Authors: K.C. Finn
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Copyright © 2013 by: K.C. Finn
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Inspiration Behind The Mind’sEye
For Jackson Freeman:Henri’sbiggest fan.
“Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye…”That’s whatthey were singing, all along the train. Hordes of children muchyounger than me, singing and dancing in their drab school uniforms,flinging their gas masks at each other like catapults. Some of themhad lost the name labels that were supposed to be pinned to theirlapels, those little white tickets that told the billeting officerswhere they’d come from and where they were going. But they didn’tcare; they just went on singing.
“…Cheerio, here I go, on my way…”I didn’t feelmuch like singing. It was all too sad and too sudden, leaving Mumat the station in London, being herded onto the great grey enginelike cattle. Leighton didn’t understand my thoughtful expression ashe stood beside me, rocking with the motion of the carriage. Hewanted to sing, I could tell. But he was only ten, a full fiveyears younger than me; he didn’t even know how to feel the way Idid. He didn’t worry about when we’d be able to see Mum again.Or Dad, forthat matter.
“Go and join in Leigh,” I pressed, “I’ll be all right withoutyou.”My littlebrother didn’t seem sure about that, but he took the opportunityhe’d been waiting for all the same. I watched his skinny legs skipinto the throng of children until I lost sight of his brownbowl-cut head of hair in the crowd. I looked around hopelessly,confirming once again that I was the only teenager on the train. Icursed under my breath. I’d forgotten to tell Leighton to take careof his label. It didn’t matter so much for the other kids, nowtrampling on a sea of white paper name tags on the train floor, butour labels were important. Ours were green.I tookanother careful look at the train. The guard had passed through ourcarriage quite some time ago, which meant that the children who hadbeen initially well behaved had now worked themselves up into afrenzy. They were chattering excitedly about where they were beingsent, asking the ones that were good at reading to read out notesfrom their parents, hanging their heads out of the window to catcha taste of the bitter September breeze flying by. They hadn’tnoticed me. Nobody really did. So they wouldn’t notice if I were todo something odd.I closed myeyes, lifting my arms until the base of my palms rested on myforehead. I took two slow breaths. In and out and in and out. Ibrought my hands gently down over my face until I could feel themcasting a shadow against the light streaming in from the window.The chatter of the children faded into a low hum as I began toconcentrate hard on Leighton.A cold shiverpassed through me. When I opened my eyes I was four feet tall andstanding in the middle of a mass of giggling boys and girls. Onegirl with curly blonde ringlets gave the shoulder I was attached toa push. I felt her pinchy grip.
“What’s your name then?” She demanded with a lisp.
“Leighton Cavendish,” I heard my brother’s voicereply.
“Are you goin’ on your own?” The girl asked.I felt alittle dizzy as my brother shook his head.
“No I’m with my sister, Kit,” he explained, “she’s back in theother part of the carriage.”
“Oh yeah,” said the little blonde girl, who I was beginning tothink was a rather nasty piece of work. She screwed up her piggyface and shoved Leighton again. I felt the jab harshly. She hadhurt him. “Where are you goin’ then? I bet it’s not as good as myplace. I’m going to An-jel-see.”
Anglesey, I thought, but I tried mybest to keep it to myself. Leighton was fidgeting with his lapels,confirming my worst fears when he dropped his head down to look atthem. Through his eyes I saw the pin that should have been holdinghis green paper label.
“Oh, um,” he stammered, starting to look around.I followedhis gaze in deep concentration, trying to ignore the piggy girl’slaugh as I helped him search the floor of the crowded carriage. Icould feel the tension building in his little body, like he knewhow angry I might be at him for losing his paper after all thewarnings Mum had given him that same morning. His glances becamemore erratic and harder to follow as he twirled around, but Icaught a flash of something in a pea green shade on one of histwists. But I couldn’t make him move back to it and he didn’t seemto want to turn that way again.
“Kit, this came off,” he said as he waved it in my face, “Canyou pin it back on please?”
“Perhaps I’d better keep it until we get off,” I suggested,after which he immediately handed the paper over. I didn’t miss thelook of relief on his face.***Most of thechildren had settled into sleepy little heaps by the time wefinally crossed the border into North Wales, which gave me sometime to recover from my little trip into Leighton’s head. I wasn’tsupposed to do things like that in public places. Nobody had evertold me so, exactly, but then nobody else knew what I could do. Ijust knew that the closed-eye deep breathing thing would look oddto me if I saw someone else doing it, and God only knows what Ilooked like when my mind was otherwise engaged.Probably likesome great gawking ape, with my bristling curly hair the colour ofginger biscuits flying out in all directions, my indigo eyes darkand dead to all in my immediate space. I laughed to myself silentlyso I didn’t disturb the sleeping masses. If those kids had seen meuse my ability, then they were likely to forget it, perhaps writeit off as teenagers just being odd and doing strange things. Solong as no-one important ever caught me, I’d be safe.The trainguard re-entered the carriage with the jangle of keys, steppinggently down the central aisle and shaking his head at the carpet oflabels under his feet. He caught my eye and gave a “Tsk, tsk”. Ijust nodded politely whilst he approached.
“We’ll be at your station in a few minutes, Miss Cavendish,”the kindly old guard informed. He had a voice as smoky as the puffspassing the train window. “You’d best wake your brother and I’llhelp you alight.”
“Thank you sir,” I said with a small smile.I could feelthe tremble in my chest as I gave Leighton a little push. He wascurled up on the seat beside me with his head in my lap. Heunfurled himself like a cat and rubbed his sleepy blue eyes as Itold him the news from the guard. When he’d got himself together henodded and climbed off of the seat so I could shuffle over to theedge in preparation. Sure enough the train slowed a moment laterand the watchful guard crouched down beside me.
“If you’ll pardon me, Miss,” he said as he put one hand undermy knees. I said nothing, feeling terribly awkward as I put my armaround his shoulder, letting him lift me out of the seat. “Comealong young Mister,” the guard said to Leighton in haste, “you’llhave to carry the chair.”The strongold guard took me down the steps from the carriage onto theplatform. Over his shoulder I watched Leighton scrambling down inpursuit of him, clanking my poor metal wheelchair along behind him.It hit every step on the way down, making me shudder.
“Can you stand for a moment Miss, whilst I work out this fancyfolding chair of yours?” asked the guard with a patient smile. Ipanicked instantly. Stand? Fall was far more likely. But Leightonsaved me with an outburst.
“Oh it’s easy!”Leigh wasalready well away attacking the chair, pushing it to and fro untilhe could slam down the middle and put the tubular frames in theright places. The old guard looked relieved and impressed at thesame time as he set me down into the seat. I felt the rednessrising in my cheeks at his kindness. He patted me on the head andstraightened up.
“I’ll fetch your bags Miss,” he said with a smile, “You wavethose green tickets about until the billet man seesyou.”I lookedaround the dirty, smoky railway platform into the mass ofunlabelled children now wandering aimlessly along in clumps. Thebilleting officer wasn’t hard to spot at all; he was the tall onein the middle of a particularly large clump of younger children,most of whom were crying. The billet man looked like he wanted tocry too. He was an older man, though not as grey and bristly as thetrain guard and as the bawling children were shuffled to and fro Irealised that he was wearing a policeman’s uniform under an openbeige jacket. I waved my green label towards his field of visionjust as the train guard said, but he didn’t notice us. The greenwas supposed to signal us as a special case because of my chair. Heshould have been looking out for us, but now I could see he was toobusy in the throng of cry-babies to even look up.Eventually wewere introduced when the guard took us and our one suitcase overinto the eye of the child storm. I was wet from the explosion oftears instantly, pulling a handkerchief from the pocket of my knitjumper to wipe my face. It was always awful being at the same eyelevel as small children and large animals. On this occasion I wouldhave preferred the large animals over this noisy mess of kids whohad just realised they wouldn’t be seeing Mummy again for a whilenow that their train adventure was over. I couldn’t hear a wordthat the billet man said over the din, but eventually he tookcontrol of pushing my wheelchair and made off for the stationexit.I turnedweakly in my chair to wave goodbye to the kind old guard, feelingthe noise of the busy platform fade away. My head felt normal againat last.
“I’ve just got to transfer my duties to Officer Jones, thenI’ll be accompanying you two up to the village.”His accentwas a terribly thick Welsh one and it was actually several minutesafter he had gone back to the station before I could translateexactly what he had said and tell it to Leighton again. We were ina little car park where a cold wind nipped against my stockings,making my knees ache under my pleated skirt. I should have wornsomething warmer. Mum was always telling me to worry about theweather more. But then she wouldn’t have abandoned me in a car parkin the first place.The flusteredofficer assigned to help us on Evacuation Day was Officer Lewis.When he returned, I was wheeled into the back of a large hospitalcar especially built for the purpose. I had to admit the shinywhite car filled me with a little excitement. When Leigh came tosit opposite me on a bench inside the back of the vehicle, helooked around him with a big smile.
“Nice this Kit,” he mused, “Do you think it means the peoplelooking after us are rich?”
“No such luck young man,” said Lewis from the front passengerseat, “This is the doctor’s private car, this, you’ll only see itwhen you’re going up his office.”Again it tooksome time to translate, the way Lewis mashed all his words togetherinto a melodious jangle was hard on our London ears, but I gotenough words from the mix to know I shouldn’t expect a chauffeur.Although I probably would be in this car quite often, given thecircumstances. The pin in my jumper where the green label clung tome was starting to itch. I took it off gently, saving the pinagainst the fabric strap of my gas mask holder and tried to readthe address we were destined for.Ty Gwyn, BrynEira BachThat was it.No borough, no postcode, not even a house number. I stretchedforward to give the paper to Leighton whose little eyes werecraning to see it. A lot of good it’d do him. He scrumpled his faceat the address.
“Tie goy-un?” he asked, “What kind of address is tiegoy-un?”Lewis curvedhis head round his seat, looking at the paper over Leigh’s littleshoulders.
“Tie indeed,” he tutted, “That’s Ty Gwyn that is. Lovely bigfarm house on the edge of the village. You’ll love itthere.”He said it asTee Gwin. I tried to remember it, murmuring it on my lips. It wouldbe so rude to say it wrong to the people who were kind enough totake us in for the duration of the threat in London, perhaps evenfor the duration of the war. Tee Gwin. The thought of a farm housedidn’t appeal in the least to me, all I could think of was how coldand drafty it would be in the winter months, but Leighton was allover the idea, scrambling up the bench to turn and talk to OfficerLewis.
“A farm!” he squealed, stamping his feet, “Will there be pigsand chickens and things to chase around?”
“I don’t know if they’ll appreciate you chasing ‘em much,bach, but yes there will be animals about the place.” Lewis’s roundface smiled at Leighton before he turned his brown eyes on me. “Ohit’s a lovely village this, you’ll have everything you could everwant in Bryn Eira Bach.”I felt abitter taste in my mouth, but I smiled back before I looked out ofthe window. Unless this distant village could somehow make meable-bodied again and then give me a handsome young chap to godancing with, I knew that Lewis’s promises, and my hopes, couldn’tever come true.
The doctor’sprivate car took us an awfully long way from the station, oversparse grassy hills and down little brown roads that led to yetmore hills. We had gone over so many bumps that I could feel therestraints on my chair starting to loosen, but just as I began toworry that I’d be flung out of my seat at the next bend, the carfinally stopped. Out of one window I saw a mass of misty fieldswith the vague shadow of mountains in the background. From theother I just caught sight of a lot of out buildings ranging inshape and size. Barns and things, I supposed.Ty Gwyn wasstraight ahead of us, so I didn’t see the huge white building untilI was properly out of the car. Officer Lewis started to wheel me upto it over the bumpy gravel path, jarring my spine with everypebble. I tried to keep smiling and made sure my clothes and hairwere neat as we approached. When Lewis rang the doorbell theancient sound echoed out of the cracks in the wood around thewindow panes. A few birds roosting in the eaves of the big whitefarm house suddenly took flight, making Leighton jump. He shuffledfrom foot to foot, biting his little pink lip.The tiniestgirl I had ever seen answered the door. She was short and willowywith huge blue eyes and tawny brown hair sticking up at funnyangles. Her plain little dress was stained with something thatlooked like blueberries. She clung to its hem as she looked up atOfficer Lewis, then she suddenly broke into a great beaming smile,showing off her stumpy white teeth.
“Ble mae Mam?” Lewis asked the little girl.I tried topick out the English as usual, but this time I couldn’t. Leightongave me a wide eyed look, scrunching his nose.
“Yn y gegin yn paratoi cinio,” the little girl replied. Imarvelled at the complex language falling out of such a tinymouth.
“Dod â Mam yma!” Lewis added with a flick of hishand.The littlegirl scampered away, leaving the door wide open. I would havewaited, but Lewis seemed to take that as the invitation to goinside. He wheeled me in over the bumpy threshold of the widefarmhouse door and into a big reception space, adjusting Leightonuntil he stood up straight beside me. Everything in this part ofthe house was either black or white. Black tiles lined the coldstone floor. White lacy doilies covered the shelves of an old blackdresser in the corner, next to an even older metal coat stand thatwas ready to fall over with the amount of coats flung upon it.I looked atthe steep, black stairs fearfully. If I was expected to climb themevery day and night, I would surely die before I even reachedbreakfast tomorrow. My joints ached at the very prospect ofit.
“Nawr te, who do we have yur then?”The woman’saccent echoing down the corridor was thankfully much clearer thanLewis’s. She almost sang the words as she appeared from under awhite doorway right in front of us. The woman had a rosy face andthe same tawny hair as the little girl, though hers was pulled backinto a more practical style. She was older than Mum but youngerthan Granny, with a cooking apron tied over her broad, roundedfigure. She had the kindest smile in the world as she approached,rubbing her coarse hands together excitedly.
“Oh aren’t you just lovely, the pair of you!”She droppedto her knees before us and pulled my shoulder forward for a hug. Mychair gave me a little space at least from her lovingly iron grip,but Leighton had no such luck. He was pulled straight into herample chest where he could hardly breathe from the warmth of herembrace. He emerged red-faced a moment later, stumblingbackwards.
“Leighton, Catherine,” Officer Lewis explained, “This is MrsGladys Price, your new guardian.”
“Call me Mam if you like,” she added, “Everyone does roundyur.”Mam stayed ateye level with me, crouching on the floor with her warm hand on myknee. She smelled like cakes and biscuits and her voice had a softmelodic note, like there was music in every word she spoke.
“Thank you Mam,” I said and Leighton repeated me. I wasembarrassed at how stiff my voice sounded, but Mam didn’t seem tonotice.
“Well come in, come in!” she said, yanking herself up to herfull height, “You must be starving after that journey!”The mentionof any kind of food had won Leighton over immediately. He bouncedon his heels as Mam circled him to take the back of my chair. Wesaid goodbye to Officer Lewis as he doffed his hat, then suddenlywe were off at Mam’s brisk pace down a dark corridor until weemerged into a massive kitchen. A huge oval table made of dark woodsat in the centre of the space, already laden with cakes,sandwiches and a big jug of fruit cordial. Leigh’s jaw dropped tothe ground.
“Oh sit down love, tuck in,” Mam said to him as she wheeled meup to the near end of the table. I could already see the spacewhere a chair had been moved away to accommodate me.My littlebrother wasted no time in heeding her. He took off his cap as hedropped into a wooden chair near me and reached out for a sandwichthe size of a doorstop, taking an impossibly large bite compared tothe size of his mouth. Mam sat herself down just opposite me andthe tiny little girl who had answered the door came running up toher. Scooping her up with warm, wide arms, Mam set the girl on herknee and caught my eye.
“Is this your daughter?” I asked, giving the little girl agrin. She shied away, but she was smiling too.
“Yeah,” Mam nodded proudly, “this is Vanessa. We call her NessFach. My little miracle she is!” She cuddled Ness close beforesetting her down again.
“What do you mean?” asked Leighton with a mouthful of breadand cheese. I made a point of remembering to tell him off for badmanners later.
“Well yur’s me with three grown up children, then suddenlyNess comes along out of the blue! I didn’t even know I was pregnantfor a while!”Mam sat backwith a happy sigh, watching Ness Fach, who was eyeing Leighton withinterest. She put her nose up to the edge of the kitchen table andstood on tiptoe to look at him.
“Do you speak English?” Leighton asked her.
“Yeah,” she said unsurely. I could see the fascination in herlittle face. Girls always liked the look of Leighton. It was goingto be a problem when he got older, I knew. “How old are you?” Nessmumbled.
“Ten,” Leigh replied, “What about you?”
“Three,” she said more strongly.
“You’re a tall girl for three,” I observed with extraenthusiasm, and she turned and beamed at me. “This is Leighton, andI’m Catherine.” Ness nodded her tiny tawny head. “And my friendscall me Kit. If you like, we can be friends, then you can call meKit as well.”Ness Fachtook a moment to take in the proposition.
“Kit,” she said shyly.
“That’s right,” I replied.Ness suddenlyscampered off again, disappearing out of the kitchen door and backdown the dark corridor. Mam watched her go, shaking her head.
“She’ll be getting her Dolly to show you now,” Mam explained,“Everyone has to meet Dolly. You haven’t touched your food yetlove.”I started tofill a small plate with food, feeling my heart settle like it wasbeing laid on a fluffy pillow. The situation could have been sobeastly for Leigh and me, but things were definitely on the up. Iwanted to be as polite and likeable as possible for Mam, hopingthat Leighton’s evident delight in her cooking was enough toingratiate him for the moment.
“You said you had three other children Mam?” I asked, taking abite of a cucumber sandwich.
“Oh yes,” she answered with great warmth in her tone, “My twoeldest, the boys, they’re with their father in the RAF, learning tofly at Porth Neigwl. It’s a bit of a way from yur, too far to visitlike, but it’s nice to know they’re still on Welsh soil, isn’tit?”
“Do you suppose they’ll be training for the war?” I asked,fascinated.A softnesscame to Mam’s eyes, her smile faded just slightly before shebrushed off her apron. “Oh if they’re as brave as their father,they’ll be out there battering the Germans in no time,” sheexclaimed, “He was in the first war you know, my Clive.” She smiledagain proudly as I ate. “And,” she continued, “I have a daughter,who is in the house somewhere. I don’t know where she’s got to,actually, I did tell her you were coming.”Even as shewas saying the words there came a clattering sound and a voiceanswered her: “She’s been all over the house, actually, because hermother gave her a million impossible things to do beforelunchtime.”The youngwoman who entered the kitchen was carrying a large stack of washingwhich she dumped onto a counter with a huff. She was the mostbeautiful girl I had ever seen, with pale skin and blonde curls andsparkling blue eyes. I envied her instantly, most especially herstrong, slender legs. I’d have bet any money in the world that shewas good at dancing.
“Blodwyn, this is Catherine and Leighton Cavendish,” Mam saidin her sing song voice, “They’re just arrived fromLondon.”
“Pleasure,” said Blodwyn without smiling. Her voice didn’tquite have the same melody as her mother’s. “I’d be more welcoming,of course, if someone hadn’t worn me out asking me to do everybloody chore in the house, whilstsheset about making a ridiculouslybig lunch that the five of us couldn’t possibly bloodyeat.”
“What’s all this language, Blod?” Mam chided in a shrill tone.She seemed more amused by her daughter’s moaning than annoyed. Sheturned to me with a knowing look. “I thought she’d grow out of thisattitude when she stopped being a teenager, you know, but sheturned twenty last month and there’s been no change.”The beautifulgirl gave a frustrated groan so loud that it startled Leighton, whospilt the cordial he was drinking on his shirt. He looked at thepink stain with a frown.
“Oh dear!” Mam said kindly, “Let’s get that cleaned up quick,come with me love.”Leightonobeyed, exiting the kitchen by the far door. I saw him take Mam’shand as they went and I smiled, content that he was going to bewell looked after at Ty Gwyn. When they had gone I realised thatBlodwyn was watching me. She was leaning her perfect frame againstthe sink with a thoughtful look clouding her eyes.
“I’d love to be twenty,” I said awkwardly, “I bet you’ve gotall kinds of freedom about the village.”
“Not any more,” Blod said, her rosy lips turning to a sneer,“Thanks to your arrival, I might add.” She folded her arms sharply.“Now that you’re here, Mam says I have to pick up the slack,because she’s going to be busy seeing toyouall the time.”I got thedistinct impression that she didn’t mean ‘me and Leighton’ when shesaid ‘you’. She was looking at my wheelchair disdainfully and Ifelt like I wanted it to fold up and swallow me whole. Blodapproached me suddenly, her blonde tresses flowing like somevicious goddess. Her blue eyes hardened as she looked down into myface.
“So don’t go thinking we’ll be like sisters, or friends, oranything like that,” she snarled, “Because all you mean to me ismore bloody work.”She stormedaway after that, nearly knocking Ness off her feet as the littlegirl appeared in the doorway. She groaned that loud groan again inanger. “Out the way, pest!”Ness stumbledaround her so she could continue to parade from the room in fury.The little girl blinked in surprise, but she didn’t seem upset byher sister’s remarks. Instead she caught sight of me and started tosmile again, ambling up with her hands behind her back. She bit herlip, then brought her arms around to her front to reveal a littleragdoll with ginger-brown hair the same shade as mine.
“Dolly!” she said proudly.I tried tosmile for her, but it was suddenly difficult again.I needn’thave worried about where I was going to sleep; it seemed Mam hadthought of everything when it came to taking on an evacuee with anillness. She had turned her husband’s sitting room at the back ofthe house into a bedroom for me so that I would never have thestairs to tackle. There was a fireplace, a wash basin and somebasic ablutions to help me stay comfortable and plenty of spacearound the single bed for my chair to get around the room. I ratherthought the bed had come from a hospital, but I didn’t like to asktoo many questions on the first day.Mam left meto change for bed, which I could manage alone most of the time. Ihauled myself out of my chair by leaning on the bed frame, then saton the edge of the bed and shuffled out of my day clothes and intomy nightie. My stockings were the hardest thing to get off; Irealised sadly that Mum had always been the one to pull them off atthe toes. But I managed eventually and I was rather proud of myselfwhen Mam returned and found me wriggling in under the warm whitecovers.I knew rightaway though, that she could see the pain it had caused me to getabout half a foot from the chair into the bed. I could feel mycheeks glowing red, my arms aching from putting all my weight onthem, but I didn’t like to think about the pain, much less to talkabout it. Mam helped me with the last of the covers as I put myhead on the pillow. She put a small glass of water and a biscuit onthe bedside table.
“My bedroom’s right above yur,” she said softly, “so if youget into trouble you give me a shout.”
“Thank you,” I answered, stifling a yawn.
