Not this Tide
by Sheila Finch
Oslo, December 2035
Embarrassing enough that the press was hailing her as the first centenarian to be awarded the prize. Limping across a stage to accept it would never do. Worse still—forgetting what she wanted to say.
Time to look over her speech again. She’d put her extensive notes somewhere in the hotel room when she first arrived, record of a long life of activism. There was a time when Mary hadn’t needed notes to give a speech, but lately she feared her mind was becoming increasingly dreamy.
Where had she put the notes? Her grandson would’ve scolded that she hadn’t committed them to some form of electronic storage. Of all her offspring, and her offspring’s offspring, she’d felt most bonded to this one. In any case, there was something about writing the old-fashioned way with a pen that appealed to her heart.
As if thinking about her grandson called him into existence, the hotel’s comm system pinged. Her heart jolted as she read the name of her caller. The small control panel that had appeared urged her to touch a button, and a small hologram of Gabriel stood on the table before her.
“See, Abuelita,” he said, smiling at her. “Modern technology isn’t so very awful after all.”
“Worth it to see you as well as hear you.”
“I’m so sorry I couldn’t get away to be with you—we were working right up to the last minute. I want you to be the first to know.”
His expression was joyous, bubbling over. She couldn’t make out the room behind him. He was a post doc at Princeton; she really didn’t need to see lab equipment to know that.
She had a sudden thought—maybe he was calling to tell her he was finally engaged? She’d hoped so much to see that!
“Sit down, Abuelita. This is astounding news.”
“Tell me, Gabe, before I have to rush away.”
“Yes, I understand. Such a wonderful honor—you really deserve it.”
A slight tap on her door and Catalina looked in. “Mama—We need to be ready in about an hour!”
If her daughter saw who it was, she’d want to talk too and she wasn’t ready to share Gabriel, even with his mother.
“Have you reviewed your notes?” Catalina came into the room.
Agitated, she tried to block Catalina’s view of the comm unit and its displayed hologram but succeeded only in knocking the thing off the table onto the floor. The hologram vanished.
“Ah! Now look what I’ve done!”
“It’s not broken, Mama,” Catalina said. “Besides you don’t have time right now for chatting. Do you need my help with your notes?”
Irritated, she waved Catalina away.
* * *
Might as well do something while she waited. Reviewing her notes was a good idea. Where had she put them?
Small lights followed her around the hotel room as she searched. The notes weren’t on the coffee table, or in the drawers of the bedside chest. She opened the suitcase still on the folding stand. Empty. Surely she could do this without notes? Doctor Mary Aragon had plenty of experience, often in the heat of crisis! Yet in many ways, she was still a creature of the twentieth century she’d been born in, only reluctantly giving in to the advances that swept over her, a tidal wave of technology engulfing her stubborn insistence on taking care of herself without help. That was nonsense. Hadn’t everything good and useful in the world been accomplished with the support and goodwill of others? Wasn’t that to have been the theme of her speech tonight? Surely she could remember enough to give her speech!
Instead of a flood of memories, there was a sudden terrifying blank in her mind. She slumped into a chair that conformed to her contours.
The sensation ebbed slowly.
Nerves jangling, she sat stiffly in the gilded chair by the window. Outside, the street lamps made golden confetti of the snow. Above them, the dark sky glittered with helicars arriving early for the ceremony. How strange to be in this room, in this city, looking back over a long life of dangers overcome and success achieved, love found and taken away too soon, children and grandchildren, given and taken away.
And now, at the last, this great honor.
* * *
English Channel, December 1944
The next swell threatened to upend the converted fishing trawler and dump them all in the Channel. Harry Forrest’s stomach rose into his throat, and he clenched his teeth to keep from vomiting. If this is what it took to defeat the Nazis, then he’d learn to manage. The Margaret Hyde thumped down into the bottom of the trough in a wall of spray that stung his eyes and nose. The cargo, food supplies for the fort, shifted. A crewman checked on it. The navy seaman took a hand off the steering wheel to adjust his cap.
