An excerpt from

Between the Regions of Kindness

Alice Jolly

Before

Rose – Coventry, April 1941

All the stories now are at an end. So where can her mind hide? The dawn must come. Yes, that is still a certainty, only that. Rose fumbles up the steps, pulling Mollie behind her, sees its band of grey staining the blackness above a jagged line of roofs. She heads for where the gates must be. Putting out a hand to steady herself, she grips a metal railing, finds it hot in her hand.

For a moment, the silence is absolute – the streets, the city, breathe out, knowing that the night is ending. Rose gulps a deep breath but ash furs her throat, and she gasps, coughs, feels the pinch of smoke in her eyes. This is the day, this is the hour, this is where we live now. She uses these words to hold her mind back from the plummeting depths. Mollie wobbles, clings to her leg, howls. Rose bends down and buttons Mollie’s coat, shakes her to keep her quiet.

The street is white with a frost of broken glass. Rose steps forward into the muffled light, her hand gripping the hood of Mollie’s coat. Phantoms stumble from the shadows, caked in plaster dust, clinging to one another as though blind. Rose smells Sunday lunch. The butcher’s shop is ablaze - flames leap up from the area where the counter used to be and smoke billows out through the door. The front window has shattered and a side of pork hangs there, roasting. A pool of red liquid spreads out at Rose’s feet. Blood, she thinks, then sees twisted metal from exploded tins of oxtail soup.

The sound of bombs still smashes through Rose’s head, pounds in her chest, and at every imagined blast the street buckles under her feet. Voices ricochet around her. God be praised. Where? Where? No All Clear this morning. Wires blown right out the ground. People gather around a man standing by the gutter, filling a kettle from a drain and pouring water into glass bottles and mugs. The trouble with the shrapnel is that it does jam the lawn mower. Rose’s teeth chatter against the edge of a tin cup. The water is clouded and tastes of ash and soap but she gulps half of it down, then bends to hold the cup for Mollie. What now? Where can we go? The questions form in her mind but she considers them without concern. The mystery is that she and Mollie are alive.