not to get pushed off swings by your assistants, though. Yes, I remember that, old as I am! So sorry, Ellie. I hope you’ll forgive me the grazed knees (and so much more). I remember that lie it was only a few weeks ago. Mind you… ha ha ha!’

 

I read to the end, which was mostly an invitation to go and see her in Canada, ‘if ever you can,’ and then put it down. I’m slightly disappointed by the lack of an explanation but I think she’s right: we don’t know, we just did it. We may well have to make do with this explanation and any other we think of, because asking anyone else for an explanation is likely to result in some awkward conversations. So we’re kind of on our own here, except there’s three of us and maybe many, many more, falling through time and wondering If they’ll bump into anyone else doing the same thing. I’m not sure yet, whether to stop time travelling, or whether to see if I can do it again. Maybe I’ll just see what happens. I won’t be so scared next time, though, because you’re never alone in time, are you? Think of all the people who’ve gone before you and imagine meeting some of them! It could be fun, I guess. Well, it wouldn’t be boring, put it that way. I’m open to the possibility, you know? If there’s a mystery going down on the family tree, I like to think I’d be ready and maybe a bit more clued-up this time, at least on the practicalities of time travel, if nothing else.

And so it was that the first proper day of school rolls around. I’m nervous at first – too nervous to eat much in the way of breakfast – but after being fussed over by Mum and Gran and having to pose for a photo in my new uniform, I’m more than ready to go. Mum asks if I’m sure I knew the way to the bus stop and I tell her, ‘Of course, I could find it any time,’ and then added, ‘In any time, even,’ which makes Gran snort with laughter and Mum look at her funny. I slip out the front gate and wave good bye. I’m nervous, of course, but I can see they are each nervous enough for all three of us, so I pretend otherwise and head off for the bus stop. I’m starting to wonder if pretending you’re brave is the key to everything.

As I round the corner, I can see some kids there already. Only a handful of them, because we’re at the outside edge of the school catchment here. I hope that means I‘ll get a seat when the bus arrives. I automatically slip into my invisibility act. I don’t know any of the other kids and I’m not about to strike up a conversation with any of them. However, one of them turns around as I arrive and I recognise her as the girl from the park. She must recognise me too: she smiles at me and sidles over. ‘Hey, kid!’ she says. ‘You’re the one I met at-’ and she nods in the direction of the park. I nod back. ‘You’re looking a lot better. So, what do you do? You know – what’s your superpower?’

It was such an odd and unexpected question that I answer her honestly. ‘I time travel,’ I say, as casually as I can manage and I’m still doing the ‘fake brave’ act, so it comes out rather well, I think.

‘No way? Kid, you’re going to be so helpful to have around! Anyone annoys us and we can send you two minutes into the future to punch them on the nose, then hop back to the present and they won’t know what hit them.’

‘Literally,’ I add, and she cracks up laughing. I’m secretly so pleased with this I imagine I must look like one of those fish, all puffed up with pride.

‘You got anyone to sit with on the bus?’ she asks. I shake my head. ‘Great! Can I claim you? Every superhero needs a sidekick, right? You can be mine. Actually, I’ve no discernible powers as yet, so maybe I can be yours,’ and she laughs again. I grin back. ‘I’m Talia, by the way.’

‘Ellie,’ I say.

I sit with Talia on the bus and she gives me a running commentary on the other kids who get on at later stops. I’m giggling so much at her assessment of most of them that I hardly notice the journey. The bus pulls up outside school and I’ve forgotten to be afraid. Talia points out which way I should go and then says, ‘See you at lunch, Time Traveller. Unless you’ve made your own friends by then, in which case, feel free to ignore me but be prepared for me to yell a greeting across the canteen, OK?’ She winks, so I know she’s either joking or she means it and it will be funny.

A teacher on the way in calls out, ‘Good morning and welcome back, Talia. Are we suitably attired this morning?’

‘All out, Sir, specially for the occasion,’ and she gestures to her nose and ears, where I remember she wore various piercings that time I saw her in the park. ‘I’m taking pride in my uniform, Sir.’

I’m trying not to snigger at her sarcasm. The teacher rolls his eyes, but there’s a hint of a smile there, I think. I can tell Talia is going to be a good person to have on my side. She’s a bit different, but she seems to manage it OK and people seem to like her, or she knows how to ignore the ones who don’t. I wonder if she can teach me to do that too. That would be a very useful superpower to have! The teacher turns his attention to me. ‘And you are?’

‘Ellie,’ I reply.

‘Well, you look like you belong here – great first day effort, Ellie,’ and he smiles, before directing me to the hall, where he says all the year sevens are to start the day.

To be honest with you, I’m still not sure where I belong, but I’ve an idea I might belong somewhere and this feels like a good start.

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Back in Time for Tea

Chapter 12

We had a quiet few days after the drama of June’s rescue. Gran keeps telling me to rest and take it easy, while she herself is all of a flutter. She switches between insisting we sit and watch films together, to bringing me drinks, to fretting about everything from my health, Mum’s recovery and impending arrival and whether I like the flavour of ice lollies she keeps bringing me from the freezer, ‘To cool your throat, after the fire.’ I can’t decide if being Gran’s patient is nice or stifling.

One morning, when Gran can’t seem to focus on the film we’re watching, I press ‘pause’ and ask her, ‘Are you absolutely sure that June’s OK?’

‘I’ve told you,’ she replies, almost snapping at me. ‘June is OK.’

She’s half way to the kitchen as she says the last part. Gran never snaps at me! Either I’ve asked the wrong question or… or she’s not sure either! I want to ask how she can be so sure, but since I don’t believe she is sure and since I’m a bit hurt by her cross tone, I don’t push it. I might have done once. Old Ellie probably would have gone after an answer, not knowing when or where to stop, but new Ellie knows better. Instead I say,

‘Sorry, Gran.’ It’s not what I want to say, but it feels good anyway. There’s a bit of crashing in the kitchen, rattling of tea cups and, yes, there she goes again, opening of the freezer door to fetch me another ice lolly. I’d like to tell her to give over with the frozen treats, but now is not the time. After a few minutes, she comes back into the room, tea cup and ice lolly on a tray. She hands me the lolly, sits down with the cup of tea and says,

‘I’m sorry too, Ellie. I can’t seem to relax. It will be better when your mum’s here, won’t it, and we’ve something else to think about? I think the past few weeks are catching up with me.’