“You get a good rest love,” she continued, “I had a telephonecall tonight. They’re sending a car for you tomorrow to go and meetyour new doctor.”The news wasnot the kind that encouraged a good night’s sleep. I thanked Mampolitely and she put out the light, closing my door with a gentlehand. But when she had gone I shuffled my aching legs restlesslyand rubbed my upper arms where they had taken on the strain. Ididn’t relish the idea of being prodded and poked by a newphysician, it was bad enough being examined once a month by DoctorBaxendale in London and I’d known him since I was twelve when allthe pain began. I wondered idly what the new doctor might be like,but the more I wondered, the more I worried, and I decided insteadthat my mind needed a different occupation tonight.Aside fromLeighton and my mother, I had never been able to use my secret giftto intentionally enter anyone else’s head. I had always supposed itwas familiarity that allowed me such easy access into their minds,but I also knew that my psychic ability sometimes had a fartherreach. Most especially when I was sleeping, in fact. It had startedto happen when I was around eight or nine, but of course for a longtime I thought they were dreams. Dreams where I was in someoneelse’s head, looking through their eyes, hearing them speak andfeeling their innermost emotions like they were my own.Now as I layin my new bed of my new home, I closed my eyes, hoping thatsomething interesting would come my way as I surrendered my mind toslumber.***Generally Ididn’t like looking through the eyes of men, and I knew this onewas a man as soon as I saw the huge black boots crossed on the deskin front of me. He was clipping the end off of a cigar with twogreat hairy hands that looked rather old in a pale blue room withexpensive-looking paintings on every wall. He lit the cigar and Ifelt the wave of satisfaction he got from the first long inhale hetook. I was grateful at least that my powers did not extend tohaving to smell the smoke from the beastly thing, and I hoped thatthey never would.
“Generalfeldmarschall,” said the man whose head I occupied. Ifelt him give some kind of salute; his heart was suddenly poundingin my ears.Even as Idreamed, I knew I was seeing something I shouldn’t be. I drifted inand out of consciousness as the men began their conversation inwhat I now knew had to be the German tongue. There was a trick tomaintaining focus in my sleep that I had not quite mastered; it washard to stay alert when I knew that I was actually alreadyunconscious. I noticed that the man whose mind I held also had thegrey-green sleeves of the military uniform on. The other moresuperior man had ordered him to clear his desk, after which he laidout a map for him, and me, to see.I had neverbeen any good at Geography, even when I was still healthy enough toattend school. The map was a funny looking coastline with all sortsof jagged bits that didn’t make sense, as though someone had takena knife to the country and cut long deep valleys of water into it,with other valleys jutting off to the sides. If it was a country Iknew by name then it wasn’t one I’d ever bothered to look up on amap, but through my man’s eyes I was forced to study it closely andcarefully. I could feel his nerves rising the more his superiortalked at him, until the high ranking man slammed a strong, oldfinger down on the map at a space on the coast.Oslo.I knew thecity’s name, but the country was still lost on me. As I tried topull the information from my conscious memory I felt the familiarcold shiver start to creep up my spine. I tried to resist, tried tostay with the mind I had found, but I knew really that it was toolate. The connection was fading. I was falling into a propersleep.***I awoke thenext morning to the sound of birds outside the window, whichalarmed me at first. The only birds to ever wake me in London werethe pigeons, and whatever was outside in the farmland right now wasmuch louder and less considerate than they were. As I lay flatlooking up at the black beams of the ceiling my mind drifted backto the German viewpoint I had discovered the night before. It wassuch a fabulous possibility, to be able to see right into the war.I sighed heavily, knowing that it would be pure luck to ever getback to it again.I jolted myspine as I heard my door starting to open, but I was relieved tofind it was only Leighton stumbling in. The sight of him in hisstripy red and white pyjamas made me ache for Mum and homesuddenly. He had a sad look on his usually cheeky face that made mesuspect he was feeling the same way. Leigh said nothing as herounded my bed and clambered in, taking the biscuit Mam had left methe night before and starting to munch. He cuddled up next to mevery slowly; he knew how difficult my morning stiffness was. Ithurt to bring my arm down and put it around him, but I did itanyway.
“Is your bedroom nice?” I asked him as I felt his little jawchewing against my side.
“It’s bigger than at home,” he answered with his mouth full,“But I had strange dreams.”
“Don’t blame the room for that,” I soothed, rubbing his back,“That’s just you stuffing your face with cheese allday.”Leightongiggled for a moment, but it faded away. “Do want help to sit up?”he asked.I felt a panginside. Mum had always been the one to hoist me up in the morning.I wasn’t even sure that Leighton would be strong enough to pullme.We had justabout managed it between us when Mam arrived in the room, lookingvery smart in a pink dress that clung to her round shape. Shethanked Leigh for helping and told him to dress before breakfast,which he found very odd indeed. At home he and Mum had always eatenjam on toast upstairs in my room whilst I tried to get my strengthtogether for the day. The smell of cooked breakfast food wafted inas he stood there in doubt and I smiled as it tempted him away tofind his clothes.
“Do have something smart to wear Kit?” Mam asked as she gentlybrought me nearer the edge of the bed.I was aboutto ask what for until I remembered with dread. The German in myhead had pushed out the appointment, but now I knew once again thatI had a date with the doctor not long from now.***Leighton wasinvited to stop at home and explore Ty Gwyn whilst we went over thehill to meet the doctor. Though I didn’t like the thought of Blod’sversion of looking after him, he seemed keen to have a wander roundthe out buildings in search of chickens and things, so I put myfaith in Mam and let him stay. It wasn’t fair really to drag himout to sit in a doctor’s waiting room anyway, no matter how much Ineeded a familiar face with me. I knew Mam had sensed my nervesbecause she put her warm hand over mine all the way to the surgeryin the car. Every time I looked at her rosy face she was smiling,which made me feel a tiny bit better when the lovely white carpulled up outside a little cottage.It certainlywasn’t the whitewashed, sterile office in Bethnal Green that I wasused to. When Mam wheeled me inside I was fascinated by thephotographs of happy miners and farmers on the walls and the cosycollection of various armchairs that had been donated to make upthe waiting room. The secretary that took some information from mewas a dear old lady who offered me sweets as she starting tellingMam all the latest news from the village itself. I tuned out of theconversation, settling into the place and enjoying the smell offresh flowers and peppermints as I waited.
“Oh hello Doctor Bickerstaff,” Mam said, wheeling me round tothe source of the voice.
My first thought was that he looked like Robert Taylor thefilm star, except that he was much more fair-haired. Mum had takenme to seeA Yank In Oxfordlast year in Leicester Square for my birthdaytreat. Doctor Bickerstaff couldn’t have been a day over 30. He wassmartly dressed with big blue eyes that landed on Mam. He gave hera polite nod, and when he spoke again I realised that he wasEnglish.
“Ah Mrs Price, good day. I’d like to see Miss Cavendish alonefor the initial assessment if you don’t mind.”
“No, no, whatever you think is best Doctor,” Mam answered. Itwas clear that she revered the young professional a greatdeal.Bickerstafflooked down at me, but he didn’t move to take my chair. I didn’tmove either, of course, which left us in a strange, awkward staringcontest for a moment. The fair doctor folded his arms.
“Well?” he demanded, “Can’t you wheel yourself?”There wassomething terribly harsh in his voice like a schoolmaster. I feltmy nerves rising again.
“No of course not,” I answered, half anxious and half annoyed.Couldn’t he see how incapable I was?DoctorBickerstaff sneered, and suddenly he wasn’t so much like a filmstar.
“How disappointing,” he observed.He walkedwith disturbingly brisk strides to take my chair and wheeled mevery quickly into his office. I had to hold on to my armrests so asnot to slide out of the chair when he stopped short of his desk.Instead of sitting behind it he pulled up a chair opposite me andtook a paper file from his desk, ignoring me for severaluncomfortable minutes as he consulted it.
“Juvenile Arthritis,” he concluded, snapping the fileshut.
“Excuse me Doctor,” I said quietly, “But Doctor Baxendalecalled it Still’s Disease. Is that the same thing?”
“Your Doctor Baxendale’s an idiot.” Bickerstaff hardly lookedat me when he spoke. “He doesn’t know his ilium from his olecranon.Now, I want to see you stand. Get up.”He said itlike it was an easy thing to do. The blonde sat back in his chairexpectantly, making it quite clear that he wouldn’t be giving me apull to help me to my feet. I steeled myself, reaching both handsout to grip his desk ready to make the effort. When my feet foundthe ground I could already feel the pinch where the skin around myankles was swollen, when I pressed a little weight onto them thesensation was like somebody inserting a screwdriver right into thejoint and twisting it hard. I cried out at the first sharp momentof pain, looking at the doctor viciously.
“I can’t,” I said through gritted teeth, “I’m sorry Doctor,but I can’t.”
“Get up,” he repeated.I felt thehotness of water rising behind my eyes but I did my best to biteback the tears that wanted to come pouring out. I felt like hisstern face might just break into a smile if I did. The only way towin the argument was to prove myself right. With an almighty forceI hurled myself onto my feet as though I was shifting my weightonto a bed or another chair, but instead I used the desk to pushall of my weight onto my legs. My knees buckled under me after justa few seconds and I felt myself dropping to the floor like acrumpled sack of vegetables.And DoctorBickerstaff let me fall.He actuallylet my head hit the lino floor in his office before he even moved amuscle. After I had landed the impact sent a shockwave of painthrough me so hot I’d have sworn I’d been set on fire. It was thenthat Bickerstaff got up to assist. He lifted my weak little framewith ease back into my wheelchair in seconds. I kept my head down,determined to show him no gratitude for the aid, since it was hisfault I’d fallen in the first place.
“I told you I can’t do it,” I spat, seething as blood flushedinto my cheeks.
“How interesting,” he said.Out of thecorner of my eye I could see him offering me a tissue. I snatchedit out of his hand like a child in my rage. Interesting? I’m surehe’d find it terribly interesting if he fell flat on his face andnobody gave him any sympathy. After I had dried my eyes I managedto look at him again, but he had his nose back in the file and hewas writing something down. Then without even checking on me he gotup and went to call Mam into the room. To my great relief she camein in a flurry as soon as she saw me red-faced and teary.
“What’s this now?” she demanded as she pulled up the chair thedoctor had been using and wrapped one matronly arm around myshoulders.
“Nothing to worry about Mrs Price,” Bickerstaff said casually,“Catherine’s had a bit of a strain from the physical test I gaveher.”A bit of astrain? Rude as it was for a young lady, I wanted to slap himacross the face. If I had had the strength, I might have. The youngdoctor took his place behind his desk and pulled open a noisydrawer, producing four large objects made of fabric and wood. Therewere two boards about the length and width of shoe boxes withfabric straps attached to them, followed by two more that were onlyabout the length of a domino box. The smaller ones had two boardseach on them with a strap going all the way around, as though theywere designed to be wrapped around something.
“What are those?” I asked, my nose turning up againstthem.
“Your treatment,” Bickerstaff replied in that same clinicalvoice. He turned his attention to Mam. “Catherine’s condition isquite serious, I’m afraid, and her previous doctor has done verylittle to improve her chances in the last three years. We mustresist the contractive fusing of her joints overnight before itbecomes permanent.” Mam was hooked on every word he said, noddingprofusely. “Every night for the duration of the night, Catherinemust wear these splints on her knees and elbows to keep the jointsstraight and prevent contraction.”
“Every night?” I exclaimed, lookingat the horrible hefty things with loathing.
“And I want her to practise propelling herself in the chair,”Doctor Bickerstaff continued as though he hadn’t heard me at all,“So give her some old gloves to handle the wheels and encourage herto move short distances alone. Don’t be tempted to helpher.”Don’t helpme. Had he really just said that?
“What have you been up to?” I asked him, looking at thecrinkly skin on his little palms.
“Blod made me wash up the dinner service,” he said with ascowl, “There were loads of dishes. She says someone special iscoming to dinner.”
“And I’ll bet Mam askedherto do it, not you,” I added with afrown.We were inthe kitchen having a drink when the culprit returned to the sceneof the crime. Blod strode in wearing a flowing cotton dress andhigh heeled shoes. She had a sunhat on and a magazine and I knewexactly what she had been doing whilst Leighton was enslaved withher chores.
“Enjoy yourself catching the last bit of summer, did youBlod?” I asked.She turnedwith a wicked grin, taking off her hat. “I’m trying to keep my legsa nice colour for the harvest dance,” she explained, “Not your kindof concern, I suppose.”I had triedto reason that Blod might come around to our presence in time, buttwenty four hours with the young woman had done nothing to supportthat idea. Blodwyn Price was a cow, and that was that.
“Listen you,” I said, channelling all my rage from the DoctorBickerstaff encounter into my voice, “You don’t tell my brotherwhat to do. Only Mam’s in charge of us here. Not you and not anyoneelse.”
“Oh really?” Blod answered, “And what are you going to do?Leap out of that chair and knock me down if I’m mean to you? Idon’t think so somehow.”I was all themore angry because she was right. If there was ever a time to learnto propel myself in this chair it was now. Perhaps if I got goodenough I could run her over.
“No, but I’m sure Mam would have something to say about thestate of Leighton’s hands,” I countered.Blod’sbeautiful face faltered for just a moment. “Well, if you want me toget on with the chores so badly, then clear out the pair of you.Bampi’s coming for dinner and he’s not going to want to see youscruffy articles cluttering up the place.”Leigh tookthe handles of my chair and pushed me out of the kitchen slowly.When we made it to the black and white hall I told him to stop andopen my bedroom door. As he did so I reached down beside my leg andproduced the old pair of leather driving gloves that Mam had fishedout of her husband’s old trunk. Leighton watched me from the door.I put on the tough gloves and gripped the wheels of my chair,starting to push.But nothinghappened. The pressure wasn’t enough. I pushed harder, feeling myelbows start to strain. When they were stretched so far out that myshoulders started to tense I felt movement at last, but the painwas too much to push again. I had to stop for breath. I had wheeledhalf an inch, perhaps less, and already my bones were creaking. Idropped my arms, exhausted. I could feel my heart banging on myribcage in protest at the effort.
“Honestly that Doctor’s got no clue,” I sighed, “How does hethink this is even possible?”Leighton madehis punching motions again and I laughed, taking off thegloves.
“Shall I push you then?” he offered.
“Yes please,” I replied, “You heard Evil Blod; we have to getscrubbed up for dinner with a Bampi, whatever that is.”It turned outthat Bampi was the pet name for Blod and Ness’s grandfather, IdrysPengelly, who was the owner and operator of the farmlands around TyGwyn. He was Mam’s father and he lived in a cottage on the far sideof the pasture behind the house where the cows grazed, so Ness Fachwas the first to spot him coming when she was playing outside thatevening. At her announcement that Bampi was walking through thefield, Mam helped me into the sitting room so Leighton and I couldbe introduced.The firstthing we knew of him was his booming voice as he entered Ty Gwyn; Icould hear him greeting Ness in the wide hallway. He came into thesitting room at Mam’s call carrying her under his arm like abriefcase whilst she giggled. Idrys Pengelly was a tall old manwith the same rosy face as his daughter. When he smiled he hadseveral missing teeth at the sides of his mouth, which wassurrounded by a reddish beard and moustache. The hair on his headwas much more grey and nestled largely under a flat-cap, which hetook off as he dropped Ness onto the sofa beside him.
“Well now,” he said loudly, patting his knees with a thump,“Who do we have yur then?”He spokealmost exactly like Mam save for the deep, echoing tone thatthreatened to shake the roof from its rafters. I instantly likedhim with his warm smile and the fact that he had worn his brightblue farmer’s overalls to dinner, he reminded me of my ownGranddad, who had died when I was eight.
“I’m Catherine, Mr Pengelly, but people call meKit.”
“Short for Kitty, isit?” he asked. I nodded happily, thennudged my brother in the side.
“Oh! I’m Leighton,” he said with a start.
“Are you indeed?” Idrys replied. “Well come yur and let melook at you.”Leigh gave mea nervous look but I pushed him in the back, grinning. Heapproached the old man very slowly until he was close enough forIdrys to take hold of his shoulders. He looked at him carefullywith an approving smile.
“Ie, ie,” the old man said, “you’re a strapping boy all right.But what’s this behind yur yur?”
“Behind mywhat?” Leighton asked, but Idrys had already put his hand up tomy brother’s ear. He pulled back his hand to reveal a shinysixpence, grinning at Leigh.
“I think this must be yours mate,” he supposed, “I wouldn’tkeep it back there, if I were you.”Leighton tookthe coin with a look of amusement on his face.
“Say thank you,” I pressed and he did, but veryshyly.
“Blod and I’ll get the dinner on,” Mam said from the doorway,“We’ll call you when it’s ready Da.”
“Ta love,” Idrys replied.He settledback comfortably into the sofa and Ness crawled onto his knee andlay down, looking up at the ceiling. Idrys tickled her belly untilshe ran away to the corner with a huge grin.
“It’s lovely to have young people in the house again,” the oldBampi remarked, “Ness is too young to yur my stories,see?”
“What stories?” Leighton asked, learning forward eagerly inhis armchair.
“Well I was in the first war, see, the Great War, but Imust’ve told Blod a hundred times and well, she’s grown up nowinit? She’s yurd it all.”
“I’m sure we’d love to hear some stories before dinner, MrPengelly.” It wasn’t just that hearing about the war would beinteresting; the mention of Blod made me feel the need to escapefrom the present moment for a little while.
“Well then,” Idrys said happily, “D’you want to yur about thebattles or the spies?”
“Ooh!” Leighton exclaimed, raising his hand like he was in aschoolroom, “The spies please!”
“In that case, I’ll tell you something you’dneverbelieve and youtell me if you think it could be true.” Idrys leaned forward andsteeped his fingers together, his loud voice becoming softer as hestarted his tale. “When I was in Dover waiting to be sent out toFrance, there was a spy billeted with us, sleeping in our barracks,like. It was his job to infiltrate the German forces and look attheir top secret plans, but he did it all without ever leavingDover.”Idrys pausedfor effect.
“What? How?” Leighton asked impatiently. I found myself eagerfor the answer too.
“Well, he was what you’d call a psychic,” Idrys answered, “Hesaid he could travel, in his mind’s eye, to see things on othercontinents.”I felt mybreath catch in my throat.
“But that’s ridiculous!” Leighton exclaimed, slapping his leg,“That’s like a fairy-tale thing!”
“Ah well,” Idrys said, holding up a finger emphatically, “Ithought that too, so did all the fellas, so we asked this psychicif he’d prove it to us.”
“And what did he do?” I asked, finding that my voice wastrembling. I had never met anyone who talked about things like thisbefore, never heard anything even slightly similar to my secretgift outside of fiction.
“Well we locked him in the loo see, where it was pitch darkand he couldn’t talk to no-one, then we sent our mate Billy intothe billet. Billy went round taking things out of everyone’s packsand cupboards and putting them in new places. Then we sent Billyaway so he couldn’t give no hints and brought this spy fella backto the billet. He stood at the door and he told us everything thathad just happened. He told us exactly where to find every objectthat Billy had moved, he told us how Billy had swapped some thingsover and changed his mind, then swapped them back. He told us allsorts of things. And Billy came back and said it was all true. Wellif you can tell me how that’s possible, you’re a better man than Iam, Gunga Din!”Leighton satscratching his chin thoughtfully and Idrys gave us a satisfiedlook. I knew, of course, exactly how it was possible. If you lockedme up somewhere and had me tell you what Leighton had been up toall day, I’d be able to rattle off every action as though they’dbeen my own. What fascinated me was not the demonstration, but thefact that someone else out there had what I had, knew what Iknew.
“Suppose it’s true that this friend of yours was psychic, MrPengelly,” I began carefully, “Did he tell you how he did it? Whatwas his process to travel with his mind?”
“Ah, you’re a scientific one, are you?” Idrys said with whathe thought was a knowing grin. Clearly he thought I didn’t believehim. “Well Kit, he told me and the boys that all he had to do wasclose his eyes and think.”
“Think about what?” I pressed.
“About where he wanted to go, or who he wanted to find,” Idrysanswered.
“And was it easier to reach people he knew, but harder to findstrangers?”Idrys quirkeda grey eyebrow at me. “That’s a funny question,” he said withamusement, “Are you thinking of trying it sometime?”It was hardnot to be flustered by the accusation, so I tried to laugh itoff.
“I’m just interested,” I lied, “It’d be nice to think we havepeople who can spy in on the Germans now, in this war, wouldn’tit?”
“I wish I could do it,” Leighton said excitedly beside me,“I’d give all of Hitler’s secret plans to the Prime Minister!” Iwished I could tell him that it wasn’t as simple asthat.***Idrys movedon to his battle stories at the dinner table, which caused Blodwynto groan regularly between bites of her roast. She only perked upwhen her Bampi told her how pretty she was looking. I was totallylost to my own thoughts as I chewed aimlessly on a piece of chickenat the far end of the table, wondering about the psychic spy of theGreat War and his special skill. If it were true, then that meantother people out there could do what I could do. If it were false,then people who could pretend to be psychic were making a fool outof the military. But the military wanted them, needed them even, togather their information.It was sillyto think that a girl like me could ever be of use in the grandscheme of the world war, but it was also quite possibly true. If Icould hone my focus into people and places further away than justLeighton, there was a chance that I could actually be useful tosomeone. I thought back to the German man from my dream the nightbefore and spoke without thinking, interrupting one of Blod’slittle rants.
“Where’s Oslo?” I asked.Blod shot mea stabbing look across the table. Idrys swallowed his mouthful ofpotatoes as he turned to look at me.
“Norway, love,” he answered, “It’s the capitalcity.”
“Why’d you ask Kit?” Mam said, shifting more vegetables intothe available space on my plate.
“I, um, I heard it in a dream,” I answered, realising secondslater how stupid I sounded.
“That’s funny,” Mam remarked with a kind smile.
“Yeah, she’s a funny girl, isn’t she?” Blod added. She too wassmiling, but not in the same way. The urge to slap people’s faceswas apparently quite a popular one for me today.
“Hello Gail,” said a woman behind my mother in the bustlingqueue. She turned and through her eyes I was overjoyed to see thefamiliar sight of Anne, my mother’s childhood friend who lived notfar from us.
“Oh Anne,” Mum said, giving the woman a hug with one handwhilst she clasped her letters in the other, “How are you dear? DidBobby and John get off okay?”
“Yes everything was smooth as you like,” Anne replied with asmile, “They sent me a letter from Merthyr.”
“I thought they were going to the Rhondda something-or-other?”my mother pressed.Anne waved acasual hand. “Oh there was a terrible mix up, too many kids in oneplace and not enough homes to put them in!”
“How awful,” Mum said. I thought the same thing.
“No harm done, the boys are all right with the new family.Have you heard from your two?”As I felt awave of disappointment wash over Mum, the crushing guilt grabbed melike those awful splints Bickerstaff had given me, except this timethe hard boards were cramping around my heart. I hadn’t eventhought to write to Mum yet, everything had been so busy here and Ihad set off on this new psychic mission without even thinking abouther as more than a practice target. It made me feel a littlesick.Mum wastrying to smile; I could feel the movement in her face. “I’m justsending them a letter now,” she said, indicting her pile of mail asthe queue shifted forwards, “So I’m sure they’ll send me all theirnews then.”Too right wewould. I would make a point of sending pageloads to tell her howmuch we missed her and make sure Leighton did the same.
