Chapter 8

Written by: Linda Alley

Yorkshire, England – July 2008

Down at the police station, Lilian took the telegram from the very young officer on duty. It crackled like an autumn leaf in her sweaty palms.

8 November 1941

Report just received through the International Red Cross that Lieutenant Alan Hayes has been found alive. Admitted to Aldengate Hospital, Cheshire.

The vending machine hummed, the rain drummed on the room, the officer tapped his keyboard. What else? Car tyres spinning through puddles outside. She tuned her ear, listening. Anything, but the voice inside her head.

Scarlett was leaning over her shoulder.

“He’s the one you were telling me about, isn’t he?” Scarlett gently squeezed Lilian’s shoulder. “Your boyfriend before Grandad?”

“Fiancé,” Lilian murmured.

Scarlett’s eyes widened. “You were going to…?” she frowned, forehead furrowed as she processed this and reached the inevitable conclusion. “You thought he was dead, didn’t you?”

Lilian nodded. “I received a telegram a few months before this one, followed by a letter from his squadron leader. His plane was shot down over France.”

Don’t say it. Lilian gripped the underside of her chair so hard it lined her fingers.

“But that means…he could be alive now!”

Lilian shook her head vigourously.

 “Why not? You’re old and you’re still alive,” piped up Issac from the vending machine.

Thanks.

Scarlett turned to the constable.

“Can we borrow your computer?”

“Scarlett, no,” Lilian protested but her granddaughter had already joined him behind the desk.

Lilian put her head in her hands. The glassy eyes of Lieutenant Matthew Crowther flashed before her.

Please, God, let Alan be at peace…

“Found it!” Scarlett slapped the desk in triumph.

“What?” Lilian’s stomach churned.

“The wartime records from Aldengate Hospital, Mrs Green,” the officer elaborated, blushing as Scarlett leaned in closer to read off his screen.

“Lieutenant Alan Hayes, discharged 23 May 1942.”

***

Brisk barking lifted the heavy fog that cloaked Lilian’s brain.

She had taken a sleeping pill last night to stop the questions bubbling to surface, but now as Scarlett jerked her curtains open they all came flooding into the room with the morning sunshine.

“Quick! Get dressed! The taxi’s already here!” Scarlett called as Apollo bounded in and leapt onto the bed.

“But I haven’t had breakfast,” Lilian protested, wrinkling her nose at his damp, matted fur and meaty breath.

“It’s nearly 11! You’ve got a morning tea date.”

Lilian realised where they were going as soon as they took the north road. Sure enough, as they turned a corner, the mellow red bricks of Chesbrook Hall came into view.

They left her at the entrance to the orangery, now home to twenty doily-covered tables with tiered cake stands. And there was Enid, hunched in a wicker chair, staring out the half-moon windows. Lilian slid into the seat opposite and followed her gaze. It was a rare, cloudless day and they could see all the way along the bridle path until it reached the top of the moor and dipped out of sight.

 

Comments

Your description is so clear...half-moon windows. Just that one phrase drew a picture in my mind of the entire building. I did, however, find myself checking the date sequencing. Think we need another one after the italics for 1941. But your writing is so clear and vivid. It's a pleasure to read.
Thanks, Suraya. Yes, I can see what you mean with the dates.