NP5 – A Wing and a Prayer: Chapter Five

Chapter summary: In the last chapter, Elinor, her piano student and her siblings were trapped in their cellar during an air raid.  When the raid was over, Elinor and Derek had a brief argument, after which Elinor escorted her student home.  On the way she realized that the church where her mother was practicing with the choir was bombed during the raid.  She ran to the church doors and is now waiting for the men to gain an entrance.

This was a particularly difficult chapter to write, even though it is so pivotal to the story, so I will most likely come back to it for revisions in a week or two when it’s had time to marinate and when I’ve got more inspiration.  And when I’m not so liable to start pulling my hair out.  Seriously, I am so fed up with this… Right now I feel like everything I’m writing comes out too modern-sounding – probably a relic of my adventure with Megan Meller’s NP5.  Maybe I should go watch a Foyle’s War or turn on some swing music…

Also, I’m really getting sick of this title.  It isn’t what I really wanted, especially seeing as how there are at least two other books with nearly identical titles,  I just needed a working title.  So if any of you wonderful folkses has any ideas as to forties-inspired novel titles, I’d love to hear them!

A Wing and a Prayer: Chapter Five

Elinor could sense her courage chilling with the hollow breeze while the men fumbled with the heavy iron latch.  What lay beyond that wall, beyond the throbbing moans that found their way through the shreds of stained glass?  She watched her fingers grow white around the twisted folds of her dress and fought feebly against the heartache that waited on the other side of the door.

“We’re in, lads!” called a broad, burly voice as the door burst open at last.  “Let’s fall to an’ ‘elp these people out.”

Oh, God…

The electric lights were all out except for one which flickered spasmodically in the corner, but a shaft of damp, steely light streamed into the chapel through the jaws of a ragged hole above.  Clouds of dust hung suspended in delicate, curling patterns, deceptively peaceful amid the wreckage.  Elinor stood still in the shadow of the door for a second, trying to realize that the scene before her was real.

“Are ye all right, Miss?” asked the burly man, gently pushing her aside.   “Beggin’ yer pardon, Miss, but this ain’t no place for a leddy.”

“I’ll be all right…sir.”  Elinor took a deep breath and stepped out from under the shelter of darkness.  It was only a village choir, but in the dim light it seemed that there were so many people…so many bodies lying still and cold and tangled among the stones that had crumbled from the wall.  So much blood.  So many people…

Suddenly anger and fear beat together in her heart and, surprised by their violence, Elinor sprang forward to the nearest motionless form.

It was not her mother – just a stout, gray-haired woman of fifty.  But something in her innocent, confused expression caught at Elinor, turned her around, made her crouch down and begin gingerly clearing away broken boards.

“Mrs. Belmont, can you hear me?  Mrs. Belmont…”

Stirring slightly, the older woman opened her eyes and gazed back at Elinor.  No recognition came to relieve her blank, empty stare.

“Mrs. Belmont…are you all right?  Do you think you can stand up?”  Elinor flashed a keen eye quickly down the prone figure.  The woman had a scraped arm and a cut on her chin, but Elinor could see no other signs of injury.

“I think so, lovey,” replied Mrs. Belmont, vacantly.  “Give me a hand up, there’s a dear.  Thank you…”

“Mrs. Belmont, do you know where Mum was standing?  Please…please try to remember…”

But the woman was in shock, awake but in no condition to give any information.  Elinor helped her outside and ran back into the building, leaving Mrs. Belmont in the care of a friend.  Standing on tiptoe she scanned the room and grasped at a faded scrap of logic that surfaced above the pounding in her head.

Second soprano…where do the second sopranos stand?

“Pardon, miss…thank ye….”  Two men pushed past her bearing the lifeless form of the organist in their locked arms.  Elinor pressed back against the wall to let them pass, breathing a wordless prayer.  And across the room, just visible beneath a pile of stones and boards, she saw a scarlet coat-sleeve.

She never could remember afterwards how she got through the rubble to where her mother lay quiet.  So still and serene, a joyous smile lingering at the corners of her mouth.

So still.  God, I’m so scared.

Elinor knelt down at her side, mindless of the million shards of glass that pierced her shins, and reached out a timid finger to brush the blood from the sweet, faded face. 

“Mum,” she whispered, drawing one smooth, careworn hand into her lap.  “Mum, I’m here.”  Please answer me.  Just one word.  Please…

She looked so still.

The voices surrounding them blurred and Elinor was aware of nothing but the peaceful form before her, the void of tears and the dust that curled up and away in cold, golden wisps.  Brokenly she found herself wishing for Ethan’s strong arm to wrap around her, for his smooth, rolling, confident voice to say that it was all right.

God…I don’t even know what is happening…what I’m saying…I can’t.  You…You are stronger.  You know how much I love my mum…how much…oh, God, I’m so frail.

I can’t.

Show me.

It was a confused, childish prayer born of brokenness, an incomplete cry for some sort of answer.  The reply came quietly, the joyous shout of a thousand voices condensed into the merest whisper.

“Elinor.”

Just one word, but it was a relief more precious to her than any gift.  The familiar brown eyes opened weakly and Elinor thought she saw the glimmer of a smile hidden in their depths.

“Oh, Mum, I was so afraid that…”  Unable to finish her sentence, she pressed her mother’s hand tightly.  “Are you all right, Mum?”

“It’s so dark here…so big and cold,” murmured Rosamund.  “Where are we, Elinor?”

“In the church.  You were practicing with the choir.”  Now that they were unneeded and unwanted, tears threatened to shake Elinor’s quiet, steady voice.  “Do you think you are hurt?”

“I remember now.  There was an air-raid, wasn’t there?  No sirens, though…I don’t know why there were no sirens.”

“Never mind the sirens,” Elinor interrupted tenderly.  “Tell me if you’re hurt, Mum.”

A slightly confused expression disturbed the peace that reigned in Rosamund’s expression.  “I don’t feel…don’t feel hurt.  I don’t feel anything, only I’m so cold.”

With these words a new terror gripped Elinor’s heart until she felt she could not breathe.  Please, Lord, let it only be shock and not…

“Can you move your hands, Mum?” she asked in the pleasant, detached, toneless voice that had kept the children calm in the cellar.

For answer, Rosamund reached up and straightened her daughter’s collar.  “Where is your sweater, Elinor?  It is winter, you know.”

Thank You, God!

“I don’t remember…outside, I think.  Do you think you can walk if I help you up?”

“Maybe…”  Rosamund took Elinor’s outstretched hand and tried to sit up, but immediately fell back again, panting with pain.  “I think…I think perhaps I’ve broken some ribs.”

The motion and the swift cry that followed removed Elinor’s last fear that her mother was paralyzed.  “All right, then, Mum.  I’ll get some of the men to bring a stretcher…I won’t be a minute.”

~c. a.

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