“I have heard from her doctor though,” Mum added, “He wrote assoon as he’d seen her the other day.”I froze,hating Doctor Bickerstaff all the more for pipping me to the postwith my own mother, especially before I could give her my ownimpression of him.Anne askedthe question that was on my mind. “And what did he say?”Mum hadreached the front of the postal queue. I waited in anguish for herto pay for her letters and get her change. She took Anne by the armand guided her out of the post office before she spoke, so I spentevery moment trying not to project any of my worries too close toher thoughts. The last thing I wanted her to do was catch my voicein her head. It was all right with Leighton, he had no clue whatwas going on when I injected a thought here and there, but Mum, Ifelt, would not handle my voice in her mind in quite the same way.When they were out on the street Mum and Anne stood browsing thepostcard stand away from everyone else, where finally my mother waswilling to let slip the doctor’s verdict on me.
“Well, you know he’s a specialist don’t you?” Mumbegan.Anne nodded.“That was the point of sending her to middle of nowhere, wasn’tit?”Mum noddedtoo. “He’s a forward thinker, this Steven Bickerstaff, very briskand proper on the phone, you know?” I could already imagine hisemotionless tone talking to Mum. She would no doubt be impressed byit, thinking it ever so professional. “And he said…”I could feela strange warmth rising in her chest. Her heart was quivering justa little when she spoke, and I recognised the hotness buildingunder her eyes. Anne looked quite concerned and took my mother’sarm.
“He said it might not be too late.”
Now I was concerned. Had it been too late for me already atsome point that I wasn’t aware of? And too latehowexactly? Too late for what? Wasmy nice old Doctor Baxendale really the idiot Bickerstaff claimedhe was? Had he handed me a sentence that I didn’t have toserve?
“Well that’s wonderful!” Anne said, rubbing Mum’s arm. “Gail,why are you so upset? Isn’t this good news?”
“Of course it is,” Mum answered, fishing a tissue from her bagto dab her eyes, “He said he’s started her on a new treatment andthis Mrs Price that’s got her is going to make her to stick to it,but-” Her voice collapsed there and her sadness overwhelmed me. Itwas a heavy kind of sorrow, like her heart was tied to a brick.“But it should be me there helping her,” she whispered, “I feel sohelpless now I’m so far away.”It was myturn to feel sad again, because I couldn’t tell her how close Ireally was. I contented myself that a speedy reply to her letterwould have to suffice.
“But think of it this way,” Anne soothed, her kind face framedwith blonde strands, “The next time you see her, she could be…well, she could be a lot fitter.”
“She could also be thirty the rate this war’s going,” Mumsobbed bitterly, “I wish they’d get on and clobber the Krauts so wecan get back to normal.”
“But the longer she’s with that doctor, the better a chanceshe’s got,” Anne reminded her.I didn’tagree. So far all Bickerstaff’s night splints had done were give mebruises behind the knees and inside the elbows that Mam had tocover up with make-up. If anything I was moving my joints even lessthan before. But my mother’s high hopes for me were not unfounded,especially if there was a way to put my real talents to gooduse.Anne soonchanged the subject of conversation to shake my mother from herguilt, and though it pained me to have to leave her I let my mindslip back towards Ty Gwyn until the connection was broken. When myeyes flickered open I found I was crying. As I rifled in my pocketsto fetch a tissue my head ached terribly as it often did when I’dbeen visiting Mum. Even though the little brown sitting room wasmuch darker than the other rooms of the house, the light streamingin through the small windows was far too bright. I closed my eyes,hearing my pulse in my head as the door opened gently.
“Oh dear,” Mam said as she rushed in from the door. Shecrouched in front of my chair and helped me dry my tears, rubbingmy arms. She clearly thought I had been trying to propel myself inthe chair. “Oh Kit, love, you mustn’t strain yourself. Only do whatyou can manage, eh?”I justnodded, feeling as though my head was about to explode. What Icould manage just wasn’t enough.***The wholePrice family went to chapel in the village every Sunday, which wasa strange experience for Leighton and me. We had both beenchristened Church of England, but Mum and Dad were never bigchapelgoers except at Christmas and Easter. Mum always made us sitin front of the wireless and listen to something religious on aSunday after breakfast, but that was a nice, peaceful affair.Sunday after breakfast at Ty Gwyn was something else entirely.The routinestarted with Idrys arriving at eight o’clock in his best chapelattire and complaining that Mam was never ready when she said shewould be. Mam was in her smart white chapel dress but she still hadher apron on and half a dozen rollers curled into the back of herhead. Every time she tried to go up to her room to finish gettingready, something would interrupt her, like Ness appearing with hersocks on her hands instead of her feet, or Blodwyn storming throughthe house complaining that all of her stockings were laddered.Idrys watched the whole fiasco with amusement for about the firsttwenty minutes, until he realised that the family would actually belate for chapel if he didn’t do something soon.At that pointhe disappeared with Ness and reappeared about five minutes laterwith her properly dressed, then wheeled me out in front of the doorand set the little girl on my knee where she was quite happy to sitand discuss dolls. He then marched back into the house and let hisbooming voice loose on the remaining populous; promising them thatif they didn’t assemble outside in five minutes flat, the preacherwould condemn them all to Hell. The first time Idrys said itLeighton came running out of the huge door like a greyhound,standing next to me in his little powder blue waistcoat.
“I bet you don’t remember what church is like, do you?” Iasked, “You didn’t even come with us last Easter.”
“Of course I do,” Leigh answered with a look of protest, “It’sa bunch of old people and boring stories and all the singing’s outof tune.”He was righton two counts out of the three, but I did rather enjoy the hymnsfor a change. Most of them were in Welsh, which I think made Godand faith sound a little more uplifting, but that might have beenbecause I didn’t understand the words. The actual service itselfwas a dull one, but being in the little chapel did give me a chanceto see the collected mass that was the rest of the village. Judgingby the sizeable crowd, it seemed that Bryn Eira Bach was the kindof place where absolutely everybody went to chapel, so I was gladto be part of the experience.That wasuntil we were outside the chapel gate afterwards, when the familiarframe of Doctor Bickerstaff started approaching us. I was stoodwith Mam as she adjusted her hat against the bright autumn sun, soI saw him coming first. He caught my eye with a familiar look ofdisdain, his gaze extending to my elbows, at which I immediatelycrossed my arms. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing thebadly-disguised bruises his contraptions had caused.
“Good morning Mrs Price,” he said as he stopped beforeher.
“Bore da, Doctor,” Mam replied happily, “Lovely service todaywasn’t it?”
“Hmm,” Bickerstaff answered thoughtfully, “the preacher speakswell on the progress of man indeed. I actually came to check onsome progress of my own.” His round blue eyes settled on me. “Howare you doing with the new treatment, Catherine?”ThankfullyMam’s exuberance spared me from having to answer him.
“Well we’ve had the splints on every night and not a word ofcomplaint,” Mam began, “and she’s had time every day to practicemoving herself around.”Bickerstaffdidn’t look impressed in the least. “In that case I look forward toseeing your progress on Friday,” he said.
“Friday?” I repeated.
“Your next appointment,” the doctor replied.In herattempts to make me sound good to the doctor, Mam had dropped mesmack bang in the centre of an awkward situation. The mornings Ishould have spent trying to strengthen my arms to move the chairhad been reserved for stepping in and out of Mum’s head in Londonand Leighton’s at the village schoolhouse. I was surprised that Mamhadn’t noticed I was in exactly the same place where she’d put meevery time she came back to the room. Or perhaps she had and shewas just more sympathetic than the suited cretin now judging me atthe chapel gate.
“Same time as before, isit?” Mam asked.Bickerstaffnodded, which meant I had exactly 120 hours to learn how to movemore than half an inch across the floor without having a heartattack. It was a much more daunting feat than learning toinfiltrate war-torn Europe with my mind, that was for sure, but Iwould have to make a serious go of it now before the doctor caughtme out.
“Are we going then or what?” said a balshy voice approachingus. I twisted my neck to see Blod ambling down the cobbled path inher heels.
“Don’t be so rude in front of the doctor, Blodwyn,” Mamchided, and this time it was a proper chide, one with no amusementin her tone.
“It’s quite all right, I was just leaving.” The words camerushing out of Bickerstaff’s mouth faster than Leighton had movedwhen he thought he might be sent to Hell. He said good day to usall, put his head down and moved off at his usual brisk pace backtowards his shiny white hospital car. I watched him go; alreadyregretting that the next time I would see him was so close athand.
“Honestly I can’t take you anywhere,” Mam grumbled at Blod,“Make yourself useful and push Kit back up to the house. It’s notfair us letting your Bampi do it both ways.”
“What have you got a face on for?” she demanded.I opted forhonesty since I didn’t actually care what Blod thought of me.
“I really hate that doctor,” I answered bitterly.The beautyqueen cracked a little smile on her made-up lips. She came round meto grab the handles of my chair, letting out a little laugh.
“Well that’s one thing we have in common,” sheobserved.I foundmyself a little happier too. We had bonded, if only for a moment.Nevertheless, Blod pushed me over every large or jagged cobble shecould find as we made our way home.It wasThursday night that I started to worry about the appointment.During the week I kept telling myself that if I practised with thechair I’d improve, but as Friday drew nearer and nearer I hadmanaged only two inches of distance before it felt as though myshoulders had been ripped from my body like a ragdoll caught in abulldog’s teeth. I had to tell myself firmly that any distance wasbetter than no distance and if that didn’t impress DoctorBickerstaff then he could lump it for all I cared. I wasn’t sure ifI’d be brave enough to tell him that to his face, but I supposedthat when the time came to challenge him I’d find out.That was howI came to be thinking about him at bedtime, most especially whenMam strapped my arms and legs into the torturous splints that wereslowly turning my joints a regal shade of purple. I had gotten usedto sleeping with them as the nights wore on; it was the pain in themorning that I’d begun to dread, especially that first agonisingmoment after taking them off. I tried not to think of it as Mamtucked me in with her kind, rosy face, leaving me the water and thebiscuit that Leighton would come and steal in the morning. She putout my light and left me lying in the dark where I tried not tothink about tomorrow.I expected,as I always did, that I would probably visit somewhere interestingon my way to sleep, but I was most confused in my half-slumber tofind myself staring directly at Doctor Bickerstaff’s movie starface. It took me a while to realise that I was looking into amirror, at which point the horror set in. I was in his head.Bickerstaff was looking at himself in the polished mirror of a verypokey little bathroom with grey tiled walls. His blue eyes werebloodshot in the harsh light from the unshaded bulb and his chinhad a dark, stubbly shadow growing on it.It wasstrange enough seeing him in his navy pyjamas, but as the doctorstarted to brush his teeth it was the strength of his emotions thatdisturbed me the most. He had a very peculiar feeling hanging abouthim; he kept stopping in his night time routine to stare at hisface again in the mirror, like there was something about his lookthat troubled him deeply. It was like that feeling when someonetakes the last cake off the plate just before you go to grab it,except that it consumed him completely. He was Leighton when he’dfinished a particularly good dessert, staring at the empty bowl. Hewas me when I watched people dancing at a fete, feeling the coldmetal of my chair against my useless legs.Bickerstaffwound his way to a small, single bed with starchy sheets, intowhich he climbed with that awful feeling still weighing down hischest. He checked his watch before he flicked off the light, but inthe darkness of his small bedroom he was just laid there staring atthe ceiling. I had been to some depressing minds during mydreamtime visits, but there was something different about his.Perhaps it was just because I knew him that it was all so awkward.Perhaps someone somewhere was trying to teach me to hate him alittle bit less.But he didn’thave to sleep with dirty great slabs of wood strapped to his limbsthat bruised him all night as his joints resisted them. Aside fromwhatever thought was troubling his mind, his body lay healthily andcomfortably in his crisp little bed. As my own sour thoughtovertook his deepening sadness, I felt a cold shiver travel throughme. It seemed to travel through him as well, making him shift ontohis side. Bickerstaff finally closed his eyes and soon we were bothasleep.***I thought Icould have done without the creepy and depressing experience ofbeing inside Doctor Bickerstaff’s head, but when I went to myappointment the next day I was surprised by how much lessintimidating he seemed after my little excursion. When he wheeledme briskly to his room I cared nothing for his smug, sharp-suitedfaçade; I rather thought he must have noticed because he even gaveme a curious smile when he took his place opposite me next to thedesk.
“You seem very relaxed Catherine,” he observed.
“I really do prefer to be called Kit, if you think you canmanage it,” I answered. It seemed the sight of him, depressed andalone in his navy pyjamas, had done wonders for myconfidence.Bickerstaffalmost laughed, haughty and oblivious to the source of myamusement.
“I do hope you’ll be putting this newfound spirit of yoursinto your treatment,” he said in his schoolmaster tone.
“We’ll see,” was my reply.
“I’d like you to try and stand again,” he said.Confidence, Ilearned then, is a very fragile thing. My sense of superiorityflooded away as I remembered the embarrassing display from the lasttime the doctor had ordered me onto my feet. I thought aboutrefusing to do it, but I had an idea that Bickerstaff was stubbornenough to just keep me there until I did as I was told.
“Do you enjoy seeing me fall over then?” I asked, gripping thearms of my chair as I forced my feet to find the linofloor.
“Not as much as you think I do,” he answered. I was annoyedthat it wasn’t a clear ‘No’.To mysurprise he stood up after that and crossed the small gap betweenus, waiting patiently for my upheaval. Dragging my torso up by thestrength of my elbows was just as painful as the last time I hadtried it; I felt the familiar burning of the strain as flames ofpain seared up and down my arms. I persevered, shifting myselfforward forcefully onto my unsteady legs as I had before.For thebriefest of moments, I thought I had done it. I was standing. Butit was just a few seconds of false hope, and this time as my kneesgave way the doctor at least had the courtesy to catch me aroundthe waist and drop me back into my chair. I felt the red flush ofdefeat in my cheeks, turning my face away from him and chidingmyself for my own stupidity. I don’t know why I thought I could winagainst him, because every time I fell back into that chair I hadlost. And I would always fall back into the chair.Bickerstaffwas writing in his file when I dared to look again. At least I hadstopped myself from crying this time. His pen raced across the pagehe was turned to.
“You’re not practising moving around enough,” he said withoutlooking up from the page, “Your elbows ought to bestronger.”I bit my lipto resist answering him back. There were a lot of things about mybody that I thought ought to be different; I didn’t need himpointing them out one by one like they were easy things to fix. Nomatter how troubled the doctor was in private, at least he couldhide it behind his smart suit and smug face. I was troubled for allto see and pity me for it, and so long as I was stuck in this chairthat fact was not going to change.***The first fewmonths of life at Ty Gwyn turned into a drab but comforting routinefrom there on in. I devoted about a quarter of my free time toDoctor Bickerstaff’s rotten exercises and my mobility in the chairgrew inch by inch until I could wheel from my bedroom door to theedge of the bed unaided. It was about three feet, which was notmuch use to me or anyone else, but it was enough to shut the rottendoctor up, which meant I had the other three quarters of my timeleft to train my other, far more important skill.I went toschool with Leighton many times, mentally of course, but hislessons in the winter term were simple things that I had learnedyears ago and I grew tired of sitting in his mind listening in. Itried to visit Mum’s mind plenty more times as the weeks went on,but the psychic journey to London gave me unrelenting headaches forhours after a trip. The headaches did get less the more carefully Ifocused on the connection between us, but in all truth her growingsense of guilt for our welfare and fears about the war made it hardto stay in her mind for very long.With my twousual avenues of practice fast becoming useless, I decided that afew other targets around me would be a better use of my time. Ideliberately avoided Doctor Bickerstaff for fear that hisdepression might be catching, but if I could get into his head fromover the hill then the inhabitants of Ty Gwyn’s farmlands weresurely within my grasp. Ness Fach was easy to find; one thought ofher huge blue eyes and I was there with her rolling in the stiffwinter grass and flinging Dolly across the mud. I was there whenher Bampi picked her up by the ankle and told her it was too coldto play outside. I watched the upside down world full of hergiggling joy as she was transported back into the house.I triedBlodwyn a few times before I actually got her, my own eagerness tosee what little miss perfect got up to in her spare time making meall the more determined. I wasn’t surprised to find that she wasjust as shallow in private as she was in public. Blod spent most ofher free time doing and re-doing her hair into different stylesfrom her magazine, trying on clothes and practising dance steps tothe radio in her bedroom. I also learned through these little tripsthat the young farm boys Idrys had taken on for the winter werethrowing love letters into her window attached to little stones.She laughed at them all, the boys were only about my age, and wrotethings back like ‘No chance mochyn’ and ‘When you start to shave,we’ll see’.I’d be lyingto say I didn’t envy the attention; the farm boys treated me like aleper at worst and a statue at best, either way I was something tobe avoided. But then what chance did I have with a newly-adultCeltic goddess flouncing about the place? The only thing thatreally surprised me about Blod was that she was, sometimes,actually nice to her sister. In the public parts of the house andwhen she was doing her chores, Ness was just constantly in Blod’sway and consequently was always being shouted at. But when Blod wasupstairs having a break Ness quite often wandered into her roomuninvited. The first time it happened I expected to feel Blod hitthe roof and order the little wanderer out forthwith. But despitethe huge age gap between them, Blod was actually quite a goodsister when she thought no-one could see. She let Ness put some ofher make-up on and let her bounce on her bed to the radio tunes.Sometimes she even sat and talked to her.When thosemoments happened I let her mind go, too jealous of the sisterlybond to stay and listen in. I had Leighton, of course, but itwasn’t the same. And girl chat made me think of Mum too, for thatmatter. I had noticed a strange thing on that score whilst I waspractising my visits. Out of any of the new minds that I had triedto reach in Bryn Eira Bach, none of them gave me the splittingheadaches that I got from reaching Mum in London. I was tiredcertainly, after every encounter, but there was never so much painas when I took my mind to hers. I pondered if it could be thedistance between us that hurt so much, but the visits I made inhalf-sleep took me to all sorts of places much farther than Londonand I never woke up crying from those.***
By the time the snow set in and Christmas loomed on thehorizon, I felt I was ready for some serious new challenges. Mamhad given me a few little chores to do in the house as my arms grewstronger, just polishing things or peeling vegetables beforedinner, but I still had more time alone in December than I knewwhat to do with. Once Leighton was off school things were betterand there were no shortage of preparations to be made for a Pricefamily Christmas. Things went especially mad on the22ndwhen Mam received a telegram delivered from the village postoffice.
“Clive and the boys are coming home for Christmasdinner!”I was mostkeen to meet RAF Flight Sergeant Clive Price, so when they arrivedon the morning of Christmas Eve I gave it my best effort to wheelmyself out into the hall before anyone had to fetch me. I was sosuccessful that Mam tripped over me when she came out to wait bythe door herself, but she was good natured enough to congratulateme on the effort all the same.
“Oh Doctor Bickerstaff will be pleased with you,” sheobserved.I didn’t carea fig for how the rotten doctor felt; I was just interested inkeeping him from causing me trouble.The door ofTy Gwyn burst open, bringing a flurry of cold, snowy air into thehall that made me shiver all over. The blast let in three tall,strapping figures in smart blue uniforms, the tallest of whichslammed the door behind him. Clive’s smiling face was red with themorning frost as he took off his blue officer’s hat and hung up ahuge overcoat that he had been carrying. It was clear that he andhis sons hadn’t wanted the sight of their uniforms to be obscuredas they made their way here. Mam rushed to Clive with an explosionof pride and relief, hugging him repeatedly before it was the turnof her sons to have their bones crushed.I knew thatThomas was the blonde one and also the eldest child. He had ahandsome face with a lot of Blodwyn’s features and the same paleblue eyes that ran through the whole family. The other son, twoyears younger at twenty-two, was Ieuan, which I had learned to sayas Yai-yan in the run up to meeting him. He had Idrys’s gingerylook, but with Clive’s long nose and square jaw.
“You must be Kit,” Ieuan said when Mam had released him. Heshook my hand very gently. “Mam must’ve written a hundred lettersabout you and your brother being yur. I feel like I know youalready.”
“Pleased to meet you Ieuan,” I replied with asmile.There was alot of bustling as Idrys, Ness and Blod each got their hugs whilstLeighton and I were introduced to the boys. It was a long timebefore everyone had spoken to everyone and we were all stood frozenin the black and white hall by the time they were all settledagain. Clive and the boys were exhausted from their overnightjourney across North Wales in the back of a truck, so Mam packedthem off to bed each with a cup of tea and a biscuit and set aboutmaking a huge welcome home dinner. Idrys tried to put her off sincewe’d already be having a huge lunch the next day, but she wouldn’tbe deterred.I had gottenused to a full table of food at Ty Gwyn, but now that her boys werehome I finally understood Mam’s tendency to overprovide. Clive,Thomas and Ieuan ate like they had been starving in the desert forweeks on end, consuming everything in their immediate vicinity andthen asking for more, which Mam dutifully provided. Leighton seemedvery glad to be at my end of the table where his share was safefrom them, but as he gave me one of his cheeky looks, his eyes fellto my hands and he frowned.
“What’s happened to your skin?” he asked in awhisper.I lookeddown, horrified to see a peculiar salmon-coloured rash spreading inblotches over my left hand. I pulled up the sleeve of my jumper tofind it was travelling there too. It had happened before, now andthen, just small patches, on my leg or on my tummy, but neveranywhere that anyone could see, and certainly not on such a scale.Doctor Baxendale had told me it was just something some people got.I shoved my hand under the table, eating with only my fork.
“It’s fine,” I told Leighton, “Get on with yourdinner.”But it wasn’tfine, it was hideous. And, worse than that, I was starting to feelvery hot in my jumper. Clammy beads of sweat formed under my hairat the nape of my neck, but if I took off the jumper now thensomeone besides Leighton was sure to notice the rash and make afuss. It would most likely fade like it had in times gone by, sothe last thing I wanted to do was make a spectacle of myself,especially with new people at the table. It had taken the last fourmonths to get used to the first half of the Price family, I didn’twant to make an odd impression on the rest.But the heatgrew as dinner went on; I was starting to think it wasn’t just thejumper. I could feel sweat behind my knees under the table, even myfeet were clammy in my shoes. When I checked under the table, theblotchy pink rash was also on my legs and in the space of fifteenminutes at the table it was suddenly on my right hand too. Mam wasso thrilled to have her boys back that she hardly looked at anyoneelse, that was until I dropped my fork and it went clattering ontothe plate loudly.
“Sorry,” I said clumsily, my eyes shifting in and out of focusas I tried to find her at the busy table, “Excuse me.”I reachedforward for the fork, but when I went to grab it my blotchy handdidn’t seem to find the right place.
“What on earth’s wrong with her?” Blod demanded. Her voiceechoed in my head.The room wassuddenly darker. I wanted to ask who had switched off thelights.
“Oh my God,” said Mam somewhere very far away, “Somebody phonethe doctor!”The nextthing I was aware of was the sight of the black beams of theceiling in my downstairs bedroom. My eyes flickered open six orseven times before I could get them to actually stay open, so whenthey did I let them focus on the ceiling for a while as I tried toremember what had happened. I noticed as I lay in the bed that Iwasn’t wearing my splints, so I shifted my weight around to see ifany damage had been done when I presumably collapsed out of mychair at the dinner table. I was still horribly sweaty all over, mylimbs were weak and though I could move them it was a terriblestrain.