In the bow, a lieutenant, returning from his allotted two weeks off, smoked a cigarette and chatted with the Royal Artillery sergeant accompanying the new replacements. Senior Service, Harry recognized the expensive cigarette from its smoke. Diesel, the fishy smell of the Channel threatened to defeat his control; cigarette smoke was a relief. A private who’d been through basic training in Colchester with him clung white-faced to the boat’s gunwales, his control already defeated. A sour smell added itself to the mixture.
Their destination wasn’t so far beyond the mouth of the River Thames, but in this contrary sea it had taken them almost half the afternoon. The sky was already darkening into a long December night. He’d be spending Christmas out here. He’d miss watching his girls empty their Christmas stockings, shrieking with excitement over the little packages, the shiny apples wrapped in tinfoil, the rare orange.
Best not to think about his family right now. More immediate problem: If the boat was swamped, they’d all be in the water.
He thought of the Cockney PTI at Colchester, screaming at the new recruits in the regiment’s cold swimming pool. “You friggin’ buggers don’t learn to swim, you’ll all drown first time you get your little plates wet!” Harry didn’t give much for their new skills if the boat overturned in this angry water. More than his feet would get wet. They’d been issued life vests, but this sea would laugh at life vests and swimming lessons.
He tugged the collar of his greatcoat up and resettled the waterproof cape he’d been issued. His boots were waterlogged, his gloves soaked. Tendrils of fog slipped past the Margaret Hyde like torn shreds of sail. He could just make out one of the structures of the Maunsell fort they were heading for—one of three such forts, anti-aircraft platforms just offshore, designed to protect London. He watched the silhouette grow, appearing and disappearing in the mist.
The trawler’s captain bawled something at them, words carried away in the wind. The message was clear anyway. They were about to dock.
The seaman steered the Margaret Hyde broadside to the small wooden dock attached to one of the fort’s concrete pillars. At one end of the dock a small yellow lifeboat bobbed in the swells. A soldier shrouded in a bulky yellow sou’wester waited with a mooring rope. The sea tossed the boat up and down, threatening to smash it and its passengers against concrete and iron. The seaman caught the rope, and the boat’s nausea-inducing motion calmed. Seawater poured over the sides, making boat and dock slick and dangerous.
“Right. Them as is assigned to U7, get off the bus ’ere!” Sarge yelled. “Get a move on! Gettin’ dark. Bleedin’ Jerry’ll be here soon!”
Harry got one foot up on the slippery gunwale and grabbed for the man in the yellow sou’wester. Sarge shoved him from behind, and then he was on the unsteady landing platform. Behind him, men scrambled to get the trawler’s cargo ready for the hoists.
The soldier let go of his hand as soon as Harry got his feet under him and indicated an iron ladder leading up to the fort. He climbed, clinging to the rungs with numb fingers, willing himself not to look at the waves breaking heavily against the concrete pillars. Salt-laden wind sliced his cheeks. The ladder vibrated as the others followed.
It had all come about so quickly. Less than a year ago, he’d been home with Alice and his daughters in London. Then the government had needed more troops, calling up men like himself—over thirty, married with children. Men who’d been through the London Blitz in the early days of the war, helpless to protect their loved ones, many of them seething with the desire for revenge. You didn’t need to be a young man to be an anti-aircraft gunner. In spite of all the training so far, and all the war propaganda, he wasn’t actually certain he could kill a man. Anti-aircraft forts were a compromise, killing without the necessity of looking your enemy in the face.
The iron ladder disappeared into an opening in the floor of the fort and someone extended a hand, dragging him off the ladder and into dimness
“Frame yer sen’, lads,” a young Yorkshireman with a corporal’s stripe on his sleeve said. “Durnst ’ang aboot wi’ Jerry aroun’. Welcome to U7, Shivering Sands.”
