by Karen Gilleland © 2014
I’m posting this story in May in honor of Memorial Day, which is May 26 in the United States. The bombing incident is based on a true story that happened to a friend of mine, whose family lived in Liverpool during World War II.
“Have a good meeting in London, Martin,” said Louisa, holding James Henry on the front porch and watching Martin load his suitcase into the boot of the car. Louisa’s eyes misted, and she said, “I’ll miss you.”
Martin stepped up onto the porch. He let James grab hold of his car keys, looked at Louisa and mumbled, “You and Auntie Joan are the only people who have ever told me that.”
Louisa felt a wave of sadness. “Yes, I can’t imagine your mother grieving as she sent you off to boarding school.” She shook her shoulders. “Never mind. Enjoy yourself – not too much, though.”
“No danger of that. If you need anything, call me.” Martin kissed Louisa, gave James a quick hug, returned to the car and drove away.
Carrying James back into the house, Louisa looked around the reception area. “Your daddy has such a presence, James. I can still feel him in the room, can you?” The baby gurgled and smiled, as she held him close and rocked him side to side.
By the time she put James down for a nap, Louisa was feeling lonely. She called Ruth. “It’s the first time Martin will be gone overnight. I wondered if you would like to come over. We can have an old-fashioned girls’ night out, here at the house, of course.”
“Fine, I’ll bring the wine.”
James was asleep by the time Ruth arrived, and Louisa set a plate of cheese and crackers on the coffee table in front of the sofa. She poured Ruth and herself a glass of chilled Chardonnay. “Here’s to Martin,” said Louisa. “I miss him.”
Sipping wine, Ruth took asked, “You two getting along better then?”
“A bit. I’ve been wondering how long I could have stayed in Spain without Martin. I was so angry and hurt when I left, but by the time I boarded that plane, I felt lost.”
“Your mother left you and your father, didn’t she? Some might say she modeled a behavior that left an impression on a young child, a pattern that, later in life, under extreme stress, would be natural to emulate.”
Louisa sank back into the sofa, looked into her glass, holding it with both hands. “I hope that isn’t true. I like to think I make decisions based on my own wisdom.”
“You’re probably right, but parental influences can be strong.”
“Speaking of parental influences, Ruth, would you tell me about your childhood. Martin never talks about the family.”
“You met Margaret. I expect she’s a big part of the reason he doesn’t talk about the family.”
“Yes, I haven’t forgiven Margaret for the way she treated Martin, but I’d like to hear more about your family so that I can pass a little history onto James.”
“You have to remember that Christopher, Joan and I were young children during the war. Our parents had already lived through the ‘war to end all wars,’ and now our country was at war again.
“We lived in a large house in London with our Grandfather Ellingham. He realized early on that war with Germany was coming, and he had a large bomb shelter dug in our backyard.” Ruth paused, as if visualizing the workers digging the hole and pouring the concrete. “The neighbors laughed about it.
“It was a couple weeks after Christmas, 1941. Father was a surgeon in the Navy. Christopher was away at boarding school. My mother’s mother had made me a ragdoll from scraps of fabric. She had embroidered the face and used yarn for the hair. I called the doll ‘Anna.’
“One night, after we were all in bed, the air raid sirens sounded. Mother shook me awake and picked up Joan. We could hear bombs exploding nearby. We ran out to the yard. Neighbors were running for the shelter also. It was wild and frightening, and I suddenly realized I had left Anna in the bedroom. I turned around and raced back into the house. My mother handed Joan to Grandfather and came running after me.”
Ruth stopped talking, wiped at a tear and drained her glass.
“Mother caught me, but it was too late to run back to the shelter. A plane was circling overhead. We ran inside the house and hunkered down under the stairwell. A bomb hit the kitchen, and flames lit up the sky. When the all-clear sirens came on, Mother pulled me up, and we ran to the shelter. We stayed there all night. In the morning we saw that the entire house had been destroyed.
Ruth’s voice trembled, and she stopped talking, then said, “Amazingly, I found my doll, intact, thanks to the mattress landing on it. Anna is my most treasured possession.”
Letting out a slow breath, Louisa said, “Ruth, I’m so sorry. You must have been traumatized.”
“Yes, many people who survived the war didn’t escape emotionally unscathed. Grandfather was devastated. After that raid, he, Mother and I went to stay with friends. Joan was sent to a children’s shelter in the country, thus her love of farming.”
After a short silence, Louisa said, “Thank you, Ruth. I will pass on that story to James when he is old enough to understand.”
Louisa reached over and poured Ruth the last of the wine. Ruth picked up the glass and said, “Father received the Victoria Cross for heroism. He left the medal to Martin in his will. He’d had an eyeful of Margaret by that time and figured she’d probably sell it if he left it to Christopher.”
“Your father sounds like an amazing man,” said Louisa.
“Martin has Father’s disciplined personality, as well as his sense of honor. Father wasn’t one for social chitchat, so Martin comes by that trait honestly,” she said and paused, “myself as well, come to that.”
At that moment, a tap sounded on the front door, and Louisa opened it to P.C. Penhale. “I saw your light on, and I know Martin is out of town. Thought I’d check everything was all right.”
“Everything’s fine, thank you, Joe. Ruth and I have been having a chat.”
“Doctor Ellingham, nice to see you.”
Ruth stood up and said, “I’d better be heading home.”
Louisa walked over to Ruth and gave her a hug. “Thanks again,” she said.
Ruth simply shrugged, but then she whispered, “Next time Martin’s away, ask me about the time I nearly married a maharaja.” She tossed her hair and slipped into her jacket.
Louisa opened her eyes wide and said, “Ruth, you take my breath away.”
“I’ll walk you home, Doctor Ellingham. I’ve got a torch. Wouldn’t like you to stumble in the dark,” said Penhale, eyeing the empty wine bottle.
“Thank you, Constable,” said Ruth, who turned to Louisa and rolled her eyes.
Clearing the table, Louisa went over Ruth’s story in her mind. She walked upstairs and looked in on James, who was sleeping peacefully.
It was nearly eleven when Louisa slipped into bed, drowsy from the wine. As she pulled up the covers, the telephone rang. She jerked the receiver off the phone. “Hello,” she said, a bit breathless.
“Martin, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. Are you and James okay?”
“Yes, we’re fine. I didn’t expect to hear from you, that’s all,” she said, breathing easier. “I imagined the worst.”
“Sorry it’s so late. I’ve been tied up with Robert. We had dinner and discussed research strategy until a few minutes ago.”
“I’m glad you called,” said Louisa, lying back down on the bed.
“What have you been doing?”
“Ruth came over to keep me company. She talked about the war and the night the family’s house was bombed.”
“Not the most cheerful subject.”
“No, but I found it helpful.”
“In what way?”
“At school, I teach the children history, and we talk about the war, of course. Until tonight, I thought of the war in abstract terms, battles and politics. Listening to Ruth’s story of sitting under the stairs while her house crashed down around her brought home the terror.” Louisa shivered.
“I’m sorry I’m not there.”
“Don’t be,” said Louisa, a cheerful note in her voice. “If you had been here, Ruth wouldn’t have gotten high on wine and told me that story.
“Did you call about anything special?”
“No,” he paused and Louisa waited. “I missed you.”
“Martin, London seems to bring out your romantic streak.”
“I’m not coming here again without you and James.”
“I like that idea.”
“I love you. Good night,” he said and hung up.
Louisa smiled at the words and gently hung up the phone. “I love you, too,” she whispered to Martin’s empty pillow.
— THE END —
“Doc Martin” is owned by Buffalo Pictures.
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