Gilbert was demobbed in November and Elizabeth took Lewis up to
London to meet
him at the Charing Cross Hotel. Lewis was seven. Elizabeth and he got onto the
train at Waterford and she held his hand firmly so that
he wouldn't fall when he climbed up the high step. Lewis sat next to the window
and opposite her, to watch the station get small as they pulled away, and
off her hat so that she could rest her head against the seat without it getting
in the way.
The seat was itchy against Lewis's bare legs between his shorts and his socks and he liked the way it was uncomfortable and the way the train moved from side to side. There was a feeling of specialness; his mother was quiet with it and it changed the way everything looked. They had a secret between them and they didn't need to talk about it.
He looked out of the window and wondered again if his father would be wearing his uniform and, if he were, if he would have a gun. He wondered, if he did have a gun, if he would let Lewis hold it. Lewis thought probably not. His father probably wouldn't have one, and if he did it would be too dangerous and Lewis wouldn't be allowed to play with it.
The clouds were very low over the fields, so that everything looked close up and flat. Lewis thought it was possible that the train might be standing still and the fields and houses and sky might be rushing past. That would mean his father would be rushing towards him standing in the Charing Cross Hotel, but then all the people would fall over. He thought he might feel sick, so he looked over at his mother. She was looking straight ahead, as if she was watching something lovely. She was smiling so he pushed her leg with his foot so that she would smile at him, and she did, and he looked back out of the window.
He couldn't remember if he'd had lunch or what time of day it was. He tried to remember breakfast. He remembered going to bed the night before and his mother kissing him and saying, 'We'll see Daddy tomorrow', and the way his stomach had felt suddenly. It felt that way now. His mother called it butterflies, but it wasn't like that, it was more just suddenly knowing you had a stomach, when normally you forgot. He decided if he sat and thought about his father and his stomach any more he'd definitely feel sick.
'Can I go for a walk?' he asked.
'Yes, you can go for a walk. Don't touch the doors and don't lean out. How will you know where to find me again?'
He looked around,'G'.
He couldn't open the door; it was heavy and they both fought with it. She held it open for him and he went down the corridor, one hand on the window side, the other on the compartment side, steadying himself and saying under his breath,'along-along-along'.
After Elizabeth had spoken to Gilbert on the telephone the day before, she had sat on the chair in the hall and cried. She cried so much that she'd had to go upstairs so that Jane wouldn't see her, or Lewis, if he came in from the garden. She had cried much more than any time they had parted since he had first gone away and more than she had in May when they heard the war in Europe had ended. Now she felt very calm and as if it was normal to be going to see your husband whom you had been frightened might die almost every day for four years. She looked down at the clasp on her new bag and thought about all the other women seeing their husbands again and buying handbags that wouldn't be noticed. Lewis appeared through the glass, struggling with the door, and she let him in and he smiled at her and stood balancing with his arms out.
He had his mouth open with the effort of not falling over and his tongue to one side. One of his socks was down. His fingers were each stretching out. Elizabeth loved him and missed a breath with loving him. She grabbed him around the middle.
Excerpted from The Outcast by Sadie Jones, © 2008 by Sadie Jones. Excerpted by permission of Harper Collins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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