As anyone who follows me on either Twitter or Facebook is likely to already have noticed, I spent this weekend at Gladstone’s Library in North Wales on a writing retreat organised by my lovely publishers, Manifold Press.
Over dinner on the Friday night, we discussed their current anthology project ‘A Call To Arms’, for stories set during WW2. Heloise Mezen, editor of the anthology, said that she has received a good level of interest but is concerned that there seems to be a focus on Europe, when the war was (as the name suggests) a global affair [NOTE: Submissions are open until 31st May. Get in touch with Heloise via the Manifold Press website if you’re interested in contributing!]
Anyway, conversation moved on and a few hours later, as I was curling up in bed, Cheeks (from Under Leaden Skies) piped up in my brain…
You know, he said, I was in California when Britain entered the War.
Yes I know, I replied.
You could write my story of how and why I left and went back home…?
I thought you wanted me to write your whole story, not just a little bit?
Then he went quiet, and I thought I’d shut him up, but just as I was dropping off to sleep, he returned…
You could tell it from David’s point of view. Then if it’s different to how my story ends up, and doesn’t seem to fit in, well that’s because it’s his version of events, not mine.
Maybe, I replied, somewhat grudgingly, you’re still British though, so it’s not really going to make the anthology any more diverse.
Go on – you know you want to…
I need to finish the story I’m currently working on first.
I swear I could hear him popping champagne corks!
So then Saturday evening rolled around, and having found myself at a point to which I could fix a tentative ‘The End’ on the tale of Richard, Jack and Elfride, I said to Cheeks, Go on then, let’s have at it.
The result was not what I expected. For one thing, it’s barely more than 600 words, so far too short for an anthology submission. Instead, I’ve decided to post it here. Advanced warning for those of you who already know Cheeks – the ending made me cry.
Charlie, crouched defensively behind his barricade, flicked his gaze about the room before answering. “I’m leaving, Davey. I can’t… I can’t not anymore.”
David dropped his bag in the hall and crossed to the drinks cabinet. He poured himself a large brandy, downed it, and poured another before turning back the face the situation. “We’ve been through this, Charlie. We left. They didn’t want us then, what do we owe them now?”
Charlie’s head ducked behind the sofa’s back, and David heard a sniff before Charlie looked out at him again. “Ma,” he said, and sniffed again, scrubbing at his right eye with the heel of his hand, “Ma wanted me to be a man my father could be proud of. This…”
“But how can you?” David thundered, cutting off Charlie’s well-worn speech with his own frustration. “How can he be proud of you when he doesn’t know you? What do you owe him when you don’t know who he is?”
Charlie’s head had disappeared again, and this time a sob accompanied the sniff. Swallowing his curse, David slammed his Waterford Crystal tumbler on the drinks cabinet shelf and vaulted the sofa to gather Charlie into his arms.
“It’s not…” Charlie sniffed and gulped, “my…”
“Shh…” David rubbed his hand in circles on Charlie’s back, murmuring nonsense soothing sounds until his sobs grew quiet, “I’m sorry, Charlie-boy. I’m sorry. I know it’s not your fault. It’s his. It’s…” He sighed, repeating the age-old truths he’d said for years, “It’s his loss, Charlie, not yours. Not your fault, not your loss, my Charlie-boy. Not your political mess, but…”
Silence reigned until Charlie asked in a small voice, “But what?”
“If you must, Charlie. If you really must. For yourself, I mean. Not for Ma, or your Father, or King and Country who never gave two figs when you were starving on the street. Not for anyone else but you, Charlie-boy. If that’s the case…” he paused in his speech, but continued rubbing the tension Charlie’s back, “just come back to me, Charlie-boy. Come back, as soon as you can.”
“I always do, don’t I?” Charlie tipped his head up and caught David’s gaze with his tear-filled eyes, “I always come back to you, Davey.”
“Yes.” David kissed him. “Yes, you do, my Charlie-boy.” They looked at each other a few moments longer, until David stilled his hand, resting it on Charlie’s lower back. “Come to bed, Charlie.”
“But… the room…”
David kissed him again. “It’ll wait until morning, Charlie-boy. Come to bed.”
Charlie nodded, and wobbled to his feet with David’s help.
The next morning, David left for work at eight as usual. Charlie began to put their living room to rights again. Around ten, two couriers called, one after the other. The first brought a set of railway tickets, in Charlie’s name, for a one-way trip across the USA from West to East. The second bore a ticket for passage on a liner leaving for Liverpool in two week’s time.
At two in the afternoon, just as Charlie did the buckles on his small and battered suitcase, a third courier knocked on the door. This one brought a bunch of flowers. The card read, simply, You don’t have to, but if you must.
Charlie would have wept if he’d had any tears left to cry. Instead, he checked his pockets one last time for papers, passport, and cash, picked up his keys from the dish by the door, and went downstairs to hail a cab.