International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
birthday dawned warm and sunny: the sky an innocent early autumn
blue, the day she packed the suitcase. It
was a weekday, so it meant an early start, juggling breakfast, presents
and children in bed, "Mommy let me open that one for you; its
from me; its a candle; its a surprise!" Then came
the first of the twice-daily battles through the traffic to the
school where Alex taught Science and seven year old Richard was
She had refused
to send her son to school on the tube, even with his father: "Too
crowded, hes too young." And though she had dreaded the alternative,
that she drive them the six difficult miles into Kensington, had been
surprised by her own ability and within a week of the new term starting
was weaving her way through the jams like a seasoned Londoner.
That day, three year old Jamie was not due at Nursery until the afternoon
and her birthday money was burning a hole in her pocket. Time for a
little retail therapy, she thought.
"Shall we go for second breakfast, Jamie?"
"Yes, please." He skipped with delight and she smiled at his
hobbit-like ability to eat as many meals a day as possible.
It was just on nine oclock and the early morning rush was almost
over. They found one of the low tables with huge squashy armchairs that
Jamie loved and she sipped her latte while he ate his muffin, legs bouncing
and crumbs dropping on the leather. When he finished eating, he climbed
down and went over to the card rack on the wall nearby. It held a number
of postcards, advertising different products and services and drew the
child like a brightly coloured magnet. Jamie picked out six or seven
of them and Charlotte sighed: she knew that she would find them abandoned
on his bedroom floor later. She finished her coffee. "Lets
just take one, shall we, I think the other customers might want some."
He didnt protest as she put all but one of the cards back. "Ill
keep this one safe and you can have it when we get home." She slid
the card into her handbag, without looking at it, and they left the
café, Charlotte thinking about the new shoes she could now buy.
By the time they got home, some two and a half hours later, Jamie was
hungry again. Baked beans on toast did the trick and she got him settled
into Nursery. She wasnt working that day and had invited friends
for lunch and the house was filled with wrapping paper and laughter.
And so she went that afternoon to pick up Jamie and do the school run
again without once having turned on the TV or radio.
Normally, Charlotte would sit in the car and wait for her husband and
son to come out together. Running the gauntlet of parents and pupils
all wanting to have "just a quick word" with the Science Master
usually took him some time and she had learned to be patient. But today
she carried the sleeping Jamie across the road and up to the steps of
the Georgian townhouse that did service as a school. There would be
tea and cake in the staff room. Richard would be excited to be allowed
to sit with the teachers.
Charlotte knew it was slightly unfriendly but did it anyway: ducking
her head, she made a dash past the milling mothers and their offspring.
If she had stopped to say anything other than a quick "hello",
she might have noticed the expressions on some of their faces or heard
something of their conversations. She rushed by up the steps and into
the staff room.
"Hi, Albie," She called to the English master who was staring
at the TV screen. She looked over his shoulder and saw a slow-motion
image of a jumbo jet flying into a tall building. The words were out
of her mouth as fast as thought, "Funny time to be watching a disaster
He turned, his face frozen. "This isnt a movie," he
Tea was forgotten as the staff huddled around the screen and fear kicked
into life like an alien foetus in Charlottes gut. Richard kept
asking loudly, "Whats happened?" and Charlotte did not
know how to answer him. Eventually, they began to drift off home, one
by one, with muted goodbyes and awkward hugs.
They did their best with the birthday supper and put the bewildered
boys to bed early: "Mommy, why didnt you eat any of your
cake?" before being drawn back to the television as it endlessly
blared its appalling news.
Eventually they switched it off. Alex put his arm around her and she
nestled, cold, into the warmth of him. "Weve got to get out
of London," she said. She felt him tense against her.
"We have jobs, a house, commitments. And where would we go?"
"Somewhere that isnt a target." Even as she said it,
Charlotte knew there was no such place; but also knew she had to do
something, try to be ready, somehow, for what may happen.
Later on, Charlotte lifted the suitcase down from the top of the wardrobe
in the spare room. She waited until her husband was asleep and then
quietly packed four sets of clothes into it: one for each of them. She
went outside and placed it in the boot of the car along with two large
bottles of water and some chocolate bars. The kicking, which had felt
as though it would burst out of her stomach, settled down a little.
The final twist of Charlottes birthday happened as she returned
the car key to her handbag and found the postcard that Jamie had picked
up only that morning, just before the world changed. The picture showed
a city skyline with a jumbo jet superimposed on top. The aeroplane appeared
to be flying into a burning building.
The caption read: "NEW YORK, COME FLY WITH ME".
© Claire Holland November 2007
get me into Trouble
Four days after my ninth birthday, my parents moved house and so did
I. And my little world fell apart.
Claire is studying for her Masters in Creative Writing at the University
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