* * *
London, December 1944
When the air raid siren wails, Rosemary wants to switch the bedside lamp on but it’s blackout rules. Even a little bit of light seeping through the blackout curtains might be helpful to Jerry, the Air Raid Protection warden says.
Mum pushes the door open. “Come on.”
She’s carrying the pink dressing gown that used to be Margaret’s.
“Come on, dopey!” Margaret is already dressed in a pair of grey slacks with a grey blanket draped over her shoulders.
Rosemary sticks her tongue out at her sister. Margaret, being older, gets to have one of the two proper bedrooms in the flat. Rosemary has to make do with a tiny one that Daddy made out of a space at the top of the house.
Mum makes a big thing of pulling the sleeves the right way around in the pink dressing gown before she hands it to her. She knows this is because Mum’s pretending to be calm. Rosemary can spot panic in everybody. She takes her time tying the cord around her waist, adjusting the length of its big tassels. That done, she drags her special little suitcase from under the bed. It’s heavy, so many of her best bits and bobs in it.
“Mum!” Margaret shrieks. “Tell her we don’t have time for that.”
“Now, Margaret,” Mum says. “But do hurry up a little bit, Rosemary.”
Perhaps she should’ve left the piece of shrapnel out? No, shrapnel isn’t what’s weighing it down. It’s the big book about England’s kings and queens that says PUBLIC LIBRARY inside the cover. She especially likes reading about Queen Elizabeth and looking at the pictures of the queen with her courtiers. The library has been closed for two weeks now since the blast from a near-miss weakened the walls. And she dare not lose the book because Margaret says they’ll come and put her in prison for stealing if she does. Even in wartime, Margaret says, they’re strict about things like that.
She holds on tight to her suitcase and lets Mum tug her through the doorway and down the stairs. Mum opens the front door and Rosemary sees the neighbor, Mrs. Banbury, heading into the concrete shelter on Marigold Road. Mrs. Banbury holds her horrible stinky cat Tomkins in her arms. The ARP Warden is standing by the shelter’s door. He waves a finger at them to hurry up. A dim light shines out from the shelter.
She stares up at the sky, crisscrossed with searchlights. They’re supposed to be finding Jerry planes, but so far all they’ve found is another barrage balloon floating above London. Anti-aircraft guns thump in the distance. She likes to think that could be Daddy fighting Jerries, but Margaret always tells her that’s wrong.
“Hurry up. You’ll get us all killed!” Margaret says.
One of the bulbs on the ceiling is out. She has to squint to see anything. Mum pulls her inside and bangs the door shut. It smells of cat pee and mothballs in here. Nasty smell. Margaret goes over to the big old cat, Tomkins, and starts petting him and making silly baby noises. The moggy closes its huge yellow eyes and purrs.
Two other people who are always there in the shelter are huddled up in blankets, old ladies who never speak to Rosemary because they don’t like children. Rosemary thinks they’re witches.
“Here,” one of the witches says to Mum. “Have a cup of tea, Mrs. Forrest.” She holds out a thermos bottle and a tin cup.
“Have a biscuit,” the other one says, holding out a battered old tin.
Margaret takes one, but Rosemary shakes her head. There aren’t any other kids in the shelter because all the ones on her street have been evacuated. She doesn’t mind. She doesn’t want to go to the country anyway. It’s full of bats and spiders.
Mum has her knitting out. She’s always knitting something or other for the troops.
The muffled Bang-bang, Bang of the anti-aircraft guns begins. Then a bigger explosion that shakes the brick walls of the shelter. Brick dust drifts down from the ceiling. Even Rosemary gets scared by this sometimes, but she won’t let anyone know. Mrs. Banbury’s smelly old cat runs hissing under the bunk bed she’s sitting on, its fur standing straight up so it looks like the broom the chimney sweep uses when he comes to their house.
“Close one,” Mum says.
Her voice is calm, but her face has faded a bit, so Rosemary knows Mum must be afraid.
