Pelephant likes a story before he goes to sleep. I get him comfy on my pillow next to me and kiss his trunk. ‘I need a story’ he says, ‘or I am not going to sleep.’
I stroke his body and tell him to ‘Sshh!’ I say it gently, like mummy does, sometimes. ‘Once upon a time, there was a Pelephant who was very naughty.’ Pelephant likes this story; he closes his eyes and waits for the rest. He likes this story because he is very naughty but his mummy doesn’t get cross and she still loves him lots and lots at the end of the story.
I start to feel sleepy so I make sure that I am still sharing duvet with Pelephant before I close my eyes. ‘I love you, Pelephant,’ I whisper. He has already fallen asleep, so he doesn’t say anything.
I wake up…bump in the middle of the night. It has gone silent a little bit, so I am confused. Pelephant is on the floor and is cross with me. I feel around on the floor, but it’s hard because it’s so dark.
‘Don’t worry, Pelephant. Mummy is here.’
I know why I am awake now as I can hear them shouting. There is a dragging sound and then a smash. I hope it’s not my cup, the one with the rabbit on it. Last time daddy smashed my elephant moneybox. Pelephant was really cross with him because it was shaped like an elephant and it looked a lot like Pelephant.
My heart is doing the boom boom boom thing it does. There are swear words, lots of swear words. Mummy is frightened and angry and I know I need to go and rescue her. I don’t want to go downstairs, I am really scared, but if I don’t she might get really hurt or worse than that, and then I will think I should have saved her.
I put my little lamp on and pick up Pelephant. ‘I am so sorry I let you fall on the floor, Pelephant.’ He is still cross, so he doesn’t say anything. I put him back in bed and ask duvet to look after him and keep everything warm while I am gone.
I go on to the landing. Everything is loud loud because now they are in the hallway. Mummy is trying to get out of the front door but daddy is dragging her back by her jumper. I think he is going to ruin her jumper. Now it looks all stretched.
I need to run downstairs and save mummy, but my feet are not moving and I am still standing there. Mummy sees me and shouts ‘Go back to bed!’ but I don’t move. I want to shout, ‘Don’t go Mummy!’ because I am afraid she won’t come back, but I don’t want daddy to keep pulling at her jumper.
My feet start to move now and I am going downstairs. I am going to save mummy.
Sylvia swilled down the last of her tea and made her way back from the staff canteen to the shop floor. Miss Jenkins was bustling around with Christmas baubles, looking brisk, crisp and efficient as always.
‘Hurry along now, Miss Portman, I want you to display those new gloves in the white box under the counter.’
Sylvia nodded politely and caught a glimpse of herself in a pink bauble, her face was distorted and sad.
‘We’re to put out the new gloves.’
‘Come on, let’s hurry up then, before Jenkins has a chance to moan.’ Maureen was smiling, she was trying to be kind, but she was feeling frustrated with Sylvia.
Sylvia reluctantly began to open the box of gloves and take them from their tissue wrappings.
‘You haven’t heard from Harry, have you?’
‘Not for three weeks now.’
‘I am sure there is nothing to worry about. Remember when I was waiting for that letter from Ted?’
‘But he’d written to his father. You knew he was alive.’
‘The store is about to open ladies. Look sharp.’
Miss Jenkins whisked by and Sylvia snatched a waft of her Lilly of the Valley It always made her think of her own mother.
‘I think the kid gloves are most becoming on you, Mrs Anderson.’ Sylvia tried to summon up the enthusiasm necessary for selling a pair of gloves.
Sylvia had been so excited when she first got this job. She used to stare in to the window of Burlington’s when she was a little girl, especially at Christmas. She longed to stand behind one of the counters and serve the ladies that came in their minks and lovely hats.
When she first started stepping out with Harry she had been so proud when he came to her meet her outside of the staff entrance. He thought she was a girl with class especially when he found out she had French mother.
“Ooh la la!” he used to trill, whenever she spoke to him in French.
It was true to say that Sylvia was a girl who loved being in love. Her complexion would glow and her hair would seem smoother and shinier. She would skip through her day, glide through dull chores. Her voice was light and seductive to all; when she was in love.
She was afraid she would never be able to marry Harry. She turned her ring slowly on her finger. For some girls it was normal not to hear from their boys for weeks and even months, but not for Syliva. Harry was as besotted with her as he was with him. They were like two loved up peas in a cozy loved-up pod.
Without him she was heavy and dour. Without him there was no skip or lightness to her movement.
Without him she saw no purpose in anything.
‘Can I have a word, Miss Portman?’
Sylvia slowly followed Miss Jenkins into the office and sat down.
