... continued from 9th April.
A Lucky EscapePart 2:
Without which I would not be here
As Lucy finished reading the letter, the pretty notes of Freré-Jaques drifted through the floorboards. She crawled out of the wardrobe, and replaced the letter in the envelope, folded it and stuffed it into her pinafore pocket. She went over to the sewing machine cabinet and opened it. Bright blue eyes squinted back and blinked in the moonlight. Two matching wet, tear streaks cut through the grime on her brother's small, grubby cheeks.
“It’s alright, Daddy’s gone to work now, Henry. He won’t be back 'til morning,” she said, fishing a greyed handkerchief from her sleeve cuff and wiping his face. A candlestick of snot dribbled down his top lip. Lucy clumsily pinched his nose with the handkerchief; “Blow!” She instructed. Henry did so, forcing snot into the rag. Lucy folded it and put it in her pocket next to the letter and held her hand out. “Come on, safe now.”
They tiptoed along the landing and crept down the stairs. The once-scarlet, threadbare stair-runner gave no comfort to bare feet. Lucy peered through the bannister rails with their peeling blue eggshell. A lower panel of the parlour door was missing. A dining chair rested at an angle against the wall by the door. The knitted woollen patchwork blanket from the armchair lay in a heap by the skirting board. As the children crept into the room, a board creaked and the tune stopped.
“Hello, you-two,” said their mother, turning to them and smiling. Her mascara had run, creating deep shadows under her eyes, but she was as beautiful as ever. She stood up, sliding the chair under the dark wood upright piano. “Supper-time.” She swept past the upturned dining chair and blanket, marching into the kitchen, her turquoise skirt, torn at the hem, swayed below her apron. Black court shoes clomped loudly on the bare boards in the hall.
Lucy started to follow her mother to the scullery-kitchen, but Henry planted his feet and leaned back.
“Come on, Daddy’s gone now,” Lucy encouraged. Henry shook his head, vigorously, screwing up his nose. “You don’t like the burnt toast smell?” Henry shook his head again, pulling Lucy towards the parlour. She allowed him to lead her there, then lifted him onto the high-backed armchair, fetched the blanket from the floor, and loosely covered him as he started to shiver.
“Stay here, I’ll ask Mother if we can have supper in here.”
A bare, unlit bulb hung from the ceiling of the scullery. The criss-cross taped window pane, cracked from corner to corner, reflected dim light from a paraffin lamp that was being used to illuminate the electric stove. The weak lamplight created large, wobbly shadows in the tiny room. An electric ring on the stove glowed red under a blackened frying pan, where a lump of creamy dripping melted, filling the room with its delicious, bacon fat aroma. Lucy’s mother was sawing slices from a grey, dense loaf on a board at the white-enamel table as the fat in the pan began to sizzle.
“Fried bread?” Her mother said, almost too cheerfully. “We can have eggs, the hens have layed, there’s no bacon, though.”
“Henry only likes the white,” Lucy replied. “Can I have his yellow?”
“Yolk Lucy, it’s called the yolk,” her mother’s voice was clipped, “and good girls say; ‘please’.”
“Sorry Mother, pleeease can I have Henry’s yolk?”
Lucy glanced at the two burnt slices of toast in the tiny square pan on the open grill door. Her mother cut the new bread into triangles and placed them in the melting fat. She took the burned toast to the porcelain basin and scraped it with a butter knife, black crumbs speckling the sink.
Lucy chanced a look at her mother’s face. Her hair was pinned in a loose bun. A dark red mark on her cheek was partially obscured by a long smudge of mascara. A line of turquoise eyeshadow brightened the corners of her beautiful green eyes. Lucy watched her mother’s hands as she placed the bread in the white enamel bread bin. Three scarlet-painted nails were split and broken.
The fat began to smoke in the pan. Lucy’s mother, following her gaze, took a metal fish-slice and flipped the bread in the hot fat. Taking the pan off the heat, she cracked three eggs into it. One yolk stayed intact, Lucy prayed under her breath for the gooey one.
“Mother, I can hear an aeroplane,” she said, “do we have to go to the Anderson shelter again? I like playing in there with Olive, but it smells funny with everyone inside.”
“It’s too early, Lucy. Maybe it’s one of ours, anyway, there’s no siren. The air-raid siren would”
She was interrupted by a series of thuds from anti-aircraft guns. Hurriedly turning off the electric ring, she slid all the eggs and fried bread onto a single plate with the scraped toast, now thinly buttered. She peered out of the window at the dark, starless sky and leaned over to look along the row of back gardens. Another series of anti-aircraft thuds reverberated through the floor.
“Is it the Jerry’s, Mother?”
“Oh God, not again, we’ll never make it to the shelter!”