And here we are at the end. Can you tell I'm not at all impatient to move on to the next story? Isn't the one we're writing always the best? Well anyway, OzDiva asked ages ago for Rosemary's thoughts on Singapore and I couldn't write them and couldn't write them, and then I had a terrible, wonderful idea. I am unapologetic.
Parnokianlipstic - so glad you've enjoyed these last few, friend. I find writing Anne at any age nigh impossible, but she is easier once she's older and a bit less purple-prosey, I find. (I'm much more of a Marilla. Terminally undemonstrative but deeply attached. Though with Anne's imagination, it must be said!) The books here are one of my favourite parts too. I love an excuse to take something I love and put it in its original context, so when I can cram them in there are books in spades and Anne is ideal for that. It's been lovely having you along for the ride and seeing what you see in this universe. And you've given me an idea for yet another long-form plot, so I owe you a story :)
Singapore, 1935, Glen St Mary, February, 1942
Rosemary Meredith was knitting. It was winter, so she was knitting indoors, the wood fire burning and the radio muttering to itself on an occasion table. The last time Rosemary recalled knitting taking this much of her time she was working a baby blanket for baby Bea, Anne having opted to work the pattern for Hattie.
But the younger Meredith twins were well past needing baby blankets. Even Mandy's girls were past that stage. No, Rosemary Meredith sat with the fire crackling and her needles clicking because she was setting the heel on a pair of socks.
It was slow going, because she was out of practice setting heels. After the war – make that the last war – she had resolutely ignored Cornelia's insinuations and refused to knit them from scratch ever again. You could have enough of some things in life.
But now there was another war, and it was devouring their boys, so Rosemary was knitting socks and…It is a British and Imperial defeat said the radio. Rosemary dropped a stitch. She went to pick it up but never got there because now the World Service crackled on the radio and said, Singapore has fallen…
Rosemary hated boats. She had not always hated them, and if she thought about it, she could remember a time when they had been exotic, exciting things. Then she had said goodbye to Martin Crawford on the wing of a half-formed promise and the Magdalenes had intervened.
For years this hadn't mattered because there had been no reason to leave the Island. Ellen would never have sanctioned it, and afterwards the Meredith economy had hardly run to off-Island adventuring. Not at first. So, Rosemary went on hating boats and that had been fine, because when on earth was the possibility of a round-the-world boat trip supposed to have accosted her?
But now it had, ghosts and all, and as the boat listed this way and that Rosemary found herself wishing unworthily that Una and Carl Meredith had settled somewhere closer to home. Somewhere not Singapore. The kind of mundane place you could get to by train and without the ghosts of long-dead loves chasing at your heels.
There was a storm, perhaps midway, and John got his arms around her, because he really was more awake on windy days and said, 'We'll be all right. You'll see. We won't drown, too.' And he'd hummed the old sea hymn beloved of Islanders at Sea Sunday.
Will your anchor hold…The vibration of it warm and buzzing against her ear. It was ticklish, so Rosemary laughed. It did not mitigate a jot her dislike of what was altogether too militaristic a hymn. So she laughed again and found she was still Episcopalian enough and certainly musical enough, to reply in kind, strains of Campion from long-ago coming back to her on the salt seasoned breeze.
Never, weather-beaten sail, more willing bent to shore…
'Much better,' said John and smiled, but gently, quietly, and the storm forgot itself for a minute.
It was worth it, anyway. She was still terrified of boats. Still faintly alarmed by the noise and the hubbub of the harbour, but Una was not. Rosemary could see that even at a distance. She caught the smile as it lightened her face, the lift of her hat as she tried valiantly to catch John's attention. It didn't work, and between the bustle and the crush of people he missed his daughter's yell.
Rosemary saw this and saw that he was too busy being dazed by their surroundings, so she tugged at his elbow, snug under her hand and said, 'Over there, darling.'
But it was no good. It wasn't until Carl grabbed Una's hat from her and waved it like a flag that John took notice. Maybe he caught the infantine yelp of their granddaughter as she shrieked entertainment at her father's expense. It was impossible to say.
All Rosemary knew was that suddenly they were off the dock and Carl's wife – Li – was chatting lightly about the history of the place, and Una had crooked her hand through Rosemary's. She smelled different. That was Rosemary's first thought. Of different spices, of guava fruit – though Rosemary hadn't discovered guava yet, not then – and jasmine. Coconut oil, too. Una was lighter too. Not the weight of her, that wasn't what Rosemary meant. That awful look though, the stricken look of a girl who held her grief close against the censure of the world – the thing Rosemary would never have wished on anyone but known for looking – that had gone. Rosemary was glad.