I nod, although I don’t think poor Mum is going to solve our problems. I wish Gran would admit that she’s still worried about June. I wish she’d let me out of her sight so I could slip out to the park and see if I can find any clues. Not a chance of that, though, not with the mood she’s in. We go back to watching the film. It’s about some children who live by a railway. Gran says it’s one of her favourites and that it will make me cry towards the end. Neither of us are really watching it though, so I have a feeling that maybe it won’t. We’re both busy not watching the film, when I hear the post. I get up to fetch it. There’s something that looks like a bill, a leaflet about pizza delivery and a letter that catches my eye.

‘Gran,’ I call, as I walk through the hall way, ‘do you know anybody in Canada?’

‘Cana – no, why?’

‘You’ve got a letter with Canadian stamps on.’ One of them has a picture of a baby bear, climbing over a tree branch. It’s very sweet. I hand her the letter. Gran examines it, as if she’s trying to work out who it’s from. She studies the back and front, the stamp and the post mark.

‘No idea,’ she says before putting it down on the table and picking up the pizza leaflet.

‘Er, Gran, aren’t you going to open it?’ I laugh, for the first time in days. Gran looks surprised and then laughs too.

‘Oh yes – silly me.’ She opens the letter and begins to read it. On the screen in the background, three children are waving red cloths at a steam engine, but nobody really notices them. Gran’s eyes are on the letter and mine are drawn to Gran. I was half-watching the film but then Gran made that choking noise she does when she’s in shock. I’m hoping it’s not bad news, but Gran doesn’t say anything, apart from a whispered, ‘Goodness me!’ I wait for her to finish. It won’t be about anyone I know, anyway. Then she hands me the letter and says, ‘You’d better read this.’

‘Dear Lilian,’ begins the letter. ‘I am sending this letter in the hope that it will find you, that you are well and that you can forgive me for leaving it so long to write to you. You see, I have thought about you for many years and wondered how you were but I had no way of contacting you. Now, however, I am getting on in years and find that I have little time or enthusiasm for leaving things unsaid and undone. This letter is my apology and update and I hope with all my heart that you will accept it as such.

‘I had some trouble tracking you down over the years. Well, to be honest, I tried only once. I sent a letter to the last place I saw you, but I gather it is no longer there, since my letter came back to me with, ‘address unknown’ on the envelope. I drew a blank after that and I began to fear the worst. However, I have recently been talking to my grandson about the past – he’s been tracing the family tree, you know – and he told me there were ways of finding people now, using the Internet and such. I didn’t think such a thing would be possible, as you may well have married and changed your name, but he says that’s no object if you know where to look. I should add my congratulations on your wedding, by the way, although I am many, many years too late.’

I stop reading and look at Gran. ‘Is this from-‘

‘Keep reading,’ she says.

‘I don’t know if you will remember me clearly – you were just a little girl – but I have fond memories of the time I spent with you on the farm and I’m sorry I never got to say goodbye. After the fire, everything was such a rush. There was the stay in hospital and then I don’t think Aunty Doris would have me back. I suppose I can’t blame her, although I was pretty cross about it at the time. I seem to remember I was pretty cross about most things, back then. I don’t know if you ever heard, but they tried to find my mum and there was no trace of her. Our street got hit by a German rocket – Doodlebug, I think – and they think she might have been caught up in it. They didn’t tell me that at first. I suppose they thought it was too much for me to take in. Anyway, I was passed from pillar to post for a bit. I don’t have many happy memories from that part of my life.

‘After the war though, I was selected for an overseas adoption programme. I was sent all the way to Canada, would you believe? I wound up in British Columbia, in a little town called Clearwater. I was one of the lucky ones and, for the first time in my life, I was able to learn what it’s like to be truly loved. My adoptive family were good people, Lillian, and I was able to turn my life around. I tried very hard to forget that I was ever an unhappy little English girl who once tried to burn down a barn. I’m an old lady now, though, and I find myself looking back on the past and thinking perhaps I’d better make peace with it.

‘Lillian, if you remember me at all, I would love to hear from you and just know that you are alright and had a good life. You can write to me at the address above if you like.

‘One last thing and I hope you don’t think me odd, but do you remember that funny little girl who used to come and see us on the farm? It feels strange to talk about her now. Sometimes I think I must have imagined her…’

I stop reading and look at Gran. I point to my chest, unable to get any words out. Gran has tears in her eyes, but she’s smiling too. She nods. ‘Go on,’ she says.

‘…but I’m pretty sure we saw her together. I’m not sure if you remember my odd little episodes and I’m reluctant to talk about them too much, in case you don’t and decide that I’m even more strange than you remembered. Anyway, I stopped having them after the fire, but I never forgot them altogether, or that little girl. I wonder what she’s doing now?

‘Anyway, the past is an awfully long time ago, don’t you think? For now, I’d like to wish you well and to urge you to write to me if you have the time and inclination.

‘Yours,

‘June Thompson (formerly June Buckle)’

‘So she…’ I begin, but I just don’t know what to say.

‘She lived,’ says Gran. ‘You saved her, Ellie. You did it – you got back in time.’

‘More than once,’ I say. Gran laughs at my joke and suddenly I have the strangest sensation. It’s not like a time travelling sensation, in fact it’s completely different. It’s the opposite, somehow. It’s like – it’s like I’m rooted to the spot and I’m…I’m here. I’m right here, right now, and it feels good. It feels very good. I feel as if I’m bubbling over and I can’t sit still. I hop up and down a bit, making Gran laugh even more, and then I throw my arms around her. ‘I’m in the right place,’ I whisper into her ear and Gran says,

‘More than once, Ellie,’ and I’m honestly the happiest I’ve ever been.

Back in Time for Tea

Chapter11 (Edit)

When I regain consciousness, I am lying on the ground at the park. Someone is crouching beside me and they’re saying something, but I can’t understand it.

