I’m not quite pleased with the overall jive of this chapter and there are a few things that I know I would like to go back and rework at some point (the school scene seems really isolated to me, like it doesn’t quite go, so I’d like to somehow connect it to the rest of the chapter) but I think it will work better — or rather, I will work better — if I wait until I have more of the novel completed. It’s kinda been one of those weeks…where you just can’t get what you want onto paper…or even worse, you don’t even know what you want on paper, let alone try to get it there. I figure, I can always come back.
A Wing and a Prayer: Chapter Two
“All right then, class; you may put away your books. We have half an hour before the bell rings, and I would like to see just how quickly and quietly you can put your gas masks on.” Elinor stooped next to a golden-haired little boy who was trying unsuccessfully to unpack his gas mask from its little cardboard box. “Just like this, Harry. Now, remember how we did this yesterday? That’s right, Susan…put your chin in first. Now the straps go over your head. Make sure it’s quite tight. Don’t you all look silly?”
It was a chilling task, preparing eight-year-olds for the possibility of a biochemical attack. She wondered, briefly, what kind of people the Jerrys were that they would poison the very air that children breathed. What evil lurked in the heart of man that enabled him to conceive such horrors? Elinor went on talking smoothly, encouraging the children’s naïve impression that this was all some strange game. “Wonderful! Now, just breathe as usual. I am going to tell you a story. I want you all to be very quiet while you listen and we will see who can keep their gas mask on the longest without fidgeting. Are you ready? Once upon a time, there was a princess…”
The end of the day was always hardest, even on Wednesdays when both children and teachers got half-holidays from school. Her head usually ached from the long hours of grammar, arithmetic, reading and history in the stuffy classroom, but today it was more than that. She felt…empty. Today there was only the void…no. It wasn’t just Ethan being gone. It was the fear that he was gone forever. She could bear his absence if she could know that she would see him again; that someday he would hold her in his arms and call her his own; that last month’s goodbye would not be the last.
Is it wrong? You know how much I love this man…is it wrong for me to feel so afraid…so lost? God, I’m so afraid for him…why are You not enough? And is it wrong?
With a sigh she entered the little shop, welcomed by the tinkle of bells on the door and the pungent, earthy scent of dried lavender.
“Hello, Mrs. Belmont,” called Elinor to the plump old lady at the counter. “Mum wanted me to run in and see if you’d got the tea in yet?”
“Why, Elinor, darling! I haven’t seen you in ages! You’re always so busy with the school and your piano students, you don’t come round here much anymore. Well, you’re in luck, dear…the tea just arrived this morning.”
Quietly smiling her thanks, Elinor drew five ration booklets from her purse and looked them over. Though the Pooles kept a small vegetable garden, a gnarled apple tree, and a few chickens on their property, they relied on the village store for the bulk items which they could not grow themselves.
“I’ll have a bit of the stew meat, Mrs. Belmont,” she said at last, peering into the dimly-lit glass case, “a few rashers of bacon and a package of tea. I don’t suppose…” she continued hesitantly, “there are any letters for me?”
Out of the depths of the case, Elinor could vaguely hear Mrs. Belmont’s high-pitched voice. “I don’t believe so, dear…were you expecting one?”
Though she had steeled herself for this very response, she felt hope quicken and die. “Oh…not really. That is, yes, but—”
“Wait a moment!” Mrs. Belmont suddenly emerged from the case, pink and out of breath. “Now that you mention it, I think I might just…wait here, Elinor.”
And as the good old lady bustled into the back room where the village post office resided, Elinor tried to calm the surging waves of emotion that suddenly shook her slight frame. It took her by storm and the hardened wall she had so painstakingly erected around her own heart crumbled in its tide. Oh, God…
“Here it is, lovey! From Mr. E. N. Hayne…so that’s how it is, is it? I never knew you had a beau, but then you never were one to talk about your private affairs in public. France, eh? Well, that’s a long way off, to be sure…”
But the woman’s good-natured teasing echoed emptily in Elinor’s ears. Silently she paid for her items and silently she gathered them up.
“Home already, love?” Rosamund looked up from the plaid wool she was pinning with a smile.
“It’s Wednesday – half-holiday. Where are Jack and Polly? I thought they would be playing in the yard, it’s so nice today.”
“Oh, that’s right. I forgot today was a Wednesday.” The sewing machine began to rattle away busily again. “Jack and Polly…Derek took them down to the beach to see the fishing boats.”
Elinor leaned across the sewing machine to plant a kiss on her mother’s softly graying hair. “Are you sure that’s all right, Mum? Derek is…well, he’s not exactly…”
“He’s seventeen, Elinor. I let you take Ian and Derek when you were just ten and they were five and four.”
“I suppose. It seems different somehow.” She laughed for the first time in a week. “I suppose I always forget how old he is really is; or maybe I just feel so much older that in order to flatter myself at all, Derek must be a child in comparison.” Her eyes softened into a silent sigh. “And Ian…whenever I try, I always seem to remember him as such a little thing…I think to me he will always be a baby. Oh, Mum, I’m sorry.”
“For what, Elinor? It isn’t wrong for us to speak of him.” And through the unshed tears that deepened her mother’s brown eyes, Elinor saw a pure, subtle joy. “It is beautiful…beautiful to know that Ian and your father stand face to face with their Master.” The fabric slipped to the floor unnoticed.
“I wish I could feel that sort of peace, Mum. You…you always seem so confident. So…strong.” She paused for a moment, unsure of how to continue. “I had a letter from Ethan today. Mum, I’m afraid…I’m afraid I love him too much.”