Thursday, November 13, 2014

Darley Coom


My brother is marrying my best friend on Saturday.
I got my first ever French manicure and thus crossed something off my bucket-list.
I will be wearing a sleeveless yellow chiffon gown in an outdoor ceremony.
The weather is meant to be 40 degrees.
Obviously, it's a big week.

I took leave of my senses and my responsibility this entire week as to trying to write anything I actually intend to turn into a real book. No nannying, no writing. But I found myself with time and desire for sketching up a little bit of Nothing, and since Nothing was pleasant, I give it to you now. This thing is filed as "Darley Coom Story" and as I said, is Nothing. But it is copy-righted (I always feel that ought to be "copywritten") so no snitching it. M'kay? On a side-note, I have missed my writing-for-children and this was a sweet pause in my workaday schedule.



{Darley Coom Story by Rachel Heffington}


August 4th, 1941
Somewhere outside of London

After--long after, when rain finally drowned the too-sunny sun and he had forgotten his splinter--Oliver thought he would remember precisely how his mother looked when he was put on the train and taken away from his family with a lot of other little children who didn’t want to go either. Mother looked like a doll whose face had been broken and put back together the wrong way. Her face, Oliver thought, had never looked so like a smashed teacup. And everyone knew a mother’s face was not supposed to look like a teacup in any state. But hers did, and the clock struck noon as she pressed him too hard to her coat and ran her hand over and over the top his hair, even while the rest of the family was saying goodbye, and then hugged him once more.
The day, as we have said, was not rainy or misty or fog-ridden as anyone would expect when such things were happening. It was actually a rather wonderful day, weather-wise. Oliver found himself angry at a little bit of everything in the world, including the weather.
He was fond of lists, was Oliver, and when things happened to him, he liked to order them inside his head. It was really unfortunate he did not have a pen and paper. There was nothing to write with. Not even a stub of pencil, which was unfortunate, and the only paper in the train car was pinned to their clothes in small, scared-looking squares that had the children’s names and destinations printed on them in a frightened hand. Oliver might have asked one of the three other children in his car for a pencil, but when he thought of opening his mouth and breaking the awful silence that had accompanied them now for half an hour out of London, he turned bashful. Thus, Oliver’s Unwritten List of Bad Things that day grew longer with each moment the train chugged away from his mother and father and big sister, Colleen and the horrible sunny platform at Paddington Station. At the exact moment the train passed under an extra-long railway tunnel and got frightfully dark, Oliver’s list looked like this:
  1. Leaving London
  2. Tears. I can’t cry, so the bridge of my nose hurts
  3. Sunshine when it should be raining
  4. Sunshine and having to be on this beastly train
  5. Railway tunnels
  6. Railways in general
  7. Germans, because they make bombs.
  8. Bombs, because they make me leave London
  9. No paper
  10. Or pen
If he thought longer about it, Oliver suspected he could come up with a few extra things to write down, but the list seemed long enough and the train had passed out of the tunnel and life was moving on in its horrid way.
“Number eleven,” he muttered, “Darley Coom.”
He picked at the splinter he'd got from running his palm over a stack of wooden crates. What was Darley Coom? Oliver had a vague notion of its being a place somewhere in the countryside where he should be safe from the Germans and their bombs. At least, that’s what his mother and father had told him. Not, he thought grimly, that it was much good now believing what his mother and father told him. They’d told him his family would never be apart, not even if a hundred Nazis were shouting on the doorstep, and look who was steaming out of London at this very second, headed for an unknown place with a strange name.
“Want to play cards?”
Oliver frowned at the girl who sat across from him with a stack of beaten-looking playing cards in her grubby fist. “Not much.”
“Come on. You’re not doing anything sitting there, are you?”
“I was thinking,” Oliver said. Then it seemed to him that he sounded a bit of a bear, so he tried again: “I’m not much good at anything but old-maid and that’s tiresome.”
“I can teach you poker,” the girl said.
This was unexpected. Children weren’t supposed to know how to play poker. His curiosity aroused, Oliver shrugged and turned his knees away from the wall of the train car and toward the little girl.
“I’m Mary Harrell,” she said with smile. “But you can call me Violet.”
“Why on earth would I call you Violet if your name’s Mary?”
This time she frowned. “You can call me Mary but I won’t promise to answer. Mary’s an ugly name and it belongs to my aunt who is an ugly aunt.”
“Oh.” He could see why it was to be ‘Violet’ after all. “I’m Oliver Hood. And where did you learn to play poker?”
“Dilly learned me.”
“Taught you, Violet.” The boy who looked to be a few years older than Oliver, twelve or thirteen or something, tossed an already-worn book aside. “Dillon Harrell. Vi’s brother. Older brother. And if you’re going to be a prude and refuse to play, tell me quick before I waste my breath explaining.”
“I’ll learn,” he snapped. Under the bashfulness and the anger, Oliver glowed with embarrassed over how difficult he was being. At least the fourth person in their unwilling company was being rude in a polite way. It was another girl and she sat beside Oliver and said absolutely nothing, nor looked at them. So what if she seemed unable to make friends--at least she didn’t blurt out snappish things all the time as he seemed to be doing. The girl sat quite alone in her corner of the train car with her rather grubby feet propped up against a threadbare carpet-bag.
“Will you play?” Oliver asked.
Violet and Dillon turned quizzical eyes to him. Oliver lifted one shoulder and inched nearer to the silent girl. “I say, will you play with us?”
The girl would not talk. Oliver could see she had been crying and he felt good to know someone could cry if he could not. But he did not like to see anyone upset, much less little girls, so he put a hand on her shoulder.
“Here now,” he said, “let’s dry you up and have a go at learning poker.”
At this, the girl darted a half-curious, half-reproachful look at the Harrell siblings and slid out from under Oliver’s hand.
“Oh, leave the dripper alone,” Dillon said. “If she’s not up for the game, she won’t play worth snuff anyhow.”
Violet shuffled her deck. The cards slapped against each other like a small crowd applauding. Like Oliver and his family had applauded when the soldiers in their neighborhood shipped out for Germany. Oliver watched the silent girl twitch when Violet flipped the deck over and shuffled again. Violet could do bridge, he noticed, and he wondered when his hands might grow large enough to learn the trick.
“Won’t you play?” he begged the girl.
She shook her head but she was looking at them now, at least. Her eyes were a funny silvery-green color and her hair was dark and heavy and cut level with her chin.
“So what you want to know first,” Dillon said, “Is what ‘ante’ means.”
Oliver, who knew a little Latin though he was only nine and half, perked up. “It means ‘before’, doesn’t it?”
“Well look what we have here! A cute little scholar. In poker, goose-head, it means the amount of money we’re all betting with.”
“But I don’t have any money.”
“Neither do we, silly,” Violet said. “Which is why we use pins.” She worked the pin out of the square of paper stuck to the front of her red sweater and cast it into the cap Dillon offered up for the occasion.
“One pin for each of us,” she said. “All in or don’t play.”
Oliver took his paper off, tucked it carefully under his left knee, and deposited his pin into the cap. “What’ll happen now?”