‘Gran,’ I try to say but my voice is a mere wheeze and my lungs and my throat hurt, just for trying.

Then the voice again. It isn’t Gran. I open my eyes and immediately blink them shut again. The pain is excruciating. I feel as if I have a thousand flecks of dust in them.

‘Hello?’ the voice says again. I must be more ‘here’ than ‘there’ now. As I can understand it now. ‘Hello? Are you OK? Can I help?’ I open my eyes just the smallest amount. There’s a girl there. She’s not Gran and she’s not June. June! I try to push myself up onto my elbows. I need to find out what happened to June! The girl puts her hand on my shoulder, steadying me and holding me back, I think. ‘Easy now,’ she says. ‘You look like you’ve been in the wars.’ In spite of everything, this prompts a small smile from me. If only she knew! ‘That’s a bit better,’ she says. ‘Look, I don’t know what happened to you, but you were lying on the floor and I saw you as I walked past.’

‘There was a fire,’ I croak out. ‘I got out, but my friend-‘

‘A fire?’ the girl sounds shocked. I find I can open my eyes a little more now, so I take a good look. She’s a bit older than me. She has died black hair, with purple streaks in it. Her clothing is black, despite the warm weather, and she wears a black choker and dark red lipstick. She looks kind of cool and edgy, I think, whereas I look…a state. ‘A fire?’ she asks again. ‘Where?’ She looks around, as if trying to detect a mysteriously hidden inferno. I decide to change the subject; this could get awkward.

‘I need my Gran,’ I tell her.

‘Do you know where she is?’

‘Home,’ I’m not coming over too well here, I know, but you try talking to someone when you’ve just fallen out of a burning barn and the past. I’d like to see you try! Just as I’m trying to think of a way to sound less like doofus, I hear the gate squeak and in comes Gran, almost at a run. As much at a run as Gran can do, anyway.

‘Ellie!’ she calls.

‘I found here like this,’ says the other girl. ‘She’s been asking for her Gran. Are you…?’

‘Yes,’ Gran replies. ‘Thank you so much for keeping an eye on her. I got here as quickly as I could.’

How on earth did she know, I wonder?

‘You’re welcome,’ says the girl. ‘Is there anything more I can do for you?’

‘No, I think we’re – actually, could you help me get her to her feet? If you wouldn’t mind?’

The girl nods and drags me upwards. This is neither comfortable nor dignified. I have to hope we never meet again. Then again, she is kind and didn’t even flinch at touching dirty old me.

‘Thank you,’ says Gran to the girl. ‘Thank you, I can manage from here.’

The girl nods, gives me a smile and a wave, and leaves the park. Gran helps me to walk, fussing over me an awful lot. She suggests calling an ambulance but I shake my head. I’m not burned. I have sore eyes, a dry mouth, stiff limbs and I look a sight, but I’m pretty certain I’m OK. Gran fusses for most of the way home. Then she sits me carefully in a chair and brings me a cold drink of water. I’ve never wanted anything more in my life!

‘Now sip that – no gulping!’ she instructs, and watches me carefully to make sure I comply. When the last of the water is drained, Gran throws her arms around me and sobs. I will not get used to this, I think: Gran crying. ‘Oh Ellie,’ I can’t believe the danger I put you in! There must have been another way! How are you? Are you all right? What happened? Tell me everything! No – don’t rush – go carefully. Tell me exactly what happened.’

I manage a smile at Gran’s eagerness mixed up with her concern. Then I tell her everything. I tell her about how pushing June out of the way didn’t work. How it just brought us back – or forward – to the park. I told her how Lilian came with me one time. Gran nods, as if she remembers that. Perhaps she does, I think. After all, it happened. Then I tell her how I forgot her the second time, so she’s still in the henhouse. She touches my arm, by way of reassuring me that this is alright, that she doesn’t mind being left behind. In the henhouse was where she remembered being, anyway. I tell her about my solving the mystery of her telling me to be, ‘back in time for tea,’ and she looks surprised.

‘Why did you say that, Gran? Why didn’t you just tell me what to do?’

‘I didn’t know,’ is her reply. ‘I just thought maybe…maybe we needed more help, you and I. Maybe it would work if we could get the adults in on it, but you were gone too fast for me to elaborate. It wasn’t really a plan, Ellie, just an idea – half an idea, really. You were brilliant to work it out like that.’

I smile, feeling kind of brilliant for a moment, but then my story turns to June, the matches and the barn. I think she got out OK, I tell Gran. I think Billy saved her. I want to go back and check now, but Gran is adamant that this won’t be happening – not today, at any rate. Then, for the first time since I arrived at Gran’s, I burst into tears. I sob and sob. I’m crying for exhaustion, for June, for not being able to tell Gran for sure if I did the one things she’s been waiting for all these years. Eventually, between sobs I manage, ‘I don’t know if Billy did save her, Gran. I don’t know for sure.’

‘He didn’t,’ says Gran. ‘Billy didn’t save June, Ellie: you did.’

‘How do you know, Gran?’ I plead. ‘I didn’t stay for long enough to find out.’ I hang my head. I am ashamed and afraid. In answer, Gran hands me an envelope. I look at her and she nods, so I take it and turn it over in my hands. On the front is Gran’s address and a foreign stamp. I peer at it closely, my eyes still smarting from the smoke. ‘Canada?’ I ask.

‘Oh, open it!’ says Gran, and she’s almost bobbing up and down with excitement. The envelope has been opened already. I take out the letter, which is on thin blue paper, unfold it and begin to read.

Back in Time for Tea

Chapter11

When I regain consciousness I am lying on the ground at the park. Someone is crouching beside me and they’re saying something, but I can’t understand it.

‘Gran,’ I try to say but my voice is a mere wheeze and my lungs and my throat hurt, just for trying.

Then the voice again. It isn’t Gran. I open my eyes and immediately blink them shut again. The pain is excruciating. I feel as if I have a thousand flecks of dust in them.

