I was not far from the station when I heard my name being called
with the urgency Bernard used when he needed a towel getting out the
bath. Looking around me I swore someone was taking my photograph --
the flashlight's spark burnt spots on to my eyes. But then my legs
were lifting off the ground. I could see the pavement lowering under
me, feel a whoosh of air, a roaring waterless sea rushing my ears.
Then everything was quiet except for a note that sang sharp and high
in my head. I wasn't the only one flying. Over there a woman, a bundle
of rags, was rolling over -- a cardigan, a skirt, twisting and
flapping. A man, or was it a boy? making an arc, diving off a
swimming-board. A silent ballet so beautiful my eyes were sucked from
their sockets with the sight. Something hit me hard across the back
taking all the wind from me. And then I was coming back down. Sliding
down the slide near our school. Wilfred in his dead dad's boots
screeching like a girl. 'Shut up,' I told him, 'you'll wake the dead.'
Landing with such a thump -- the ground is so hard in winter. 'It's
dark. Look at the fog. What a pea-souper! Go home. I don't want to
slide again, Wilfred, and I'm out of puff now. You find your own way
home. Go on, hop it. I'm going to stay here and have a little sleep.'
When I woke up, Wilfred's sharp screeching had stopped. He must
have gone home. No, Queenie, he was never there. And that wasn't fog,
that was bricks and glass and wood and soot billowing in thick folds
of dirty cauliflower smoke. One of my shoes was gone, my coat was
ripped, and my skirt was up round my waist, knickers on view for
anyone who wanted a look. Crunchy slivers of glass were in my hair.
The taste of blood was in the corner of my mouth.
Perhaps I was dead. My back was against a wall, slumped where I'd
fallen, unable to move, watching silently with an angel singing in my
ear. A doll falling slowly from the sky towards a tree: a branch
stripped of all its leaves caught the doll in its black spikes. A
house had had its front sliced off as sure as if it had been opened on
a hinge. A doll's house with all the rooms on show. The little
staircase zigzagging in the cramped hall. The bedroom with a bed
sliding, the sheet dangling, flapping a white flag. A wardrobe open
with the clothes tripping out from the inside to flutter away. Empty
armchairs sitting cosy by the fire. The kettle on in the kitchen with
two wellington boots by the stove. And in a bathroom -- standing by
the side of a bath, caught by the curtain going up too soon on a
performance -- a totally naked woman. A noiseless scream from a lady
who was gazing at the doll in the tree that dangled limp and filthy in
a little pink hat. The lady landing hard on her knees started to pray,
while a man in uniform turned slowly round to vomit. But surely the
dead don't feel pain, that's the whole point. Population, that's what
I was. Smouldering like a kipper, I was one of the bombed. If it was a
doodlebug I hadn't heard its low moaning hum. Hadn't had time to plot
where it was going to come down. But surely I'd been walking among
houses? A woman had called out from a window, 'Herman, get in here,'
and I'd thought, How common. The boy running past me had made a face
as he went by. And a tabby cat was stretched on a step. Too everyday
to remember but surely there were people walking, looking at watches
to see if they were late for a train, arm in arm, carrying bags? There
was an old man reading a paper and a pub on the corner with a sign
that swayed. Where had they gone? Now it was all jagged hills of
wreckage, crumbling, twisting, creaking, smoking under far too much
sky. There was only this bleak landscape left.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...