'You look well, darling,' she said, thinking it was at once true and woefully inadequate.
'I've come home,' said Una, and that was perhaps nearer the mark. Rosemary smiled, bent and kissed the top of Una's glossy, dark head.
'And we're so glad you could come,' Una said.
Rosemary did not say she had always hated boats. She pulled Una close, held her tight and forgot the noise and bustle of their strange, chaotic surroundings for half a minute. Did not fully register when a bustle of clucking, flapping hens scuttled past.
'So am I, darling girl,' she said.
The stitch was a lost cause. Probably the sock was a lost cause. The fire sputtered its statement at this monumental error made by the leader of the British nation. Rosemary thought, inanely perhaps, but desperately, that Singapore could not have fallen because Una still lived there. Carl still lived there. Li and little Iris, who was almost school-aged now, still lived there. And anyway, hadn't they always said, all of them, that the British would protect them?
Other dangers crackled the radio traitorously, gather about out there, and none of the dangers which we have hitherto withstood successfully at home and in the East are in any way diminished…
There was a monkey. He was grey and he had a ruff around his neck like an Elizabethan collar that should have made him look poised but in the event made him look like a tattered court jester. Rosemary had known of his existance before but knowing was not the same as seeing the monkey in the flesh. It was certainly not the same as watching the unwitting comedy that came from him chasing Una around the kitchen, her neat and efficient as ever, Puck excitable and chattering, trailing whatever thing he judged most useful in the moment. A whisk to crack the eggs, his tail…
He had an extremely long tail. And the tail got into everything. When he walked, Puck folded it over his arm. Or else he held it stiffly aloft like a cat. When he thought he could get away with it, he liked to use it to help Una bake, or prepare tea, or play wrestling games with proud, aloof, Nenni the cat. Proud, aloof Nenni did not think much of Puck's siminan impression of the arrogant, graceful imitation of her tail carriage and she swatted at him whenever occasion warranted. Occasion often warranted.
Rosemary hid more than one smile behind a cup of Gladstone Blue Ribbon watching this display. Li said, 'He's showing off for you. And also Una has to keep up appearances. She can't ever admit to liking Puck and Puck is clever, so he knows that.'
Rosemary did not, in the event, smother her laughter. She remembered this as being the first time Li relaxed around her. The first time in the course of the visit she, rather than Una or Carl was on the receiving end of that famous and enigmatic waterlily smile.
'And Nenni?' said Rosemary, 'is she keeping up appearances?'
'Nenni,' said Li, 'loves Una and only Una. And she especially finds Puck irritating. That is not exaggerated.'
They were a week into their visit when Puck made an ally of her. Rosemary was at the piano playing Tchaikovsky, some indeterminate piece that should have been for two. But Una was busy, and Li had never learned, so Rosemary sat there and played, while Iris watched, wide-eyed.
And then, extremely deliberately and with unlooked for grace, Puck sat down beside her. He put two clawed little hands on the piano and began to play the second part. Carl, Rosemary knew, had never had the patience to learn music. There weren't enough bugs and too many leger lines.
'Bet Auntie taught him that, did she?' said Rosemary over her shoulder to the dark-haired girl with Una's eye shape and Li's eye-colour. Iris babbled the cheerful, nonsensical affirmation of toddlerhood.
'So Mummy was right then,' said Rosemary with a laugh. 'She really does like Puck.'
One did not, after all, spend hour after laborious hour teaching Tchaikovsky to a simian without some small degree of affection. Rosemary wouldn't have taught it to children on much the same basis.
'Come on,' she said to Puck as she swung Iris up onto her knees. 'Let's you and I see if we can't beat Auntie Una to teaching Iris.'
It came back to Rosemary now, wayward snatches of that Tchaikovsky. The feel of little Iris's flower-delicate fingers under hers, and the smell of coconut and orchids. Puck's laughter, which was verging on the hysterical but contagious.
Rosemary remembered they had not started Iris on Tchaikovsky. They could have, because he was good at writing for children, but that was not what happened. She swapped him for the simplistic. Sur La Pont D'Avigione with Puck playing the canon. Sometimes Rosemary sang it, sure she mangled the French. Mostly she sung the names of the notes, Iris's little fingers slipping and sliding on the keys. F,F,F, G, G,G...Often they laughed.
The fire spat. Churchill was not done. The World Service was unrelenting.