‘Hello?’ the voice says again. I must be more ‘here’ than ‘there’ now. As I can understand it now. ‘Hello? Are you OK? Can I help?’ I open my eyes just the smallest amount. There’s a girl there. She’s not Gran and she’s not June. June! I try to push myself up onto my elbows. I need to find out what happened to June! The girl puts her hand on my shoulder, steadying me and holding me back, I think. ‘Easy now,’ she says. ‘You look like you’ve been in the wars.’ In spite of everything, this prompts a small smile from me. If only she knew! ‘That’s a bit better,’ she says. ‘Look, I don’t know what happened to you, but you were lying on the floor and I saw you as I walked past.’

‘There was a fire,’ I croak out. ‘I got out, but my friend-‘

‘A fire?’ the girl sounds shocked. I find I can open my eyes a little more now, so I take a good look. She’s a bit older than me. She has died black hair, with purple streaks in it. Her clothing is black, despite the warm weather, and she wears a black choker and dark red lipstick. She looks kind of cool and edgy, I think, whereas I look…a state. ‘A fire?’ she asks again. ‘Where?’ She looks around, as if trying to detect a mysteriously hidden inferno. I decide to change the subject; this could get awkward.

‘I need my Gran,’ I tell her.

‘Do you know where she is?’

‘Home,’ I’m not coming over too well here, I know, but you try talking to someone when you’ve just fallen out of a burning barn and the past. I’d like to see you try! Just as I’m trying to think of a way to sound less like doofus, I hear the gate squeak and in comes Gran, almost at a run. As much at a run as Gran can do, anyway.

‘Ellie!’ she calls.

‘I found here like this,’ says the other girl. ‘She’s been asking for her Gran. Are you…?’

‘Yes,’ Gran replies. ‘Thank you so much for keeping an eye on her. I got here as quickly as I could.’

How on earth did she know, I wonder?

‘You’re welcome,’ says the girl. ‘Is there anything more I can do for you?’

‘No, I think we’re – actually, could you help me get her to her feet? If you wouldn’t mind?’

The girl nods and drags me upwards. This is neither comfortable nor dignified. I have to hope we never meet again. Then again, she is kind and didn’t even flinch at touching dirty old me.

‘Thank you,’ says Gran to the girl. ‘Thank you, I can manage from here.’

The girl nods, gives me a smile and a wave, and leaves the park. Gran helps me to walk, fussing over me an awful lot. She suggests calling an ambulance but I shake my head. I’m not burned. I have sore eyes, a dry mouth, stiff limbs and I look a sight, but I’m pretty certain I’m OK. Gran fusses for most of the way home. Then she sits me carefully in a  chair and brings me a cold drink of water. I’ve never wanted anything more in my life!

‘Now sip that – no gulping!’ she instructs, and watches me carefully to make sure I comply. When the last of the water is drained, Gran throws her arms around me and sobs. I will not get used to this, I think: Gran crying. ‘Oh Ellie,’ I can’t believe the danger I put you in! There must have been another way! How are you? Are you all right? What happened? Tell me everything! No – don’t rush – go carefully. Tell me exactly what happened.’

I manage a smile at Gran’s eagerness mixed up with her concern. Then I tell her everything. I tell her about how pushing June out of the way didn’t work. How it just brought us back – or forward – to the park. I told her how Lilian came with me one time. Gran nods, as if she remembers that. Perhaps she does, I think. After all, it happened. Then I tell her how I forgot her the second time, so she’s still in the henhouse. She touches my arm, by way of reassuring me that this is alright, that she doesn’t mind being left behind. In the henhouse was where she remembered being, anyway. I tell her about my solving the mystery of her telling me to be, ‘back in time for tea,’ and she looks surprised.

‘Why did you say that, Gran? Why didn’t you just tell me what to do?’

‘I didn’t know,’ is her reply. ‘I just thought maybe…maybe we needed more help, you and I. Maybe it would work if we could get the adults in on it, but you were gone too fast for me to elaborate. It wasn’t really a plan, Ellie, just an idea – half an idea, really. You were brilliant to work it out like that.’

I smile, feeling kind of brilliant for a moment, but then my story turns to June, the matches and the barn. I think she got out OK, I tell Gran. I think Billy saved her. I want to go back and check now, but Gran is adamant that this won’t be happening – not today, at any rate. Then, for the first time since I arrived at Gran’s, I burst into tears. I sob and sob. I’m crying for exhaustion, for June, for not being able to tell Gran for sure if I did the one things she’s been waiting for all these years. Eventually, between sobs I manage, ‘I don’t know if Billy did save her, Gran. I don’t know for sure.’

‘He didn’t,’ says Gran. ‘Billy didn’t save June, Ellie: you did.’

Back in Time for Tea

Chapter 10

My fall through the tunnel is slower this time: I know what to do. Closing my eyes tight, trying to ignore the pain that I think I am almost getting used to, I picture June. In the next moment, I hit the ground. I feel queasy, but I’m not going to throw up, I note with some relief. I’m getting good at this. Looking around I see that I am once more on the farm but, yet again, not in the right part of it. This time I’m by the hen house. I know the way from here, so I sprint on. Moments later I realise I forgot to go and get Lilian. I could kick myself but there’s no time for that and no time to go back. I have to get to the barn. I have to stop June lighting that match.

I reach the barn and stop sharply. I know what I have to do, I think, but not how. Last time I tried simply bowling June out of the way – averting disaster by force – but it didn’t work, did it? I simply launched us both into my time and now look: here we are again, facing the same old problem. We can’t keep doing this for seventy or more years! For one thing, it would get boring. For another, it won’t actually stop it. We’ll just keep doing it over and over and maybe one time I’ll be too late – too long in the tunnel or whatever it is, too far away with my inexpert landing. Then what will this all be for? For nothing – it’ll all be for nothing and I’ll just be some weird kid, falling through time for a dead kid. I’m not doing that!

Think! I tell myself, think! I try to remember what Gran said, whilst being careful not to picture her too closely. I don’t want to time travel just yet. I’d be stuck there with no June to get me back. So what did she say to me? ‘There’s hope,’ I recall and, ‘Go and make this thing right!’ I’m trying, Gran, I’m trying! Anything else? Just then I recall a rather odd thing she said to me as I left the house, ‘One more thing, Ellie – be back in time for tea!’

