Hey there! I know I said I was going to back down to one regular post and one Fun Fact Friday per week but I really wanted to share my short story. I’d love to know what you think!
Here’s the first short story I submitted for my Creative Writing class.
I hope you like it!
As I Went Walking
I don’t remember if I said goodbye to my mother, the last time I saw her. Or if I told her I loved her. I had no indication that it would be the last time we’d see one another. Why would I? We were both healthy and happy with years ahead. Then again, my father had been much the same. Damnable pneumonia. I do remember what she was wearing, a navy dress with beige hose and a string of pearls. I loved those pearls. I’d never seen my mother without them. Even on Christmas morning when she wore a house coat over her dressing gown. Those pearls were as much a part of my mother as were her hands, or her feet. Mother had her hair pinned up in a knot at the base of her skull that would have seemed matronly on anyone else. On my mother, it looked effortless. I spent so much of my life aspiring to emulate that kind of effortlessness that I oftentimes forgot to be my own person.
My home was a cozy, two bedroom flat, located on the second floor of a four-story building on Hopkins street, just down the way from the Prince Edward Theater. Father proposed to my mother in the field where the theater now stood. Mother said it had been a field full of wildflowers. My parents went there often enough to picnic. They were so sad when the land was paved over to make way for that theater. They didn’t stop having picnics though. The pair merely relocated, moving instead to have their picnics in Hyde Park. It was a fair bit more crowded, especially on a nice day, than their field had been, but they made do. My parents had all the enthusiasm of a pair of newlyweds for the entirety of their marriage. Their once very public displays of affection, which had disgusted me as a child, were now sorely missed.
I also remember what the weather was like on that fateful day. It was a clear, and crisp. One might say it was unseasonably brisk considering autumn had yet to begin. I took a deep breath and inhaled the stink of the city like one might a bouquet of flowers. God, I loved the stink. Added to it was the smell of freshly fallen rain, which unlocked a deeper, older stink emanating from the city’s sewers. And the noise. The city was alive in a way that my grandparent’s home in the country was not. Yes, I could see the stars at night, but so what? It was the city that made me feel alive like I was a part of some great organism that pulsed with the energy of a million Londoners.
On that day I did not make my bed or fold my nightgown as I usually did. I was in a hurry and figured there would be time for such a task later on. I did not kiss my mother goodbye or scratch the head of my beloved dog Winston. He was old by any standard, having been a gift to me when I was a small girl of four. Now his black-brown fur was tinged with gray and his eyes were clouded over. Not only was Winston near blind, but he had also gone completely deaf. A relic of a happier time. Back when my father was still alive. Back before that awful September afternoon.
I was in a hurry to meet my dear friend Mary. She worked at Harrods out on the East End and had just finished her shift. It was her birthday. Twenty years old. I promised I’d take her out to celebrate the momentous occasion. She was abandoning me for the world of adults, leaving me to be a teen all by my lonesome, but I did not resent her for it. I planned to use her as a guinea pig for all the activities I was still too ‘young’ to take part in. Mary would make all the mistakes and I would reap the rewards. It was a horrid thought to keep but I had always been an “impulsive little imp”. At least, that’s what my grandfather called me. I suppose he meant for his words to come out a little kinder, but grandfather was a veteran of the Great War. Grandmother said it made him harsher than he once was. Every time I see him these days he’s always raving about how the next Great War is just around the corner. I know we’re having trouble with the Germans, but I don’t see how it could get that bad again.
The wool of my coat kept out the worst of the wind, which bit at my cheeks, turning them pink with cold. It was the nicest thing I owned, that coat. A heavy, gray wool with wooden toggles to hold it closed. It even had a hood which I rarely used. Yes, it would keep my head warm, but at the cost of my neatly pinned hair. Much too high a cost, I once thought. I knew nothing of cost. Knew nothing of loss. I have that knowledge now, though I do not think myself better for it.
The walk through London to the West End was not a long one. I took Tottenham Court Road all the way to Oxford Street where all my favorite shops were located. The cobblestones kept me just a bit off center as for some reason, on that day I chose to wear heels. My mother said that they were naught but vanity and could hardly be called sensible footwear. I’ll admit, it was a streak of vanity. A vanity I would deeply regret.
I turned the corner and, even though I was still a block away, I could smell the wonderful things being made in our favorite restaurant. My mouth watered. I was more than ready to sink my teeth into some crispy fish and chips.