“Ah, good afternoon,” said a voice I recognised besideme.I turned myhead too quickly, feeling dizzy and sick. Doctor Bickerstaff. Hewasn’t wearing his usual doctor’s attire, just a woolly jumper anda pair of corduroy trousers. He had a book on his lap and his facewas terribly haggard. He looked as tired as I felt and a thicklayer of blonde stubble covered his jaw.
Good afternoon, he had said. If Ihad collapsed on Christmas Eve, then that could mean only onething.
“I’ve ruined their Christmas,” I said, my voice tiny and weak.It was too exhausting to be sad; the words came out flat anddry.
“No, they’re fine,” Bickerstaff said in his proper tone,“They’re all downstairs around the wireless waiting for the King’sChristmas message. You’ve only ruinedmyChristmas, and I daresay you’llfeel a lot less guilty about that.”
“Sorry,” I whispered. He was right, but I did feel a littlebad for him in spite of everything.
“Don’t worry, it wasn’t much of one to ruin.”There was noinvitation to press the topic any further, but of course I knewthat he lived alone without him having to tell me. Bickerstaff putthe back of his hand across my forehead and I could feel my dampskin sticking to him.
“Do you feel hot or cold right now?” he asked.
“Cold,” I replied, “What’s happened to me?”
“Fevers and rashes are not uncommon symptoms for people withyour condition,” he replied clinically. There was no trace ofempathy in his face whatsoever.
“I used to get fevers when I first got sick,” I replied. Hejust nodded. I didn’t feel feverish now, just sticky andhorrid.The door tothe bedroom opened and Ness Fach ambled in wearing what looked likea new dress. Doctor Bickerstaff turned in his chair to see her. Shewatched him carefully for a moment, sucking on the hand of herDolly.
“Hello little one,” he said in what he must have thought was awarmer tone. It didn’t sound much different to his usualone.Ness ran awaywithout a word. Bickerstaff’s mouth twitched awkwardly a little,and he was about to speak to me again when yet another visitorappeared in the wide doorway.
“Oh she’s awake then,” Blod said, her look was not relieved inthe least, “Mam sent me to see if you wanted anothercuppa.”DoctorBickerstaff stood up and brushed off his jumper, forgetting thebook on his lap which dropped to the floor with a thud. His mouthtwitched again as he looked at Blod.
“No, no,” he stammered. Was he nervous of something? “Idaresay Kit’ll be up and about by this evening. Her fever’s broken,so I’ll be going once I’ve spoken to your mother.”Blod eyed himwith the kind of contempt she usually reserved for me, which was anice change, I’ll admit.
“All right then,” she said, quickly turning on her perfectheels to sweep away.Bickerstafflooked at the space where she’d been standing for a moment beforehe turned back to me. I knew I was giving him what must have been arather rude, quizzical look, but he chose not to challenge it.
“I’m curious as to what brought this fever on, Kit,” he said,his face falling back into its relaxed emotionless template, “Yourphysical progress isn’t good enough to suggest overexertion. Haveyou strained yourself in any other way?”
“Peeling a potato is a strain in my world, doctor,” Ianswered, “You’re going to have to be more specific.”
“Well what about mental strain?” he pressed, a glimmer ofannoyance hanging on his lip. He wanted to sneer, I was sure of it,but for some reason he was holding it back. “Have you been readinga lot or doing something else that uses yourconcentration?”
“I have been reading a lot,” I lied quickly, “There’s not muchelse to do here.” Of course I knew the real answer to hisquestion.
“Well that could be bringing it on,” he explained, “A relaxedmind does wonders for one’s health, see that you rememberthat.”I would, ifit meant stopping him from invading Ty Gwyn ever again. I watchedhim pick up his things and go, already formulating a new way tobalance my mental training and keep my brain strain-free the restof the time. The fever had been awful, but now that it was overthere was a lesson to be learned and more practice to be done. Butfirst, I remembered, there were a few hours left of my first WelshChristmas to enjoy.***The New Yearbrought plenty of nasty shocks with it, including the introductionof rationing, which sat about as well with Mam as the idea of birthcontrol did with the Pope. Mam said that she was terribly gratefulthat Clive and the boys had been home at the right time before thegovernment had taken control of how much food each household couldhave, but she couldn’t imagine what she would feed them the nexttime they came for a visit. I felt sad that I had only spent a fewhours with them before their scheduled return on Boxing Day, butshe assured me they would come again when they could. Leighton washit almost as hard as Mam by the news that he could no longer havea snack at every hour of the day and night.
“But this is farm isn’t it?” he protested, “What you grow andmake here should belong to you, not the Prime Minister!”Idrys fieldedthe question until Leighton understood the problem of feeding allthe soldiers defending us whilst also compensating for the supplychains that had been cut off from some parts of Europe. “This ishow we do our part for the war!” he explained proudly, and Leightonseemed happy with that, even if his stomach disagreed.In the timeit took for winter to change into spring I had once again honed mymind-hopping skills to overcome the new obstacles in my path. Bystaying away from Mum and the painful connection to London I hadreduced my raging fevers to nothing but mild sweats, which keptDoctor Bickerstaff away from the house right up until the start ofApril, when he turned up out of the blue and spent a very long timetalking to Mam in the kitchen. I resisted the urge to step into hishead and listen to what he was telling her, and I was sincerelyglad I had when Mam told me later that I wasn’t making enoughphysical progress and the doctor asked ‘could I please try a bitharder when I had the time’. I was certain Doctor Bickerstaffhadn’t been that kind in the phrasing of his request.I could havebeen annoyed, but the doctor didn’t matter to me that day; I hadbigger fish to fry. Leighton was at school and the family weregoing out shopping for a new dress for Blodwyn’s birthday. Thehouse was mine for three solid hours uninterrupted. And I was goingto try to reach the German soldier at last.
I had been very nervous of trying to reach Germany in my headin case it brought on a fever, but April the9thhad a feeling about it, like the time was right. I feltunusually healthy as I settled myself in the sitting room, pushingthe door shut behind me. I could wheel myself much better than whatI had shown the doctor, or anyone else, so I put my chair in thecentre of the room and turned away from the bright afternoon lightin the windows to prepare for the usual routine.
“Min elskede Oslo,” he whispered.
Oslo!So something had gone right inmy practice after all.
“Hvem sa det?” the boy said, looking around him frantically.The rest of the crowd gave him funny looks, some shook their heads.I felt his eyes narrowing in suspicion, his ears pricking as hecontinued to look around. Had heheardme? I focused hard on him andwhat he was doing. It felt like deep concentration, like listening.He closed his eyes, turning my viewpoint black.
Oslo, I thought again.He jumped,startled. His eyes flew open and once again he looked around forthe source of the voice, but the females in this room were olderwomen who were all staring out at the display on the street. My boypushed his way through the crowd and out of the room, into a poorlylit corridor with a buzzing electric bulb. I didn’t know what todo, but I felt I owed him some kind of explanation. I thought ofwhat my mother would do if she were addressing someone from foreignparts.
Hello, I thought,Do you speak English?The boy letout an audible cry as he scanned the corridor around him. It wastotally empty. So now he knew my voice had no body. I didn’t knowif that was a good or bad thing.
“Some English, yes,” he answered. He was more nervous now thanwhen the Nazis had arrived. “Please miss, where are you speakingfrom?”That was aloaded question, but I decided on honesty.
Great Britain, I replied.
“But that is impossible,” he whispered. I liked his accent,the way he pushed his vowels out of his mouth withstress.Yes, but it’strue.
“Why can the others not hear you?” he asked, his nervesabating a little once more.
I’m afraid I have used your mind to see what’s happening inOslo.It was true enough; he didn’t needto know it had happened accidentally.
“You have powers,” he began uncertainly, “Synsk… I do not knowthe English word. But this is very, very impossible.”He understoodit better than I thought he would, which told me he had enoughsense about him not to think himself mad for hearing voices. Hebelieved that people like me existed, however afraid he might be ofthe idea. I was about to speak again when that familiar cold shiverstarted to creep up my spine, the dark little corridor was fadingin and out. I panicked, focusing hard to maintain for a few secondsmore.
Your name, I demanded,Please, I have to go, but give me your name. Ican find you again with your name.I clungdesperately to Oslo, hoping what I’d just said was true. And then Irealised that perhaps he wouldn’t want me to find him again. Istarted to sink away despite my efforts; almost everything in thecorridor was gone when one last sound reached my ears.
“Henri.”I was tooexhausted from the length of the visit to focus on finding Henriagain right away. I went to bed that night hoping my mind mighttake me there anyway, but had no such luck, and the next day therewas no peace to be found at all at Ty Gwyn. Mam was intent onmending the impenetrable rift that had built up between Blod and Iduring my eight months thus far in North Wales; she thought a nicetrip to the cinema was the solution. Blod only agreed because mywheelchair meant that she would most likely get a seat right at thefront of the picture house.
Unfortunately Mam also made the insane decision to break apiece of bad news to Blod on the way to the cinema, namely that shecouldn’t have the dress she wanted for her21stbirthday. Blod hit the roof shamelessly as we went down theuneven streets of Bryn Eira Bach, but for all her complaints theresimply wasn’t enough money in the family to give her what shewanted. Fabric was in short supply and necessary for the wareffort, so the few new dresses that remained in Evans the Tailor’swindow had more than tripled in price since the start of the year.By the time we reached the ticket booth Blod had a face that couldsummon stormclouds and though we did get our seat at the front ofthe tiny screening room, she slumped back into her chair, crossedher arms and stared at the screen determinedly even before the reelstarted to run.The firstthing that popped into life on the screen was a news reel detailingthe current state of the war. At first there were some flickeringimages of our boys in ranks, saluting and waving their sweetheartsgoodbye. People in the picture house cheered all around me. But theatmosphere dropped into a sombre one as the great black and whitescreen was overtaken by the Nazi swastika flying high. The narratorof the bulletin erupted into a deeper, darker tone.
“But out in Greater Europe our allies are falling to the greatGerman threat.”Stillphotographs appeared of people being flung out of their houses byGerman troops, children crying in the streets and propertiessmashed and destroyed. Until one image flickered into focus, animage that made me gasp aloud. Oslo. The boulevard that I had beenlooking down on with its leafy green trees and the lines ofsoldiers in their big black boots next to the open canvas trucks.Except that now those soldiers were dragging people away, and partof the street in the forefront of the image was smeared withsomething dark. Blood.
“The occupation of Norway began this week seeing hundreds ofinnocent residents in the capital city of Oslo taken away. Thesepropaganda photographs released to the European newspapers claimthat the Nazis are hounding out traitors and resistors to theircause. The Norwegian government has been overthrown and replacedby…”I couldn’tbear it anymore. I closed my eyes and my mind to the cinema screen.Henri was there in that awful place. He’d have seen the blood onthe streets; he might even have been taken away. I had met with himfor less than half an hour, but I knew he was a good young man. Iconsidered my state carefully, deciding that I was no longer astired as I had been in the morning. Perhaps I had rested enough toreach him. Blod was still sulking to my left and Mam was in thechair on the other side of her, engrossed in the newsreel still. Isank back into my wheelchair slowly, putting my head out of theirfield of vision.My arms andhands took their usual position as I nervously began to shut outthe sounds and sights of the screening. Perhaps if they saw me,they would just think I had a headache, or even that I’d nodded offto sleep. With a nervous, thumping pulse building behind my ears, Itook my two deep breaths, thinking hard on the scenes I had justwitnessed, the young smooth hands of the boy in the store room. Hisvoice and his name. Henri.When I openedmy eyes I was at a table sewing on a button. Or more preciselyHenri was. I recognised the trickle of the nerves down his spine ashe tried to concentrate, the sight of his hands filled me withglee. If I had had the physical strength to leap for joy this wouldhave been the moment to do it. I had the found the right mind atthe right time for once. I watched him for a few seconds as hecontinued to attach the button to a man’s brown suit, but Icouldn’t resist the urge to make contact for long.
Hello Henri, I thought.The young manstabbed himself with the needle as he jumped half out of his skin.He looked up into the same store room he had been in when I saw himlast. There were a few other stations for tailoring among theswathes of cloth, but he was alone.
“Hello?” he said aloud, sucking on his now-sorefinger.
I’m so sorry, I answered,I didn’t mean to startle you.
“No harm done,” he answered with his finger still at his lips,“I had begun to think you were something in myimagination.”
I had to rest my mind before I could comeback, I explained,but they’re reporting on the occupation here, I wanted tomake sure you were all right.
“You did?”Henri feltsort of warm suddenly. I was grateful that he wasn’t able to seethe blush that might have crept into my cheeks at his words.
I don’t know how long we have to speak, I thought, avoiding his question.
“Then tell me your name,” Henri prodded, setting down histailor’s tools.Kit, KitCavendish.
“Kit,” he repeated in his rich voice.
How old are you?I asked.
“Seventeen,” he answered, “And you?”
An awkward moment settled on me.Well, I’ll be sixteen in June.
“So you’re fifteen,” he corrected with a laugh hitched in histhroat. I could feel his merriment rising slowly.Where areyou? Are you a tailor?
“Something like that,” Henri replied. He looked up around theroom again to make sure no-one had come in. “I was an apprentice,but all the older men fled north to escape before the invasion, sonow I am the only boy left. This is Mr Hoffman’s building, theclothing shop is downstairs.” He paused a moment, scratching hischin. “Can you see everything I see?”
Yes, I answered,whatever you look at, I can see it too.Everythingsuddenly went black.
“What can you see now?” Henri asked. I could feel a smilegrowing on his face.
You’ve closed your eyes, haven’t you?I answered.He laughed,opening them again. Then he held up his hand in front of his face,still chuckling.
“How many fingers?” he demanded.
Five, four, none, two.I followedhis movements and answered as quickly as he made them.
“This is amazing,” he remarked, shaking his head. He lookeddown at himself, revealing a brown waistcoat over a black shirt.“So what am I wearing?” he tested again.I was aboutto answer when a sharp banging sound alerted us both. Henri snappedhis gaze to the door where we both saw the horrific sight of bigblack boots kicking it open and marching into the room. A tall manwith curly black hair stepped in wearing the German uniform. He hada thick moustache that emphasized his sneering lip as he approachedHenri in the centre of the room. A half dozen more soldiers intheir circular helmets followed him inside, gathering around thegreat dark man like a pack of wolves. Henri got to his feet as theGerman approached; all his merriment from a moment since wasgone.
“You speak English, boy?” demanded the German. He was carryingsome kind of officer’s hat under his arm.
“Yes sir,” Henri answered, his usually deep voice quivering alittle, “I have a teacher. I am a student of MrBavistock.”
The sneer turned into a horrid yellow grin under that hugeugly moustache. “Ah yes. He is an Englishman, no?” the Germanasked. Henri didn’t reply; I could feel his muscles tensing. “Weare…talkingwithhim, at the moment.”I had apretty good idea of what he meant having seen the awful newsreel.That poor teacher would be one of the people dragged out of theirlives by the grey-green uniformed mass of invaders. Henri stoodfirm, his face reactionless. The German’s dark eyes scanned theempty room.
“Who were you talking to just now?” he demanded.
“Nobody sir,” Henri stammered, his stoicism starting to fail,“I was practising my English. I always practice out loud when I amalone. It is good for pronunciation.” All the words came tumblingout in a nervous mess; I could feel his heart starting to thump inhis ears, his blood rushing in anxious circuits to flush into hisface. He felt hot suddenly, his breath was sharp.The officerbarked something in German at his men, who then descended on theroom, overturning huge piles of fabric, clothes, patterns, evenmachinery. They hurricaned through the large, empty room in pairs,uprooting everything in sight. Henri spun on the spot as he watchedthem until his focus came back to their superior. It was then thatI noticed the officer’s great hairy hands folded in front of himand the clipped cigar perched in his pocket ready to be lit. Irecognised them all too well, horrified to look into the ugly, darkface and realise I had been inside the mind attached to it.
“Just a little inspection,” the officer explained with ahorrible smile, “it is within the law.”
“Whose law?” Henri asked. He seemed shocked with himself foreven asking it.
“Your law, by next week,” the officer answered, “things areabout to change around here, Herr…?”
“Haugen,” Henri answered, “Henri Haugen.”The officerapproached with definite strides of his huge boots. He was at leasthalf a foot taller than Henri, his dark eyes boring down on him. Hetook Henri’s chin in his hairy hand roughly; I felt the force asthough he’d grabbed me too. The German’s yellow teeth were bared inanother wicked grin.
“We could use some boys like you who know their English well,”he mused cruelly.Henri wasshaking, but the fire of his anger and injustice had returned. Hetook the German’s hand away from his face by force, stepping out ofhis reach and back behind his table.
“I will not help the Nazi swine,” he spat.
“You insolent little cur!” The German was instantly enraged,his hairy hands balling into fists as though he might swing forHenri any moment. I feared him, though Henri was now more angrythan frightened, but a thought occurred to me as I recalled myprevious encounter with the pig-headed officer. He was afraid ofsomeone too.Quick Henri,say what I say exactly.
“Officer,” Henri began as I fed him the words, “I hope youwill not consider doing anything outside of your orders here today.I’m sure you weren’t ordered to harm civilians. TheGeneralfeldmarschall might hear of it if you do.”The darkGerman stopped in his tracks, a flicker of hesitation crossing hisfurious dark eyes. I knew the man’s fear of his general, I had felthis heart thump in his chest just like Henri’s and mine did rightnow.
“Watch your tongue in future, Herr Haugen.”The officerbarked at his soldiers again and they stopped their rampage of thestore room, leaving everything in a mess as they followed theircommander swiftly from the scene. Henri waited several long momentsas we listened to them descending the stairs. He went to thewindow, watching until the little troop of jackboots had marchedoff into the street, then let out a huge relieved sigh.
“You saved me there,” he told me in the empty, wrecked room,“Sometimes I do not think before I speak.”
What you said was very brave, Ireplied. I felt the heat of pride building in Henri’s chest.But he might have given you a beating forit.
“Yes,” he agreed, “I’ll have to learn how to manage with thesedogs in command.” Henri walked to the smallest of the piles ofupturned fabric and began to right them. “I expect Mr Hoffman willbe up in a moment to inspect the damage.”
I’ll go then, I began, feeling thestore room start to blur even as I said it.
“But you’ll come back?” Henri asked. His voice was level, butthere was something much more hopeful in the way he hitched hisbreath, awaiting my answer.
Of course, I replied. He let out theair he was holding in.
“Good,” he answered, smiling, “I might need you to save meagain.”
I expect you will.The room startedto flicker in and out of view. I could feel myself smilingtoo.
“I’m alone at this time almost every day,” Henrioffered.The coldshiver in my back caught my attention and I focused hard for onelast moment to feel that smile on his face.
We’ll speak soon then, I promised.And suddenly Norway was gone.
“What’s wrong with you?” Blod demanded in a whisper as myhands dropped away from my face. She nudged me hard in my shoulderuntil my eyes refocused and I remembered where I was and what I wassupposed to be doing.
“Oh, I had a headache,” I answered all too loudly. Someonebehind shushed me.
“Oh shut your face,” Blod snapped at the disgruntled personbefore turning back to me, “You’ve missed half the film. Look don’tlet Mam see you feeling ill. I’m enjoying this film and I don’twant to have to go home ‘cause of you.”
“Right, sorry,” I answered quietly.Blod wentback to looking at the screen, placated. I too turned my attentionto it for the first time. It was a war film, something about heroesand romance. A handsome blonde-haired chap in a pilot’s uniform waswrapping some girl up in his arms, promising her that he’d returnsomeday. The girl had dark ringlets blowing in the wind. She lookedup at him with a loving smile and answered: “Til we meetagain”.Somewhere, inthe back of my mind, I had a tiny thought that that would have beena good thing to say to Henri.
“Miss Cavendish, please,” Doctor Bickerstaff said from thedoor of his office.I looked upfrom the warm little waiting room, noticing immediately that hewasn’t coming over to wheel me in. I looked down at my gloved handsand grimaced. This was yet another of his little tests, I knew. Ipulled hard on the wheels of my chair until I made it to his door,but there was a bump where the carpet met the lino that I couldn’tget over. I struggled determinedly until my skinny biceps burnedand tears came unbidden to the corners of my eyes, at which pointBickerstaff rolled his big blue eyes and pushed me over thethreshold and up to his desk in a snap.
“Poor progress,” he sighed as he came to stand in front of me,“Let’s see if your legs are any better than your arms.”He had beenchecking on me every couple of weeks for improvements and I knewthe drill well enough by now. I could set my feet down with a lotmore purpose than when I first met the cold, clinical physician,but the part where I had to actually stand on them always ended thesame way. I resented the fact that he always had to help me backinto my chair when my knees collapsed under the strain. This time Ihauled myself up more slowly than before, trying to lock the jointsinto a stronger position. It was a good idea in theory, except thatas soon as I was standing I felt as though my knee caps had beenreplaced by two nervous jellyfish.Bickerstaffheld out his hands, palms up. “Lean some weight on me,” heinstructed.This was new.I took his too-clean hands, happy that he’d have to hold onto thedirty palms of my gloves, and pressed into them.
“Too much,” he said immediately, “Take some weight back andtry to balance. Don’t depend on me.”
“I wouldn’t,” I answered. It took me a moment to realise I’dsaid it out loud, but Bickerstaff didn’t look offended, in fact hewas far too preoccupied in looking at my feet to even hearme.I was stillstanding. It had been perhaps thirty seconds, which I thought waslonger than any of my other attempts, and my feet were plantedfirm. The jellyfish sensation in my knees was definitely present,but the more pressure I put into Bickerstaff’s grip the less I feltthe nervous twinge. It didn’t feel like they were going to give wayfor quite some time. I smiled in spite of the vile company and itwas just my luck that the doctor chose that moment to look up at myface. He gave me a smug look.
“Shall we try taking a step?” he asked.
“I want you to try standing like that for a few minutes at atime,” he instructed. No praise for my progress, as usual. “Lean ona person or a mantelpiece or something.”I didn’tbother to say ‘Yes, Doctor’ because it was quite clear he wasn’tlistening. Bickerstaff wrote a few things down and then snapped myfile shut, checking his appointment list like he always did, readyto call in the next patient whilst I struggled to get my chair outof the way. When he saw the list his brow came down hard over hiseyes and to my surprise he actually looked at me.
“Why am I seeing Vanessa?” he asked. It took me a moment torealise he meant Ness Fach. I hadn’t heard her full name inmonths.
“She’s bumped her head,” I explained, “Mam thought you’dbetter see it.”Bickerstaffrose from his seat sharply and actually took hold of my chair towheel me out. He did everything too quickly, like he couldn’t waitto get rid of me, swinging his door open and pushing me back outinto the waiting room where Blod sat with Ness curled up on herknee.
“Vanessa Price,” he said quickly, abandoning me as he waitedfor Blod to scoop up her sister and follow him into theroom.She went inafter him her usual haughty, high-heeled way. His behaviour was toostrange to resist. There was no-one else gathered on the secondhand chairs of the waiting room and the nice old receptionist wasnowhere to be seen, so I closed my eyes and let my hands slowlyrise to my face.I gotBickerstaff immediately, which was both pleasing and awful as Iremembered that horrid heavy feeling of being in his mind. I hadsteered well clear of connecting with him up until now, but as heshut the door of his office there was something new in the mix ofdepressing sensations in the doctor’s head. Fear. He focused onNess immediately and crouched beside where she sat on Blod’s lap,pulling back her tawny strands to see the reddish-purple welt aboutthe size of a shilling on her head.