Yes, that was it. It was an odd thing to say because my dinner going cold was the last thing on my mind and it seemed strange that Gran was worried about it, given the serious nature of my task. What if she didn’t mean it like that? What if it was a clue? What if there was something Gran regretted not doing all those years ago and she wants me to do it now? I wish she’d been more clear about it, but maybe she only thought of it at the last minute and I was out of that front door like a rocket…

‘Back in time for tea,’ I turn the words over in my mind. I am back in time – I did that part. What about the tea? The tea! Suddenly I think I might have it! June’s job was to take the tea trolley out to the workers. Did Gran think maybe they could have helped? I don’t know, but I mean to try. I run towards the farmhouse and get there just in time to see a frazzled Aunty Doris leaving with the tea trolley, heading for the fields. I run to her, waving my arms.

‘Aunty Doris! Aunty Doris!’ I call out. I’m right in front of her but there’s no reaction from her – none at all. Of course – I’m such a plum – she can’t see me, she can’t hear me. This is a terrible plan! I trot along beside her, trying to come up with a better idea. Aunty Doris is surprisingly fast, given that she’s pushing a laden trolley, but then, I think, June can manage it and she’s strong, but only small. That’s when I think of my next big idea. I follow her to the edge of the field and watch her holler over the gate to the workers. While her back is turned, I shove the trolley and, yes, it’s lighter than it looks and the whole thing goes over easily, teapot spilling hot tea onto the ground, cups either smashing or rolling around in the dirt. I feel briefly bad about how this might set them back, what with rationing, but then I’m trying to save a life, so maybe it’s OK.

Aunty Doris turns around immediately and exclaims at the state of things. The workers are already making their way over and, at her cries, a few of them quicken their pace. The one I recognise as Billy gets there first.

‘Oh, Mrs Meers, what happened? You hit a stone there?’

‘No!’ replies Aunty Doris in protest. ‘I don’t know what happened, but I’ve lost that June – again – and now the tea’s spilled everywhere and, oh, just look at the state of this!’

‘Tell you what,’ says another, ‘You go and make another pot, I’ll help you carry it, Billy will track down June and see what scrapes she’s got herself into this time, you alright with that, Bill?’ Billy nods. ‘Rest of us’ll keep at it here for a few more minutes. You know what they say: no use crying over spilt milk.’

Billy sets off in the direction of the barn, thank goodness, and I tag along, my invisible self wishing he’d hurry up a little. We reach the barn and Billy calls out,

‘June! Miss Junie! Come out now.’

I sigh and pull at face at him, not that he knows it. That’s not going to work! I should think he does know that but maybe he’s giving her a chance or something. As I sigh, something catches in my throat on the intake of breath. I cough – silently, for all Billy knows – and glance at him. He’s sniffing the air and I know why: there’s a hint of smoke in it. He says something I won’t repeat here and runs at the barn. He opens the door a crack, which is probably a mistake as that lets in not just the light but a rush of oxygen, fanning the small flames higher. On the other hand, it lets out Freddy, Beryl and Ida.

‘What -?’ Billy begins, but even he now knows there’s no time. He pulls his shirt up over his mouth and nose and rushes in, while the Others wildly rush away, all disheveled. The flames are getting higher now and I realise Billy doesn’t know June’s hiding place. It would probably be obvious, but for the thickening smoke in there. If only he’d look by the bales and the tractor, I think. The tractor! I have no idea if there’s any fuel left in that thing but even the tiniest amount could make this whole thing a whole lot more dangerous than it is already. Can shadows and time travellers be hurt in a blaze? Can they breathe in smoke? There’s no time to think it through, I rush in and immediately drop to the ground, remembering something I once saw on a disaster movie, about that being the place with the most air to breathe in a smoky room. I crawl forwards as fast as I can, reach the hay bales and grab for June. My hand touches her arm but she’s unresponsive. She’s either paralysed by fear or overcome by the smoke. I kick a hay bale to one side, to make a better exit for her and try to drag her towards me. My eyes are smarting now and it’s getting harder to breathe. Danger must be like food to a time traveller: you can experience it. June feels heavy and I feel like I’ve no strength left but I must go on.

Suddenly, an arm reaches in and grabs hold of June. It must be Billy’s arm. Perhaps he saw or felt the hay bale move. I might have helped, might have done something useful! In seconds she’s over his shoulder and Billy is leaving the barn which leaves just me, seventy odd years from home and alone in a  burning barn that could explode at any minute. I am about to give up hope when I remember the one thing that can get me out of here alive: Gran. I picture her as clearly as I can: her white hair, her glasses her kindly smile. There’s a rushing sound in my ears, whether of the cogs of time travel or the flames blazing around me, I couldn’t tell, and before I can investigate, I lose consciousness.

Back in Time for Tea

Chapter 9

I race to the park as fast as I can. I’m desperately hoping June will be there and, as I round the corner and reach the park, I see that I am in luck. June is there, on the swing as usual. I pull open the squeaky gate and rush in, calling, ‘June! June! I’ve found out!’ She looks up from the swing as I arrive. No cuts and bruises this time, I note. This is good, this is very good: we are in time. ‘I’ve spoken to Gra- Lillian, and I know…I think I know how to stop it!’

‘Stop what?’ she asks. I have no idea how she can be so ignorant of her own actions, but then perhaps this is one of the times when it hasn’t happened yet and this version of her doesn’t remember it. I’ve no time to stop and think if that’s even possible, so I drop the thought for now.

‘The barn – the Others! June, I think I know how we can stop them!’

June tilts her head slightly and seems to narrow her eyes. Out of the corner of my eye, I see her hand slip carefully to her pocket. ‘No need,’ she says, so matter of fact that I am almost blown away by it. ‘I already know what to do.’

Not for the first time, I am completely baffled by this girl. I turn my gaze to her pocket, where her hand appears to be gripping something. She sees this, shifts uncomfortably on the swing seat for a moment and looks – she looks guilty, I think.

‘June,’ I ask her, still looking at her pocket, ‘What have you got there?’

