London gets blitzed.
Three o'clock the next day and Eve was looking into the wardrobe mirror thinking how it only seemed like yesterday when she was arguing with her boyfriend Johnny. Now here she was on a different planet, in a fabulous wedding dress, and about to marry an RAF fighter pilot.
A tear began to trickle down her face and she wiped it away. She was hurting, thinking how her family would have loved to see the wedding. She thought how devastated they must be thinking she had been blown to pieces. Another tear formed in her eye as she suddenly thought of the old woman going to the bus garage with the freshly baked apple pie and she knew the woman would be upset. She thought of the woman with the three-ha'pence, her driver Charlie, her boyfriend Johnny, and all her friends. How would they have taken the news?
The neighbour, who Eve met the day before, knocked on the bedroom door and walked in. "Cheer up, girl. This is supposed to be a happy event."
"I was thinking of my Mum and Dad, my family, my friends. At that induction thing yesterday they told me I'd never see them again. I just don't know if I can cope with that."
"I know it's hard, but we have all been through it. We know just how you feel. You must try to realise how lucky we all are. This is a second chance. Your life on Earth is over, and this is a bonus."
"Yes, I know what you are saying, but it makes me so sad. And today I'll be married to someone I hardly know, and tonight he will want to do those rude things, and I'm so frightened."
"Come on, love, don't get yourself in a tizzy, the car will be here soon. And you don't have to worry about Roger. He's a nice caring young man and I'm sure he won't do anything like that until you're ready."
Eve gave a large sigh. "You've been here a while, don't you get homesick, don't you feel a longing to go back home?"
"This is my home, Eve, I've never been happier back there, back on Earth. I lost my baby sister to the scarlet fever. But we coped, Mother, Father and my three brothers. With God's help, we got through it and eventually managed to become a happy family once more. Then the Great War came. We were so proud when the boys went off to fight for their country." The woman paused for a few seconds. "Not one of them came home, not one. After the war, Mother and Father just gave up. They just gave up, wasted away and died, heartbroken. I was left alone. No, Eve, I've no wish to go back there. My daughter and son have grown up healthy, I have never once had to worry about losing them to some disease nor to worry about my son going off to fight somebody else's war. Nobody buries their children here Eve, and that makes it a damn fine place to live."
"But why do they do it? All the trouble they go through just so they can watch us."
"There's a bit more to it than that. It's a bit like the zoos back home I suppose. People go for a day out to look at the animals, but there's another side to it. They help to stop some species from becoming extinct. These are doing the same. My Bert was chatting to the old man one day and he said our planet was at risk. It's not just the war or the bigger and more powerful weapons. It's also to do with germ warfare and experiments. Either deliberately or by mistake, or even by a freak of nature, a bad virus could be created which would destroy all human life. Eventually, they would re-populate from here. All the people here are nice people; it's quite a compliment to be chosen. We are like an insurance policy for the human race."
"When's this going to happen?" Eve said, clearly showing her concern about her family's safety.
"Don't worry it may never happen, it's just a risk. Come on now let's get the final touches done. I want you looking perfect at the church."
Eve looked back into the mirror. "It's hard to believe it's me. I look so… You've all been so good to me."
"Amazing is the word you're looking for or beautiful."
Eve felt slightly embarrassed and suddenly changed the subject. "I need to know what's happening at home. I need to know if the invasion has started."
"They'll have to beat the air force and the navy first. I suspect London will be taking another hammering though. We'll listen to the BBC news later if you like."
"Yes, yes I have to know."
London was indeed taking another hammering from the German Air Force, but there was no bullet-shaped craft this night and no aliens to save any of the unfortunate people who were about to perish.
Eleanor Rigsby, a married woman in her early thirties, was sitting on a hard wooden bench in a public air-raid shelter. She hoped to make it to the Anderson shelter in her garden before the raid started or at least to the Underground station at Bethnal Green. But no, she thought, I had to be stuck in here again, in this grimy hole. She thought of her two children. They were as safe as could be expected. Her sister lived in a large detached house just outside Northampton and she was happy to look after the children. Her sister married into a well-off family and even had people coming in to help with the housework.
