FOXFIRES I FOXFIRES II
Chapter Two (Part Two)
… “Forget it,” Emily said, “If you’re going to be like that.”
And then she felt so bad because there were people dead, or dying, up there on the moors, German or not.
“Em, love. Don’t.” Granddad got up off his stool at the bar and came towards her, “Tell us what you saw.”
“I’ll tell you,” she said, “But I’m saying nothing to them.”
Nothing to Harry.
Harry passed her to pull back the curtain and look out of the window. Emily tugged her granddad to one side.
“It was flying really low. I knew it was going to crash, and then it did. Up on the moors.”
“Are you sure?”
She looked into his old eyes, the eyelids framing them like baggy stage curtains. She saw something there. He couldn’t afford for her to be wrong, not if she was on the other side. She wondered whose side he was on and remembered that his family had lived in the village for centuries. Never anywhere else.
“Granddad. I saw it. It made me think of Dad. You know, if he’d been flying that plane, he’d…”
He nodded to stop her words: ‘Don’t say it out loud’.
Harry came closer. She could feel the weight of his presence. “Did you see any signs on it. You know – a circle or a cross?”
Emily turned on him. “I know what to look for, thank you very much. My father’s a Squadron Leader.”
Harry raised her eyebrows at her. “Well, excuse me.”
“I think I saw a circle. From the wing shape it may have been a Hurricane.”
A crowd was gathering around them now. The three old men who always played dominos by the fire. The man from the Post Office. Harry’s father. Mr Hopkins the mill owner. Emily was bombarded with outrage.
“But no British pilot would risk such weather.”
“How sure are you it was a circle?”
“Our lads aren’t daft enough to fly in these conditions. It must have been a German bomber.”
“It can’t have been flying low enough for you to see a circle in this light.”
And now that they were surrounding her, Emily felt more and more certain that she had seen a circle.
“Firstly,” she said, “I know how to identify aircraft better than any of you. Secondly, it was too bloody small to be a bomber. And thirdly, I’m pretty damn sure I saw the RAF insignia on the wing. If you choose not to believe me, then that’s up to you.”
They looked her up and down and she felt very small so she puffed herself up and made her expression as hard as she could. She wasn’t about to crumple before these village idiots.
“Ned. I think you’d better take your granddaughter home,” said Harry’s father.
Emily’s grandfather was quiet for a moment, then he put his hand on Emily’s back. “Come on, love. I bet tea’s ready any-road.”
~ ~ ~
The snow was getting thicker in the lane and settling on top of the stone walls like sugar icing. Emily trudged by her grandfather, eyes down as she watched her boots press the snow flat, her toes aching with cold.
“I don’t understand what I’ve done wrong,” Emily lied.
“You’re a bright girl, Em, and you’re not afraid to show it. It might be acceptable in York, but here young girls don’t talk down to their elders, and they certainly don’t swear at them.”
“Not even when there might be lives at stake and nobody’s listening?” she said, screwing her face up in disgust, “There could be men dying up there, and nobody’s bothered but me. They’re all cowards.”
Her granddad swept his arm over the landscape. “And what is anyone supposed to do in this blizzard? We’d be risking our own lives too, trying to get up there. There are bogs and cliffs, and drifts as high as you and me.”
“You would risk it if Dad was in that plane.”
“And what if we got all the way up and it was a blinking German? What then?”
“A German is still a human.”
Ned said something like ‘hummph’. Emily didn’t push it. He’d had his own fair share of fighting Germans.
Up ahead, the small farmhouse sat nestled against a line of trees. There was a thin line of light from the kitchen window and, through it, Emily could see her grandmother moving about.
“She never shuts the curtain properly,” Ned said, glancing up at the sky as if for opportunistic bombers, “Don’t mention what happened, will you?”
He left her question hanging in the air and Emily ran through some possible answers.
Because her son flies planes.
Because she’ll probably think we’re all cowards too.
Because I’m embarrassed of you for showing me up in the pub.
Emile thought the last answer seemed the most probable, and it made her grind her teeth together in frustration. If only the war would end, she could leave this bloody place and get back to civilisation.
Moss, the old sheepdog, began to bark in the farmhouse. As he was mostly deaf, Emily had to conclude that he’d smelt them. Her grandma opened the door in her pinny, cardigan over the top, and peered out, rubbing her arms when she felt the chilly breeze.
“Where’ve you been?”
Moss came running up, tail wagging, not sure who to greet first. Emily bent down to sink her nose into his warm, doggy fur. She would let her granddad explain their late return.
Before she went inside, she paused and ran her gaze over the moors high above her. They looked so majestic, lit by the rising moonlight. Majestic, but eerie. If there was an airman stranded up there he would surely feel like the loneliest person in the world.