Things go well for Gloria.
Monday evening, I stood looking out of my front window eagerly waiting for Ellis to turn up for our first date. I suddenly moved away from the window in panic. "Evelyn, it's him, walking up the road. Tell him I'm in the bath. Tell him I've gone out."
"You can't be in the bath and gone out at the same time."
"Well tell him anything, just get rid of him."
"What on earth's the matter? You've spent hours getting ready, posing in front of the mirror and you've hardly stopped talking about Ellis."
"It's not Ellis, it's Simon."
"Oh! Well you can stop panicking. I'll soon get rid of him." There was a single loud knock. Evelyn grinned at me and went to open the door. I hid behind the living room door remaining in hearing distance.
"So what's the nasty stare for Simon?" Evelyn said.
"Just get Gloria?" he said abruptly.
"Not in. Gone out with her boyfriend."
"Don't talk silly. She hasn't got someone else that quick."
"My sister's a popular girl and she could have a new boyfriend every day if she wanted, but one thing's for sure, you'll never be one again. Anyway, like I said she's gone out on a date and he's better looking than you anyway. So you might as well just clear off. Go on then, shoo, off you go."
"What you did to me the other day, that wasn't funny you know."
"It wasn't meant to be funny, it was meant to show you what I thought of you." There was a brief pause before she continued. "And don't you point your finger at me."
"You ever do anything like that to me again, you flash little cow, and I'll knock you out."
"Golly gosh, you are the tough soldier, aren't you?"
"Yeah, you'd better believe it an' all. Well, I can't hang about here; I've got a train to catch. Tell Gloria I'll write to her as soon as I get to the barracks."
"Don't waste your ink," Evelyn said. She closed the door on him and turned to look at me. "He said…"
"I know, I heard him."
"You fizzing eavesdropper you."
"I can't believe he was so nasty to you."
"He's always like that with me when you're not there, but you would never believe me, would you?" Evelyn looked out of the window. "Oh look, here comes Ellis now."
"Flipping heck, they must have passed each other."
"No. Simon's gone off in the other direction, to the railway station. Wouldn't it have been funny if they had both arrived together?"
"No, it sodding wouldn't," I said, but then we both laughed at the thought.
I enjoyed Ellis's company at the cinema, sitting amongst all the other courting couples in the back rows with none of them showing any great interest in the film. After the film, we called for a drink at a nearby bar just managing to get a drink before closing time. It was a warm and pleasant night and after we left the bar we decided to walk back to my house instead of catching the late bus. We set off hand in hand, with me taking a genuine interest in his work at the railway depot.
"So how long till you're a train driver?"
"It takes years. Most of our drivers are over thirty."
"So you've got to be a stoker for all that time?"
"No, I'm a fireman, not a stoker."
"Must be great working on them trains."
"Yeah, it's a good job, I love it really."
"Specially of a night. I've often looked up at the viaduct at night, watching them roaring up like they were about to explode. The little dark shapes of the railwaymen looking down from the side windows with a bright light glaring from behind them. They always give a blow on the whistle and wave if they see me looking. I'd love to travel on a steam engine." I began speaking with an excited tone to my voice. "One of those big fast green ones that go up towards Scotland. Do you ever work on them?"
"Well not yet no, I haven't been firing long. I've only been working on local trains. Funny enough, I've got the main line test tomorrow. When I pass I can go all over, even on those big fast green ones."
"You're confident then?"
"I reckon I should pass it. The hardest tests were the ones at the firing school, but I passed them all right. The main line test is just a formality; you'd have to be a right idiot to fail."
When we reached my front gate we began our final embrace of the night. "You'd best get going Ellis, it's a long walk to your house.
"I'm not the slightest bit bothered about the walk. I'm in love and I'll be thinking of you all the way home."
"That's so nice, Ellis." I felt a little choked up and I threw my arms around him to treat him to an extra romantic kissing session.
Evelyn was sitting in the kitchen reading a magazine. I imagined she had turned the radio off so she could hear the back gate and sure enough, she heard me as I closed the gate behind me and she unlocked the door. I walked into the kitchen and at the same time our father walked in from the passage. He looked at Evelyn. "It's time you were in bed, girl," he said.
"I'm nearly done."
He looked over at me." Do you know what the time..." He began coughing, and then wheezing and coughing. I rushed over to him and started slapping him on his back.
"All right, all right, not so fizzing hard, girl. I'm not… I'm not choking you know." He stood for a moment catching his breath. "Do you know what... Do you know what the time is?"