Eleanor put her hand to her stomach as she felt the baby move. You're not so safe my little one, but it won't be long till I can get you up to Northampton with the others.
It was so different before, before the bombs. There were the sirens of course and the panic, but it was just like a big party. There was the old man with the mouth organ, the sing-along, the bottles of stout, the woman from the Eel and Pie shop with a huge bowl of jellied eels, and her young helper tripping in behind her with the bread and the greased paper cups. Just one big party, but it didn't last.
She looked at the four women in the corner on their knees. "Holy Mary Mother of Jesus..." Praying, mumbling, all of them at different speeds and not even attempting to pray together.
A young boy was crying in his mother's arms. "I don't want to die, Mummy, I don't want to be dead," he sobbed.
No, none of us do lad, she thought, not in a stinking hole like this. Even a rat wouldn't be seen dead in here. She could almost smell the fear in the place, mixed with the smell of vomit, stale urine, and the burning paraffin from the lamps. She hated the street shelters and heard some terrible stories about the concrete roofs collapsing on the people inside. She looked back at the woman. What's he doing here anyway, she thought, why isn't he in the countryside like the other children? Think you're clever I suppose.
Everyone heard the sound at the same time. It suddenly became quiet inside the shelter. All of the people looking at each other in silence as the terrifying whistling sound came closer. It sounded different to the others, like it was directly above them, as if this was the one with their numbers on. Eleanor held her breath, closed her eyes, and crossed her fingers as some of the people began screaming.
There was a huge explosion nearby causing the shelter to rumble as if it were in an earthquake. Dust shot out from some of the brick joints, the floor juddered and there was a whooshing sound as if all the air were sucked out of the shelter and then forced in again. Eleanor banged her palms against her ears, trying to ease the ringing sound. A woman was running about screaming, "Save me," she cried. "Oh God please save me." She was pulling at her hair like some kind of crazy woman trying to scalp herself. The four women were praying again, but their prayers speeded up into an indecipherable babble.
Eleanor had enough. The warden in charge of the shelter rushed outside and Eleanor followed him out to the main road. Half a dozen shop fronts had blown out and the street was filled with smoke and fine black dust. She could hear people screaming and thought they had been trapped under the rubble from one of the collapsed shops, but as she moved forward into the foggy dust she saw the shape of a bus lying on its side. The ARP warden, a policeman, and a few soldiers were doing what they could to help the injured passengers. She threw her gas mask bag to the ground and cursed as she heard her two Mackeson bottles shatter. The brown frothy liquid seeped out onto the road as she hurried across to see if she could be of some help.
Although she could hear cries of distress from the bus, the loudest screams were from a young lad sitting on a twisted girder lying amongst the timber and rubble. A soldier sat with him trying to calm him down and trying to stop the flow of blood running from a wound that had almost severed his arm. She realised his screams were not just from the pain of his injuries. She had noticed his wide-eyed stare as he looked over to a girl lying almost naked in the road; a few bits of shredded rag were all that remained of her clothing and there was a horrendous gash in her head. Eleanor looked at the huge patch of blood that had soaked into the debris and she took off her coat and carefully laid it over the girl's body, ensuring her head was covered and out of the young man's sight before continuing towards the bus.
The ARP warden saw her swollen stomach and told her they could cope and she should return to the shelter. Eleanor gave a brief smile to the man before she turned to walk away, but she looked back at the shape of the girl beneath her coat. She could do without losing the coat, but she would feel bad retrieving it. It wasn't one of her best coats, and it was sure to be soiled anyway. She looked at the young man, he was sobbing, and although in obvious pain, he was no longer screaming. She felt as if she had done some good and wondered if the girl was his sister or girlfriend, or perhaps she was just a girl he had been chatting with.
