A small excerpt from a current project. The book is set in London and Wales during World War II and centers around the students of a girls’ boarding school. This scene is written before the school evacuates to Wales… what could Marjorie be up to?
The clock on the landing bongs the hours, eleven deep bass chimes. Marjorie sits up, puts her feet gently on the rug. Breathes in the silence of the house.
She stands slowly, mindful of the creaky bed. Walks lightly to the door and opens it. She has studied just how far the door can be opened before the hinges creak, it is just far enough for one slender, determined girl to squeeze through. Down the corridor, footfalls silent on the thick rug, through the baize door that shushes shut behind her. She flies down the staircase, hopping around corners, taking the stairs two at a time.
As she reaches the servants hall she slows, listens for someone washing up, perhaps shining shoes for tomorrow. No sound, dim lights, she streaks down the corridor, a blur of lithe girl, hammering heart, sparkling eyes, slips the latch to the garden door, and leaves the sleeping house.
Keeping to the shadows she makes her way down the Strand. Afraid to run, afraid to tarry, she tries to strike the perfect speed, a small black cat moving beside her along the garden walls, a feline shadow.
The cat turns back when St James becomes Pall Mall. Marjorie stops, her cheap stocking bunched up in the toe of her shoe. Stepping into a dark doorway she hikes up her skirt, kicks off her shoe and shimmies the stocking into place, securing the snaps again on her garter. As she slips her shoe on low thunder rumbles in the distance. Tightening the belt on her coat she sets off again, faster now, not willing to miss this meeting for some bad weather, her shoes clicking confidently.
A few blocks later it becomes clear that thunder is not the issue, the only rain that will fall not wet or cleansing. The sky is suddenly bright with spot lights, barrage balloons drift sleepily, a sudden explosion of fire. The air raid sirens begin to cry, Marjorie pictures a giantess, shod in sensible shoes and an apron the size of a circus tent, wailing and weeping, bereft of her children.
The streets shudder, planes roar overhead, the rat a tat tat of machine gun fire fills the street. Marjorie sprints, so close, desperate to get to St. Paul’s. An air raid warden waves his hooded torch at her, he’s yelling, his face contorted with panic and dear. But Marjorie can’t hear him, shoulders into him roughly, knocking him to the ground, when he tries to block her path.
As suddenly as it began it’s over. The night quiet for only an instant before sirens and whistles sound the all clear, and people emerge from neighborhood shelters and the underground stations. A herd of bleary eyed travelers, clutching framed photos, bags, small children.
The side streets seem to have been hit indiscriminately, some just the same as ten minutes before, small business and houses all snugged together and analogous. Others are ruins. Marjorie passes a smoking crater, all the walls blown off houses, tables set for dinner, clothing hanging in trees. Somewhere close a baby screams, a wireless blares, whistles and shouts punctuate the night, ambulances descend.
The awful scent of roasting meat, blackened bricks, ruptured gas lines, compete with the cacaphony of humanity. Wails, calls for help, barking dogs, a harsh laugh. Marjorie won’t allow her eyes to drift, won’t look, refuses to see what she knows is all around her.
Finally she reaches St. Paul’s, empty, no lights shine, no bells ring. She spies him at the top of the sweeping staircase, under the portico, leaning against a column, the bright cherry of his cigarette gives him away.