It was the buzzing that first alerted me to something being wrong. A buzzing of people gossiping up and down the street was one thing, but this was something else entirely; like the buzzing of a great many angry bees. The noise grew louder and soon I wasn’t alone in noticing the ruckus. People stopped in the street to look about, searching for the noise. In the distance, above the rooftops, I saw a plane appear. I knew nothing of planes so there was no way for me to know it wasn’t one of ours. Not until it was too late.
“Was the Royal Air Force scheduled for a demonstration today,” I asked a couple standing several feet ahead of me. Neither of them answered and, like the couple, I turned my eyes skyward. I looked just in time to see something fall from the plane, down behind the buildings to the next block over.
I was already on shaky ground what with the cobblestones and the vanity-heels, so the following detonation easily caused me to lose my balance. I realized several minutes later that’s what the falling object had been. A bomb, about to detonate. At the time it simply felt like the world had exploded around me. The ground shook and I fell to the ground, scraping my cheek as I hit the cobblestones. My ears rang something awful and for a few moments that’s all I could hear. A high pitched ringing that was the result of my protesting eardrums. It was then I realized what was happening. Grandfather had described it often enough. The ringing in one’s own ears after a resulting explosion. After a bomb had gone off too close to you. Was that really what was happening, I wondered to myself vaguely.
Despite the dusty air and the screams I felt oddly detached, like I was in a dream, or watching this play out from the safety of the cinema. As my hearing returned to me so, too, did the pain begin. I gasped, clutching at my ankle which was already beginning to swell. I swore a vicious oath to God that, should I recover, I would never wear heels again. I slipped the wretched things off my feet and attempted to stand. Putting weight on it seemed impossible at first, but I found the strength to eventually bring myself upright. More out of habit then sense, I shook out my now filthy skirts, doing little to relieve them of the grime with which they were now soiled.
The ground was cold beneath my feet, and my stockings were quickly saturated with water from that morning’s rainfall. The cold did wonders for the pain in my ankle, going so far as to temporarily relieve it and allowing me to take a few steps forward. In my mind, I wasn’t sure where I was going, but my feet seemed to have an idea so I allowed them to carry me hence. I came to a stop in front of the restaurant and stared blankly at the shattered windows. Inside people cried and moaned in agony, their skin shredded by the blown in glass.
Then came the Bobbies and the firemen in their respective cars and trucks, their sirens adding to the chaos that already filled the streets. Out they poured into the street, tending to the wounded and taking stock of the scene. I clutched at an officer as he passed.
“Please sir,” I cried. “What has happened? Who has done this thing?” His face held irritation for naught but a moment before he looked down and his eyes widened in horror.
“Lay down, lass.” He said, guiding me to sit on a bench before pushing me onto my back. “There’s a lass. Now don’t move. I’ll get help.” The officer positively fled from the bench where I lay, screaming for a doctor. I didn’t see what all the fuss was about until I tried to sit up. A sharp pain in my abdomen had me screaming, tears running down my face. I clutched at the flat of my stomach and found it to no longer be flat. An object was lodged there and, where the object ended and my dress began, my hand came away wet. I held it up in front of my face and saw it was red with blood.
“Goodness gracious,” I said faintly. In the distance, I could hear the buzzing return, followed by further explosions. Then the screaming escalated.
I looked up from my injury at the sound of my name and, to my greatest joy, I saw Mary running towards me. There was a run in her stocking and soot on her face but otherwise, she appeared to be in good health. I gave a sigh of relief followed immediately by a cry of pain as the muscles in my abdomen screamed in protest. Mary knelt by me and began sobbing into my shoulder.
“Jillian, they bombed your usual route, I thought for sure you’d died,” Mary managed in between her choked weeping. It occurred to me that she was right. I usually took Picadilly to Oxford as it was a shorter walk than Tottenham Court. Today I took the long way round so as to enjoy the smell of the premature Autumn air. That long-cut had saved my life, or so it would seem. Clutching at my stomach it was hard to forget that I was still in a rather precarious state.
“I’m afraid we shall have to postpone your birthday dinner,” I joked to Mary. She looked like she wanted to smack me, but thought better of it.
“You’re lucky your hurt or I’d give you a proper thrashing,” Mary threatened emptily.
Sirens once again filled the street and, before I knew it, I was being hoisted onto a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. Mary never left my side. Not that she had any choice. I gripped her hand with such strength as I never knew that I had up till now.
They gave me a shot of something or other. I didn’t know what but it made me feel quite at ease, despite the current situation. My last thought before I faded out was that I’d left my shoes behind.
I will always remember the seventh of September, 1940. The day the Blitz began.