This really, truly is chapter eight. Trust me. No pranks, just straight, un-inspired chapter eight.
Thus far: Elinor’s mother, Rosamund, is hurt after an air raid. Her brother, Derek, may be called up soon for military service. In the last chapter, Elinor read a story out of The House at Pooh Corner to her class and was struck by the simple faith portrayed in a passage of it. This chapter skips ahead a little bit to the morning of Christmas Day.
And once more…this chapter seems disjointed and pretty nondescript to me as far as events go and as for the actual writing/phraseology, which I’ve been excited to see has been surprisingly good in the last few chapters…well, I’ll just quote Winnie-the-Pooh and say that it didn’t. Didn’t what? I don’t know. It just didn’t. *sigh* To make it even more embarrassing, the main bulk of this chapter was written last week. It was going to be a part of chapter seven until I realized that it sounded too similar to chapter six, so I adapted it to be chapter eight instead. So really there was almost zero creativity happening this week. The good news is that I can start building up again next chapter to some slightly more exciting stuff. Yay. I think.
A Wing and a Prayer, Chapter Eight
It was cold again that morning, with the clouds drifting peacefully to earth in thin, gentle drops. Elinor pulled her sweater around her body more closely and wondered if it was sacrilegious to wear trousers on Christmas day. It will just be the family and it is so cold…I can always change before dinner. She stopped at the bedroom door for a moment, considering whether to wake Polly – she had been so excited about the festivities planned for the day. But it was only five o’ clock and she looked so tired. Elinor left the door cracked and went down the narrow stairs, skipping the two creaky steps so as not to wake her mother.
Why is the kitchen light on? Derek can’t already be awake.
She peered into the kitchen curiously and nearly burst out laughing when she saw her brother trying to balance a pitcher of milk, a teakettle, and a pan of oatmeal in his hands.
“Derek, do you need…can I take something for you?”
He turned around with a sleepy grin. “Merry Christmas, Elinor. I couldn’t sleep and I thought maybe I’d get breakfast started…you seemed really tired yesterday.”
“I’m sorry. I mean, thank you. Here, let me have that.” Taking the oatmeal out of his hands, Elinor slipped it into the hot oven. “I was tired, but not…not any more than usual.” Concerned by her brother’s unusually quiet mood, she watched as he poured himself a big glass of milk and swallowed it all at once. “Why couldn’t you sleep? Too busy wondering what would be in your stocking?”
“Don’t know.” He splashed more milk into the glass and gulped it down as well without even acknowledging the teasing. “Just thinking, I guess.”
Something kept her from probing farther, something unwontedly reserved and mature in his demeanor that seemed to shut out her rights as an older sister. It was a strange sensation that had been growing ever since the news had come of Pearl Harbor and Elinor did not know how to handle it.
He nodded and as the kettle began to heat on the stove, Elinor settled in at the kitchen table with a sheet of paper and a pencil to sketch a list of the things that needed to be accomplished that morning.
“So much for the war being over by Christmas. I’ve been saving up the sugar coupons so that I can make a pudding and a cake for Christmas dessert,” she began, waiting for his interest to peak. But no response came. “And I got Mrs. Belmont to set aside a roast for us, so we’ll have a regular Christmas dinner tonight…”
Rubbing his eyes and making his hair stick up even more than before by rumpling it, Derek stared out the window at the gray-lit yard, unconscious of Elinor’s attempt at conversation. It wasn’t until the kettle had boiled and she had set the tea to draw that he finally turned around. “Did you hear the thunder last night?”
“There was thunder? No, I didn’t hear it.”
“Eleven thirty-five to seven after one. And more from three to four twenty-two.”
“You didn’t sleep at all, then?”
“No.” He laughed softly, a ragged, tired, mirthless laugh that did not sound at all like the playful one that Elinor knew so well. “No.” The smile faded and he sat down heavily. “The thunder sounded like the bombs did, that day in the cellar.”
Derek fell silent and Elinor, unsure of what to say, let the rain do the talking. At last Derek pushed back his chair, finished his third glass of milk and stood up. “Thank you,” he said quietly, picking up his hat and jamming it over his tousled hair.
“For what, Derek?”
But he slipped outside without answering her and began splitting wood, not seeming to notice the water that soaked through his shirt. Elinor watched the chips explode beneath his hatchet from the window until Jack and Polly descended upon the kitchen, full of Christmas merriment and ready for breakfast. Elinor spooned oatmeal into the bowls, listening with amusement to her siblings chatter excitedly about the contents of their stockings. It was almost like seeing herself at age five.
“Do you like my new dress, Daddy?”
“Not as much as I like the girl inside.” The lines on his face looked so young and the blue in his eyes was so very blue when he smiled.
“It’s a twirling dress, Daddy.”
“Well, perhaps we should twirl, then, what do you say?”
His hands wrapped around hers. They were so big, Daddy’s hands. And then she felt the knobs of his shoelaces beneath her bare toes and they danced across the shimmering sea until bedtime.
Those first memories had faded like an old, well-loved photograph, but they were purer and happier than the later ones that were tinged with the echoes of a sixteen-year-old girl’s grief. But no matter how dim the photograph grew, she could never forget the way that her hands were completely enveloped in her father’s tender grasp and the feel of her hair swinging in time to the music. Elinor sighed softly and sat down across the table from the twins to share breakfast and laughter with them.
That evening when the darkness gathered around the little house, the family gathered around the little piano to sing their Christmas hymns as always. Rosamund reclined on the couch and Derek and the children sprawled on the rug next to the piano and everyone tried to make up for the missing voices by singing as loudly as they could. As the last chord of “Angels We Have Heard on High” died away, Elinor began another song. It was not a Christmas carol – just a simple, beloved hymn, long-silent because it had been her father’s favorite. The last time she had played it was at the funeral, seven long years ago, but the notes drew her fingers gently to them, lilting softly with the rain and the pain that glistened on the windows.
“Be Thou my battle-shield, sword for my fight…”
At first she sang alone, carrying the melody on a voice which trembled in spite of her best efforts. Derek’s hand crept out and rested lightly on her shoulder as he joined her, and then their voices all blended together in one prayer.
“Thou my strong shelter, Thou my high tower; raise Thou me heavenward, oh Power of my power.”