Here is the moment to display that calm poise…
John was sure they had lost her. They were in the market and it was teeming with people. Not just people but animals. Squabbling chickens, boisterous dogs, cuckoos and peacocks and wayward, elegant cats. Iris was not there.
Rosemary looked for her, where she should have been, secure at Li's side and saw the gaping space where the little slip of humanity was not. She felt her soul quail. The air was full of the sticky-sweet smell of the guavas, the heady mix of flowers from vendor upon vendor mixed with the curried spices of food merchants. And that was just to start with. So many places a little girl could have run to.
Una never blanched. Neither did Li. Rosemary thought, That's it, we'll never see her again, and she was sure from the wild-eyed look in John's eye that he was thinking it too. Thinking they hadn't known her nearly long enough, held her nearly often enough.
'Iris,' said John helplessly.
Carl laughed. Said, 'Little firecracker. Bet she wanted a cake,' and fought his way back through the crowd.
'That one,' said Una, following her brother visually, 'would charm milk from a cow.'
'That reminds me,' said Li, 'of something Carl says. About can you get down off an elephant.'
Rosemary groaned. Tugged at John's arm and said, 'this is entirely your fault. Poor Li.'
Unrepentant, John said with a grin worthy of Carl Meredith, 'Don't be silly. You get down off a duck.'
Li laughed her wonderful fluted laughter and Una pulled the kind of face Rosemary associated with the girl who had come alone to the old West House and not the woman she had grown into. But then she laughed and they were still laughing when Carl came back, swinging his daughter by the hand.
'You,' he was saying as he swung her, 'Can't go scaring Nana and Grandad like that, Firecracker. It's very bad for their nerves.'
Iris, oblivious, munched with great deliberateness on her cake. It was full of cream and smelled of something exotic. Not guava, Rosemary thought.
'Lychee,' said Una laughing. 'I should have guessed, Firecracker.'
'Carl,' said Iris, 'is as bad as Puck for giving this one what she wants.' And so saying she plucked her child, cake and all, up into her arms.
'Not that Nana and Grandad are any better, are they?'
Ineffectually, Carl said, 'It wasn't me! The lovely woman who runs the stall handed it to her before I could intervene.'
'Not that you would have intervened,' said Li. 'We know you of old.' She tried to get a smile out of Iris, but she was too focused on her cake. Carl stumbled about in a show of mock offence. The others laughed good-naturedly at their ribbing.
Carl, faced with their mockery, got down on his knees so he was level with their daughter. Very solemnly he said, 'Now, Iris. Nana and grandad are very old, like I said. Really, really old. They are like those skeletons I showed you at the Natural History Museum. So while they are here you must go very carefully and try not to upset their very old, very delicate nerves. Because otherwise they might unravel like one of Auntie's knitted blankeys and we would have to put them back together. Do you understand?'
Li rolled her eyes. Rosemary dared not look at Una. Carl's eyes twinkled madly.
'We're not ancient,' Rosemary said, weakly.
John said, 'Come on, I'll tell you the one about the duck that wanted grapes…'
And they went on through the crowd, Una and Rosemary protesting half-heartedly, Iris slathering icing generously across her face and Li's collar, and John suffusing the atmosphere with whimsy.
Rosemary thought of this as she reached unseeing for the stitch that had long since lost all meaning. The fire was guttering. She should get up and stir it. She should get up and turn off the World Service, with its crackling static and the pompous, well-spoken man who thought it was possible to be calm and grimly determined while her children were stranded on the other side of the world.
Oh, they weren't paper family, not what little Liam would have called names-in-a-Bible family, but they were hers and they were John's and they were in crisis. And it was so much bigger than that day at the market. Bigger even than that time…Had she really said she wasn't ancient? Well, Rosemary felt it now.
And still, he had the gall to say over the crackling, hissing static,We must remember we are no longer alone…
Once, oh Rosemary forgot when, she had come into the Trinity house kitchen and found Iris attempting to cut a cake. She could picture it quite clearly long afterwards because her first, horrified thought was Oh, God, her fingers!
She did not see that it was a butter knife Iris was holding, or appreciate that Puck was sitting grey and scruffy vigil at her elbow, his tail coiled around his swinging feet. What Rosemary did forget was what she had come into the kitchen for. Gladstone blue ribbon, maybe, for the tea, or to put the kettle on.
But anyway, there was Iris, poised with a knife and Rosemary knew suddenly what it was to have your life flash before your eyes. Except it wasn't hers, it was Iris's and all the numerous ways this thing she was doing could go wrong and how she would never be able to look at Li or Una or any of them ever again if anything happened to her.
