Oh... it's Wednesday... My mind has been all over the place lately, what with closing one show the other day and opening another next week. Eek! But that has nothing to do with the promise I made to you guys and to myself that I would post something every Wednesday. So, here you go. Some more Remembrance.
“Get up! Ruthie! Noah! Get up right now!”
Ruthie opened her eyes to find her nose a fraction of an inch away from the cinder block wall. Noah had sprawled out while he slept, claiming most of the bed as his own and forcing Ruthie to huddle close to the wall. She sat up to see her mother at the foot of her bed.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
Her mother was already folding the blanket Noah had dragged along with him the night before. “You need to get up and get dressed now. We didn’t bring a clock down with us and you will be late for school if you don’t hurry. Noah! Get up!” Mrs. Halpert pulled the blanket off of Ruthie’s bed and Ruthie felt the cold of the shelter steal over her. Noah must have too because he curled into a tighter ball in the middle of the bed, either still asleep or doing a very good job of ignoring their mother. She nudged him as she climbed over him and stepped onto the cold cement floor. Standing in the middle of the shelter, Ruthie realised that she didn’t know what to do next.
“Mum, can I go to my room to get some clothes?”
“No time,” her mother said hurriedly. “Your father and I took some things from your rooms last week in case this happened. Look in one of the boxes under the beds.”
Ruthie knelt down and peered under her bed. There were two boxes there. The first one was full of torches, tools, and other items they might need. She pushed that one back and pulled out the second one, which was full of clothes. She removed a set for Noah and tossed them on the bed as she searched for her own clothes. Her heart sank as she saw the frocks lying on the bottom of the box.
“Mum!” she cried, seeing the old worn fabric. “I can’t wear any of these!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Ruthie,” her mother scolded. “I got them from your room.”
“Did you get them from the bottom drawer of my wardrobe?”
Mrs. Halpert was busy looking for something on one of the shelves. “Yes, I did. Why?”
“Those were to go to Annabel!” Ruthie said, naming her thirteen year old cousin. “They don’t fit me anymore!”
“Ruthie, we don’t have time for you to go up to your room to change,” her mother said impatiently. “Annabel’s not that much smaller than you, I’m sure they’ll be fine. Now please, get changed. Noah! Up now!”
As her little brother finally started to rise, Ruthie selected the biggest blouse and skirt she could find. She pulled them on and tried to adjust them as best she could. The skirt was a tad too short and the blouse pulled a little at her chest, but it was the best she could get at the moment.
“All right, your father’s got your school books,” Mrs. Halpert said when Noah was finally up and dressed. “Now hurry, or you really will be late. Go on, go.”
Ruthie and her brother each took their books from their father and exited the shelter, heading in the direction of school. As the pair made their way down the street, Ruthie continued to tug at the hem of her skirt – this was going to be a bother all day, she knew.
School was ten blocks away and Ruthie knew they were running very, very late. They would be lucky to arrive before the bell. She hurried a still – sleepy Noah down the street as fast as she could.
When they arrived at the school, the first thing Ruthie noticed was the energy in the air. While people were clustered in their usual groups, the conversations were hushed and the air seemed thick with anxiety. The air raid had put everyone on tenterhooks. Every now and then, a student would glance up at the sky nervously as though expecting a bomb to fall at any moment.
Ruthie looked around for her two best friends and spotted them standing by the entrance. After making sure Noah was headed in the direction of the lower school, Ruthie rushed over to them.
“You’re late,” Nora Savidge pointed out as Ruthie took her place next to her friends.
“We haven’t got a clock in our shelter yet,” Ruthie said. “We got up so late that I had to wear this old uniform that my mum had brought down – and she got it out of a box to hand down to my cousin!”
Annie Payson giggled as she straightened her own blazer. “I thought it looked a bit different today. Look, the patch still has the old crest on it. Make sure to avoid Mrs. Zaeler today – she’ll give you a demerit if she sees that.”
Ruthie groaned. “It isn’t even my fault!” Deciding she would worry about that later, she looked around at her fellow students, all talking intently. “Is everyone talking about the air raid last night?”
“Of course,” said Annie. “It was the scariest thing that’s ever happened! I didn’t sleep a wink all night; I thought our shelter would be hit any minute.”
“I was worried that a bomb would go off twenty streets over and the resulting wind would blow our shelter over,” Nora remarked wryly. “I think my dad just propped two pieces of metal against each other and put a door in front of them.”
“Your dad is a teacher,” Ruthie pointed out. “It’s not like he has ever had to do it before.”
Nora opened her mouth to respond, but before she could say anything, the bell rang and the students began to rush into the building, still chattering about what had happened the night before.
As Ruthie took her seat in the classroom, she noticed that the seat beside hers was empty. At first, she didn’t think much of it- it was not unusual for its occupant, Jimmy Henderson, to be too busy plying a prank to make it to class on time. But his seat was still empty when her teacher, Miss Whittaker, called the class to order.
“Class,” Miss Whittaker said, standing in front of her desk as her students took their seats again. “Miss Burns has an announcement she would like to make. Please give her your full attention.” Ruthie’s teacher stepped aside to give the school’s wide – girthed deputy headmistress the floor. The form rose and waited. Miss Burns was silent for a moment as she surveyed the students, her lips pursed and her stern eyebrows pinched together.
“You may be seated,” she said distractedly. “I am afraid I have some bad news, children,” she began. “As you must all be aware, we have been having air raid drills here at school for the past few months in case the building is attacked. Last night’s air raid gave you a taste of what could happen during school hours, and I do not doubt that many of you were frightened. In any emergency situation, some unfortunate things can come about, and I regret to inform you that such a thing happened during last night’s raid.”
The class was confused. While many of them had been anxious during the air raid, it was over now. What after effects could have a part in their lives?
“Several buildings were destroyed by the bombs that fell, one of them being the flats on Wannamaker Street. The Henderson family was a resident of this building.”
There were a few soft gasps as the class turned as one to stare at Jimmy’s empty desk. A heaviness seemed to fall over the room as the principal’s words sunk in.
“What happened to them, Miss Burns?” a girl named Evelyn asked softly. It was a mark of the seriousness of the situation that Miss Burns did not reprimand Evelyn for neglecting to raise her hand.
“I regret to say that, though Mr. and Mrs. Henderson and their youngest child were found unharmed, the authorities were unable to located James and his brother Arthur.”
“But they’re just… I don’t know, lost or something, right?” said a boy named Roger. “Maybe they ran to get help and couldn’t find their way home in the dark.”
Miss Burns’ mouth grew tight. “We can only hope that is the case, Mr. Jennings. There are people looking for the boys as well as a few others that have also gone missing, and you can be sure that if they are indeed still alive, they will be found.” With that, Miss Burns nodded to Miss Whittaker and left the room. But she did not take with her the grim silence that had fallen over the students as soon as she said the words “still alive”. Ruthie glanced again at Jimmy’s empty seat. She couldn’t seem to wrap her mind around the idea that someone she knew might really be gone forever. Could it be that this boy, this noisy, wise – cracking fourteen year old, had already reached the end of his life the night before? Was his body lying in wait of the search party? Or might he be gone completely, never to be found by anyone at all?
Ruthie shook her head, trying to rid it of these thoughts. Jimmy could take care of himself, she was sure of that. They would find him. By next week, she told herself, he’d be sitting next to her again, folding up paper airplanes in his lap and grinning that sideways smile of his. He would be, because Ruthie couldn’t accept anything else.