‘What have I got?’ she asks, airily, a little too airily if you ask me. ‘I ain’t got nothing.’ I am still looking and she knows this. ‘What I’ve got is a handful of none of your business, alright? I’ve worked it out and I know what to do. Now stop asking me questions; you’re no better’n the Others, sticking your nose in where it don’t belong!’

This hurts! I’m trying to help her – to save her, possibly even save her life and I am NOT like the others. I lunge for her on the swing. In the back of my mind is the thought that this is exactly what the Others would do and I’m angry with her and with myself for this. I’m proving her right and yet it doesn’t feel like my fault. As I lunge forward, there’s a crack in the air, as if the atmosphere between us is being sliced in two. June disappears and I think I will be left behind. I’ve no time to think about it though, as I feel a sudden pain in my fingers – as if they too are being sliced. I push myself forwards, almost as if trying to hold onto my own fingers. I honestly feel as if I’m going to lose them! There is a deafening noise, I feel like I’m going to be sick and then everything goes very dark. I feel as if I am falling and the feeling persists, longer than usual. Usually I fall to the ground and land in the past. This time I feel as if I am falling through a dark tunnel. I can hear the usual grinding noises but they are muffled – just as if I am underground, I think. I have no idea where I am, or where I am going. The falling sensation continues and I am frightened that it will never end. Usually I fall backwards through time with June as my guide and this time she has gone ahead without me. My fingers are still sore, but it’s too dark to inspect them for damage. That’s when I realise: I did fall with June!

I remember that as I lunged forward towards her on the swing, my fingers brushed against her arm and that was the moment she left. Something about my touching a travelling June must have made me travel too, but she went ahead without me and now I am without my guide. I am lost in time! I try to call out, to locate her, but my voice is muffled. It’s like one of those bad dreams, where you want to call out in your sleep but your mouth feels stuffed with cotton wool, or dirt. I know I need to find her, more than than anything. I shut my eyes tight – a bit pointless in the pitch black, I know, but it helps me to concentrate – and think of June. I picture her with her mousey hair and her scruffy dress. I picture her scowling face and make the images so vivid they feel real. As I do so, I feel my fall slowing, my ears fill up with noise and I land with a, ‘bump!’ on the ground. My head feels as if it is spinning and my eyes refuse to focus for a moment. I roll over slightly and vomit onto the ground. This feels utterly disgusting but it does seem to get the job done: a few moments more and my vision clears. Carefully, I stand up, and look about me, trying to ignore the small patch of sick by my left foot. I am not sure where I am, to start with, and a feeling of panic grips me, as I begin to think I have landed in the wrong place, possibly even in the wrong time. I force myself to be calm and to look about again. There is a washing line in front of me, cotton frocks and shirts flapping in the light summer breeze. ‘Aunty Doris’s washing line!’ I say out loud. So I have landed on the farm – just not in the barn. I should be able to find it from here, I think. I head off in one direction but then stop. I need Lillian. I need to find Lillian! I run towards the farmhouse and peer in the back door. Nobody can see me, after all. There’s no sign of Lillian in there. Perhaps she’s at the barn. I start to head that way, then I remember what Gran said,

‘I ran for the hen house…’

This is where I need to go. I run as fast as I can, reach the hen house, wrench open the wire door and almost tumble inside.

‘Lillian!’ I hiss. No answer. I call again, a little louder. Again there’s no answer, but I listen carefully and hear what sounds like a muffled sob. I peer to one side and can just about make out the shape of a little girl, huddled in a corner, hiding her face behind her folded arms. ‘Lillian, I need you!’ my voice is urgent. I’m not sure why I need her: perhaps because she’s Gran, although she doesn’t know that, of course.

She looks up, her arms sinking down by her sides and I can see, now my eyes are adjusting to the dim light, that her usually clean face is streaked with tears and dirt. I reach out a hand and she takes it. I wince slightly, at the touch of her hand on my sore fingers, but there appears to be no visible damage to them. They must have just got caught in the time vortex, or whatever it is I fell into.

‘I’m frightened, Ellie,’ she says, her voice small.

‘I know,’ I say, trying to make my own voice sound as calm and as brave as possible. ‘They’ve got her, haven’t they?’ She nods. ‘What did you see this time?’ Lillian shrugs and looks away, but I’ve got her on this one, I think. I know what she saw! I check it, in case Gran’s memories became muddled over the years. ‘You saw Freddie, Ida and Beryl taunting June, yes? Freddy had a stick and he was going to hit her – hit June – but she got him first, he fell forwards and they had a fight, yes? That’s what you saw.’

Lillian’s eyes are wide in her small face. ‘How did you-‘ she begins.

‘Never mind,’ I reply. ‘No time for that now. We need to stop it!’

Before she can protest, I run off, pulling her behind me. We reach the barn, out of breath and I burst in, just in time to see June in the middle of a wary semi-circle of the others. Freddy has one hand to his cheek, presumably nursing a blow from June. The girls are standing stock still. I motion for Lillian to stand by the door and creep over to one side, so I can see their faces. I am almost crawling along, making full use of some hay bales as cover. I know the Others can’t see me but I’m not sure if June should see me yet. Peering cautiously through the tiny gap between two of the bale, I see Beryl’s and Ida’s faces. They are mirroring each other’s expression, which is one of open-mouthed terror. I follow their gaze to June and realise what it is that has rooted them to the spot with fear. June is holding a box of matches in front of her, her left hand holding the box and her right hand holding a match, as if preparing to strike it. I am horrified! Either she has no idea how flammable a circle of hay bales is, or she simply does not care.

‘Take one more step and I’ll do it!’ she calls. There is a note of triumph in her voice but also something else, I think: fear. This must be what she had in her pocket at the park: the matches. She was right about knowing how to stop it, in a way. She’s seized the power from Freddy, but she’s afraid of it, I think. Perhaps she does understand the danger. If Freddy knows that, I realise, she’s doomed. If he gambles on her not striking that match, he can make his move and overpower her. I think she knows this, judging by the look on her face. I’m not sure Freddy does. If he doesn’t realise, or if he gambles wrongly and she goes for it anyway, we’re all doomed.