“When did this happen?” he asked in a breathless tone. I couldfeel his whole face frowning as Ness tried desperately to wriggleaway from his touch. Something sad hit him square in the chest whenshe turned her head out of his reach.
“Oh yesterday sometime,” Blod said without a care, “She’sfine, it’s just a bloody bump.”
“Where were you?” Bickerstaff demanded.
“Doing things,” Blod retorted. Bickerstaff was watching herface now as she rolled her eyes at him. I wished I had the courageshe did to be so rude to the unpleasant man.
“You should take more responsibility,” he ordered.Blod gave ashort laugh. “Ha! You’re one to talk.”
“I would have,” he answered sharply. I could feel him gettinghot under his collar, tense and angry in an instant. “If you’d letme.”I was lostsuddenly. They were talking about something that they knew aboutand I didn’t.
“Shush!” Blod said quickly, looking down at Ness, who had onceagain curled into a hedgehog-like ball. “Don’t say nothin’. She’srepeating everything at the moment like a bloodyparrot.”
“Bloody,” mumbled Ness.
“Especially that,” Blod sighed.I couldn’t besure at first, he was awfully hard to interpret, but I ratherthought Bickerstaff might be smiling a little. His focus went fromBlod’s beautiful, irritated face back to the little girl.
“I’ll get her a plaster and a lolly,” he said with asigh.
“Lolly!”Nessexclaimed the word suddenly, uncurling to look for the person whohad promised her something sweet. And now I knew Bickerstaff wasdefinitely smiling. A tiny spark of some nice feeling cut into hisheavy chest, but it seemed like agony for it to stay there, like itwas struggling against the crushing weight of sadness that consumedthe rest of him. The young doctor went to his desk and retrieved alittle yellow lolly and a sticking plaster. He unwrapped both butgave Ness the lolly first, using the time to attach the plaster tothe welt on her head before she noticed what he was doing. As sheslurped away happily his gaze fell on Blod again, who was lookingright at him. Her mean face had fallen away, leaving just herpretty features and a blank, thoughtful look.
“Your hair needs cutting,” she said softly. It wasn’t acriticism. It wasn’t an order. I didn’t really know what it was; Ihad never heard her use that tone of voice before.Bickerstaffsighed and settled into the chair opposite her. That blonde strandin his face had returned and he pushed it back again slowly. “Notime to do it. I’ve started volunteering at the rationing office,”he explained, “But I wish I hadn’t now, it’s too much bloodywork.”
“Bloody,” Ness said again around her lolly.
“Stop it!” Blod slapped her hand gently, but then she startedto laugh.The littleglimpse of warmth in Bickerstaff’s chest spread all over his face.“Do you need anything else for her?” he asked Blod.Her lovelyface stiffened again at that. “I don’t need anything from you,” shesaid proudly.And suddenlythe doctor’s warmth was gone; it drained off like his very life wasleaving his body. He was cold again with an empty chest.Bickerstaff rose so sharply that my head went fuzzy. He brushedhimself off and cleared his throat which Blod seemed to take as hercue to leave too. She pushed Ness off her lap briskly.
“Go on, go and find Kit,” Blod said, giving her apush.Bickerstaffwas looking at her again, his eyes wide with anticipation. Blod wasabout to speak, but I knew now that the office’s door was openingand Ness would be headed straight for me. I wanted so desperatelyto hear what Blod was about to say, but as her lips parted I feltan icy shiver hit my spine and I was instantly another ten feetaway outside in the waiting room. Ness was already ambling towardsme with what was left of her yellow lolly to show me.I watched hercoming closer with her huge blue eyes, looking for the first timeat their oval shape. Blod’s were more like almonds, just like hermother’s, and Clive’s eyes were narrow and brown. The only otherperson I had ever seen with eyes like Ness’s was StevenBickerstaff. Blod emerged from the doctor’s office a moment laterwith a face like fury, and Bickerstaff followed her out to see ifhis next patient had arrived. I took one last look at him beforeBlod grabbed my chair angrily and turned me around. I was right. Hehad Ness’s eyes. Or more accurately, she had his.***
It was an awful thing to have suspicions running around in mymind. I had half a story, an inkling of what might be going on, butno-one to talk it out with who could confirm or deny what I wasthinking. No-onehere, at least.When the timecame that I was left alone in the sitting room to practice my newphysical task I checked my watch, delighted to find it was aboutthe same time Henri had said he would be free. Learning to stand upcould wait, my burning questions about Bickerstaff and Nesscouldn’t. I calmed myself enough to perform the usual movements,searching hard for Henri in the blank, black space between myclosed eyes.Aha!
“Hello Kit,” Henri said in what he thought was a casualtone.HiHenri.He was tryingto hide the fact that I had startled him again, but of course hedidn’t know that I could feel what he felt as well as use his eyes.His heart was humming with nerves for a few moments as he set downthe suit he was working on.
“So, what’s new in England?” he asked in his lovely richvoice.
I’m actually in Wales, Icorrected,We used to live in London, sowe were moved away from danger.
“We?” he pressed, “Are you with your family?”
With my brother, I answered,And with a new family who are looking afterus.
“I see,” Henri answered. I felt him rubbing his chin, therewas a sound like scraping sandpaper and I wondered with a smile ifhe had stubble. “I am looked after too,” he continued, “Mr Hoffmanlets me live here on the top floor.”
Don’t you have family nearby?Iasked.I felt hischest deflate. “No,” he said simply, “My parents died some timeago.”I’m sosorry.
“Don’t be, it’s all right.” But it wasn’t all right. I knew hewas lying by the heavy weight on his heart and the flush I feltcreeping into his cheek. “My mother was born in England, you know,”he said as if he was still happy with the conversationtopic.
Is that why your English is so good?I asked, trying to shift the subject.
“I suppose so,” he said in a brighter tone, “but I have myEnglish teacher too.”
Bavistock, was it?Henri nodded. Iremembered the mention of him in front of the Germanofficer.What will happen tohim?Henri’ssadness grew again. “I don’t know,” he replied, “I’ve hardly beenout of the shop since the Nazis arrived. Oslo is not a safe placenow.”
Let’s not think about it, Isuggested,How about you help me withsomething instead?
“Oh?” Henri said. I felt one strong eyebrow going up on hisface. “What could I possibly help you with?”I told himeverything I had heard in Bickerstaff’s head, but then realisedthat I had to go back and fill in some things about Blod and Mamand our situation. I left out the part about how sad the doctoralways felt so that Henri wouldn’t know I could sense emotions andI also managed to steer away from any mention of why I myself wasacquainted with the good doctor. Whatever mental image Henri had ofme, I was pretty certain it wouldn’t involve a wheelchair andjellyfish knees and night splints, so I wanted to let him have hisown idea. It was surely be better than the truth.
“How old is this doctor?” Henri asked when I had finished mytale.Latetwenties, I think.
“But the little girl’s mother, this Mam, she is much olderthan that, isn’t she?”
Exactly, I answered,and that’s why I don’t think she’s Ness’s realmother.I’ve heard of it before when mymum used to chat with the gossip on our street, some young girlhaving a baby with no husband and then the mother pretends it’shers instead.
“It’s a big suspicion,” Henri mused, rubbing his stubbly chinagain, “But you might be right. How can you find out forsure?”
Well, I can hardly ask them, can I?I responded.Good morning Doctor, Isay is this your illegitimate daughter? Hi Blod, had any secretpregnancies lately?Henri burstinto laughter at that, wiping at his eyes. “You’re very funny Kit,”he sighed, “I suppose you’ll have to keep your eyes open for moreevidence.”I sighed too,though I didn’t know if he could hear me.Look, I thinkI’ll have to go, I must have been here ages telling you allthis.Henri checkedhis watch, a lovely brass coloured dial that looked very old andexpensive.
“Thirty minutes!” he exclaimed, “I’m supposed to have thissuit finished by now.”
Oops,I said. He laughedagain.Sorry to bore you with all this, bythe way.
“It’s not boring,” he protested immediately, “Your voice iswonderful.”I was onceagain grateful that the hundreds of miles between us meant hecouldn’t see me blush.
I think next time, you can do the talking,I suggested.
“I promise I will,” he replied.
Clive, Thomas and Ieuan arrived on the back of a lorry duringbreakfast on Blodwyn’s 21stbirthday, which sent theyoung goddess into a flurry of delight. The RAF Flight Sergeantswelled with pride as he hugged his daughter before Mam attackedhim with an embrace that covered his uniform in flour and bacongrease. The boys managed to avoid the same scenario by quicklysitting down with the rest of us at the breakfast table. Thomasslipped a brown paper packet out of his top pocket and handed it toBlod, who ripped it open and screamed the place down indelight.
“Chocolate!” she cried like a child. “Oh I haven’t hadchocolate in forever! Thanks Tom!”
“We brought some for everyone,” Ieuan whispered to me with aglimmer in his eye, “But don’t tell her yet or she’llsulk.”I just noddedand mouthed a quiet ‘thank you’. Mam set about making a whole newround of breakfast out of the meagre rations we had left to supporther boys. As Blod went off into excited chatter with Thomas aboutall her plans for her birthday weekend, Clive sat himself downbetween Leighton and I at the opposite end of the table. He ruffledLeigh’s hair with a big, warm smile.
“And how are you, young man?” he asked in a deepvoice.
“The school here’s not as boring as the one in London,”Leighton explained with a grin.
“Is that so?” Clive asked.My brothernodded, shuffling right to the edge of his seat to be close toClive. I realised with a pang that perhaps he was missing Dad, butthen we’d both been missing Dad since before the war had evenbegun. Clive clapped a warm arm around Leigh as he turned tome.
“And you Kit? Mam says that doctor’s doing wonders for you,isn’t he?”
“Well,” I began uncertainly, “He’s trying to get me to walk,actually.”
“Isn’t that wonderful?” Clive said to Leighton, who noddedhappily under his arm. The warm Welshman creased his dark eyes withthe width of his smile. “I bet you’ll be off like a shot by thetime I see you next!”
“Do you know when it’ll be?” Leighton asked.Clive shookhis head. “No, we’re all being sent down London way from next week,training for some big manoeuver.” He tapped his free palm on theknee of his navy uniform excitedly. “Us Welsh might finally get togo head on with Jerry at last!”
“Here’s hoping,” Ieuan added as he began the familiar processof shovelling a truckload of food into his mouth.***Blod’s actualbirthday was the Friday, so after breakfast Leighton had beencarted off to school with a miserable sulk on his face and Blod wasreleased from her chores to go out and about with her father andbrothers. There was to be a much bigger celebration for her on theSaturday afternoon when Bampi Idrys would also be able to come,which meant I had to pick up as much of Blod’s slack as I could tohelp Mam get ready for it. Which meant no time alone, no Oslo andno Henri. I went to bed that night doubly miserable, not justbecause I had spent the day peeling vegetables and mixing batteruntil my arms burned for the sake of the most ungrateful youngwoman on the planet, but also because I was worried that Henrimight think I wasn’t coming back.I wokeunusually early on Saturday morning and lay looking at the ceiling,waiting for either Mam or Leighton to help me up as usual. A glanceat the clock told me they were nearly half an hour away from eitherof them expecting me to wake. For a brief moment I smiled as Iconsidered finding Henri, but it wasn’t our arrangement for me tocatch him in his pyjamas, however much I’d have liked to knowwhether Norwegian boys wore striped shirts to bed or not. Instead Iraised one arm stiffly to try and wipe my eyes, only to realise Ihad to combat the wooden splint forcing my elbow straight.That was themoment I decided to change my morning ritual for good. I clonkedone splinted arm over my waist to reach the other, fumbling blindlyuntil I could unfasten the fabric strap, then released my other armfrom the same diabolical contraption. The splints fell with a dullthud to the carpeted floor of my makeshift bedroom. So far, sogood, but the harder part was coming next. Digging the heels of myhands down under my back, I pushed with everything I had to sit up.I bit my lip with the strain of it. Bickerstaff was right, my armsweren’t strong enough. But the thought of him and his awful smugface spurred something new in me and I withstood the pressure alittle longer, giving one final push.I was up. Iscrabbled to grab at my legs in order to stay sitting up, shufflinguntil I had a little balance. It was strange to be sitting up inbed alone, but I didn’t have time to dwell on such a tiny victory.Instead I went straight for the larger, heavier splints flatteningmy knees out, pulling off the straps that always left little redlines across my legs where they were tight against them. Afterseveral months of the hellish treatment my skin had become hardenedagainst the pressure, so it only glowed pink for a short time nowin the mornings, gone were the ugly purple bruises of the earlydays. With some agonising shuffles I got away from the splints andleft them lying on the bed, swinging my legs around until they hungoff the edge.The bed wasquite a low one and my toes grazed against the thin carpet of theconverted sitting room. I pushed my feet out to trace a little linealong a frayed part of the material with my toe, considering mynext move. My wheelchair was parked below the window some threefeet away with just clear space between me and it; there wasnothing to take hold of or anything to help me get there, and Ididn’t fancy crawling on my belly to perhaps only get halfway andbe found flailing like a fish by Mam in twenty minutes’ time. Islumped, a little defeated, taking a sip of the water she alwaysleft at my bedside.There was adark, wooden wainscoting running the whole length of the room thatcame up to nearly the height of my chest and jutted out three orfour inches like a little mantelpiece. On the far side of the room,above the fireplace, Mam had propped a few family photographs up onit which she always made Blod come and dust after chapel onSundays, but on my side it was clear all the way to the wash basinin the corner. I put down my water and stretched to grip it,testing how good a purchase my fingers could get on it. It had alittle lip that curled up at the end which seemed very steady togrip. I put both hands on it to test it a little more.Bickerstaffhad wanted me to find something to lean on to practise standing,had he not? I put my feet into the best position I could get andpulled hard on the wainscoting. For a moment I panicked in case itcame away in my hand, but the old house was stronger than I was andit took my weight until I was up. I leaned hard on the wall,shuffling my feet like a penguin until they were straight enough totake more bulk. My knees quivered a bit, but they held. This was asfar as I’d ever gotten without falling flat on my face and I wasactually a bit sad that no-one was in here to see it. I stood therein my nightie leaning on the wall for a few more moments, ponderingif the stiffness of my legs in the morning was actually helping meto stay on my feet. Whatever the contributing factor, I wasgrateful.The next stepwas quite literally waiting to be taken. It wasn’t that far to thecorner really, perhaps about three or four paces for a normalperson, surely it wouldn’t be too much to bear if I leant on thewall as much as possible? I took a very deep breath and pushed onebare foot sideways a few inches on the thin carpet. I crossed onehand over the other, then brought the remaining hand and foot up tomeet them. The ache was considerable, especially in my arms, butthe fluttering elation that settled on my chest outweighed itplenty. I had moved on my own, if you didn’t count wall, which Iwouldn’t of course.I shuffledlike a crab closer and closer to the basin, but it was such a slowpace that I began to feel really sorry for snails and tortoises andall the other disastrously slow things that I was currently on parwith. By the time I made it to the basin and transferred to leaningon the stand, sweat beads clung to my head and my legs wereshaking. I realised how long it must have taken me to get therewhen I heard the door opening behind me, followed by a suddenjoyous whooping that could only mean it was Mam coming in.
“Kit! You’re walking love!”She rushedover to me and put an arm under my torso to keep my back straight;it was only with her warm, solid frame next to me that I realisedhow much I was shuddering. I turned to her delighted face and letout a sighing smile.
“Well I was awake,” I mumbled, “So I thought I’d just sort of…have a go.”She couldn’thave missed the quivering wreck I was from the effort, but Mam waswonderful at ignoring things like that. She gave me a littlesqueeze and then delicately put my chair behind me, settling meback into it with a smile.
“Well you sit yur a minute and I’ll fetch some water for youto wash,” she said, patting me on the shoulder, “I’ll have to watchout eh? You’ll be wandering all over the house in notime!”I satbreathing heavily as she bustled away, my smile so wide itthreatened to split my face in half forever.***The news ofmy independent perambulation spread fast through the contents of TyGwyn, which had the unfortunate side effect of totallyovershadowing Blod’s second day of celebrations. Though Mam wasstill frantically preparing cake and afternoon snacks for herparty, she kept stopping to question me about what we should reportto Doctor Bickerstaff and would I need a walking stick and shouldwe get me some new shoes if I was going to be using them properlyat last. The mention of brand new shoes sent Blod over the edge;she stampeded upstairs and her radio could be heard blaring downand filling the hall with jangling notes for the duration of themorning.
“Don’t mind her,” Clive told me with a patient smile, “She’dbe more understanding if she had your problems.”My eyesflicked to Ness Fach, who sat on the kitchen floor giggling andplaying pat-a-cake with a very patient Leighton. If my suspicionswere anywhere near correct, then Blod had enough problems of herown.I was grantedthe sanctuary of a free hour in the little sitting room at thefront of the house to rest after my big exertion that morning. Mampromised that I could read or do whatever I wanted in peace untilBampi Idrys arrived for Blod’s party lunch at two o’clock.‘Whatever I wanted’ sounded extremely appealing. As soon as thedoor was closed I prepared myself for my usual ritual and though myarms were aching I raised them eagerly up to my forehead.I wasconfused when I first found Henri, until I realised he had hishands over his face. His vision was blurry and his shoulders wereheaving, stunted breaths were hot and ragged where they ragedagainst his fingers. Wherever he was, it was dark and empty. And hewas crying.Henri, what’shappened?For once hewasn’t surprised to hear my voice in his head; he had far too manyemotions going on inside him for that. He wiped his tears awayhurriedly until I could see his vision clearing, uncurling himselffrom his cramped position. He was in what seemed like a tiny littleattic room where everything was brown and grey. The windowlessspace was lit by a dim lantern sitting on a little box beside thebed he was settled on. Henri sucked in his last sob, wiping hisface on an old handkerchief before he replied.
“I’m sorry Kit, I wouldn’t have intended for you to see melike this.”
Don’t be silly,I answered,We all cry sometimes. I cried yesterday, justbecause I was sick of peeling vegetables.Henri laughedbut it was hollow and sad. I could feel him rubbing his palmsagainst his legs; a vein in his neck was throbbing too. He musthave been upset for quite some time before I found him.
Whatever’s the matter?Ipressed.
“I will show you,” he answered, shaking out his final tearsbefore dabbing his eyes dry.Henri rosefrom the bed and brushed himself down; through his eyes I saw hisbrown trousers were scuffed and dirty, his shirt un-tucked, hisshoes covered in scratches. He walked slowly out of the dark roominto the rest of the roof space where a dirty white door was ajar.He pushed it open with the swing of one smooth hand, revealing adark little wash room with a grey sink.
“I shan’t turn on the light,” Henri continued, “You’ll see mewell enough.”Above theworn old sink was a small mirror and, a moment later, there wasHenri’s reflection. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been imaginingwhat he might look like, running hundreds of debonair faces throughmy mind, all foreign and interesting and all terribly handsome.Henri would have been handsome, if not for the huge purple bruisesall over his face. Cocoa brown eyes stared out of his damaged face,sad eyes with red rings enclosing them from his crying fit. He haddark hair, almost black, that fell about his face like it was duefor a cut, under his fringe on one side was a huge gash that hadonly recently finished bleeding. It had two poorly-done stitches init; I shuddered to think he might have done them himself.
“Well? Do you see me?”Gods Henri,who did this to you?He laughedthat empty, humourless chuckle again.
“Who do you think Kit?” he answered.
Of course I knew who.Butwhy?I felt a surge of guilt.Was it because you threatened thatofficer?ThankfullyHenri shook his head, looking straight at himself with a stare sointense I almost forgot he couldn’t see me. He had high, archingcheekbones that were almost black in the worst parts of thebruising and his face would have been sharply triangular if not forone part of his jaw that jutted out with swelling.
“His name is Kluger,” Henri explained, spitting out the titlewith such a strong sneer that it hurt his face to pull it, “He’swhat you would call a captain, I think. But he was never reallyhere for me.” He hung his head suddenly and I found myself lookinginto the old sink and its watermarked rings. “It was Mr Hoffman hewas looking for.”
The shop owner?I pressed,confused.Why do the Germans wanthim?Henri let hisface rise back into the mirror’s path, giving me a sad look withhis lovely eyes.
“Can you stay a while?” he asked.
I think so, I replied.Withoutanother word Henri left the wash room and made for a littlestaircase at the end of the dark upstairs corridor. He was indeedin the attic of the large building; his feet found two flights ofstairs before I recognised the corridor near the store room wherewe had had our first conversation. Henri carried on beyond thatspace, passing some sad looking women who were smoking. They shooktheir heads when they saw him; I felt one pat him on the shoulderas he passed without acknowledging them, but he didn’t stop. Henrididn’t stop until he was down in the shop front itself where, likethe store room, everything had been overturned.He surveyedthe destruction for the briefest of moments; I had enough time totake in the finest fashions ripped to shreds all over the floor. Isaw the brown suit Henri had been finishing; it had been ripped offa model near the till so only half the jacket remained, the othersleeve and lapel lay in torn pieces not too far from it. I couldremember so clearly the precision and the concentration Henri feltwhen he was working on that suit. I was livid at the cruelty of itall, but Henri’s awful emptiness swallowed up my rage. He walkedquietly through the destroyed shop and out into the street.I felt hissore face start to sting in the light spring rain that was failing.Henri pushed his unruly hair back against his head, walking thedeserted pavement until he turned to face the shop window. Thetitle of the tailor’s was in Norwegian, but the name Hoffman wasclear enough within the words. Below the title someone had taken atin of white paint and created a huge six point star. The Star ofDavid. I had seen it a few times in London when we travelledthrough the posher bits. Another message was daubed underneathit.Henri, whatdoes that painted bit say?
“Protect yourself; don’t buy from Jews,” he whispered, “Itappeared yesterday morning, then last night they came to take MrHoffman for questioning, just like Mr Bavistock.”
Your English teacher,Imused,What became of him, after thequestioning?
“Nobody has seen him since,” Henri answered, “The people whogo to be questioned… None of them have come back.”
I’m so sorry.I felt helpless,totally useless and unbelievably guilty. Here I was, sitting in mycosy little room in North Wales looking forward to cake and partyfood, whilst people like Henri would be all over Europe mourningthe loss of friends they’d known. I couldn’t think of anything elseto say except to repeat my regret.Henri,I’m so, so sorry. I just wish I could help.
“You’re here with me,” he murmured, “That’ssomething.”
And they can’t take me away,Iadded.Henri pressedhis fingers deep into his palms as he stood staring at the paintedstar. As his vision refocused I saw his full frame, a blurredreflection in the dark window. He was dishevelled, his shouldershunched and deflated, but he was a broad boy with long arms andlegs. His face was too obscured in the window to see his bruises;there was just an outline of his jaw and his ears sticking out alittle against his messy hair. I wanted to hold his hand, to tellhim that things would be right when England won the war, but Iwasn’t sure I even knew that to be true.
