by Linera Lucas
(from Pipes and Timbrels, August, 2005)
This is how it happened. It was May 27th, 1940, early Monday morning, the blackout curtains snug against the window frame, the wireless on low in the kitchen. I’m getting ready to take the boat out myself, my husband’s back being no better and we need the catch. And I’m raised up fishing and it’s the war; we all do different now.
I’d made myself a full breakfast: eggs, fried bread, and beans. Rationing is for city folks. I trade the good Dover sole from our nets for milk and eggs, so there I am at table, sopping up the last smear of runny yolk when the wireless changes.
A posh voice from the Admiralty breaks into the marine weather report, (Channel calm, north wind rising to thirty knots by evening), and he says our soldiers are stranded at Dunkirk across the Channel in Belgium. The Germans backed our troops onto the beach and are picking them off by air. The British Admiralty calls on all motorboats, sailboats, launches, tugs, yachts, fishing smacks, all private vessels of pleasure and business to go rescue our boys. Admiralty fellow says smaller boats are crucial, as they can get in the narrow mouth of Dunkirk harbor. Every boat is wanted; every skipper is urged to join the flotilla.
I sip my tea, strong, sweet, the way I like it on a cool morning. My cup clinks on the saucer. We got a boat, The Evangeline. She’s not big, but she’s yare and I’m good as any man on the water. I’ve nobody in the war, but if we'd had a boy he might have been at Dunkirk, stuck on the beach while the German Stukas screech overhead like vultures.
I look at the wall clock. We bought that on our honeymoon, nigh twenty years ago. What we thought we'd do then. Well. It’s half past four, time to get going. I open the bedroom door, lifting the handle so the hinge won’t squeak. My husband grunts, rolls over and snores. I close the door quietly.
Back in the kitchen I put the kettle on, write “Gone to Dunkirk” on the back of a petrol bill and prop it against the saltcellar. I cut bread and fill the big flask first with boiling water then hot tea, screwing the lid on tight. Good flask, that, keeps the tea nice for hours, and no telling how long this might take. I pull back the curtain and see grey light, stack my cup and plate in the sink. No time to redd up the kitchen, my husband can do that, it'll be his bit, time he learned. more
Labels: my short stories