“One of us will win all the pins--and it’ll probably by Dilly, so don’t be surprised if that pin is gone for good.”
“But...” Oliver began to wonder if there was a reason children weren’t supposed to play poker. Violet and Dillon did not seem the most well-bred of all creatures. “Okay. Fine.”
“And the second thing you’ll want to learn--”
But before Dillon could get any further, the train-brakes shrieked, there was a grinding noise, a chewing noise, and Oliver and the silent girl were thrown forward into the laps of the Harrell siblings.
“Great horse whips,” Dillon swore softly.
Violet grunted and pushed Oliver off her body. “What the blazes did you do that for? You’ve made me drop the cards!”
“I didn’t do anything,” Oliver protested.
“Come off it, Vi,” Dillon said. “There’s something wrong with the train.” He stood and though the train still swayed from side to side, it was going slower and slower and slower as if limping. Finally, with a hiss and a groan, it ceased motion altogether.
“Wonder if the engine’s blown,” he muttered. Then: “Crikey, we’re lopsided.”
They were. The silent girl’s side of the train tilted sadly downward and she had wedged herself and her carpetbag farther into the corner than seemed possible. Dillon pressed his face to the window-pane and fogged it up with his heavy breathing. Violet wedged herself beside him and tip-toed.
Because she wasn’t looking and he wanted it back, Oliver rescued his pin from Violet’s cap. He stuck his paper tag back onto his shirt. No more poker if there was something wrong with the train. The silent girl shivered even though, because of the angle, the sun poured down from his window into her lap.
“It must have gone off the track,” Dillon said. “That’s just peachy.” He stumbled back to his seat and sat sideways so he could prop his feet uphill against Dillon’s wall. Violet perched on top of his shoes and he didn’t seem to mind.
“So the second thing you’ll need to know,” he began.
“Wait.” Oliver stared from Violet to Dillon and back again. “We can’t play poker now.”
Violet wrinkled her nose. “Ummm why, please?”
“Because there’s been an accident.”
Dillon bounced Violet off his feet and sat up. He leaned forward. His eyes glittered. “I don’t think there’s ever a good reason not to play poker.’ He settled back in his position. “Unless maybe someone died.”
What answer was he supposed to make to that? Oliver had never met anyone like these two. “I just don’t feel like playing.”
“Okay, but I’m warning you it’ll be an hour before anyone comes to tell us what’s wrong.”
“In an emergency?”
Dillon shrugged. “Didn’t you notice we were put on nearly at the end of the train? It’s going to be ages.”
So the Harrells played cards by themselves and Oliver and the silent girl sat by themselves, and the sun continued to pour down through the right-hand windows.
A fly got in and pestered them.
A thrush banged into the window and flew off in zig-zags.
Somewhere down the line they heard voices, and for a moment Oliver thought perhaps he’d proved Dillon wrong and they’d be rescued before an hour was up, but the voices faded off. Against all common sense, Oliver felt himself growing sleepier and sleepier, and as his head grew heavy his knees tired of bracing himself so he’d stay on his side of the bench. Oliver began to slide toward the silent girl. With every ounce of muscle left in him--and there was not too much to begin with--he wished to leave her alone. She didn’t want to be bothered. She didn’t want a sweaty, disheveled boy melting toward her like a slug from the back garden.
“It’s all right,” the silent girl said without turning her head.
For a moment, the idea that she’d read his mind overcame the tiredness of his knees and he was able to keep upright with shame, but pretty soon he started to slide again.
“I’m sorry,” he said, as their legs collided.
“I said it’s all right.” This time the girl shifted. Not a lot, because he was so close now that their shoulders were touching, but enough so that he looked into her eyes. She was probably ten, he thought, and un-pretty in a way he found fascinating. Maybe it was the blunt square of her hair around her pert chin and the way it was too straight and too thick. And her eyes didn’t match the rest of her. They were like aggies: light and a swirl of too many colors. Marble-eyes.
“I’m Oliver Hood.” Her shoulder was sharp. It dug into him.
“Agatha Samantha Roberta Brooks. I wish I hadn’t left London.”
“Like I said: a dripper.” Dillon sniffed. “I told Violet we’d get stuck in a car with one.”
“Would you stop?” said Oliver. “I wish we’d never left too.”
“You lot are babies. We’re glad to be leaving.” Dillon laid down his hand of cards. “A royal flush, by the way, Vi. London has nothing interesting in it. You go to school, you come home, you do your lessons, you go to bed. Day in, day out, all the same. And holidays are no better, you know. There’s absolutely nothing worse than Aldersgate when everyone else is gone away and you’re the only ones left in town. Besides--who wants to wait there to get smashed flat by the Blitz when you could be having a jolly time in the country?”
“Don’t you miss your parents at all?”
Violet fished the remaining two pins out of Dillon’s cap and handed them to her brother. “Papa got himself killed in France and Mum is either working or sick.”
“Or dead,” Dillon said.
Oliver’s gut wrenched. “What do you mean?”
“Well, that’s why they’re making us leave, isn’t it? So we don’t get blown up?”
“Oh, right.”
An image of his mother’s broken-teacup face shattered on the floor seared itself into Oliver’s mind. He had not realized that while he would be safe, the rest of his family would be in danger. That the reason they had sent him off was because it was getting more and more dangerous each day. He had known, of course, about the bombs. But knowing and realizing were two different things.
Agatha Samantha Roberta Brooks realized. She had shivered and he’d wondered why. Fear, cold as a snowball in the face, slid down his collar. He cowered in the sunlight feeling impossibly hot and freakishly cold all at once.
The door burst open. “Get your things and hurry up.”
The owner of the voice stepped into the aisle and his head looked to Oliver like a potato, a cabbage, and two black olives arranged into a knobby face. It was a comical face, if ugly.
“Hurry now. Train’s gone off its bally rails and all kiddies are to be distrib’ted round the farms nearby till Railroad sorts it out. Come along, come along.”
The conductor (his hat told the secret in bright brass letters) bustled them out of the car. Dillon and Violet were paperless, Oliver noticed. How they were ever to be delivered to the proper place without them was a thing Oliver could not bother to worry over now. But everyone seemed to have kept the little cardboard boxes around their necks. Inside each box was a gas-mask which would be utterly useless until it was important, and then it would save their lives, the rail-road ladies had said.
“Your lot’s to go to Hilly Mead for th’night. Two miles up that road.” He pointed a fat finger to a dusty-looking lane on the left. “Big white house, black shutters, red cows. They told me you can’t miss it.”
“You mean we’re to walk?” Violet asked.
The conductor sighed. “Your legs haven’t been blown off, have they? Soldiers is fighting all ‘crost Europe and you’re fretting about walking two higgledy-piggledy miles in flat country. Keep calm and--”
“Carry on--Churchill’s orders. Let’s go, Violet. You drippers need help carrying your truck? No? Well then, onward men.”
Dillon and Violet marched off. Oliver slung his satchel across his chest and followed. Agatha Samantha Roberta Brooks took her carpet-bag in one hand and came last of all. In her other hand she held a birdcage with a real little finch in it. Oliver hadn’t remembered seeing the birdcage the entire way here...where had it been? What if he’d accidentally stepped on it when the train came off the track and crushed the little bird? Well he hadn’t, and that was a relief.
Gas-mask pounding against his heart, Oliver trotted to catch up with the Harrells, and the aggie-eyed girl did the same.
Two miles to this Hilly Mead. And then Darley Coom.
London was so wretchedly far away.

