She could stop hiding. Deep in the guts of the house, Nana had shouted that lunch was ready. In seconds, the bellow still reverberating through the corridors and bedrooms, Rachel heard footsteps. This was followed by laughter as her brothers all barraged downstairs, drawn from their secret places by sandwiches and Vimto. Rachel stepped from the wardrobe. The dust from the moth-eaten clothes tickled beneath her nostrils.
The attic room had belonged to Old Tom. He had called it home since the end of the war and the last of his possessions adorned the small bedside table. There was the fallen photo of him and his brothers immortalised in sepia uniforms, a few stubby tram tickets, and his sketchpad with the creased-back corners. Stripped back to the mattress, Rachel didn’t think that the bed had been used since Old Tom had last slept in it.
Plates clattered in the kitchen below. Floorboards creaked as the final pair of Blakeys trod on them in a mad sprint to food.
Rachel sat of the edge of the bed and thumbed through the sketchpad. The first picture was The Palace Theatre, on Oxford Street, drawn with messy pencil lines and shaded in places. The marquee above the door said that Judy Garland was performing there. Flicking through the pages, Rachel came across the picture of the fort excavation in Castlefield. She’d been with him for that one. Turning the page, there was a portrait of her. Eyes staring out of the page in a look of wonder and amusement. And something else.
People liked to say that Old Tom had never been much of an artist, but this one was different. Rachel remembered posing for it, the smell of petrol and smog in the air. He’d so wanted to take her into the city, but at the time she hadn’t seen what the fuss was about. To her mind, it was grey and dirty, and the people seemed awfully rude. But he’d been excited, and that had rubbed off. He’d taken her to all his favourite places, showed her how things were being put back together after the bombs had taken them apart. They’d lunched by the canal, drinking lemonade and sharing a ploughman’s. She’d been chomping down on a hardboiled egg when Tom had begun drawing. She posed and his skeletal hands sketched fast. In moments, he had the outline. He said he’d fill in the details at home.
After downing the rest of the lemonade, they’d packed up their things and ran for the tram. Rachel had forgotten the picture by the time her feet touched the platform.
Nana shouted from the hall, addressing Rachel by name. Folding the sketchpad, she pocketed it in her dress. Before disappearing through the door, she set the photograph upright, taking a moment to observe Old Tom back when he was just Tom, surrounded by his brothers. Before he’d been taken apart and no one had been able to put him back together.
Selected: March Short Story Contest
Published in Issue #28