The air in the barn is almost alive with tension and I remember what Gran said, about the feeling of electricity in the air and then I remember what she said about the fire. I feel as if the static in the air has flowed into me and I suddenly leap forward, knocking June to the ground and, as luck would have it, through time. In an instant, we are back in the park. June glares at me, fury in her eyes, and goes to hit me. I have stolen her moment and we both know it. I dodge the blow and slap her back – partly because I am annoyed with her and partly because I realise that we are in the wrong place and time. This won’t do at all and I need to get her back, and quickly. Just as I thought, June immediately puts as much distance between us as she can – seventy years of distance. There’s the now expected cracking noise as she leaves but I am ready for this. I am already reaching out and I feel my fingers brush against her arm. Trying to ignore the sudden searing pain, I roll forwards and after her or, at any rate, back into the tunnel.

Back in Time for Tea

Chapter 8

‘Gran,’ I say, with what I hope sounds like a brave and determined voice. ‘Gran, you have to help me. You have to help me save June.’ Gran looks at me, startled for a moment, as if she forgot I was there. Perhaps she was, in her own way, back in the past for a moment – back with June.

Gran produces a tissue from the sleeve of her cardigan and wipes her eyes, then blows her nose.

‘You know, Ellie, it is fair to say that I have waited over seventy years for this. I remember you coming to the farm in the War. I remember when you stopped coming and, all my life since, I’ve wondered who this strange child with, with her tales of, ‘my time,’ and the strange goings on there. Of course, when you were born and your mother named you, I wondered. I wondered if you were the one. As you grew older, I’d study your face and character for signs of that other Ellie, but it’s hard to match your grand-daughter with a memory from sixty or seventy years ago. Sometimes I’d think you reminded me of her, but then I’d find your likeness in old family photos and think perhaps you had the ‘family look’ about you. Then when you started having your ‘turns’, I became suspicious. Some of the things your mother described to me were familiar to me.’

‘Because you travelled, too? I ask.

‘Yes. I knew what it felt like. I wondered if perhaps it was an inherited trait. You know – some families inherit huge ears or fabulous cheekbones, while perhaps we inherit a predisposition to falling through time. There were others, you know.’

I raise my eyebrows in surprise. Why does nobody ever tell you this, I wonder? Surely it would be useful to know that you might one day fall over and land in the past – or future. ‘Who?’ I ask.

‘Well, nobody knows for sure, but there were stories about my grandmother. She disappeared, you know, when my mother was young – never seen again. Oh, there were stories and explanations: drowning, run off with a fancy man – that sort of thing – but there were other stories too and what with me, June and then you…I started wondering, you know?’

‘Is that why you brought me here?’ I ask. ‘To study me, or to see if I could save June?’

‘What?’ asks Gran, offended. ‘No! I brought you here because I love you and I was worried about you!’

‘Because of the time travelling?’

‘Because of the possibility that you might be, yes. Ellie, this isn’t an easy thing to talk about, unless you’re with another traveller. Nobody – absolutely nobody else understands. It’s not…’

‘Normal,’ I finish her sentence for her.

‘Well, quite. But here you are, my abnormal girl, and it seems we have a problem to solve. What can we do about it, do you think?’

‘Gran, I need you to come back with me. I need you to talk to June and talk her out of whatever it was that nearly killed her. It was something she did, wasn’t it? You know what she’s like! She’ll listen to you, Gran!’

Gran leans back in her chair and sighs. ‘Oh, Ellie, I can’t do that.’

‘Why?’ I ask ‘You could do it then – you can do it again now! You know where stuff is on the farm, you know what she did. I need you, Gran!’

‘Ellie, I stopped time travelling the day June disappeared and we all thought…we all thought that she’d died. I couldn’t do it again, or I would have done it before now. Besides which, how would I explain my presence to little Lillian? I’m not sure what the rules of time travel are, but I’m not sure you can go barging in on your own self. We need to think of another way.’

I had been pinning all my hopes on Gran coming back and sorting it all out for me, that I hadn’t thought beyond this plan. I slump in my chair, thinking that the whole thing is doomed, that I wish I’d never travelled back in time in the first place. Then at least I wouldn’t know there even was a problem! I’m cross with Gran, who sort of got me into this, I think, and I’m cross with June, for being stupid enough to do whatever it was she did to catapault herself through time for over half a century. That reminds me: June! It’s no good being cross with her, I think. I do know about her and I do need to save her, although I’m still not clear on what it is I’m saving her from.

‘Then I need to know everything, Gran. I need to know what happened on that day and on the day after and why you all thought she’d died. If I can get myself back to exactly the moment before she did whatever she did, maybe I can stop her, yeah?’

Gran nods. ‘I’ll tell you what I know, Ellie, but I warn you, it isn’t much and it may not be enough. Maybe it will help, though. Maybe we can work out the rest.’

I grit my teeth, hoping we have enough time left to solve the puzzle of June’s disappearance, before it’s too late and she’s gone for good. ‘Tell me what you know,’ I say.

‘June was always hiding out in that barn,’ says Gran. ‘She was either shirking her jobs around the farm, or avoiding Freddy, Beryl and Ida – the twins – or maybe a combination of both. Of course, the children soon found her out and would go and taunt her out of her hiding place. Freddy was all for dragging her out, at least to listen to him you’d think he was, but you know I think he was a little afraid of her. She was like a wild cat, that girl, and could she put up a fight? Oh, if she felt like it, that one could box your ears, scratch your face and knock you over into the dirt. She got into fights at school, mostly with the other evacuee children. Only once did she box Freddy and Aunty Doris gave her such a telling off for it that she never tried again. For his part, though, Freddy remembered the pain and the shame of being beaten by a girl younger and smaller than him and he was wary. Beryl and Ida fought with words, mostly. She never went for them. To be honest with you, I think she scorned them and they knew it and didn’t like it. I suppose nobody wanted to play second fiddle to this interloper, as they saw her and, in their different ways, they all wanted to get even with June.

‘That one day, though, Freddy and the girls came into the barn. I remember it very clearly, because I was in there too – or just outside, or very nearby, or-‘

‘The day you saw the same thing lots of times?’ I ask.