***
They walked on and on and on like the Jews in Exodus, kicking up clouds of the powdery white dirt till Oliver doubled over from coughing. They’d given up trying not to kick. The chalk road puffed around them exactly as if some giant had taken a pair of erasers and clapped them together over the children’s heads.
Puffity-puff-puff-puff.
Another puff for good measure.
And another.
“We might (huff puff) try marching so our feet won’t drag,” Dillon said.
But the day suffocated around them and the road gasped for rain and the dust rose up in a sort of fog that was worse than fog.
“This is a beastly lot more than two miles,” Violet complained. Her face was red and sticky-looking and the dust had stuck in the hairs of her eyebrows.
Oliver’s gas-mask clomped against his chest with each step, his satchel slapped his thigh, and he thought he had never been thirstier. “I only wish there was a stream nearby where we could get a drink.” He coughed and spluttered from the effort of talking.
“There’s one other side of th’field looks like,” Dillon said. “But there’s cows in it...and I don’t really like cows.”
“You’re scared of cows?” Oliver looked over his shoulder at the silent girl to see if she was listening to him tease Dillon. It was daring of him, to tease the older boy.
Agatha Samantha Roberta Brooks smiled a tiny crease of a smile and Oliver felt a little less like a trampled receipt.
“How’s your bird holding up?” he asked, falling back to meet her.
She held up the cage and inspected it. “He’s quiet.”
You’re quiet.
“I don’t think he likes the dust,” the girl said.
“Well rum luck for him,” Dillon grumbled, then stopped. “Hullo. Those cows are red, aren’t they?”
They wandered to the hedge and slowly, slowly, slowly, the dust-fog cleared. When they were able to see, a low, lumpy field sprinkled-over with copper-colored cows spread out before their eyes. The herd’s hides gleamed in the late afternoon light. Here a bell tinkled, there a bell clanked. A calf lowed. A big heifer sloshed into the stream Dillon had pointed out, and such a pleasant gush burbled up around her glossy flanks that Oliver’s throat tore with a half-sob that couldn’t get out. He was so thirsty.