‘You’re not yourself, young lady. You have a face like a wet weekend.’
‘I am sorry, really I am. I know I need to buck my ideas up.’
‘You’re worried about your young man.’
‘I just wish there was something I could do. I just feel so useless.’
‘Take this card and telephone the number. Ask for Bennet and say Jenkins sent you.’
‘You’ll need to pack everything on this list and you must not tell anyone where you are going Do you understand, Portman?’
‘Where am I going?’ Sylvia’s mind was swimming. They were sending her to France. She would have a new name - a French one. She would be given instructions when she arrived. There would be training. She would have to jump out of an aeroplane.
Bennet was eyeing her closely and inhaling slowly on his cigarette.
‘You’ll find out in the morning. Go to the train station at 09.00,’ Came Bennet’s careful reply.
How had Sylvia got herself mixed up in all this? She stubbed out her cigarette and stood up slowly, she felt dizzy and longed to feel the cold on her cheeks.
She stepped outside and tried to drink it all in, every last drop. Nothing would ever be the same again.
I am sitting in the corner, in a dark place because I want to be on my own. This is my blanket and if I move and go outside; he’ll take my blanket and I won’t be able to get it back. It is my blue blanket and it is warm.
There is white powder all over the tyre swing and the ramp It looks fluffy, but when you touch it, it is wet and very cold. I have never seen it before and I have to say I don’t care for it.
When I climbed to the top of our wooden tower, I could see that this white stuff is everywhere, on all the roof tops as far as I could see. I miss seeing the green grass and the leaves on the trees. The ducks and geese are walking on top of the pond, not swimming and making their usual din. I do not understand how this is possible, but I am glad they have stopped making that strangled, squawking commotion. I do not care for these creatures and their constant protestations.
I would like something to eat, but this place is a disgraceful mess. Torn up pieces of cardboard, half eaten food and those yellow things squashed onto the floor, that make you slip over. You have to peel down the outside skin and eat what’s inside. At first I ate the whole thing but then discovered that the inside is slightly better. This is not the food I am accustomed to and I don’t care for it.
The smell in here is quite disgusting, I thought I would get used to it, but I have not. It forces itself up your nostrils and into your mouth. I can taste this putrid sweet sour smell in my sleep. The noise is terrible, the constant screaming, braying and scratching never stops. I cover my ears but it won’t go away.
I like to close my eyes and think of home, the blue sky and the sun on my back, the smiling faces and the flash of the camera. I used to wear clothes then; dungarees. Carlos liked to buy me new clothes; he said the tourists liked it. He wasn’t so bad. He liked me to wear a matching baseball cap; I did not care for that.
I wish they’d stop banging on the glass, can’t they read the sign? Chimpanzees don’t like loud sudden noises.
Lord and Lady Moneytree were sitting in the rose garden drinking tea. It was quite a cold day but the sky was blue and the roses were so beautiful at this time of year it seemed an awful shame to sit indoors.
Lady Moneytree carefully placed the blanket around her husband legs; she should hate for him to get a chill. He stared ahead of him as if engrossed in what she was reading. His one armed spectacles rested on his nose at a jaunty angle, this morning’s breakfast still lingering on his beard. She kissed his forehead.
Lady Moneytree carefully picked up her cup. It didn’t have a handle and so she had to wait until it was cool enough to touch. Lord Moneytree shook out his Financial Times importantly. It was upside down and two months old but Lady Moneytree did not mention that.
‘Is there any cake Fluffy? I am rather peckish.’
Lady Moneytree suspected there wasn’t any cake but she picked up the bell and jangled it anyway.
It was some time before she saw Edna come trudging across the garden. Edna’s apron was covered in brown marks and she had clearly rubbed her face with whatever it was and was looking somewhat dishevelled.
‘Is there any cake, Edna?’
‘What kind of cake, Ma’am?’
‘Any kind will do.’
‘I don’t think there is, but I am sure I could find some biscuits.’
‘That would be lovely, Edna, thank you.’
Edna trundled back over the grass, chuntering to herself on the way as she so often did.
I say, Fluffy, it’s a shame about the roses.’
‘What do you mean? They’re lovely.’
‘Well, yes, apart from the ones that Eddie has been at….running around with his stick again I shouldn’t wonder….that boy!’
Lady Moneytree smiled weakly and looked down at her saucer. She squeezed her eyes tightly but still one tear managed to bravely escape and plop delicately into her saucer.
‘You look so smart, Eddie and terribly handsome.’
‘Now, Mother, you’re not going to get all teary on me.’
‘Of course not, as if I would!’
‘My train leaves at quarter past, so I really should be making a move.’