‘Yes, it must have been that, because I can remember it from different angles. The oddest thing, though, is that it was different each time. It wasn’t hugely different – there was always June in the barn, the children coming in and taunting her, an argument…but sometimes it ended in a fight and sometimes it ended before then. I can’t explain that, except maybe the times you were there, or I was in the barn, it played out differently. What do you think?’

‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘Yeah, maybe.’ Hope begins to fill me then, because I think that maybe we did influence things a little, Lillian and I. If we did it then, maybe we can do it again. I put this idea to Gran, who is enthusiastic.

‘Yes, maybe we can, Ellie. Good thinking! Where was I? The barn, yes. So this one day, Aunty Doris was going frantic over June disappearing, because she’d switched her jobs from egg collecting to taking the tea out to the farm workers in the field. This had been going about as well as anything could where June was involved and yet today she was nowhere to be seen and the tea was ready, stewing and in danger of going cold. I remember I said I’d go and get her – I was too small to manage to tea things myself, but I knew where she was and going to get her would be a welcome relief from Aunty Doris grumbling and crashing around because she was cross, I remember. So I ran out of the kitchen and over to the barn. When I got there – at least one of the times, anyway – the children had made it there before me and were standing in front of…I think it was hay bales we had there.’

‘Yes!’ I interrupt her. ‘Hay bales and a tractor!’

‘So it was!’ says Gran, amazed that I have seen it too, even though that’s the whole reason for our having this conversation. Still, I suppose it is odd that, in a way, I’ve seen it more recently. Perhaps it’s odd that I’ve seen it at all, but I think we’re way past caring about that. ‘Hay bales and a tractor,’ she continues. ‘I stood behind the children for a moment, wondering what would happen. I remember standing very still and quiet. There was a tension in the air in that barn that I was afraid to break. It was almost as if the air could crackle. Oh, Ellie, I’m not making any sense, am I? It was a long time ago and-‘

‘You’re making sense, Gran,’ I cut in. ‘Go on!’

Gran pauses again. I’m uncomfortably aware of how much time this is taking and how much time we don’t have. I don’t think she wants to tell me everything but I really, truly need to know. She sighs and continues, slowly, almost haltingly.

‘So there they were, and there I was and, somewhere, I assumed, there was June. Freddy called out to her and I remember looking at him then and he had a stick in his hand. I was fairly certain he meant to hit her with it, or perhaps he just had it by way of self-defence, but I wanted to protect her – to warn her.’ She stops again.

‘What did you call out?’ I ask.

‘That’s just it, Ellie. Nothing. I called out nothing. I could have warned her, I could have stepped in – I could have done something and I did nothing. Oh, Ellie, I’m so ashamed. I was ashamed then and I’ve been ashamed ever since.’

‘So, did he hit her?’

‘No.He didn’t have time, as it turned out. I was still watching him, standing silently behind the three of him when I saw him lean forward, over the hay bales – I remember them clearly now.’ Gran pauses again. I want her to tell me more but I can see this is difficult for her. What I can’t tell is if she’s struggling to remember, or struggling to forget. ‘He leaned forward – I think he was planning to seize hold of her and drag her out, you know? But she was too quick for him, our June. She’d been watching him like a hawk, of course, and she was ready for him. She reached out her hand and grabbed hold of him – by his hair, I think. I remember he hollered in pain. Then she sort of stood up and tumbled him into the hay bales. It was almost comical, just for a moment: the sight of that big, silly boy, falling head first into the hay, with his shorts and sandals sticking straight up in the air.’

‘What happened next? What did Beryl and Ida do?’

‘Oh, nothing at first. They were as taken aback as the rest of us, I suppose. June had the upper hand for a minute and then Freddy managed to roll and loose her grip on his hair. He was shouting about her pulling out his hair, she was shouting – I wouldn’t like to tell you what she said – and then the scuffle began.’ That must be when she got the cuts and bruises, I think. ‘Of course, she was tough, but he was bigger and stronger. He overpowered June and at that point I couldn’t bear to watch. I ran out of the barn.’

‘Were you going to find help?’ I ask, sure that my brave Gran was going to sort things out somehow.

Gran shakes her head. ‘I’m afraid not. I was scared and I wanted to escape, so I ran for the hen house. Oh, Ellie, if only I hadn’t. If only I’d been brave – sensible, even.’

So, what did happen? I wonder. Did Freddy beat her so badly they all thought she’d died? But that wouldn’t make sense, would it? There would be a body and no time travelling. Or did she get stuck in a loop of endless travel? No, that’s ridiculous – she kept going back to the barn. You can’t think someone’s dead if they keep reappearing, can you?

‘What happened, Gran? What happened?’

There is another pause I can’t afford and then Gran says, so quietly I’m not sure I hear her right, ‘Fire.’ I lean in, trying to catch her words and she says it again, this time more clearly, ‘There was a fire, Ellie – a fire in the barn. It went up in flames so quickly, they said. I suppose the hay and the wooden walls and everything – it was like a tinder box. Freddy, Ida and Beryl got out, somehow. Everything was in chaos – there were people looking for me, thinking I’d perished in the fire, when really I was in my coward’s retreat, unaware of the drama unfolding a short distance away.’

‘And June?’ I ask, although I think I know the answer.

‘We never saw her again. The barn was razed to the ground, along with everything in it and, we all thought, June.’

‘But I’m still seeing her, so there’s hope, right?’

‘Yes, there’s hope. Maybe not much, but there’s a chance…oh, Ellie, if there’s a chance, we have to take it!’

I nod. I am going to take that chance, I know I am. I am going to save June and I am going to stop Gran from thinking it was all her fault and I am… completely clueless as to how I’m going to do all of this. While I’m thinking, Gran places her hands either side of my face and says, ‘Go, Ellie – go and make this thing right. Neither of us know how but just go.’ She lets go and I get up, and run out of the room and towards the front door. As I’m about to shut the door behind me she calls out, ‘Ellie!’ I turn around and look back at my Gran, now looking small and old in the hallway. ‘One last thing – be back in time for tea!’