And obviously enough, that's as far as I'd got. As I said: a pleasant manner in which to spend some pent-up creativity. What do you think? Do you like my Darley Coom? Also, Big Hero 6 was precious. You ought to watch it.


8 comments:

Emily Chapman said...

I beg of you with all my might... PLEASE turn this into a full-length story. ^.^ I haven't enjoyed reading something so much in awhile now.

You're so talented.

E.S. Grayson said...

This is sweet, even unfinished. I'd definitely be interested in reading more if you decided to write more.

By the way, I finally got around to trying Vivi's scone recipe! They're delicious. Off to have one for breakfast. :)

Kelsey Carnes said...

Wow. That was good. That was really good. I want to know how it ends. Please do write more! :)

And congratulations to you and your family! It must be nice to have a best friend and brother about to be married.

Random question: how many siblings do you have? (I understand if you don't want to spread that online, but I'm just curious. It seems from a couple of your YouTube videos that you have quite a bunch. ^_^)

Abby said...

Congrats to your brother! That must be exciting... and perhaps a little sad. I know I'll be sad when my brothers get married, but they're only seven now, so... it might be awhile. :)
I really like the Darley Coom story! I love how you write children.

ghost ryter said...

This is darling! It reminds me a bit of something E. Nesbit (have you read her?) would write. Please do finish it!

Lady Bibliophile said...

Oliver is such a sweetie. I love him. And is it just me, or is Agatha Samantha Roberta Brooks the Lucy from the newer chronicles of Narnia?

Well done!!

~Schuyler

Rachel Heffington said...

Emily: You know how my stories are--if I recognize them they like to die. ;)
Elisabeth: Your comment made me so happy! I am glad Vivi's scones pass muster.
Kelsey: Thank you! I have three brothers and five sisters. :) So yes, there are a lot of us. I'm second oldest.
Abby: Thanks!
Ghost: I ADORE E. Nesbit and the fact that this reminded you of her tickles me pink.
Schuyler: Hmmm...I think it's just you...I should draw what I think she looks like. She's a bit older than Lucy...not as English-looking!

Kelsey Carnes said...

Wow! So you're the second of nine then. How neat! I'm the first of nine, but I have five brothers and three sisters, not the other way around. Big families do make life interesting, do they not? ^-^

So do you guys homeschool?