The shelter’s dim light goes out. One of the witches screeches. “It’s one of them new doodlebugs,” the other witch says. “Got no pilot makes them worse.”
She isn’t sure why not having a pilot makes a bomb worse, but nobody takes the time to explain this.
“I don’t know why we bother coming out here,” Margaret says in a whiny voice. “We’re going to get hit by a buzz bomb sometime anyway.”
“Not,” she says.
“Stop it,” Mum says. “Bad enough to have Jerry trying to kill us without you two squabbling.”
The light flickers back on again.
“Why can’t we stay in our beds, Mum?” Rosemary asks.
“You know why,” Mum says. “It’s safer here.”
“Jimmy Green says people get bombed in the bomb shelters too.”
Margaret says, “You believe everything that guttersnipe tells you?”
“Margaret,” Mum says. “Mind your language.”
“Well, he is,” Margaret says.
“Isn’t. He’s my friend.”
“I won’t tell you girls again—”
More banging and thumping outside. But it sounds like it’s happening under a blanket, so Rosemary knows the bombs aren’t falling near them.
The all-clear siren starts up.
* * *
English Channel, December 1944
The Yorkshireman gave him a quick tour of the fort, home of the First Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, after they’d eaten in the mess. Powdered potatoes, a spoonful of faded-looking tinned peas, a couple of small sausages that were tasteless, bread and margarine. The bread wasn’t bad. Baked right here on the fort, one of the cooks told him.
He’d seen charts of the fort’s floor plans already, a central control unit with six smaller outlying constructions connected by steel mesh bridges, but reality was stark. The exterior of each tower was painted drab grey, but their interiors sported several different bright colors to make up for it. The main tower in the fort, central control for all seven, had two floors and housed officers’ quarters. The rest of the men were spread out in quarters on each of the other towers; more than a hundred men and the NCOs crowded in the fort altogether. Around the central structure, six other rooms housed the guns, four 3.7-inch Browning gun towers, a single tower housing the bigger Bofors gun, and a searchlight tower. They were joined by flimsy-looking steel cable and wire mesh walkways.
“If’n tha’s lucky,” the corporal said, “tha might get t’ sleep t’night. Sometimes, nowt ’appens, an’ even t’ crew except for t’ watch gets to catch up.”
The sleeping quarters were lit by blue bulbs so the men’s eyes wouldn’t have difficulty adjusting to the dark if they were called on deck for duty. They smelled of sweat and tobacco smoke, and the sharp green odor of the sea coming in through an open window. He saw a row of five already occupied bunk beds, and one with only a single occupant, in the lower bunk. Beside each bunk was a place for clothes, and a rack to hang his uniform. The walls were decorated with the usual pinups, Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth. He had a small framed photo of his family on the beach, Margaret eating an ice cream cone, Rosemary riding a small donkey, Alice shading her eyes against the sun. He put it on the narrow shelf that ran the length of his bunk.
He stashed the Enfield rifle he’d been issued against the wall in the corner, wondering if he’d get to use it out here. In basic training, he’d become a bit of a sharpshooter; many’s the paper target he’d blown to shreds. Rifles wouldn’t be much use against actual aircraft. He made up the blankets and pillow so his head was over his bunkmate’s feet as he’d been taught. Quick trip to the loo and back to the bunk. He was so tired his muscles cramped as he climbed up, yet he couldn’t sleep.
Even knowing the towers were firmly anchored to the sea floor, he had the sensation of movement. As soon as his eyes closed, he felt the Channel rise and fall under the supply boat again, lulling mere humans with a false sense of security. He came from an island full of seagoing folk, but the closest he’d come to the sea was the family’s annual week at the Isle of Wight, and the ritual paddle, trousers rolled to the knees, water lapping mildly at his ankles.
He wondered how they were doing, Alice, Margaret, and Rosemary. At least the raids weren’t as bad as they’d been at the beginning of the war. Keep them safe, please. . . .