“When they came to take him today, I fought against them,”Henri said softly, “My face is a warning to everyone againstsupporting a Jew. Hoffman was a charitable person, but his widow isnot. I think she will turn me out soon.”
Despicable,I seethed,and after you defended him.He shrugged.“I think it’s practical. I have made myself an enemy to Kluger now.I would cause her too much trouble if she let me stay.”So what willyou do?
“I don’t know yet,” he replied with a sigh.
I’ll come back, Henri. I’ll come back every day that Ican.It wasn’t much to offer, but it wasall I had.
“I hope so Kit,” he whispered, “I could use a friend rightnow.”
And that’s exactly what you’ve got,I replied.Henri took usback to his room and I stayed until his clock ran out my hour,letting him run his gambit of abuse about the Germans and theoccupation. When he swore he did it in Norwegian for what he called‘gentlemanly reasons’, but I agreed with every slur even though Icould only guess their meaning. By the end of the time it hurt tolet him go, but as I went I felt his aching face break into asmile.The end ofBlod’s birthday weekend meant saying goodbye to Clive, Thomas andIeuan, which was a tearful affair for Mam, especially since thistime they were actually going to England instead of back to theWelsh coast. With Leighton’s help I managed to stand up from mychair to wave them goodbye, watching their tall navy blue figurescut a dash through the muggy spring afternoon as they started thewalk to the village. Clive put his arms around his boys’ shouldersas they disappeared down the grassy path and Mam turned away with ahanky to her nose. I watched Clive’s smart RAF hat until it wastotally out of view, hoping with pride that he and the boys wouldbe there to bash the Germans and end this war all the quicker.I was eagerto get back to Henri, but my plans were scuppered when Mam receiveda telephone call from Doctor Bickerstaff saying he had anappointment free that day. She had sent him a message on Fridayabout my great excursion to the wash basin and now the rottendoctor wanted to interrupt my life to see it for himself. As muchas I was happy to have taken a few steps, there were far moreimportant things I could be doing, things that I couldn’t justifyto anyone, unfortunately. We trundled up over the big hill in thedoctor’s nice white car but all the while I could only think of howpleasant and safe things were in the damp spring climate of BrynEira Bach compared to Oslo, where perhaps at this very moment Henriwould be walking the streets with his battered face looking forsomewhere new to live and work. Alone.Seethingfrustration filled me up like a kettle ready to boil by the time Iwas in Bickerstaff’s waiting room. It was always crowded on aMonday with people who had gotten poorly over the weekend and hewas late seeing me. Mam didn’t ask about my livid expression, Isupposed she was used to that kind of drama having raised Blod; shejust read her magazine patiently and occasionally showed me whatshe thought was an interesting photo. I nodded sometimes, biting mylip, until she got into a very animated conversation with anothermother figure that had just walked in and finally left me in peace.When Bickerstaff called me in, Mam was still chatting to herfriend, but she gave the doctor a respectful nod.
“I’ll come in when you’re ready, Doctor,” sheoffered.He noddedcurtly like he always did and waited for me to wheel myself intohis room. I came at him so fast that the wheels of my chair flewover the bump between the flooring with ease and he had to jolt outof my way unexpectedly. I pulled up to his desk without so much aslooking at him.
“I see you’re feeling stronger, Kit,” he observed flatly. Ididn’t answer, since he was never really listening anyway, and Iwas proved right when he carried on talking. “I have some walkingaids that you’re going to try and use.”He was off tofetch them without awaiting a response, because there wasn’t even aquestion about having to do as I was told. It was one of the thingsI resented most of all about my illness, above any of the pain andthe inconvenience it brought, the fact that I had to just sit thereand put up with the people around me. If there was ever amotivation to learn to walk, it would be that walking was the firststep in learning to run away. If I could run away now, I could hidesomewhere and find Henri, but instead I was stuck with Bickerstaffand his constantly disappointed expression.The doctorreturned with two tall wooden structures that had grips about athird of the way down and padded rests at the very top of them.They were long, triangular things that ended in a point where theymet the floor. Bickerstaff leant them against his desk then offeredme his hands.
“Up you get then, chop-chop,” he said in that expectantway.I wished Icould have jerked myself up to show him how annoyed I was, but myattempt at a haughty leap only resulted in me failing the firstattempt to rise. The second time I took it slower, standing andlocking my knees as best I could. I looked down at the floor,colour creeping into my face. I had someone who needed me to bethere for him, and here I was performing like a circus monkeyinstead for the beastliest ringmaster in Christendom.
“This soft part of the crutch rests under your arm,”Bickerstaff said, shifting one of the walking aids under my leftarm, “Lean on it whilst I get the other.”Soon I hadone crutch under each arm propping me up where I stood. I felt likea heavy washing line drooping between the two. Bickerstaff put mygloved hands on the grips where I took hold of them with a vicioustightness; he nodded approval more to himself than to me, standingback and making some space between us.
“Let’s see you walk then,” he urged, “Use the aids one at atime to help you get your feet forward.”My feet, itturned out, were not the problem. The huge wooden structures werewickedly heavy, heavier even than the splints that bound my limbsat night. I struggled to get the first one forward even a fewinches before I brought my foot to meet it, then the other crutchsnagged on the lino for ages before I was able to haul it up level.I managed about four of these awkward movements before the pressureunder my arms was too much to stand. I felt bolts of electricityshooting down from my shoulder to where my fingers gripped thehandles of the wood, my eyes burning with tears from thestrain.
“Your arms are still shocking,” Bickerstaff snapped, “Thisreally isn’t good enough Kit, you’ll never strengthen your legswithout your arms for support.”He reachedfor his file like he was just going to leave me standing there inagony. I swallowed the heavy lump in my throat, bit back my tearsand let my frustration get the better of me.
“I think you ought to start being a bit nicer to me, Doctor,”I began, my breathing sharp.He laughed atme without looking up. “Oh? Does that mean you’re going to startmaking better progress for me?”
“I know about you,” I said, narrowing my eyes on the top ofhis blonde head.
“Know what exactly?” he asked, still not looking.
“About you and Blod… and Ness.”It was aslow, surreal process when Doctor Bickerstaff next let his big blueeyes meet mine. His face was much younger when he wasn’t scowling;his mouth was limp and open slightly as he studied my face. I hopedthat the pain of leaning on my crutches was showing, adding to theanger in my burning eyes and gritted teeth. He didn’t bother todeny anything, so I knew my suspicions were close enough to thetruth.
“You dare to threaten me?” he demanded, leaning his hands hardinto the wood of his desk. His mouth contorted back into its usualsneer, but his eyes were too shocked to comply.
“Yes I do,” I spat angrily, “because you're a cold, nasty manwho's horrible to me. Perhaps this will help you to change.” It wassatisfying to be the disapproving one in the conversation foronce.Bickerstaff’schest rose and fell a few times as he huffed. He looked at me, thenaway again, and then back again until eventually he dropped himselfinto his chair, running one hand through his hair that messed upits slick, smart look.
“I suppose Blod told you?” he asked, looking at hisdesk.
“Of course not,” I scoffed, red hot anger making sweat pool atthe back of my neck, “She hates me.”Bickerstaffsnapped his head up again at that, his brows crashing down to hoodhis eyes. “Then how do you know?” he pressed.
“That’s my business,” I said, borrowing the smug smile heusually wore.The doctorpointed at me wordlessly for a moment then slammed a fist down onhis desk that made his pencils rattle off the table. I flinched; mybreath was hot and furious still.
“You kids,” Bickerstaff spat venomously, “you think you knoweverything at fifteen, don't you? Think you can control the worldaround you. Well this kind of behaviour gets people hurt, younglady, I hope you mark that.”I wanted toshout at him, to answer him back with the same poisonous tone hewas using, but the heat and the sweat and the pain from leaning onthe crutches was suddenly too much. I had been standing forminutes, too many minutes taking all the strain of my tired limbs.I looked down to my aching arms, feeling my face turn clammy with asheen of hot sweat. My eyes widened in horror at the salmoncoloured rash all over my forearm, creeping up under the sleeve ofmy blouse. I looked down at my unstockinged legs, seeing the samehideous orange-pink blotches breaking out on my feet andankles.Bickerstaffwas out of his chair and saying something about my face. I felt hisarm close around me and heard the heavy wooden crutches fall away,but my vision was turning slowly black. I could smell the clean,soapy scent of the doctor’s hands as one came up to feel my head,slipping all over it because I was caked in the salty water rapidlyseeping from my skin. I knew for just one moment that the fever hadreturned before everything went black.***I had ahorrible feeling that Doctor Bickerstaff might be sitting at mybedside when I was next conscious, so I was both surprised andrelieved to find Bampi Idrys asleep in a chair when I managed toturn over in my bed at Ty Gwyn. The clock face told me it was six,but the light outside would not give way to it being either morningor evening and I had no way of telling what day it was either. Theonly solution to that would be to wake Idrys, which felt too cruelas I watched the gingery-grey farmer blow a bubble on his sleepylip. Instead, I shuffled onto my back again and assessed my achingbody. My mind felt clear, and though I knew it wasn’t a good ideagiven the fever, I shut my eyes and raised my palms up over myface.Henri?Everythingwas black for a moment before Henri’s eyes opened. He was staringup at a cloudy morning sky, the shadow of a pinky-blue hue lurkingbehind the heavy clouds. He groaned loudly, rubbing his face.
“Kit? Did I hear you?” he whispered.
You were asleep,I saidguiltily.
“Of course I was,” Henri added, clearing his throat, “It’sseven in the morning, and I have no job.”
And no home by the looks of it,Iobserved,Where on earth areyou?Henrianswered my question as he sat up, showing me a series of greatleafy trees, stone paths and benches. He was in a cold, empty park,lying on a hard wooden bench. Henri shivered against the morningbreeze as he pulled a big overcoat out from under him and wrappedhimself up.
“Thank God it’s nearly summertime,” he breathed.
What day is it?I askedhim.
“Wednesday,” he replied, “Do you not know?”I’ve been…ill. I’ve been asleep a lot.
“Are you all right now?” I appreciated the concern in hislovely deep voice.
I’m over the worst of it,Ianswered, hoping that was true. I still couldn’t decide if it wasthe strain of the crutches or the argument with Bickerstaff thathad set me off. Either way I intended to avoid both for as long aspossible now.That suspicion I had aboutthe doctor and Blod and the baby? It was true, by the way. Thedoctor knows that I know; he’s furious about it.
“You spend a lot of time with this doctor,” Henri observed, “Ithink there’s something you’re not telling me.”He got up andwalked in his scuffed shoes along the stone path, looking out intothe park that was slowly filling with people; some of them weresoldiers passing through. I thought for a while about what I oughtto tell Henri. It felt wrong to keep things from him when I couldjust invade his head whenever I felt like it. He passed a fewpeople then ducked off the path down to a lovely little pondcovered in algae. Henri sat down alone in the reeds, plucking oneoff and running it between his smooth fingers several times.
All right then,I began,here’s some things you don’t know aboutme.I have reddish-brown hair, blue eyesand very white skin because I’m hardly ever out in the sun. I can’twalk. Well, I can walk a tiny bit, but not enough to go out alone.I have to push myself around in a wheelchair.
“That makes sense,” Henri said, surprising me with his casualtone. I didn’t feel even a fleck of disappointment in his body thatI was crippled up in a chair. “You always seem to be indoors witheverything you tell me about. Now I know why.” We were silent amoment at the little pond, I felt a cool relief sweeping over me.“This doctor, what does he do for you?”He’s teachingme to walk again… well, maybe. I’m not certain that I can.
“I thought you said he was horrible?” Henri pressed, “Thatsounds very noble to me.”
You haven’t met him,I countered.Henri chuckled.
“Your illness,” he began in a softer tone, “Does it give youpain?”
Yes.I felt his chest ache right inthe centre.
“I’m sorry for that,” he whispered.
Me too,I replied,but it’s been more than three years now, you getused to some of the pain over time.Silence fellonce more between us. Henri grew nervous, fumbling with the reed inhis fingers until it slipped and swayed gently to the groundbetween his legs. He rubbed the dirty knees of his trousersthoughtfully and then let out a sigh.
“I have decided what to do, now that I’ve no work to keep mehere,” he said in a much more shaky tone.
“I met some other young men last night,” Henri explained,blinking down at the dewy foliage he was sat on, “They’re going toescape from the city and travel north into themountains.”
I didn’t like the sound of that; surely the icy mountainswere far more dangerous than the Germans?But why?I asked.Why would you go north?
“Because boats have been arranged,” Henri answered, his voicenow a nervous low whisper, “There are boats to bring men toScotland, men who want to join the British Army andfight.”
You’re coming here?I couldn’t hidethe excitement in my voice, but then I realised the risk in what hewas doing. Crossing the North Sea would be a harrowing task, andthat was if he made it out of Oslo at all without the Germanscatching him.Henri, isn’t this all toodangerous?He waved hishand. “Everything is settled. I leave tonight.”***I stayed aslong as I could with Henri before the cold shiver in my spine toldme it was time to come back to my own head. He wouldn’t explain hisescape plan since he was sitting in such a public place, but hetold me the time that he was due to leave and I promised I wouldreturn to give him courage. It would be the middle of the nighthere, there was no reason I couldn’t do it, even if I knew I’d feelawful the morning after. As I opened my eyes back at Ty Gwyn I wasfilled with excitement and dread in equal measure. I knew byHenri’s watch that it was nearly nine here now, so I didn’t botherwith the clock.Idrys wasawake and watching me thoughtfully under his bushy brows. It mademe jump when I realised he was still there and I winced with thesharp pain that shockwaved through me when I saw him. He scratchedhis bearded chin at me, smiling but with something serious in hiseyes. I tried to rub my eyes, feigning sleep although I hadactually been awake for hours.
“You do that a lot, you know,” Idrys began, and to my horrorhe mimicked my motion where I placed my hands over my eyes when Ilet my mind travel. “I’ve seen you a few times in the sitting room,doing that, when you think no-one’s come in the room.” I swalloweddryly, but said nothing. “I asked Leighton about it the other day,”the old farmer continued, “but he just told me you get funnyheadaches.”
“I, um,” I stammered. I didn’t know what to say, the old manwas looking at me in a whimsical sort of way, like he had yet morewords ready to fall from his lips.
“The funny thing is,” he added, leaning forward, “I used toknow someone else who did that with his hands and his eyes. Thatfella I was telling you about in the army, the psychicspy.”I felt likeBickerstaff had when I told him what I knew, helpless and shockedand angry that my secret was out. But like the doctor I had nopower to deny it; no words would come to find a good excuse. Idrysknew. He already believed that people like me were possible; therewas no way I could talk him out of that.
“You moved your lips, you know,” he said amusedly, “like youwere talking to someone.”
“I was,” I replied, stunned.
“Who?” Idrys asked.His old facewas kind and curious. A weight that had been resting on me for avery long time suddenly disappeared. I took a very deep breath andtold him everything.I stayed satup in my bed all that day. The horrible Doctor Bickerstaff had notcome to see me, but he had commanded three days’ rest until thefever was definitely gone. I had slept through one and half ofthose days already, but Mam insisted on sticking to his word. Iwondered if she would be so eager to please him if she knew abouthim and Blod, but any part of me that wanted to spill the beans onhim was overshadowed by how much I cared for Mam. It would surelyhave broken her heart to know that Ness’s father was the surlydoctor living just over the hill.Idrys leftafter breakfast to sort a few things out with the farm boys, but hepromised he would return in the evening to advise me on Henri’sescape. He said if I was going to be there, then maybe I could takesome old military tips with me and be useful. Being useful to Henriwas exactly the plan, so I was keen for him to get back. I tried tosleep a little but I was too worried to really relax even though Ineeded to build up my strength. I had just about drifted off when agreat clattering and slamming of my bedroom door told me that Blodhad arrived in her usual carefree style.
“Come on you, lunch,” she ordered.It took myweak limbs a little while to obey me and organise my body back intoa sitting position. Blod huffed out her breaths as she stood withmy lunch tray, tapping one of her heeled feet to a slow rhythm onthe threadbare carpet. The very second that I looked like I wassitting right she dumped the tray over my lap so that soup dribbledout over one edge of the bowl. I righted it quickly, biting back myannoyance as my oh-so-gracious maid turned to go. A wicked thoughthit me when she got to the door.
“If you had a secret,” I began in a low, careful tone, “Andsomeone else found out about it, would you want them to tell youthat they knew?”Blod’s facedidn’t change at all. If I hadn’t already known that she did have asecret, her perfect features would have given nothing away. She wasmuch better at playing it cool than Bickerstaff. She lookedthoughtfully at the wooden lintel of the door, running her fingersdown the doorframe.
“Hmm,” she mused, “I suppose if it was something shameful, I’drather they didn’t tell me they knew. It’s easier to pretend then,isn’t it?”Blod’s brightblue eyes became terribly pensive, focusing hard on the wood andwallpaper near her. I was dangerously close to feeling sorry forher, but I put that down to this being the first real conversationwe had ever had.
“What if it wasn’t shameful,” I offered, “just sort of…unfortunate?”Her rosy lipstiffened.
“I wouldn’t want people feeling sorry for me,” she bit theends off her words as she spoke.Before Icould say anything else she swept her perfect frame from view and Iheard her heels totter off down the stony hallway. She had left mydoor open and a little spring breeze filtered in, cooling my soup.As I ate I began to think that Blod and I weren’t all thatdifferent sometimes. I knew exactly how awful it was to have peoplegiving you their sympathy all the time, like it was going to besome comfort to me that these healthy, able-bodied people had takentime out of their active lives to take pity on poor sick Kit in herchair. It would be worse for her if people knew about Ness. Poorhusbandless Blod and her child.A shaky,bitter guilt hit my throat as I tried to eat. Perhaps I had made amistake in threatening Doctor Bickerstaff, but there wasn’t much Icould do now to put it right except to keep my big mouth shut.***A whole daysat in bed was excruciatingly boring, save for the portion whereLeighton came home from school and sat talking to me before dinner.Mam let him stay with me for the meal but I became more and moreanxious as I wolfed down an overload of veggies and not much meat.Idrys had not yet returned. I had about five hours before Henri wasdue to make his escape from Oslo and no advice as yet from the onlyother person who knew of my gift. Leighton made a crumbly mess allover my covers with bread and I tried my best not to bark at himwith my growing irritation.
“You’re going potty in here alone, aren’t you?” he observedbrightly.
“It was bad enough when I was stuck in the chair,” I moaned,tapping my knee rapidly, “but this is just awful.”
“Mam says you’re not allowed out of bed until two o’clocktomorrow exactly,” Leighton said, shaking his little head with asmile, “And Doctor B said we shouldn’t even talk to you very muchuntil you were better, but Mam said that was going a bitfar.”
“Humph,” was all I replied to that. I knew exactly whyBickerstaff didn’t want me conversing with anyone, especially notuntil my bad temper had abated as much as my fever had. I wouldn’tland him in any hot water now of course, for Blod’s sake, but therewas no reason thathehad to know that just yet.Leigh wastelling me about his horrid teacher at school when Idrys finallypoked his bearded head around the door. He picked my brother up offthe bed in his massive arms and deposited him in the doorway with apat on the head.
“Off you go bach, it’s my turn now,” he said. Leighton lookedat me, shrugged, and went on his way. Idrys closed the door gently.“He’s a bit easily led, your brother,” he observed, “We’ll have towork on that sometime.”The oldWelshman settled himself in the chair beside my bed and I shufflednearer to him, my eyes wide and waiting. Idrys steepled his oldhands and leant on them thoughtfully.
“I been thinking Kit,” he said slowly, “It’s not doing allthis psychic stuff that’s making you so poorly, is it?”My eagerheart deflated. Wasn’t he going to help me?
“No!” I insisted immediately, “No it’s that awful DoctorBickerstaff. He tried to make me walk for ages and it was sodifficult.”Well, most ofthat was true, apart from my overwhelming, seething anger and thefact that we’d been arguing. Idrys considered that for a momentthen released his hands with a flick. He broke into a littlesigh.
“All right then,” he said. Relief swept across my face. “Iexpect if this boy of yours is trying to get out of the city, he’llhave to get past patrols and guards and things. It strikes me themost useful thing you could do is get into the heads of theseguards and distract them long enough for him to getpast.”I nodded, butwith a frown. “That’s easier said than done,” I admitted, “I’m notexactly known for accuracy of getting into the right head at theright time.” I didn’t feel quite so confident any more. “But I havebeen getting better at it,” I added quickly.
“Hmm,” Idrys mumbled, rubbing his beard, “Maybe you need alittle target practice. Why don’t you try me?”
“What, right now?” I was a little startled.The old mansmiled. “Unless you’ve tried me before, of course?”I laughed.“No, no I haven’t. It’s just strange for someone to ask me to… jumpinto their head.”
“Well it won’t be a new experience for me,” Idrys replied,“That fella I knew in the war passed me a few mind messages back inthe day. I remember how it works.”It was astrange and awkward experience, but Idrys had that comforting charmthat only granddads have, which made it a little easier for me torelax and gather my thoughts. I felt self-conscious as I raised myhands up to cover my face but I tried to push embarrassment aside.I closed my eyes, taking my two deep breaths, and suddenly I wastotally disturbed by the sight of myself sitting in my bed. I wasright; I looked very peculiar with my hands up like that, but Icould see how Leighton would have mistaken me for having a headacheif he’d ever caught me that way.
This is so strange,Ithought.Idryslaughed. He felt warm, but a little tense. “Would you prefer it ifI looked somewhere else?”
Yes please,I replied.Idrys flickedhis eyes over to the fireplace and I went with him. He folded hishands over his belly.
“Well, you did that well enough,” he remarked, “So yur’s thething: can you now go from my head to someone else’s? See if youcan get to Ness without going back to your own headfirst.”I’d neverthought of doing that before, but it didn’t seem too difficult.Except that I couldn’t close my eyes again, or raise my hands likeI normally would. I was going to have to just concentrate and seeif I could get there without any physical moves. I pushed myselfaway from Idrys and his warm heart, thinking instead of Ness’s hugeblue eyes, her joyous giggle and her precious Dolly. And I was inthe kitchen. I could feel Dolly’s hand in Ness’s mouth. She lookedup just in time to see Blod snatch the rag doll out of her grip.Ness dropped her mouth open in protest.
“Ych a fi!” Blod said, shaking her head. “This thing’s dirtybach, you’ve got to let me wash her now.”I felt Ness’sbottom lip quiver. Her little heart was turning hot and her browswere coming down hard into the tantrum of all tantrums, something Idid not want to be sitting in her mind to witness. But instead ofsinking back into the blackness that would pull me to my own head,I thought with all my strength of Idrys again. He was standing bythe fire now, warming his coarse farmer’s hands.
I did it!I exclaimed, making himprick up his ears. He looked around and I saw myself on the bed,still entranced.I went to Ness’s head andI came back to yours, without stopping off at my head atall!
