He came home on a clear day, early and unexpected; his leave coinciding with the start of spring. He’d taken the first train to London, slept sitting in the corridor, his back up against a compartment. Outside the squat red station at Holland Park he thought he wouldn’t recognise anything, not even where he lived. Then, as he walked down past the few shops, he remembered it all and saw the change: the rough boarding over the shop windows; a gap between buildings like a lost tooth, pink flowered wallpaper flapping away from what was left of the wall in Mrs Todd’s front room; children playing in the rubble.
In their front garden, crocuses sang in the sun, purple, yellow and white. She gasped and grabbed him in the doorway, pulling him inside. She fussed, pale and tired, trying to hide her chapped worn hands. She lit the fire, burning old news and exhortations to ‘Keep Mum’.
His greatcoat hung lumpen by the door. His pockets were like honeycomb she said, full of treasures and treats. He delved inside.
“I have coffee and sugar, no tea, a whole bar of chocolate.” He set them on the table.
Then he brought out two small brooches. A boy and a girl carrying pails of water like Jack and Jill.
“Be careful, they’re fur clips. Sharp, pointed to go through the pelt. One of the Americans gave them to me. I thought of you,” He said.
How could he tell her? He’d panicked before the last raid. During the briefing, sweating, face drained colourless, he’d clenched his fists to hide the tremor.
“Take these,” the American said, “my mom gave them to me for luck.”
He refused them.
In the air he found them in his pocket.
The American didn’t come back.