And just who was that directed at, he wondered, being that he wasn’t a religious man. He remembered his father who’d served in the Great War saying, No atheists in the trenches. He wished he did believe in a god who could be persuaded to end the war soon.
Through the small square window above the bunk he saw a patch of sky, stars bright against the darkness. The wind that had buffeted the sea earlier had broken up the clouds, leaving a sky through which a Kraut might fly his Junkers or his Dornier up the Thames to target London. If he got the chance, he’d be delighted to blow one of those Kraut bombers to kingdom come. He’d enjoy blasting them out of the sky and watching the fragments crash into the Channel.
Wide awake now, he gave up the attempt to sleep. Nobody on the top deck when he emerged, bundled in a waterproof field jacket and khaki wool scarf Alice had knitted for him. The air was biting cold with a hint of machine oil. Except for the low hum of the fort’s diesel machinery and an occasional splash—a swell breaking against a concrete pillar, or a fish jumping—the night was silent.
Two steps from where he stood, the tower housed a Browning, aimed at a forty-five-degree angle, small but a workhorse. The tower was connected to the central control tower by a tubular steel cable-and-wire mesh walkway. On the other side of the control tower, another steel bridge led to a tower from which the enormous snout of the big Bofors jutted, and beyond that central tower, radiating out, four more towers like this one. He knew that gun well from his training, knew its sound and its recoil, its strengths and its occasional flaws. He liked the sense of power firing the Bofors gave him, but he could handle the smaller ones too.
“Fired the big one before, have you?”
A man emerged from the shadows against the wall. Tall, slender build, angular face like a half-starved monk. Impossible to tell rank. Harry shrugged, unwilling to commit. You learn fast not to answer questions in the army before you know the reason for asking.
“Name’s Frank.” The man held out a hand. The shielded safety lamp overhead gave just enough light to make the man’s ropy veins stand out. “Saw the Margaret Hyde arrive a few hours ago. Only got here a day ago myself. Welcome to Uncle 7. That’s our affectionate name for this fort. Maunsell Fort U7’s too much of a mouthful.”
“Makes sense.” He held out his own hand. “Harry Forrest.”
“The sea was kind to you,” Frank said. “Sometimes it gets so bad out here the supply boat can’t dock for a couple of hours. Sometimes even days.”
Something hit the water just beyond his tower with a muted thump. He leaned over the safety rail to see what it was. Concentric rings of ripples showed in the dim light where the impact had happened.
“Bird,” Frank said. “Fishing. They like the moonlight.”
An alarm rattled like a wooden one he’d take to a football match, only louder, the sound coming from the central platform where the radar teams assembled, the watchers who gave early warning. Searchlights based on one of the towers jumped into the patchwork sky. The alarm cut out and the Tannoy barked orders. His heart pounded. Out here, on the Channel, they were totally exposed.
“Buzz bombs!” somebody yelled.
A sergeant who had field glasses said, “No. These are the real buggers again.”
In the sweeping lights, Harry saw the oncoming planes aiming for the open road of the Thames. He recognized the silhouettes. Junkers J 87, the bomber capable of a screaming dive to drop death on terrified civilians. The very same monsters that had done so much damage to London in night after night attacks in the early days of the war. The rumble of big engines filled the air—he felt it like a tidal wave of hatred in his belly.
Then—the deep-throated boom of the Bofors getting a line on its approaching target.
He hadn’t been given orders yet so had no idea what he should do. He turned to Frank—the man had been here a day longer than he, he’d know what to do—but Frank had gone.
Harry watched the gunners load shells into the smaller gun. The air filled with reverberations. A sergeant shouted something he couldn’t hear. Men scrambled to their positions. One of the Browns chattered angrily from the next tower over, another joined in. He felt the urge to do something, but in the army, doing something without orders was as bad as not doing something when you did have orders.