She retrieved her gas mask bag and emptied the broken bottles into the gutter before setting off along The Bethnal Green Road carefully avoiding the chunks of debris and glass splattered along the street. There was a flickering red glare in the sky from a multitude of fires and she was hoping her house had been spared. There was a ching on the slates of a roof above her. All she could do was cover her head with her arms as a piece of shrapnel the size of a fist struck the kerb and bounced across the road. She gave a deep sigh of relief before continuing on her way.
As she walked towards her home the dawn was breaking and the bombs had stopped falling, but the popping and banging from the fires would continue throughout the morning. The bells seemed to come from all around her. Fire engines, police, ambulances, bomb disposal and a host of alarms triggered from buildings, so many bells.
Her husband was a sailor on a destroyer somewhere in the Atlantic. They had been together since their school days. Eleanor loved no other man and she missed him dearly but blamed him for her loneliness because he joined the Royal Navy back in 1938, before there was any need for him to do so.
She began thinking about him. A nice present he gave me for my thirty-first birthday. What right had he to do this to us, as if two children were not enough to bring up in this terrible world? Here love, here's another one before I go off to sea again. He'd better survive; he'd better come back the selfish bastard. How am I going to cope with three of the little sods?
When the time came, Eleanor went into Mile End Hospital. She was pleased her husband was home on leave for the birth of their daughter, but he was not home for long and, after he visited his other two daughters in Northampton, it was not long before he was going back to sea.
Eleanor stepped out of The Hospital Tavern after sharing a drink with a friend who worked behind the bar. She was feeling jolly, having just returned from a few days at Northampton and eager to get back to her work at the propeller factory. Her children had been home for a while, but she had taken them back to her sister's and was under no pressure to bring them home again. There was a cloudless sky and the spring sunshine felt warm on her bare arms. She thought what a lovely day it was and how it was hard to believe there was a war on. She saw her bus approaching and turned quickly to make her way to the bus stop, but in her haste, she walked into a man who was passing.
"Hey, slow down, honey."
"Oh, I'm so sorry." It surprised her as she looked at him, a smart American soldier. His uniform looked as if it were specially tailored for him. He was well built, slim, and she thought him extremely good-looking. She dropped her bag in the collision and was about to pick it up, but the soldier got to it first.
"I'd better get it, if you bend down you might fall over."
"Bloody cheek, I've only had a glass of stout."
"Stout, what the hell is that?"
"Never mind, can I have my bag back?"
"If you give me a kiss, then I'll give you your bag."
"You saucy young sod."
The soldier laughed at her remark before continuing. "Well thank you ma'am for the compliment. Just how old do you think I am?"
She glanced down at his hands holding her handbag before answering. "About twenty-five."
"I'm nearly twenty-eight. And how about you, twenty-five, twenty-six, younger than me I'll bet?"
"You must be having a joke with me. I've got three children you know."
"Oh come on, honey, who are you trying to kid?"
"Honestly, I'm thirty-five. My eldest daughter is nearly eleven."
He passed her the bag but grabbed her hand as she took it. "Can you meet me tonight?"
She pulled her hand away. "Bloody hell, you're a cheeky bugger, ain't ya? Anyway like I said, I've got three kids."
"So are you out with your husband tonight then?"
"No! My ole man's in the navy. He's away at sea, but that doesn't mean I'm looking for any kind of hanky panky, you know."
"Gee, I wouldn't dream of anything like that. I'm not that kind of a guy. I'm just looking for a bit of company and friendship before I go off to war."
"Are you serious?"
"You meet me here at seven tonight and you'll have the time of your life. Your guy has nothing to fear from me, it'll only be social. You English girls are really cute and I'd be honoured to spend a little time with someone as damn pretty as you are."
She was surprised that at her age she could feel so embarrassed by his words. Like a young girl, she could feel the flush filling her face. She was looking at him partly in disbelief.
"Seven o'clock," he said. "Don't forget now." Without another word, he turned and walked off.