“Smashing,” Idrys said, “Then you’ve got what you need. Now goback to normal so you can save your strength for later.”He was rightof course, and when I got back into my own mind I could feel thetoll the new type of journey had taken on my already weak frame.Now I really wished I had been able to sleep better in the daytime.I cradled my tired head and wiped my eyes as Idrys came back to sitbeside me.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said quietly, “It might bea lot harder in the dark when the minds belong to strangers. And inNorway too, it’s a bit different to two rooms away, isn’tit?”Idrys reachedout and patted my shoulder with a smile.
“I don’t know a lot about this psychic lark,” he said gently,“but I do know a thing or two about life. And life is about belief.If you’ve got belief in yourself, you’ve got a chance of doinggreat things.”
I nodded, wanting desperately to believe him. But if life hadtaughtmeanything so far it was that my body had a habit of ruiningall my chances at doing things, great or not. What was there tosuggest that it wouldn’t let me down now too, when I needed itmost? Idrys didn’t need psychic powers to sense my hesitance. Hegave my shoulder another squeeze.
“This boy Henri, you care about him, don’t you?”
“Of course,” I said, a tiny smile creeping into my lips,“We’re friends. He said he really needs a friend.”
“Then you’ll do your best for him, won’t you?” Idrys pressed.I nodded fiercely. “Then I think you’ll do fine. Now sit back andrelax and I’ll give you the rest of my advice.” He let go of myshoulder but I felt all the heavier, laden with the newresponsibilities of my gift.***The clock onmy bedside table was lit by moonlight as the rest of Ty Gwyn slept.When it was nearing the time that Henri had set, I got to workunstrapping myself from the night splints that Mam had returned tome earlier that night. Nothing would get in the way of thismission; no torturous device from some evil doctor’s mind wouldweaken me when I took my mind to Norway tonight. By the time I’dgotten the wicked things off I was ready to lie back andconcentrate hard on finding Henri. I did my best to relax and becomfortable, freeing my body and mind from every distraction.In moments Icould see a damp grassy space in front of me in the dark. The windhowled as Henri shivered and there were many whispered voicesaround him talking in Norwegian. He was rubbing his hands togetherand taking furtive glances around at the murmuring group. They wereall young men like him; some looked even younger than me, theirfaces contorted with worry in the dark.Henri, it’sme.I knew by thejolt of surprise in his heart that he had heard me, but otherwisehe didn’t so much as flinch. I realised then that he wouldn’t beable to just talk to me in English with a dozen other boys aroundhim.Listen, Ihave some advice from an old solider. Can you hear me ok?He noddedvery slowly, so slowly that the other boys would probably havethought he was stretching his neck.
Right, I began, trying to rememberexactly what Idrys had said,you shouldput your socks on outside your shoes so that you make less noisewhen you’re running.I felt Henribreak into a smile. He whispered in his own language to the otherlads as he began to unlace his shoes. Everyone else quicklyfollowed suit.
And rip anything off your clothes that’s dangling or loose soit doesn’t get caught on fences or wires,I continued.Henri spokeagain to his cohorts as they were taking their socks off. One ofthem gave him a huge smile and patted Henri on the shoulder. I feltthat familiar swell of pride in Henri’s chest as he checked hisclothes for loose bits.
And this was the most important one,I said,No lights, not even acigarette, not even if you think there’s no Germans around. Therecould be sentries anywhere with guns, if they see a light where itought not to be, they might just shoot for it.Idrys hadbeen very specific about that one; he had lost friends in the firstwar in that way. Henri gulped hard and did his slow nod againbefore addressing the boys one last time. When they had finishedfumbling with their clothes, one of the elder boys took Henri offto the side, crouching with him in the wet grass. The older fellowspoke to him quickly and sharply, pointing with a flat hand offinto the darkness. Then he gave him a hard clap on the shoulder andreturned to the group, leaving Henri stooped alone in the blacknight.
What was that about?Ipressed.Henri gulpedagain. “They said I’m good with ideas, so they want me to distractthe guards whilst they start the run.”That didn’tsound good. My expert advice from Idrys had made Henri the leastlikely to get away safely now, but I wasn’t prepared to acceptthat.
You take me to the guards and I’ll do the rest,I promised.There werefour large German soldiers standing sentry at the border point theboys had chosen. Painted signs in both German and Norwegian glowedoccasionally in the reflection of the soldiers’ flashlights as theyambled back and forth aimlessly. They were young men, not mucholder than the boys trying to escape the city, and they wereclearly bored beyond belief of being on guard duty. Henri was laidflat on the wet grass about ten feet from the nearest soldier wherethe wire fence ended to leave a space for cars to pass through. Themost thickset of the four guards was training his flashlight onthat gap, staring intently into nothingness whilst the other threesmoked and talked.
Choose your moment carefully, I toldHenri, my own nerves raging as wildly as his thumping heart,That big silent guard is about to have a veryfunny turn.
“Good luck.” Henri mouthed it so quietly I couldn’t be surehe’d even said it.Keep lookingat the guard for me.I focusedhard on the quiet man, glancing from his meaty hands gripping thelight to his small, piggy eyes cast into shadow. I tried to imaginethe mind numbing boredom he was feeling, the sheer pointlessness ofstanding in the damp, dark night with three other blokes that heprobably didn’t like very much, judging by the discontented curl onone side of his fat pink lip. I could feel his lip curling, andsuddenly I felt terribly hungry. My vision was staring into the gapin the pass, following the beam of the flashlight. My flashlight.In my meaty hand.Missionaccomplished, but the real work was next. My distraction of choicewas a tried and tested method; I had done it to Leighton plenty oftimes when I first got the hang of my gift, back before I realisedhow cruel it was to frighten my little brother like that. But mychildish prank had not been in vain, for now it would give Henrithe chance to escape.Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.I buzzed likea bee, hard and loud and right into the centre of the guard’s mind.He jumped immediately as I’d hoped he would, dropping theflashlight. It rolled away leaving the gap in total darkness. Theguard fell about wildly grabbing at his ears, batting them with hishuge hands as he tried desperately to flush the imaginary creaturefrom his eardrum.Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.I let myinner child take over, the buzzing grew wilder and louder still.The guard threw his gun off his shoulder and cried out whichattracted the attention of the other three men. I grew dizzy as themeaty guard ran around in circles with his hands over his ears,staring at the dark ground. He ran up away from the pass in theopposite direction to Henri, along the fence a little until heturned, crying to his fellow soldiers to help him as he sank to theground.Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.He looked upthen, jumping up again frantically, and I saw all three of theothers racing towards him. The sternest looking of them wasshouting at the top of his voice. The other two were in fits oflaughter; one of them had even retrieved a camera, but was laughingso much he couldn’t focus it. Not one of them still had hold of aflashlight as they crowded around the now-cowering guard I wasoccupying. My view of the pass was completely obscured, but thatmeant theirs was too.Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.I let theimaginary bee loose one last time in the meaty guard’s mind; he wasscreaming so loudly that a hundred boys could have run through thepass unnoticed. The stern soldier leant over to grab the distressedguard by the shoulders. He shook us violently, making me feel sickas he dug his hands sharply into the guard’s biceps, shouting overthe screams to make his orders heard.I stoppedbuzzing. The guard took a deep breath, his eyes clouded with water.He was shaking and breathing out ragged sobs. The laughing pair hadfinally gotten their act together to take an embarrassingphotograph of him; the stern one shouted at them both when he sawthe flashbulb go off behind his head. I receded gently back fromthe congealed humiliation building in the guard’s stomach, thinkinginstead of Henri and hoping that he’d taken the right moment todash by.When I foundhim he was streaking across the pitch black fields, glancing behindhim to the patrol and the soldiers. Another flash of the cameratold me he was already a considerable distance away from them; thebulb was little more than a firefly sized burst. His feet fellheavily into the grass but the socks over his shoes dulled eachleap into a tiny thud. I could feel every muscle in his strong bodyraging as he pressed on in the darkness and slowly I saw theshadowed forms of the rest of the boys running in a pack just aheadof him.
Well?I asked loudly over the soundof Henri’s thudding heart.Did I do allright?
“You. Were. Amazing,” he panted, half laughing and halfgasping for air.The coldshiver I knew only too well began to creep up the back of my spineand though I wanted desperately to stay with Henri until he reachedthe other lads, I knew my energy was spent.
I have to go,I said sadly,but I’ll come back as soon as I can.
“Tomorrow,” Henri gasped, “Promise me, tomorrow.”
Tomorrow,I replied as the feel ofhis charging heart faded away.Every time Ivisited Henri in the next few days he made me promise that I wouldcome back tomorrow, which was actually not an easy promise to keepin a house full of unpredictable Welsh women. When Idrys wasvisiting he helped me to make excuses to get peace and quiet, butwhen he wasn’t there I often had to retire to bed early to beundisturbed, pretending that I was tired or had a headache. Mam wasstarting to think that I was ill, which could only mean that avisit to beastly Bickerstaff was looming on the horizon and he wasthe last person I wanted to see. After about a week of visitingHenri for only five or ten minutes at a time I decided enough wasenough. There was only one way to get peace from Ty Gwyn, and thatwas to get out of Ty Gwyn.I needed towalk. I needed to get as far as the bank of the stream or to one ofthe trees where I could sit undisturbed and pretend to be taking inthe fresh air. I told Henri of the plan early one night when I hadfeigned tired eyes and escaped to my room.
“I don’t want you to hurt yourself,” he murmured, “Didn’t yousay the strain makes you ill for days?”He wasstanding on the side of a large hill looking out at a stunning pinksunset. The lads were making camp every night in some secluded partof the mountains as they moved nearer to their target, but Ol,their self-appointed leader, had told Henri it would be almost theend of May before they could get where they were going. Every timeI went to him I saw a new, stunning view from the higher altitudesof Norway and it often made me wonder how much he would miss thatkind of beauty when he eventually made it to the rain-drenchedshores of Northern Scotland.
We don’t know that for sure,Iargued,Bickerstaff pushed me too hard. IfI do it at my own pace I might be fine.
“Or you might not,” he added. It was hard to tell what wasactual worry and what was just shivering in his chest from the coldevening air.
Have a little faith in me,I saidsadly.Henri put hishands up to his chapped lips and rubbed them gently.
“Since this war began, you are the only thing I’ve had faithin. Sometimes I still wake up afraid that you’re notreal.”
Perhaps when you make it to Britain I can prove to you thatI’m real.It was athought I’d been harbouring ever since Henri had told me his planto get to Scotland. When I wasn’t with Henri I often let doubtscreep in, like doubts about whether he would ever want to meet meif he did make it across the sea. But, here with him, when he saidsuch meaningful things, it didn’t seem quite so impossible tobelieve that he would.I felt himsmiling even though it cracked his sore lip. “How far will it befrom Scotland to North Wales?” he asked. There was no hiding theelation in my voice when I replied.***The hugewooden crutches that Bickerstaff had tried me on had been sittingin the corner of my bedroom ever since the fever. It was a brightwarm Sunday after chapel when Idrys wheeled me outside whilstLeighton struggled along with the crutches, dragging their pointedends across the cobbles of the farmyard. We found a soft patch ofgrass at the edge of one of the fields; it was a space I knew frommy psychic travels, the place where the teenage farm boys threwtheir love notes up at Blod’s window. When I glanced up at thewindow I saw Ness’s little face peeping out at us with interest,thankfully Blod wasn’t there to witness my struggling.
“Right, how do we go about this?” Idrys asked, perplexed bythe triangular contraptions that Leighton was now trying to keepupright for me. I took them from him and stood them up either sideof the chair, gripping the handles tightly.
“Just be ready to catch her if she falls on her bum,” Leightonexplained. I gave him a wide eyed glare but I couldn’t hide mysmile. His freckles were coming out in the spring sunshine and Ithought the country air had done wonders for his growth. Mum wasgoing to be impressed by both of us when she saw us next, that I’dmake sure of.With amassive heave I got from the chair onto my feet, wobbling for a fewmoments until I had the cushioned parts of the crutches under eacharm to prop me up. I felt like a sagging scarecrow as Istraightened up my frame, embarrassment forcing the red flush intomy cheeks as I realised how silly I must have looked to my littleaudience. When I found Leighton’s face again he was smiling, butthankfully not laughing. He rolled eagerly on the balls of hisfeet, clapping his hands together silently.
“Go on then, take a step.” I could hear the anticipationhitching his breath.Dragging theheavy crutches made my progress even slower than it had been when Iused the wall of the bedroom to get about, but I walked sevensnail-like paces to Idrys before I had to stop and heave outexhausted breaths. My arms were on fire and the jellyfish kneeswere back but Leigh and Idrys gave me a cheer all the same. The oldfarmer helped me back into my chair and said that we all deserved adrink and a biscuit, but as he wheeled me inside I waved a fingerat him breathlessly.
“Only for half an hour,” I heaved, “Then you’ve got to take meback outside to try again.”We went onlike that for days, stepping in and out of the increasingly warmair as April turned to May. When Idrys was busy I managed topersuade Mam to tear herself away from her washing and cooking longenough to make sure I didn’t collapse on the grass and whenLeighton got home from school he watched me practice inside. Atfirst he stood by the door of the sitting room whilst I walked incase he needed to shout to Mam for help, but I couldn’t avoidfeeling terribly pleased with myself when he finally ploppedhimself into a chair, deciding that I wasn’t going to fall.Though Ihadn’t quite gained independence with my steps, the rests I had totake in between practices were perfect opportunities to wheel offto my room and find Henri. We’d been exchanging stories every dayof our progress and though he had trekked scores of miles oversheer hillsides and vast barren plains, my grand total of nineteensteps in a row was still the greatest achievement he had ever heardof. Every day he wanted to know the number of paces I could manage,so every day I pressed myself harder to take that one extra step soas not to disappoint him.
“This boy must be bloody good looking to get you working sohard,” Idrys remarked one morning when the step total had reachedtwenty three.I wasinclined to agree, though I hadn’t seen Henri’s face at all sincethe day he’d been beaten up by Kluger and his mob. I found mymotivation in the warmth in his chest when I told him of my successand in the wide smile he cracked when he heard me say hello. Ineeded his praise and his belief in me the same way I needed thecrutches: to hold me up, to help me take on the challenge. Withoutthem I could so easily be that tear-soaked little girl againcollapsing on the floor of Bickerstaff’s office and that wassomething I definitely never wanted to go back to.***The last dayin May was a Friday which always signified Mam putting on a hugefamily dinner and inviting Bampi Idrys in for the evening. It alsomeant that Blod would be occupied with the dual tasks of helpingMam cook and supervising Ness whilst Leighton spent most the day atschool. I disappeared under the pretence of practising a fewcareful steps alone in my room, but once I’d wheeled in there Itook just four steps from my chair to the bed where I lay back andshut my eyes immediately.I wassurprised to find Henri indoors after so many visits to thebeautiful mountainsides he had been traversing. He was in a littlewooden room looking into a sink full of soapy water. He sloshed hishands into the sink and brought them up to his face with a tiredsigh, obscuring my view as he washed his forehead before movingdown to his cheeks. He looked up, but where I had been hoping for amirror there was just a blank wooden wall that he stared at withoutfocus. He slapped his wet face gently a few times then suddenlyshook his whole head, droplets flying everywhere.
Henri you make me feel sick when you do that!I protested.He jumped,then laughed in quick succession.
“Then you should tell me you’re here instead of spying on me,”he accused.
He had a point, actually, but I wouldn’t let him win.Oh yes,Ireplied,because feeling you wash yourface is terribly exciting.
“What do you mean ‘feeling’?” Henri asked.
Um…In all our recent conversationsI had managed not to let that slip yet, though I had often felt asthough I ought to let Henri know I could feel everything that hefelt.Well,Ithought uncertainly,I can feel what youdo with your body, almost like it’s my own body.He pinchedhis arm hard.
Ow!I cried immediately. He hissedat the pain he’d caused himself.Youdidn’t have to test it!
“This isn’t good news Kit,” Henri mused sadly, “If you’re withme and I get hurt, you’ll feel it. I don’t want you to suffer forme.”
I wanted to gulp down my worries.Are you likely to get hurt?Iasked.Henri turnedhis back on the sink quietly as he reached for his shirt and swungit over his shoulders. For a brief moment he looked down to do uphis buttons and I saw a flash of his bare chest, but he must haveremembered quickly that I was behind his eyes because he looked upagain at the wall while he finished getting dressed.
“Well, we’ve arrived at the place where the boats will comefor us,” he explained, “This is a small base made up by theResistance.”
When will your boat come?I pressed.He had ignored my last question, but I was too interested in howsoon he could get across the sea to pursue it.
“When the water’s right,” he said, drawing in a sharp breath,“We just have to be ready to leave as soon as they tell us. Itcould be any night from now on.”
That’s brilliant,I exclaimed. Hesmiled a very small smile.
“Listen to me Kit,” he said, his deep voice turning serious,“I don’t want you to be there when I cross the water.” I made toprotest but he carried on talking. “It’s going to be cold anddangerous and all kinds of hell to endure. I don’t want to be thereason that you feel all that.”
But it won’t hurt me really,Iargued,I’ll just-
“No,” Henri cut me off, shaking his head, “If you come to mymind and you find me on that boat, you leave again right away. Andyou keep leaving until I am back on land somewhere. If you don’t, Iwon’t forgive you.”I hadn’theard him speak this harshly since the night he cursed the Germanswhen his employer was taken away, and most of that had been inNorwegian. This was his warning to me and he meant it.
“If you care for me at all then you must do what I say,” heurged.He knew morethan I did about the dangers on the water, someone had clearlywarned him how bad it was going to be. I wanted to tell him to turnback, to not risk it, but now that he had vanished from a cityriddled with German soldiers there was little choice left for himbut to endure whatever the journey threw at him.
Of course I care for you,I saidsoftly,I promise I’ll stay away untilyou’re safely on this island.
“Good,” he answered quietly. I felt the heavy burden in hischest start to relax. “Well, do we still have time together now, orwill you have to go soon?”
I smiled.I think I’m all right fora while. Everyone’s busy here today.Henri leftthe little wooden washroom and made his way down a pitch blackcorridor, turning instinctively to another tiny, dark room. Onceinside he fumbled with a lantern until it came to life,illuminating a little bedroll on the floor. He lay down on itquietly and I felt the hardness of the floor behind his back. Itwas horribly uncomfortable, but it didn’t seem to bother him.
“I’ve been wondering about your family in London,” he saidquietly, “Tell me, what does your mother do?”
Mum works in a factory that makes parts for bicycles,I admitted. I felt Henri smiling quietly tohimself.It used to be a tiny littlejob,but she started working millions ofhours there once Dad went away, and now she says the factory’sstarted making parts for aircraft instead.I felt a sad sort of longing creeping into the back of myhead.That’s why she can’t get away longenough to come and see us up here, she’s working very long hoursfor the war effort.
“I think it’s good that everyone does their part,” Henrimused, “I want to do my part too when I come over.”He meantbecoming a soldier, I was sure of it. The thought of Henri going tobattle was both awfully brave and utterly terrifying to me.
They won’t let you enlist until you’re eighteenthough,I answered, bringing myself somecomfort.
“I know, but my birthday’s in August, it’s not that far away.”He shuffled on the hard floor, resting his head on a rolled upjacket. “So your father is away at the war?”Um... no. Notexactly.
“What do you mean?” Henri asked.
I hesitated, for a moment before I gave in and toldhim.Dad went away about a year before thewar started. Mum always says he’s working, but we haven’t heard aword from him in all this time.
“I had a friend like that once,” Henri began, “His mother toldhim the same thing.”
And where was his dad really?Iasked nervously.Henri bit hislip. “I’m not sure I should say.”
Go on,I pressed,it can’t be any worse than what I’mthinking.
“In prison,” Henri answered, “What were youthinking?”Dead.I could feelthe shock in Henri’s broad chest. “You don’t really think yourfather’s dead, do you?”
Sometimes,I said sadly,then sometimes not. It’s all so strange. We wokeup one morning and he’d just vanished, he never even came to saygoodbye to us. Mum just said he had to go, and that wasthat.
“I think prison’s more likely by the sound of that,” Henrisaid. I felt his own grief matching mine as he gripped the pocketsof his trousers tightly, his arms turning stiff. “I would havepreferred to hope that my parents were still alive, if I couldhave.”I didn’t wantto press him to talk about them and he didn’t volunteer any moreinformation, so I tried to ignore the sadness rising withinhim.
If we were in the same place together, I said gently,this would be agood moment to give you a hug.He broke intoa grin as his gaze fixed on the black ceiling. “I have saved up afew hugs for you already,” he revealed, “On the condition that youcan walk up to me to get them.”A fluttery,wonderful feeling gripped my chest so strongly that I didn’t knowif it was me or Henri that was feeling it.
I did twenty seven steps last count,I replied, wondering if my voice would quiver in hishead.
“Then I’m going to stand thirty paces away and hold my armsout like this,” he laughed, pushing his long, strong arms up infront of him in a wide, welcoming gesture, “And you’ll have to getto me.”
Yours arms will be aching by the time I do,I giggled in reply,Iwalk like a snail. A slow snail. A really elderly, slowsnail.He fell aboutlaughing with such abandon that all thoughts of the war vanishedfrom our heads, so it wasn’t until I returned to Ty Gwyn later thatI thought again about the boat and the dangers ahead.Henri and Ihad a few more precious days where we could chat and laughtogether, but the night finally came where I closed my eyes andfound him at sea. The thrash of icy waves shocked me so severelythat I fell right out of his head and back into my own bed, but thefew seconds I’d been with him were enough to tell me that everymuscle in his body was straining against the North Sea. I wrestledwith myself about going back to him, just to check that he was allright, but I had made a promise to him and it wouldn’t be right notto keep it.I told Idrysabout the boat when we were practising my steps outside and hepromised me that a good strong boy could make it across the water.Henri was a good strong boy if ever I’d seen one, but I took littlecomfort in the old Welshman’s words. I didn’t even need to stepinto his head; there was something behind his thoughtful eyes thattold me he was worried for Henri too. I threw all my efforts intoreaching thirty paces, which was about the distance from the edgeof the field to the nearest tree, but I got stuck at twenty nine,my energy sapping away until I actually did collapse on thegrass.It had beenthree days since Henri went to sea when my aching body dropped intothe long warm grass, spent from my futile efforts. Twenty ninesteps weren’t enough to reach him. Nothing was enough to reach himuntil the beastly sea let him go. Idrys rushed over to me and madeto help me up, but I waved him off, looking up at the tree I hadalmost reached as my eyes began to water. He looked down on me, hisbushy brow furrowed in concern.
“Just leave me,” I sobbed, “I’m tired of this.”
“Don’t be daft,” he said, crouching down to scoop me up in hishefty arms, “You’re doing great, you are. Don’t be giving up noweh? Not when you’re so close.”I lay limpand upset in his grip as he took me slowly back to my chair,shaking my head.
“Everything’ll come right soon,” he promised, and I knew hedidn’t just mean for me.That night Iwent to bed feeling sure that Henri’s crossing would be over,readying myself to congratulate him on a mission well completed.He’d told me it would take about three days if conditions weregood. I suspected that they weren’t good from the brief glimpses ofthe crashing waves and hellish winds I had witnessed when I checkedon him, but I was still hopeful that the boat might have kept toits timescale. I settled in my cosy bed trying to ignore theanxious pounding in my chest, focusing on Henri as hard as Icould.Everythingwas black, like it sometimes was if I had caught him sleeping.Henri? Henriwake up, it’s me.Nothinghappened. The world stayed black. I could feel someone breathing,but I couldn’t tell if it was him or me. There was no movement ofbody, no light, no noise.
