Chapter 3

Written by: Linda Alley

Yorkshire, England – August 1941

Lilian stepped out of her filthy uniform. Throwing open the shutters of the nurse’s bathroom at Chesbrook Hall, she gazed out at the dawn. The sky looked like curdled milk, but the air smelt divine. She inhaled deeply until the woody scent of damp heather purged the last remnants of disinfectant and vomit from her nostrils.

She rummaged through the pockets of her discarded dress, carefully retrieving the postcard Alan had given her just before he’d left for the front. New Plymouth, New Zealand. How peaceful it looked, farmland scattered beneath a benevolent snow-capped mountain. She flipped it over, her fingers lingering over his promise.

When the war’s over, I’ll take you home, Lil. Our children will grow up milking cows and riding the waves at Oakura Beach, far away from all this madness.

“Nurse Wright?”

A male voice floated up. Lilian blushed, folding her arms across her chest. It was Toby, the telegram boy. But he wasn’t talking to her. Enid had finished her shift and was crossing the lawn.

The boy had paled, a telegram held towards Enid at arm’s length, as if it were a grenade.

Lilian stuffed her uniform back on, tearing a sleeve as she took the stairs two at a time. She halted in the driveway, gasping for breath as Enid passed the telegram…to her.

Regret to inform….Lieutenant Alan Hayes…killed in action…service of his county.

There was a loud ringing in her ears. The earth rose up to meet her.

***

Lilian blinked and looked up into the concerned face of Dr Derrick Green. She sat up. The world spun on its axis and came to a sudden stop. Looking up at the sky, she saw the clouds were hanging low, swollen with unshed rain.

“Careful!”

Dr Green gripped her shoulder. She shook him away and set off at a run across the moor. The wind ripped at her hair, drowning out Enid’s cries who hurried after her.

Faster and faster she ran until she reached the top of the slope and lifted her face to the sky. There was a sudden crackle of static.

Lilian frowned. Turning the corner, she came into a clearing and saw the bracken had been disturbed, revealing the entrance to a cave. Crouched beside it was a man in civilian clothes. He had his back to her and was speaking into a wireless transmitter. She didn’t understand the words, but the language was unmistakable. German.

She backed away and crashed straight into Enid who had caught up. Enid squealed. The man spun around.

“Roy?” Enid’s voice trembled.

Lilian’s eyes met her brother-in-law’s, but only for a second before his darted away, glancing behind the sisters. He rubbed a fist across his forehead.

Lilian suddenly lunged forward and kicked the transmitter as hard as she could. For the first time that morning, pain seared through her.

“I’m coming back,” she rasped, “with the police.”

Then she turned and stumbled back down the slope.

Comments

The writing is clear and visual. You use dialogue sparingly and I was feeling Lilian's pain. The chapter flowed and I couldn't put it down until I read the last surprising word. Loved the finish. Great twist.
I have just re-read this and it has terrific pace and I can see every bit of imagery and feel Lilian's devastation. And coming across her brother-in-law? I just want to keep reading. Magnificent.
Excellent wartime tale that brings home to the younger generations what life was like in general and within the darker espionage side. I loved the phrase - 'The sky looked like curdled milk.' The whole thing about this work is that whilst there is stress and emotion among the characters, there is a calmness captured around them in a countryside that is free from brutal invaders. As there should be - a few unanswered questions at the end. Nice easy style writing, Nice one, Linda.
Thanks, Ray. I spent six months living in Yorkshire once. I remember many days when the sky looked like curdled milk!