Willard Seymour came to his window, and I slipped out of bed to go wave at him. At first Willard just stood there with his pale spiky hair bristling up around his head the way it always did. Finally he saw me waving and put his hand over his eyes in an "Oh, no, not you again" gesture and stuck out his tongue at me. Sticking out his tongue didn't mean anything except that Willard was what he was: a rude and disagreeable child, according to Mother. I wasn't used to judging people then, so to me he was simply the boy next door who knew more than I did because he was older.
Anyhow, as he was sticking out his tongue there was a distant booming like the firing of the alert gun, and I could hear planes flying and more booming. I didn't pay much attention. There were air maneuvers going on most of the time, and I was accustomed to seeing and hearing planes. The alert gun used to scare me at first, going off without warning in the middle of a still night, so that I woke to the sound of front doors slamming and men's feet running outside on the dark pavements where the street lamps no longer shone. Mother sometimes fumbled her way to my room after putting out whatever indoor lights were burning, and once or twice she got into bed with me. There was an eeriness to it all, but she said it wasn't anything to get nervous about.
"It's just practice," she told me.
"What kind of practice?" I asked.
"The kind the Army has to do when the world's the way it is today," she answered.
Once, during an alert, she and Father were having a dinner party, and she carried me downstairs after the gun was fired because I cried when she turned off the night light. There in the dark living room where she and the other women sat waiting for the men to return, I heard them telling each other in whispery voices not to smoke because passing planes were able to see the tiniest glow inside a house, and I wondered whether planes had eyes. There was other talksomething about losing the Japanese fleetbut I was too sleepy to listen.
I'm getting away from the booming and the planes flying and Willard Seymour standing at his window. To me, the only immediate problem was Willard sticking out his tongue instead of waving at me when I was anxious to communicate with something or someone besides sea shells and fishing floats. I was just winding my window open to call across and ask him whether or not he was planning to go to the beach, when there was a wild whining roar high up in the sky that moved swiftly and awesomely down toward the rooftops and dimmed my voice.
Willard took his hands from his eyes and looked interested. I don't know why I remember that but I do, perhaps because I tended to rely on Willard's superior appraisal of most situations. Even now I can seeor think I seehis face at the window during that short unlikely interval before the sound of the diving bombers turned into a series of deafening blasts that were like nothing I had ever heard. The doves rose from the opposite rooftop in a sudden gray and scattery cloud, and as the floor lurched under me and two panes of glass shattered at my feet, I ran screaming for my father.
I didn't have to run far. My father was already at the door of my room. He picked me up quickly, without seeming to hurry, and told me to block my ears if the noise was too loud. He didn't tell me not to be afraid. My father never bothered to say anything meaningless. He held me as safe as he could and kissed the top of my head several times as he carried me down the shuddering hallway into the linen closet, where my mother was crouched on the floor in her rust-colored bathrobe with her eyes big and her fingers twining in and out of one another. She seemed to have trouble untwining her fingers, but she finally managed to do it and when she did, she drew me down onto the floor beside her.
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...