‘Oh but I asked Edna to make you some supper and your Father will want to see you.’
‘I really want to make this train, Ma, otherwise I shan’t be travelling with the other boys.’
‘I thought he would be back by now. He’ll be so disappointed not to see you off.’
‘We said our goodbyes this morning, I’ll be back in no time…you’ll see.’
‘I think we should be going inside now, darling. It’s getting a bit nippy and I felt rain.’
‘Oh, but I thought we were having cake.’
‘We had biscuits…don’t you remember? Come along now, let’s get you inside.’
Lady Moneytree held out her hand to her husband who held her hand obediently; ready to be lead inside.
‘Do you know, Fluffy, I really am looking forward to the holidays.’
‘Get Eddie back; sort out his fast bowl.’
Lady Moneytree settled her husband into his favourite armchair. He closed his eyes and sighed a long deep sigh. Without opening his eyes he reached for her and held her arm for a moment.
‘I didn’t get to say goodbye.’
‘I know, darling…I know.’
Edna was in the drawing room, placing a bucket under a leak, muttering to herself. Lady Moneytree glanced around at the faded carpet and the sad peeling walls. The sunflowers were a pale sickly yellow; they seemed tired and helpless.
‘It’s getting worse, Ma’am I’ve already filled one bucket.’
‘I am sorry, Edna. It’s all rather a mess, isn’t it?’
‘I am not sure how much longer this can go on, Ma’am.’
‘No, Edna, neither am I.’
Elizabeth Fazackerly stared out of the window. The rain splattered gently against it and blurred her vision of the garden. She touched the pane of glass to trace the droplets and as she did so a tear began to slide gracefully and ever so tentatively down her cheek.
She could see Mr Pippin trudging along the path with his wheelbarrow, his crinkly lined face and eyes looking down with determination. He stopped by the hydrangea and for a moment was deep in a steady, plodding thought and then he carried on along the path.
She tried for a moment to catch his eye, to will him to look at her for a moment but his eyes would not look up.
Elizabeth remembered the cup of tea that she had been brought earlier and suddenly felt terribly thirsty. She bent slightly to pick up the china cup sprayed with delicate mimosa and began to sip. The coldness of the liquid seemed cruel.
Edward Fazackerly came bounding into the drawing room, still wearing his riding boots. She wondered if they were muddy.
‘Oh Elizabeth, there are you. I thought you would be getting ready for the Basildons.’
Elizabeth wiped at her cheek with her finger. ‘Basildons?’
‘They’re coming for lunch, or had you forgotten?’
‘No, I hadn’t forgotten.’
‘Have you checked on Mrs Tibbles?’
‘What is she making?’
‘Something with lamb, I think.’
‘Lamb? Are you sure? I do hope so as Richard can’t abide pork.’
‘Yes I am fairly sure it was lamb.’
‘Elizabeth, are you all right? You’re a dreadful colour; you look like you’re sickening for something.’
‘ I am fine…I am going to pick some flowers.’
‘It’s raining for heavens sake.’
‘I won’t stay outside for long.’
‘Well make sure you don’t. We don’t want you catching a chill.’
‘I won’t be long. I promise.’
‘And do change out of that dress darling, put something more becoming on.’
‘Very well, Edward.’
‘I’d better check on Mrs Tibbles.’
Elizabeth walked across the garden and watched the mud as it clung to her dress and slippers. Her heart began to beat too quicky.
‘It’s raining you shouldn’t be out here.’
‘I wanted…I wanted some flowers, to put on the table for lunch.’
‘I can pick some sweet pea for you and bring them inside, or there are some lovely gerbera in the potting shed I picked earlier.’
‘I’d like to see the gerbera.’
‘You’ve been crying.’
‘How did you know?’
‘I could see you, through the drawing room window.’
‘You didn’t look up…I wanted you to.’
‘Elizabeth, you’ll catch your death out here in this rain.’
‘It’s summer…it’s refreshing.’
‘Come in to the shed, to keep dry.’
‘The gerbera are beautiful.’
‘I was going to take some home for Mrs Pippin, if you don’t mind.’
‘Mrs…Elizabeth, I need to talk to you.’
‘You’re leaving aren’t you?’
‘How did you know?’
‘I heard them talking in the kitchen about your wife’s mother being ill.’
‘I am sorry. I did want to tell you myself.’
‘You’d better get back inside…Mr Fazackerly will be wondering where you’ve got to.’
‘I dreamt about you last night.’
‘What did you dream?’
‘Elizabeth do hurry up, you look quite flushed.’
‘I am fine, Edward.’
‘Well at least you’ve got some colour in your cheeks, but for goodness sake do something with your hair. You look like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards.’