"I'm eighteen, Dad, I'm not a child."
"Oh good." He gave a single drawn-out cough and drew a large breath. "So that means I don't have to worry about you, does it?"
"Yes. I mean no. I mean I can look after myself."
"I hope so, I really do, if you're going to be out till this time of a night. Been with the pongo have you?"
"No, I've finished with him."
"She's got a new boyfriend already," Evelyn said. "A train driver."
"He's not a driver he's a stoker." I went to put the kettle on.
"Firemen, they're called firemen," our father said. "Not much future in the railway, the way they're closing it all down. Still better than that fizzing pongo. Something shifty about him."
"Yeah," Evelyn said. "He's not Royal Air Force."
"Da, da da da, da da da, da..." I joined in with Evelyn singing along to the Dambusters tune like we did at Butlins holiday camp when we were younger, holding out our arms and swaying like aeroplanes."
"All right, very funny. Just keep the noise down. And don't stop up chatting all night."
Our father closed the door and I took two cups from the cupboard. "Want a brew?"
"Yeah okay." Evelyn said, watching my every move as I made the drink, waiting for a report of the evening. "Well, how did it go then?"
"Funny dad spent twelve years in the air force working on boats and Uncle John was in the navy in Scotland working on planes."
"Never mind all the evasive action stuff, how did it go?"
"Okay." I put the drinks on the table and sat down with my sister. "We just went to the pictures."
"Well was he a good kisser, did he do French?"
"Mind your own business."
"Did he try to touch you up? I bet he did, didn't he?"
"No, he's not like that."
"Yeah, give him time. They're all like that." Evelyn gave a smile. "Gordy gave me a lift back from The Coffee Bar earlier; even he tried to touch me up."
"Only joking, only joking. I came home on the bus."
Rachel's spirit was disturbed in the early morning. She had been resting, almost non-existent as if in limbo, but a mortal presence in the woods would always disturb her and although people often visited the woods during the day, as well as the courting couples that sometimes called late at night, it was unusual for someone to call just as the dawn sunlight was appearing.
"Oy, oy you old poacher, someone is here. It might be the young flower picker. We have not seen her since last spring."
"It is her," he replied, "I can see her. Come on then, let us go and get her."
"You know it is not time."
"Does not matter. Let us get her for the practice and for a bit of fun. If she dies she dies, may it serve her right for having auburn hair and for being here. Anyway, we have not had any fun since we exploded that magpie."
"You are a wicked scoundrel, but I suppose it is part of being a poacher." Rachel greeted his wicked grin with one of her own. "Come on then, let us at least scare the wits out of her, and if she dies, then maybe, just maybe, she will replace me."
The young girl was at ease picking the early spring flowers, just as she had done every year since she was a child, but all the other times the spirits had been too weak to interfere with her. It startled her as she looked up to see an old woman standing not far from her with her back towards her. "Oh sorry, I never noticed you there," the girl said, sensing something was not quite right. Rachel turned around to face the girl sending her into a state of instant terror. Rachel's head was like a skull covered in dry wrinkled leather, a gruesome sight of how a woman would look when over two hundred years old. The girl shrieked a terrifying cry, she dropped her basket and turned and ran.
"I knew she would not die, you stupid poacher, she had an escape, somewhere to flee."
The poacher shrugged his shoulders and grinned. "Good practice though, and you can chase after her."
Rachel's spirit shot after the girl. She got into a vine and wrapped herself around the girl's feet. The girl tumbled, but by the time Rachel left the vine and re-appeared in her hideous form the girl got up and ran off again. Rachel went after her again, but the girl made it to the road and to Rachel's annoyance, to a group of passing early morning ramblers.
"Help me," the girl cried. "There's a witch, a witch is chasing me."
A few of the walkers went into the edge of the woods to look around before returning to the main group. The walkers soon set off again taking the girl along with them, listening to her story with great interest, but not believing a word of it.
Rachel knew she could not pursue the girl. It was acceptable to appear before a solitary mortal, nobody would truly believe stories of ghost sightings from one person. Appearing before a couple would be acceptable, just, but if she appeared before a group it would cause trouble and Rachel knew she would receive retribution from somewhere, although she didn't know from where. She looked at the poacher. "She got away, she bloody got away."
"Never mind, it was good fun though, was it not?"
Rachel laughed. "Yes, yes I suppose it was, and maybe I am destined to get Rosie after all."
"Perhaps, unless some other auburn-haired wench should happen along."