Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Seven

With this part, my story enters a new phase…

It was a warm sunny Sunday afternoon in August. There had been no serious raids for a while, now. After their mid-day meal, Archie suggested to Jenny that they might go for a walk. However, Jenny pointed out that, with some birthdays not far away, she had some knitting to finish.
“But you have your walk, love. I’ll be fine here. Would you just put me a chair in the yard?”
As Archie did this, he tried, out of kindness, not to seem too enthusiastic. But in fact, this was what he had hoped for. He needed to clear his head, in every sense. So, with Jenny safely ensconced in her favourite chair, he grabbed his small ’emergency’ rucksack, and set off.

Alone with his thoughts, Archie reflected on his life over the last few months. Twenty-five years back, he’d been in the thick of the action as a fighting airman. Miraculously, he’d got away with no worse injuries than a few wood splinters from when a machine-gun bullet hit the cockpit instrument panel. But in the last few months, he’d seen war from a different angle; in a way, this had sobered him more. And now, as well as this, he was getting increasingly worried about Jenny’s recurrent tummy-aches. She didn’t care to see a doctor; just a bit of indigestion, she said. Archie was not so sure; they were better off than many, and he could afford the fee. Maybe he’d have to be a little more insistent…

Almost subconsciously, his walking route took him closer to Trafalgar Terrace. He felt it keenly that, that March night, fire had beaten him. Somehow, he felt he had to go back and look, to clear his mind about this, even though he couldn’t explain why.
As he reached the terrace, he could see that it was completely derelict; this was no surprise. The usual warning signs had been put up. Archie took his tin hat from his rucksack as he approached the end house. Number fifteen. You could still read the painted figures on the brickwork, close to the boarded-up front door. Putting on his hat, he walked through the alley to the back. The back door, of course, was boarded up too. A low wall enclosed a tiny yard.
And then, two things happened almost at once; first, Archie caught a whiff of a heady, floral scent. Just as this began to stir his memory, a plane flew overhead. He looked up at the red, white and blue roundels of the RAF, and mentally compared the plane with those he had flown. Hell, those things had been overgrown kites with an engine, at the side of that machine up there…
As the plane passed over, Archie glanced across the yard. There, blooming in complete and absurd indifference to the bombardment of nearly five months before, was a buddleia bush. Two peacock butterflies had settled on it. Archie smiled to himself as he remembered that, when he had recently taken young Ross for a walk, they had seen what Ross now always called a ‘butterfly tree.’

And then his memory took him back: in his flying days, in France, he’d made friends with one of the lads on the repair team. They’d got talking, and Archie had learned that they’d got something in common: originally from Scotland, this fellow had trained as a ship’s carpenter in Northern Ireland, then volunteered for the RAF. When it became clear at his medical that his sight and hearing weren’t A1 (he’d had measles badly, as a kid) he’d begged to be allowed to do something, anything, in the service. That was how he’d finished up in the repairs section of Archie’s squadron. What was his name, now…? Ah, yes, Iain Ellison. He wasn’t married, but he’d had photos of all his family in his wallet. A good-looking lot; one of the aircrew took up writing to one of his sisters…
One day, Archie had ventured to Iain that he was amazed at how the repair team managed to check all the wire bracings on a biplane. Now, the airfield had been in a country area, and Iain had replied facetiously. “Och, laddie, sure, an’ it’s easy… D’ye see that bush over there, the one with purple flowers? Well, we just grab one or two of they wee butterflies that come to it, and let them go inside the wings, so we do. If they get out quick, we know there’s one or two more wires to mend!”
The next day, there’d been a call over the field telephone, from another nearby squadron. They were desperate for an airframe fitter, they’d said – some sickness in the camp, evidently. Could Archie’s squadron spare a man? Iain had been detailed…
Eager as ever, Iain had gone off, joking that he’d show them how it was done, then he’d soon be back. Then, a couple of nights or so later, a German aircraft had ‘slipped over to lay a few eggs’ as they said. One bomb had fallen scarcely ten feet from where Iain was struggling to take cover, and he was killed instantly. That was war…

Archie shook himself back into the present day. He thought again of those poor twins. Of how, in another world, a world without a war, they might have been snoozing in a pram, out in this yard, on an afternoon like this, while the butterflies fluttered around them…
He glanced absently about him and entered the yard, randomly kicking small pieces of rubble. Then, quite by chance, he noticed, just protruding from under a few bricks, what looked like a leather belt or strap. Bending down, he pulled it gently. His grip met with resistance, so he stopped to lift away some of the rubble. This uncovered a small, well-used, and now very battered, leather satchel such as a school-child might have used.
And then, Archie’s heart thumped as he remembered: on that terrible night, he’d caught his foot in something, then kicked it free as he emerged from the back door. This had to be what had almost stumbled him!
Undoing its two buckles, he looked inside for a moment. It appeared to contain some personal papers and letters. Oh well, he’d take it home, and drop it in at the police station tomorrow. With one last glance around, he headed homewards.

Back home, he was glad to find Jenny in good spirits, having enjoyed her knitting session. Putting the kettle on to make tea for them both, Archie told Jenny about his find, and how it would mean a trip to the police station nearby. Jenny then ventured that she could do that herself, the next day.
“Oh, thanks, then, lovie. I’ll just leave it on the shelf at the cellar head. Tell them what I said – fifteen, Trafalgar Terrace. And remember me to Charlie, if he’s on duty.” Sergeant Charles Mahon had been at school with Archie many years before. Archie grinned as he reflected that, had he been a gambling man, the very last thing he’d have bet on was the chance of Charlie finishing up as a police officer. But, there you go, he thought…

Part eight is now published here.

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4 Responses to Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Seven

  1. Pingback: Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Six | Fragments from Firefly Phil

  2. Just catching up with this. Oh the twins… I had a tear in my eye for them. What I love most about your writing is the description which is added through Archie’s dialouge with himself – i.e. ‘Archie grinned as he reflected that, had he been a gambling man, the very last thing he’d have bet on was the chance of Charlie finishing up as a police officer.’ There’s lots of that and it really adds to the colour and life of the story. I wonder what twist is going to result of this satchel… The genre of this tale very much suits me as a reader – set in the past with intrigue and a real warmth. Look forward to reading more.

  3. Nichola fabfortymum says:

    I was late to the Summer of Words party too Phil, the linky was closed by the time I finished ha! I ended up putting it as a page on my blog, but hey, better late than never.

    You have me gripped and I need to know when you have part 8 done. I love war stories and I love the way you are telling this one. I need to know more, I need to know if Jenny is sick, if Archie survives the war. A really superb story indeed 🙂

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