Every morning the same thing happened, her mother would burst into her room, shout ‘rise and shine’ and then open the window to let the world in. Most of the time it was only the train smoke from the station next door.
They had lived in a little house on Albion Square since her great-grandmother’s time and the family had seen no reason to change things, even when the family grew to be nine souls.
There’s no need to tell you exactly where all this occurred, just in case you go looking. I wouldn’t blame you, but to be truthful the family have seen enough hard times of late.
The year I am writing about is just a couple of months into 1920. The girl in the bedroom, Eloise, always finds a strange comfort in the daily smell of the steam trains passing her window.
Had the war not intervened, she would have now been living in Dover as the wife of Doctor Smithton. Expect life never ever played that fair and Eric, her intended, was lost somewhere in France.
So she had resigned herself to remaining unmarried for the rest of her life, and destined to share the little bedroom with her other three sisters. Her siblings had long since gone to work and Eloise loved the thirty extra minutes she had in bed with the room to herself. She revelled in her isolation, with no noise and no girls, she would lie and dream of what her life could have been. She dreamed of going downstairs and making Eric his breakfast before he headed off to the surgery.
As it was, in reality, she would trot along to the little café on Middle Street, where she would spend ten hours a day making tea and serving scones to the great and the good of the town.
Except this day was unlike any others. For a start, she couldn’t smell the steam trains;
“There’s a storm coming, see if I’m wrong,” said her mother as she opened the bedroom window. Eloise reckoned her mother was probably right, the sky – at least what she could see from her bed – looked dark and foreboding.
By the time Eloise was walking down the lanes to Middle Street, she had to pull her coat in tight against the wind – a warm one that was blowing strongly in from the sea. She struggled to open the café door and judging by the lack of people in the place, so had the customers.
By five o’clock, Mrs Teacher, the owner of the café, sent everyone home.
“Don’t look like they’ll be any more today not with that sky, so be off with you and get yourselves to the comfort of your home.”
Eloise didn’t want to go home so soon, knowing full well, that her sisters would be sitting in the bedroom, her bedroom, discussing their latest boyfriends. She thought it a bit tasteless that they had to talk about such things in front of her – considering what had happened to Eric. Eloise would cough now and again when things were particularly hurtful, but that only served to make her sisters talk in hushed tones – something which annoyed her more.
So that night, after the café was closed, instead of going home, she headed down to the beach. It was here she always felt free and content. What amazed her was the fact that the water in front of her was a path to anywhere in the world. All one had to do was jump in and swim.
But that night the storm was growing into a hurricane and it was difficult to stand upright on the beach. Instead she chose to walk down the pier and not surprisingly she was the only one there. Even the little man who sat in by a fire, in the hut at the gate, had given up the ghost and gone home.
There was a chalked black board on which the little man had written the word ‘danger’ on it – a warning which was gradually being washed off by the rain. Eloise chose to ignore it and walked to the end of the pier, anyway.
The last thing she remembers is hearing Eric, she was almost sure it was him, calling her name.
For several days the locals walked the beaches and cliffs of the area looking for Eloise’s body, but nothing turned up. After two weeks, everyone had given up any hope of her returning (all except her mother that is). No one could work out why she had gone walking on her own – and on the pier – and on a night such as that.
Mrs Teacher replaced Eloise with a girl who was straight from school and willing to take half her wages.
The weeks passed, as did the months and then the years, and by then all her sisters had moved out of the bedroom and made something of themselves. All were married, all to good husbands from good families. ‘Wonderful prospects’, as their mother was always telling the neighbours.
Eloise’s mother continued to walk the pier several times a week, wondering when her daughter would return – for she was sure, in her heart that she would.
In November, 1963 – the same month that President Kennedy was assassinated, Eloise’s mother had got her first television. Something she would have to pay off weekly for the next several years. By that month she found that she only went to the pier once a week, as her arthritis was getting worse and anyway she could spend the cold nights watching some soap or other on her television. It was almost like an old friend.
When there was a knock at the door, she initially thought of ignoring it, but it seemed persistent and reluctantly she rose to answer it.
“Who are you,” shouted Eloise’s mother which was answered by an even louder knock.
When she opened the door a young policeman was standing in front of her.
“Mrs Greata?” Asked the young man.
And right there and then, Mrs Greata (Eloise’s mother) sank to her arthritic knees.
“Please God, not one of my children, please tell me it isn’t so,” she pleaded.
“It isn’t what you think,” said the policeman. “We found this woman walking by the pier, all she could say was she wanted to be taken to Albion square. So I did. No one has recognised her so far. You’re my last hope. Do you know this woman?”
The policeman pulled a bedraggled young woman into the light of the hall.
It was her, and she hadn’t aged a day.
It was Eloise.
bobby stevenson 2016