He squinted up at the approaching horde. Smaller shapes separated from the heavy shapes of the bombers. Messerschmitts, the German fighting dogs that guarded the big boys. The smaller guns would take them on. A round of Bofors 40mm tracers shot up like a flight of arrows. The big gun boomed again.
A low flying Messerschmitt peeled away, engine whining, smoke pouring out as it plunged into the water.
“You! Private!” The sergeant appeared beside him and screamed into his ear. “Gunner hit. Take his position on the Browning!”
His ears roared with the sound of the oncoming planes and the answering guns. He raced across the vibrating metal bridge to the control tower, on to the next gun tower, took position on the 3.7, slapped on the earphones. Smoke drifted over the water, a smell like spent matches. Another soldier loaded shells, his face flat in the moonlight.
Radar predictions of the enemy’s flight streamed in, orienting the gun. He peered through the range finder and found the target. The gun had to be aimed ahead of the target, where it would be, not where it was now. His hand shook as he reached for the trigger—the Pig’s Ear, gunners called it because of its shape. A geyser erupted due west of Uncle 7. Another Kraut not going to make it to London tonight.
As soon as his hand touched the gun he was calm. Streams of calculations he’d learned at Shoeburyness flowed through his mind—speed of enemy craft, speed of shells, direction. A gunner’s greatest problem: prediction. Radar helped, yes, but he had a gunner’s native belief the human brain was better. The first of the approaching Junkers was his. He fired. The sound deafened him. He fired again. And again. The gun spat spent shells out by his feet. The bombers kept on coming.
A hail of bullets spattered across the deck. One of the bombers was almost overhead. He hurriedly repositioned the gun and fired again. The Brownings might be small, but they were as vicious as bulldogs in a fight. In the confusion of flash and smoke, he couldn’t see what happened to it. Had he hit it?
It headed lopsidedly for the water, engines whining like a giant mosquito. He hadn’t missed.
And then—he had no idea how much time had passed—their part in the current battle was over. The remains of the German force headed up the river. Maybe a gunner onshore at the mouth of the estuary would catch them first. He saw flower-like bursts of flame in the distance as the estuary units came into action.
“Stand down,” the sergeant ordered.
He had difficulty hearing, deafened by the guns. If he’d been on duty, he would’ve worn ear-protectors. There hadn’t been time to get any. U7 had taken down two fighters and one bomber tonight. He’d made his first kill. There was one casualty. The gunner he’d replaced had taken a bullet in his head.
“Why’ve they gone back to manned craft, Sarge?” somebody asked.
“Beats me,” the sergeant said. “But makes no difference. Kill ’em all anyway.”
Once the adrenaline subsided, Harry was knackered. He made his way unsteadily back to his own tower and down the inside stairs to his sleeping quarters. The bunk sagged when he sat on it. His heart still raced and his skin was damp with cold sweat in the aftermath of the violence he’d taken part in. His stomach seemed to be filled with lead, and bile rose in his throat as if he were about to vomit. Drills at the gunnery school, no matter how realistic, were nothing compared to the shock of the real thing.
He’d killed a German pilot. What the hell? That was what war was about, wasn’t it? That’s what they’d trained him to do. Kill or be killed. One less devil on his way to bomb London.
In the dim blue light, legs dangling over the edge, he pulled out his smokes; his hand shook as he lit the cigarette. Us or them. That was always the way of war, winners and losers. It might’ve taken the government a while to get to him, but Harry Forrest was going to be one of the winners.
The Woodbine’s sharp smoke scratched his throat but helped his nerves ratchet down a few notches. He pulled the grey blanket over his head and slept.
* * *
London, December 1944
Next morning, Saturday, Rosemary sets out after breakfast. It’s very cold this morning. The sharp smell of wet, charred timber hangs on the air and small specks of soot and grit drift past the front door. There are few people on the street, but she sees Jimmy Green hurrying in the opposite direction. His dad has a fruit and veg barrow down the market and sometimes Jimmy has to help out. He sticks his tongue out at her. She ignores him and walks right past.