Henri,I pressed, pushing harder andlouder into his head.Henri please wakeup. Please!I tried timeand again but there was no reply. I came back to my own head tocheck nothing was wrong with me then tried Henri again, but foundmyself in the same blackness as before. I panicked then, sitting upin bed and throwing all my splints off with a mighty crash. He washurt; I just knew it, knocked out or something. I swung myself tothe edge of the bed, tears flowing down my face. Or worse still, hewas gone. He had warned me about the dangers he would have to face;perhaps this was what he really meant when he said he didn’t wantme to suffer.He didn’twant me there in case I felt him die.In spite ofany weakness I leapt to my feet, racing on wild limbs to the nearbywash basin to throw up. I hadn’t even realised that I had made thewalk without aids until after I had spewed my guts out, crying andheaving into the bowl. The door burst open and a second later Ifelt Mam’s warm hands on my shoulders as she guided me to sit andwiped my face. I could hardly communicate with her I was crying somuch, which didn’t really matter because I couldn’t have possiblyexplained what had made me so upset. When my chest finally finishedheaving I began to hear her soothing words.
“There, there, love,” Mam said in her sing-song lilt, “Baddream was it?”I justnodded, feeling hollow. I grimaced at the horrid taste in my mouthand Mam fetched me some water. When I tried to sip it my handsshook out of all control.
“Oh dear,” Mam said quietly, “I hope you’re not getting sick,not with your birthday the day after tomorrow.”I didn’t careabout my birthday any more, not if I couldn’t hear Henri wish memany happy returns.***My sixteenthbirthday began with the news that conflict had broken out in NorthAfrica. The wicked war that had engulfed the whole of Europe wasexpanding to other continents now; I had a horrid feeling that noplace on Earth would be left untouched before it was through. Ithad already gotten to me, that was for sure. I tried in vain thewhole morning of the day before to reach Henri again, but everytime I sank into the horrific blackness where his mind used to beit only cut away another part of my heart, so that in the end Ibecame terrified to try again, since every visit only cemented mygrief at losing him.Mam stillthought I was sick so she was being very tolerant about me cryingall the time, tactfully ignoring it in that special way of hers.Idrys tried to take me out to practice my walking but I refused togo, even after he tried to persuade me that Henri was probably justunconscious. He didn’t know that for sure, he couldn’t possiblyknow that; I thought it was cruel to give me that kind of hope. Inthe end he gave up trying and just held my hand quietly for a whileas Mam started to prattle on about the arrangements for mycelebration.
“Now we’ll set up the big tables in the field between yur andthe barn, you’ll do that Da,” she said to Idrys, who just nodded,“And Blod can lay the table up for nine of us.”
“Nine?” I said in a broken voice. If I was going to be made tosuffer through a birthday garden party, I at least wanted to knowthe guest list.
“You, me, Bampi, Leighton, Blod, Ness, the two farm boys,” Mambegan, hesitating a moment, “and Doctor Bickerstaff.”
“Doctor Bickerstaff?” I spat with rage. There could only havebeen one way to make my life worse right now and Mam had gone anddone it. “Why on earth is he coming to my birthdayparty?”
“Nawr te,” Mam warned with a patient finger, “I know you don’tlike him but he’s done wonders for you, and I want to say thank youto him.”I couldn’tthink of anything worse than sitting at a table full of laughing,joking people when I felt like my whole world had fallen into agaping pit. Idrys had a hopefulness that I just couldn’t accept, sohe was no help when all I wanted, no needed, to do was to be aloneand think through the facts. I consoled myself at least that DoctorBickerstaff would not be smiling and laughing at my party, in factit would probably be just as much of a torture for him to attend asit was for me to have him there. He’d be sharing my misery, whetherhe knew it or not, and he’d probably spend the whole afternoonterrified that I’d let something slip about his secret to Mam. Itwas comforting to fix on his misery for a bit instead of my own,however selfish it made me feel, but then I tried my best toinvolve myself in setting up for the party in the hope that if Igot really busy I might just be able to push my grief right out ofmy head for the rest of the day.***When the timecame to sit at the head of the birthday table I had failedmiserably in my attempt to not think about Henri. I plastered halfa smile to my face as Idrys’s two farm boys came to sit down, theirmouths hanging open as they stared at the beautiful food Mam hadprepared in my honour. I tried to appreciate it all but it was sohard to unearth any spark of joy within me, so instead I just tooka sandwich and ate quietly as the table gradually filled up withthe rest of our little family. The farm boys’ mouths dropped onceagain at the arrival of Blod, apparently even more delicious thanthe party food.I wassurprised at how much she’d gone to town to dress up, especiallyconsidering it was for my party. She looked stunning in a littleyellow dress that I knew she had made from an old pair of curtainsa few weeks ago, all long legs and flowing blonde tresses as shecame and sat on my left hand side at the table. She gave me a smilethat felt as forced as the one on my own face, which I didn’treally mind. I felt a lot less obligated to be happy and chattywith her sat beside me than anyone else; I could get on with mysnacks in peace, willing the clock to run out so I could get backto my room and let my real feelings out again.Bickerstaffwas so late arriving that I’d actually convinced myself he wasn’tcoming. It was funny to see him out of his usual doctor-wear; hewas dressed in a smart suit, too clean for a party in a field, witha crisp bottle green shirt and a stunning white tie. As heapproached the table and shook hands with Idrys I heard Blodgulping down water beside me like a starved camel. Her eyes werefixed on him for quite some time before she realised I was watchingher. The young doctor settled himself as far away from us aspossible at the other end of the table and accepted a small beer ashe enquired with one of the farm boys after his father’shealth.
“Well, now we’re all yur,” Mam began, rubbing her handstogether excitedly, “How about some cake?”Leighton andNess cheered simultaneously; I envied their blissful ignorance tothe horrible world around them. As Mam took some matches andstarted to light the candles of my cake, she smiled so warmly at methat for a moment I felt like things might get better again afterall.
“Aw, sweet sixteen eh?” she said proudly.
“And never been kissed,” Blod added. It didn’t sound unkind,but I knew how she meant it by the glitter in her shinyeyes.
“Unlike you eh Blod?” said one of the farm boys, setting themboth off into sniggers.Bickerstaffchoked on his beer, slapping his chest hard to sort himself out. Hecaught my eye down the long table with a guilty look until Mam putthe cake down in front of me, blocking his stare.
“Right, all together now,” Mam said, holding up her fingerslike a conductor, “And we’re doing it the Welsh way remember. One,two, three:”
“Penblwydd hapus I chi, Penblwydd hapus I chi, Penblwydd hapusI Kit, Penblwydd hapus I chi.”Even Leightonhad learnt it the Welsh way and it did make me break out into thefirst genuine smile of the afternoon, especially since Ness climbedup and stood on the table to belt out the last line at the top ofher little lungs. Bickerstaff was mouthing the words, though Icouldn’t hear his voice, watching the little girl carefully in casehe needed to leap up and catch her if she fell. I blew out mycandles without making a wish. The partygoers broke into applauseand hip-hip-hoorays afterwards, but when the clapping died out Icaught myself thinking about Henri once again.I looked awayfrom the happy scene, feeling like my throat was going to close up,only to notice a figure I hadn’t seen for a long time comingtowards us through the old farm buildings. Officer Lewis, the localpoliceman, was ambling carefully over the cobbles and waving to getour attention. I tapped Blod’s arm and made her turn to see Lewisin the hope that her usual loudmouth style wouldn’t let me down.And it didn’t.
“All right there officer?” she bellowed, rising from the tableto return his gesture, “What’s going on mun?”
“Idrys!” he shouted in his thick-as-gravy accent, “Yoo hoo! MrPengelly!”Idryseventually heard him and rose from the party table, his widestrides taking him to the officer before he was in earshot. Theyhad a very animated conversation which all of the people at thetable were watching, until Mam decided we were all being terriblyrude and told us to get on with eating our cake. I did as I wastold but my eyes kept flicking over to where the two men stood.Idrys caught my gaze a few times; he kept turning his head back inmy direction as Lewis was talking to him. Eventually he nodded andthe two men started off towards the front of the house.
“Where you goin’ Da?” Mam called.
“Be right back,” Idrys answered with a wave.The tablefell into an awkward silence, an atmosphere so dead that I couldhear every individual at the table chewing on their cake andswigging their drinks.
“So Doctor,” said Mam, desperate to break the quiet, “Have youheard about Kit’s walking? Da said he’s phoned you a few times.She’s coming on well, isn’t she?”Idrys hadbeen phoning Bickerstaff about me? I felt a little betrayed andvowed to have that out with him when he was done with Lewis.
“Apparently so,” the doctor replied like he didn’t believe aword of it, “She’s due for a formal review next week,so-”
“You shouldn’t talk about her like she’s not even here,” Blodbutted in bitterly, “It’s just bloody rude, that is.”
“Bloody!” Ness shouted gleefully, making Leighton and the farmboys giggle.
“What’s rude,” Mam said irately, “Is you butting into otherpeople’s conversations, young lady.”I was put outat that, because Blod might have actually just done the only nicething she’d ever done for me, and now she was being punished forit.
“I’m not a child, you know,” she bit back at her mother. Iwanted to stand up for her, but I didn’t know what tosay.
“All the more reason not to behave like one then,” Mamanswered sternly. There was a look in her eyes that told us all theconversation was over.
Bickerstaff drained his drink and cleared his throat to cutthe tension. “As I was saying, I’ll be able to make a properassessment onyourprogress with the crutches on Monday, Kit, if that’sagreeable foryou?”He wastalking to me, not Mam. Blod had won the argument after all. Inodded politely to him.
“That’s fine. Thank you doctor,” I replied.During theexchange, Idrys had returned but Lewis hadn’t. Instead of goingback to his seat at the table the old farmer came to my side andpicked up my crutches, putting them across my lap. He took thehandles of my wheelchair and began to pull me away from myplace.
“Here what you doing?” Mam asked, half a smile on herlips.
“It’s a secret birthday present,” he said, his deep throatyvoice filled with glee, “So keep your noses out, all ofyou.”
“I never got a secret present!” Blod moaned.
“And you never will with that attitude,” her Bampi replied,turning my chair so I couldn’t see any of them anymore. “I’ll bringher back in a minute, you lot stay put.”When we werefar enough from the table to be out of earshot I demanded to knowwhat was going on, but Idrys just chuckled and kept quiet. Itwasn’t until he had wheeled me back into the black and white hallof Ty Gwyn that he spoke again. He rounded my chair and croucheddown, putting a hand on my knee with a wide, old smile.
“Did you make a wish on that cake?” he asked.
“No,” I said, my brows tightening in confusion.
“Well you should’ve,” Idrys beamed, “’Cause it’s cometrue.”He left meoutside the door to the small sitting room but pointed to it, likewhatever he had planned was waiting right inside. I could hearOfficer Lewis in there talking his head off about somethingridiculous, like there was someone else with him to hear it all. Igot up onto my crutches and approached the door slowly, knocking itwith a kick of my foot. Lewis came to open it with his familiargrin.
“Wow Kit, you’re looking well!” he exclaimed. “On your feetand everything!”
“Well I’m just-”I forgoteverything that I was about to say as the door swung fully open.Sitting by the fireplace in Idrys’s usual chair was a boy withmessy hair, both brown and black. He looked like he was wearingsomeone else’s clothes; they were a little too tight on his tall,long-limbed frame, the trousers rising an inch too high above hisshoes and socks. He had high cheekbones and ears that stuck out alittle, he was rubbing one of them with a smooth hand as he turnedat the sound of my name.
“Oh, so youdoknow each other!” Officer Lewis said, oblivious to what wasgoing on between us. “This young man claims to be related to you,Miss Cavendish. Is he right?”I noddedfiercely, unable to say anything else. He was all kinds of right.Henri rose out of the chair to his full height; he had a good fewinches on me even with the crutches holding me up. He smiled withstraight teeth and chapped lips, rubbing his stubbly, chiselled jawlike he was as dumbstruck as me. All I could fix on were his eyesthe colour of chocolate, those eyes I’d been looking through forthe last ten weeks. And now they were finally looking at me.
“They’re very distant cousins,” Idrys explained from the door,“Best leave them to a reunion Lewis, they haven’t seen each otherfor… well for ages.”I just aboutmanaged to say goodbye to Lewis as he doffed his helmet and left.Idrys gave me a knowing look as he too exited, shutting the sittingroom door behind him. Then it was just us. Me and Henri and thefading teatime sun outside the window. My arms began to shake undermy weight against the crutches and Henri took a step forward,reaching out for me.
“Do you need to sit down?” he asked, his rich voice shaking asmuch as my body was.
“That’d be a good start,” I replied.
“I thought you were dead,” I mumbled, “I tried to reach youand it was all just black, just nothing.”
“We crashed on the rocks when we came ashore,” Henri said,taking my shaking hand in both of his, “I was unconscious for along time, up until last night. As soon as I woke up, I told themto put me on the train here.”
“You must be so tired,” I said, gazing at his strong, smoothhands clasping mine, hardly daring to believe I could really feelthem there.
“Not any more,” he said with a nervous laugh.We weresitting together on the old sofa, which was very strange for me.The only chair I was used to sitting in always had wheels on, soleaning back into the cracked leather and feeling it under my legswas all very new. As was holding hands with a boy. And not just anyboy at that.
“So you lied to them? Pretended we were related?”I looked atHenri’s face again, watching his warm smile and his sharp jaw as hesucked in his cheeks thoughtfully.
“Well how else was I going to find you?” he said with a happyshrug. “The home guard in Scotland tracked down your evacuationhome and gave me some train fare. I think it was cheaper thanfeeding me there, they had enough problems with the other boys thatmade it across.”
“That made it?” I asked, feeling his grip on my hand tighten alittle. “Did some of them… not?”Henri noddedsolemnly, his smile fading off. “I was very lucky,” he whispered,“We lost half our own boat one night in a storm. It was a miraclethe whole thing didn’t capsize.”Without anywarning I burst into tears, the culmination of two days of franticworry and despair exploding in a fit of pure relief. I threw myarms around Henri so fiercely that he fell back against the sofa,cradling my head against his chest as I tried desperately to stopsobbing and looking like such an idiot in front of him. He strokedmy hair gently with one hand, I felt the other hand hovering at mywaist, like he didn’t know if it was okay to hold me there or not,but eventually he put both arms around my shoulders instead.
“It’s okay Kit, I’m safe now,” he soothed, “I’m herenow.”
“It’s hard to believe you’re really here,” I sniffed, dryingmy eyes as I listened to the familiar thump of hisheart.
“Imagine how strange it is for me,” he exclaimed, “knowing nowthat the voice in my head has a body and a face!” I looked up athim, laughing as he smiled down at me. “And a very pretty face,too,” he added shyly, his brown eyes glittering. His heart ratequickened where I was leaning over it. I was about six inches fromhis lips.There came aknock at the door and I sat up as sharply as my weak form would letme, drying my eyes just before Mam and Idrys came in. Henri stoodup immediately and bowed his head politely to them both, but Mamwas upon him in moments with one of her bone-crushing embraces. Shekissed both his cheeks until he started to blush, holding hislovely face up for appraisal.
“Welcome young man, Da’s told me everything about you!” shesaid.Idrys, whowas standing behind her, shook his head to us both as if to say‘Not everything, obviously’.***Idryssuggested that Henri could stay with him at the cottage across thepasture and help out on the farm, an idea that Henri and I wereelated with. He came out to enjoy the rest of my birthday party,introduced to the assembled people as ‘Cousin Henri’, my extremelydistant relation, who had just made the amazing journey across theNorth Sea, escaping the clutches of the Nazi swine like the herothat he was. Mam enjoyed embellishing the thrilling tale from thebare bones that Idrys had given her and Henri couldn’t get a wordin edgeways to correct any of the details, so the contents of myparty were all terribly impressed with him despite the fact that hewas rather shy of actually talking at length with any of them.The onlyperson who made it quite obvious that he disliked Henri wasLeighton, which was terribly out of character for my littlebrother. Leigh was usually the first to want to make a new friend,but every time I looked at him he was giving Henri these nastylittle sideways looks, most especially when Henri spoke to me oreven just smiled in my direction. I tried not to waste much timeworrying about Leighton when I could spend it returning Henri’ssmiles and conversation. He was very softly spoken compared to theloud Welsh contingent all around us, but his deep smooth voice waseasy to pick out in the din.
“I’m not sure I’m going to be much good on a farm,” headmitted, biting his lower lip. He had a little piece of cake stuckto it that I wanted to sort out, but the table was too wide toreach him. “I only know how to measure and cut.”
“Idrys knows all that,” I said quietly, “he’s not going toexpect miracles.”
“So… he knows everything?” Henri’s brown eyes were dark andround with interest.I noddedgently. “More or less. I didn’t mean to tell him, but it’s turnedout really well to have someone to help me.”
“To help us,” Henri corrected, “I don’t think your policemanwould have let me in if not for his influence.”We wereleaning very close to each other over the table to talk in such lowtones and a loud spluttering from Leigh’s direction startled mebackwards. I looked at him, panicked in case he was choking oncake, but all he did was give Henri another of those rotten looks.I was about to tell Henri to take no notice when Doctor Bickerstaffrose from the far end of the table. He was looking straight overour heads, blue eyes flickering to Blod for just a moment as he setdown his napkin.
“Excuse me a moment,” he mumbled as he stalked off toward thehouse.It was only afew seconds later that Blod started clattering about between Henriand me, collecting our plates despite the fact that we still hadcake left on them. I gave her a knowing look and she scowled at meshamelessly.
“Well I’m going to get these washed up,” Blod said all tooloudly, “Since I’m everyone’s bloody slave and it’ll be me that’sstill doing them at midnight otherwise.” Her complaints didn’t havetheir usual confidence and her walk had less of its carefree swayas she too approached Ty Gwyn. Henri craned his neck to watch hergo before turning back to me.
“It’s not impossible to imagine them together,” he whispered,shifting and sitting in Blod’s space so that he was beside mywheelchair, “The little girl is the image of him.”I noddedquietly, but I wasn’t really thinking about Bickerstaff and Blod.Henri was so close I could smell the freshness of his borrowedshirt. He leant casually on the armrest of my chair, the soft brownhairs on his forearm brushing against my much paler limb. I watchedhim rubbing his palm with his fingertips; a trait I knew was alwaysaccompanied by the prickle of nerves in his spine. He smiled at meagain when I had taken far too long to reply and I couldn’t helpthe toothy grin that escaped. I wanted to giggle, even though hehadn’t said anything remotely funny. There was something sparklingdeep in his big brown eyes, like he too was in on the joke.
“Ouch!”A bowl-cuthair style banged into my elbow as Leighton forced himself into thetotal lack of space between Henri and me. I rubbed my arm andcurled my lip at him.
“What are you doing?” I snapped.Leigh feignedcomplete innocence. “It’s a bit chilly now,” he suggested, “Ithought you might want to go inside.”
“No thank you,” I said through gritted teeth.
“But you look cold,” Leigh insisted, “I could wheelyou.”
“If I want to go inside I’ll ask Henri to wheel me,” Iinsisted.But mybrother wouldn’t be put off. He put all his strength into pullingmy chair back from the table and took me about ten feet away wherewe couldn’t be heard. His little freckled face was livid.
“Look, I don’t remember any Cousin Henri, Kit,” he whisperedviciously, “I’m not stupid you know; I want to know what’s goingon.”
“He’s come from a terrible place crawling with Nazis, Leigh,”I pleaded, “Telling them he’s family is the best way to protecthim.”
“But how do you know him?” Leighton pressed, his little handsballed into fists. “He’s all… close to you. It’s weird. Boys don’tdo that to you, Kit.”I didn’t needreminding of that, but Leigh was all too happy to point out mytotal lack of a social life, especially where any admirers mighthave been concerned. When I’d started at grammar school there usedto be a lot of boys who liked to talk to me at the gate at lunch,but that was before I started to walk funny and become known as‘the girl with the pink rash’. I was trying to appreciateLeighton’s protectiveness, but frankly he was getting in the way ofthe precious time I had with Henri before Idrys decided to go homefor the evening.
“We were pen friends,” I lied irately, “We know a lot abouteach other, that’s why he’s so friendly. Now will you please takeme back over there?” My brother’s rosy lip fell into a frown as hegrabbed the chair handles and started to obey me. “And whatever youdo, don’t tell anybody that we’re not really related to him,” Ichided in a perfect imitation of Mum.
“Oops,” Leigh said quietly.
“What?” I demanded, “What have you said?”
“Nothing much,” he mumbled, leaning in near my ear, “ButDoctor B asked me about Henri… and I think I said that I didn’tremember him.”I saidnothing else to Leigh as he brought me back to the table and heskulked off back to his place with his head down low. Henri watchedhim go with a sympathetic sort of look.
“Is everything all right?” he asked, turning back tome.I nodded, buthe must have already seen the worry on my face. Henri rested hissmooth hand on top of mine and I couldn’t help but smile as hiswarmth crept through my skin. Leighton was right, actually, I wasgetting cold, but if that meant Henri was going to warm my hand upthen I wouldn’t complain. But Henri snatched his hand away again asa loud cough caught us both by surprise.
“You’re in my seat,” Blod snarled.Henri jumpedaway quickly with an apology as the blonde goddess threw herselfdown hard onto the chair. She too was shivering, though I was sureit wasn’t just from the cold.
“Where’s Bickerstaff?” I asked her gently.A tear wasgathering in one corner of her eye. She pushed it awayviolently.
“He’s gone home,” she whispered, her voicecracking.***I offeredBlod the chance to talk to me that night but all I got in returnwas the usual abuse and a very clear message that her life was noneof my business, thank you very much. I was therefore terriblysurprised to find her waking me up the next morning. Blod didn’treally wait for me to stir before she started to remove the nightsplints from my elbows; I came around fully when she was sortingout the ones on my knees.
“Why are you doing this?” I mumbled sleepily, “Mamusually-”
“Oh bugger Mam,” she said quietly, “Come on, I said I’d takeyou out for a walk before breakfast. Hurry up and get awash.”Blod gave mebarely ten minutes to get sorted before she was back in themakeshift bedroom, rushing me into my shoes and grabbing mycrutches and chair. I decided against questioning her any furtheruntil we were out in my usual practice space behind her bedroomwindow. It was a still, silent morning, so silent that I slowlyrealised we were awake and the rest of the house wasn’t. Blod gotme up onto my crutches at the edge of the grass.
“How far d’you usually go?” she pressed.
“Almost to that tree,” I replied, and without another word wewere off.She let me domy first three, slow steps before she started to speak, all thewhile focused on my feet padding hard into the dewy grass.
“I don’t want your opinion, right?” Blod began, half viciousand half afraid, “But I’ve been going mad about this all night,I’ve got to tell someone, and it’s only you that knows what’s goingon.”