It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”, where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fiction’, with part four of my new short story, ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn’…
The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn – Part Four
That night, as the bombs routinely rained down on Liverpool, one of the Luftwaffe happened to misfire and instead of striking the city, for the first time, they struck Mold. The cold light of the morning revealed that the recipient of the accidental bomb was the military hospital on the outskirts of the town, the very same hospital in which Megan’s sister Dorothy had been working that night. It sent the Quinn family into panic. The bomb, Megan’s Father learned from the Vicar, had been a direct hit with many dead and injured, and as the day inched forward, no news came. It was only when morning stepped into afternoon, that Megan, home with her Mother and aunts making pots of tea to calm nerves, heard the shout from her Father, sat, as he had been all day, on watch by the back gate from where his beloved Dorothy had left some 36 hours earlier. ‘Dorothy! Dorothy!’ he shouted. Megan dropped the teapot and ran out. ‘Thank you, Lord,’ she cried, because, there, charred and shivering, stood her sister – she was finally home.
Once bathed and wrapped, after a journey that saw her walk some 22 miles covered in dust and entrails, Dorothy revealed how she had been saved. She had that night, it transpired, stepped outside during a quiet period of her shift and walked the two hundred yards to the copse of oaks that stood guard by entrance of the hospital grounds, and it was here she stood when the bomb hit. Holding her hand, their Father asked Dorothy why she chose the copse of oaks in particular to stand by. Drawing in a breath, Dorothy said, ‘I was smoking a cigarette, Dad. I’m so, so sorry.’ With breaths held and all eyes upon him, how Megan’s father responded that day would go on to make her smile with fondness for him long after cancer took his life. ‘Dorothy,’ he said, taking her hands, ‘if going out for a smoke was what kept you alive then you can puff on a thousand cigarettes as far as I am concerned, my girl!’
Dorothy Quinn never did return to nursing, her love for it still alight but her fingers, as it turned out, quite literally, burned. The Government, in need of desk clerks and administrators for their local councils on account of keeping the nation organised in wartime, recruited Dorothy to take care of their work programmes, a job that Dorothy Quinn would inhabit throughout her spinsterhood until her death in 1989, upon when Megan ensured her sister tombstone read: May you now be heaven’s nurse.
Three months following the bombing of Mold the British Army called up Gethan to their ranks. To the march of boots on cobblestone, once more, Megan found herself in the familiar position of having to keep calm and carry on, and, with the train carriage waiting at the platform, she kissed her beloved Gethan goodbye, praying then and every night after for God and a strong trench to keep him safe.
The routine of daily life kept Megan’s mind occupied in Gethan’s absence. In particular, an invite to visit Nancy in the coming weeks once Nancy’s baby was born became Megan’s temporary life buoy. But the visit was not to work out. One week before Nancy was due, the Luftwaffe bombed Liverpool in one of its most savage attacks, and so, when Megan’s visit to Nancy finally came, it was to attend Nancy’s funeral. With the air heavy and the clouds black, the service, a Catholic affair, was held in Liverpool, and when Megan arrived on the train she witnessed the rows upon rows of coffins that lined the community halls, the piles of rubble strewn with bricks and sticks and body parts, creating an image that would remain seared on Megan’s brain forever. It was in this landscape that Megan, in a black blouse and skirt made by her mother, arrived at a house five streets from Nancy’s now rubble-reduced terrace. In the parlour, the funeral gathering was in full flow, women weeping, faces shrouded by lace and weariness; men sipping whiskey, staring at the walls; children, limbs scratched and grey, tugging at skirts. As Megan soon discovered, Nancy was housed in a coffin in the adjoining room, and, as was the custom at a Catholic funeral, as Megan walked through the door she was greeted by the open coffin, Nancy dressed in her wedding gown, casket open, the body shrouded in a light film of brick dust. Immediately, Megan’s eyes were drawn to Nancy’s belly. It was flat. Of course, Megan thought, she lost the baby. Without warning, Megan, slapping her palm to her mouth, found herself having to streak from the parlour, and, darting into the back yard, located a bucket in to which she immediately wretched. Mouth dabbed, it was only upon return to the house to give her condolences and goodbyes to the parents that Megan plucked up the courage to enquire after Nancy’s unborn baby. ‘It were a girl,’ was all Nancy’s mother could say before collapsing to the ground to be comforted by the priest. Six months later to the day, whilst sat at home reading a letter from Gethan, Megan would hear the news that Nancy’s husband, David, had been killed in action, a grenade claiming his heart that was already broken.
Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012
Thanks for reading! Part 5 of The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn will be out on next Friday’s Fact or Fiction post. Have a lovely weekend.
**Look out for my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**