It’s a game the kids play after every raid. Whose house is still there? Sometimes, it’s who is still there, too. She passes a group of three houses that got bombed a month ago and aren’t interesting any more.
There’s smoke in the sky, but she can’t see where it’s coming from, the sky is too cloudy. She turns at the corner where the pub is with the name she’s always liked, Pig and Whistle. Today it has a new sign on the chalkboard by the open front door. HITLER CAN’T BEAT US! An ARP warden stands in the doorway, talking to the landlord who’s just opened the pub for the morning hours.
She sees a small piece of shrapnel on the road and darts out to collect it. Jimmy Green told her shrapnel comes from Jerry planes that have been blown up in the sky, but Margaret says they’re just bits of anti-aircraft shells that have fallen down. Margaret thinks she knows everything.
She finds the new bombsite quickly, halfway down the street, a house just like theirs. It looks as if a giant baby has grown tired of playing with a stack of bricks and flattened them with an angry fist. The chimney is all that’s still standing. Three firemen in tall Wellington boots, their faces tired and grimy, are picking through the ashes, and a small group of men in long rubber coats is standing on the rubble arguing over something and waving their arms.
She’s missed the most exciting part. No ambulances. No bodies. Or perhaps this wasn’t the worst part of the raid last night, and everybody is somewhere else. One good thing is Jimmy Green isn’t here to beat her at finding anything—if there’s anything to be found. Now she has a new worry. What if he’s found somewhere more exciting?
She’d like to get closer, stand on the rubble like the firemen, maybe find some bigger shrapnel. Or maybe something much better. Perhaps a dead body? Or even part of one would be good. A bobby stands guard on the site, which has been cordoned off with tape. An old man with a tin helmet and an armband is pointing to something she can’t see. He turns and she recognizes him, the ARP warden who’s always giving them lectures about accidentally sending messages to Jerry because their blackout curtains aren’t tight enough. Some women with scarves over their hair curlers lean together discussing what’s happened. She recognizes a couple of neighbors. If they see her, she knows they’ll tell tales to Mum.
Skirting a fire engine that nobody’s paying attention to right now, she picks up a chunk of brick and heaves it. The bobby turns at the thud, and Rosemary ducks under the tape unseen and walks right up to the edge of the rubble. First thing she notices is that close up the bombsite is still warm and smelly. She covers her nose.
She knows the family that lives in this house. There’s a girl her own age. Rosemary sees Joan in church. Joan’s mum didn’t want her to be evacuated either. She tries to feel sorry about what’s probably happened to Joan, but it’s as though her feelings are shut away like the library book locked in the suitcase with the lump of shrapnel.
She waits to see if the firemen will bring out any bodies. She’d like to be able to top Jimmy Green’s stories with some of her own.
“What you doing here, little gel? It’s too dangerous for kids.” The bobby has come up behind her.
“I wanted to see for myself,” she says. “Nobody tells me anything. Except Jimmy Green, and he makes stuff up.”
The bobby laughs and pats her on the head. She doesn’t like it when grownups do that. “Not very pretty, innit? Still, nobody died this time, thank the Lord.”
“When’s this war going to be over, then?”
The bobby pushes his tall helmet back and scratches a spot on his forehead. “Better find yourself a gypsy if you want an answer to that. Run along now, there’s a good gel.”
She watches him pick his way back over the rubble, sees him stop to talk to a fireman holding a dripping hose. She stands patiently for a long time, first on one foot, then on the other, but nothing exciting happens so she turns to go home.
Something small and shiny on the pavement catches her eye and she bends to retrieve it. A coin. See a penny pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck. This coin is only worth half a penny.
She turns the ha’penny over and sees the picture on the back. Sir Francis Drake’s ship, the Golden Hind. There’s a picture of that ship with Sir Francis on it in the library book. She folds the coin carefully into her handkerchief and puts it into her pocket.
Copyright © 2019. Not this Tide by Sheila Finch