A Midsummer Night's Blitz (London)
A Midsummer Night’s Blitz
Every worn wooden step shrieked my coming. In the cloistered darkness of a hallowed shrine my fumbling feet sought a reassuring sign that I was not really late, not really lost. Nothing seemed to fit and the panic rose and the sweat beaded on my brow. I had promised, promised to be there and here I was lost and frightened.
I couldn’t find me mates. They promised me they’d wait. Lying sods! Probably thought it was funny. I ain’t really scared of the dark, just everything it hides. Me and me mates…well I calls ‘em mates but we just hang around together and live how we can. I got relocated see. Mr Hitler sent a few messages to me mum and dad ter flit, sort of. Funny, if they’d stayed in the house and not the Anderson Shelter I wouldn’t be here now; sleeping were I can and stealing what food I can find. Not that there’s much. Still, it’s funny what people throw away. A king’s feast sometimes and no mistake.
I wasn’t ‘ome that night they died. One of the first real bombs to fall I suppose. The Phoney War was over and it was getting ugly. Some of my classmates had already been sent packing to the countryside. Not me though. The East End was all I knew and no German was going to evict me. So I scarpered when I saw the battered suitcase in the hall and the brown label wiv me name on it. So I ran see. Me mate Harry would know what to do. Harry and the rest of us used to go and watch the firemen and the soldiers doing their best to extinguish the German’s heated attempts to delete the East End of London. Funny really. I often wondered why they bothered. It was a shit hole anyway. Nufink ter do but get into bother. Nicking stuff was fun and I’d gotten good at it an' Harry’s gang showed me how. At least I thought I was good at it until this hairy fist nearly tore my collar off down at Sid the Grocers on Mile End Road. Dunno what the warden was on abaht anyway. We all knew his fruit had done time in the First World War. He used ter polish his wares on a grimy, grease laiden apron and carefully cover up the rotting wares beneath.
I was glad to see me mates. I needed reassuring I wasn’t alone. They’d all got previous and just laughed at me when it came out, between the sobs and breathless fragments of my recent nightmare. Harry aimed his service revolver he'd found on a dead soldier at me head and said “don’t ya worry abaht that scum. Anyone ses owt to you they’ll get a fird earhole!” He closed the hammer slowly, lowered the gun and everyone roared with laughter. “You stick with us son. We’ll keep yer sorted.” Harry had been on the run from the coppers for a few weeks. I can’t remember why he left home, but now he took care of me and the others. Not that anyone was looking for us. Missing, presumed dead, I suppose. Even if we did go to the adults for help they wouldn’t have had a clue what to do with us. They was too busy sortin’ Mr Hitler out and at least we knew the East End. Better run than be transported like criminals to places that ‘ad more cows than people. Harry kept us right. He might have only been fourteen, but he was more forty in the head. And he was going ter look after all of us. We just ‘ad to do as he asked from time to time and Harry did the rest.
Free From Time
The Idea was we’d sneak in at the old Palace down Commercial Road. Whilst the audience was watching the show, we’d be robbing the dressing rooms backstage. The laughter rang from the auditorium. Strained, nervous laughter, but laughter all the same. Suppose they’d ave laughed at anything. Just to take their minds off reality and the fear that lurked in all of them that the next bomb was addressed to them. Amazing how much food they could find for ‘em. You wouldn’t believe the stuff that was set out for them on stage. Supposed to be a war on mates ! You dodgers don’t deserve a party. Up on the front line. That’s were ya should be. Not ‘idin from Hitler pretending to cheer up the folks back home.
Harry sent me to spy on the show. Let ‘im and the others know if anyone was coming. We’d caused a distraction at the Ticket Office and Harry ran off up the corridor to let us all in at the stage door. “Git art of ‘ere yer little sods!” The pot-bellied flunkie and his medals causing us to scarper in different directions. Harry’s idea really. The old git wouldn’t know which ter chase. He gave up after a few token steps and grumbled his way back to the foyer. Now I was on the stairs. They was as black as a coal hole picnic and only the audience’s reactions gave me any sense of where I was.
I must have nodded off. Warm, dry and free from the bitter cold of an unforgiving December night, I felt safe and what’s more I felt needed. I suddenly realised I couldn’t hear the audience and now I felt cold and damp. A gloom had taken the place of the blackness. Moonlight shone a silvery, ghostly light on the stairs. I never cottoned on the ceiling wasn’t there anymore. In fact neither was the roof. I panicked and, as my bottom lip trembled uncontrollably, I stumbled back to find me mates.
As I reached the top of the stairs, eerie voices made me start. I ain’t never heard voices like that before. They spoke sort of strange see. Not foreign but different. I strained to peer through the darkness. I could see shapes and thought it was Harry and the others, but something made me stop. The shapes were too big to be the lads. Blimey! They must have come to decorate the place ‘cause they was all in overalls. They whispered stuff that I strained to hear “… doth the moon shine that night…” What the bleedin’ hell was he on about. It was shining now. Maybe they knew where Harry was. So I rose from my hiding place and was about to pluck up courage to call out when a bony hand felt me collar. The voice hissed a warning, “maybe an actor I will be…!” I turned and tried to let out a scream that never made it. The silvery face smirked and smiled and was gone. So too were the workmen. I was alone and scared again.
Then it hit me. Where were the droning bombers overhead and where was their payload of death? The sky was shining now. Cobalt blue and midsummer warm. The Theatre had melted away and a forest came into view. Children danced and sang as they skipped along eating the fruit laden on the heavy branches. Harry! ‘Harry mate! There yer are. I’ve been proper scared wiv owt yer!” Suddenly it hit me. His face was clean. Like he’d been spit washed by me muvver for ever. No, it wasn’t just clean, it shone. He was happy. He had an innocence about his face and a serenity I’d never seen before. When he opened his mouth to speak, music danced from his lips. The soothing song made me weep uncontrollably. Harry and the others parted to reveal a vision of loveliness. Her hand reached for mine and, as she lead me on, a joy came over me that made me cry again. But this time her diamond fingers lifted the teardrops and gently placed them on a necklace hanging from her neck. “Now my fairy child. Cry no more. My peace I give you and this forest is now your playground. You are safe…for you the show is over.