'Nana!' said Iris, and she was gleeful. She waved the knife, Puck dodged and Rosemary saw that it was a butter knife. Which made sense, in the coolness of retrospect because nothing bigger would have fit that snuggly into those dainty, childish hands.
'Firecracker,' said Rosemary, experimentally, because she wasn't sure if she'd earned the liberty of the endearment. 'What on earth are you doing, darling?'
'Cake!' said Iris. She obviously felt she said it with terrific dignity, as befitted this self-evident situation.
Rosemary shook her head. She thought there was probably a lecture somewhere in here about dangerous tools not being for such little girls. But she looked at Iris there on her self-made stool of chair, dictionary, cookery book and unidentifiable academic tome and thought probably that would only induce further mischief. So she said instead, because what else were grandmothers for, 'I see. Shall I do that, darling?'
Iris considered this. She allowed Rosemary to sit her on the counter next to Puck. Puck obligingly handed her a peanut and proceeded to wrap his tail around Iris, too. Rosemary thought, as she fumbled for the cake-knife in Una's silver drawer, that other children, Canadian children, had humans that minded them. By then she had found the cake-knife and was beginning to cut a thick, creamy, jam-oozing slice of Una's Victoria Sponge. Rosemary strongly suspected this wasn't actually intended for family but rather for Empire Day at the ACS. No matter. There were other sponges. She had taught Una to make them in her sleep.
Iris, watching, said, 'Puck too.'
This was the moment it dawned on Rosemary that Puck was not, in fact, a supervisor in Operation Cake Theft so much as he was a co-conspirator. This made sense of the outsized books on the chair, which were each of them at least as thick as Iris was tall. It had been a sticking point for Rosemary, quite how Iris had got them in place on the chair. But she had been in Singapore long enough by then to have grasped the extent of Puck's intellect. If he wanted cake, he would get it, and if that meant setting up an improvised stool for Iris to balance on, well, Rosemary had faith as much as a mustard seed. Now she looked from Iris, of whom Una had so lately opined Butter wouldn't melt, to Puck, and decided she might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. She cut Puck a slice of cake, too.
So of course this was the moment Una appeared in the doorway, arms crossed, smile fighting to surface, to inquire of her niece, 'What are you doing alone in here?'
'She's not alone,' said Rosemary, and gestured at the tableau they made, Grandmother, granddaughter and monkey. Her with the cake knife still in hand, oozing jam, the monkey with his tail coiled lovingly around his partner in crime.
'No,' Una said. 'No, I see that.'
The inevitable lecture about spoiling did not follow. Una plucked Puck from the counter, handed him his cake, and waved him out of the kitchen behind Iris.
'Nor are we,' she said, snugging her arm around Rosemary's waist. 'It's nice. A change, I mean. So often it's just us and the animals – having you hear has been a reminder there are other people we can spend time with. People not Carl's buffalo, I mean.'
'Your buffalo,' said Rosemary, 'if the work you put into it is any indication.'
Una ignored her. She said, instead, 'That cake was meant to be for the school…'
Rosemary fumbled the dropped stitch and the ball of wool, previously balanced delicately atop her knees, seized the opportunity to tumble to freedom. She watched it roll drunkenly across the room before rucking up against the leg of the piano.
She should, Rosemary thought, retrieve it. She thought this while tucking her knitting into the folds of its case. Instead she sat and stared fixedly at the piano. Once she and Una had sat there knocking shoulders and elbows. And before that, her hands cupped over Una's as they had been more lately over Iris's, on a different keyboard, worlds away.
In a minute she would get up and retrieve the wool. Rosemary would switch the World Service off in the process. There was only so much she could stomach. Now it was saying, static-heavy and wizened, The whole future of mankind may depend upon our conduct….
They went dancing. This was an unexpected indulgence. Not at Raffles in its grandeur, because none of the Trinity House Merediths were the Raffles sort, and when it came to the point Rosemary suspected she and John were not, either.
Still, they left Iris with the neighbour, though probably they could have left her securely enough with Puck and Akela for guards, and they went out. John and Carl besuited and smart-looking, all crisp and starched. Rosemary gloved her hands and pinned her hair, and rustled in stiff, moon-golden yellow crepe. And afterwards, because she wanted to do it and they let her, she fussed over Una and Li. This in no particular order. Rosemary did not know which young woman she had started with.
But she remembered Una in that blue gown. Iris adored it. She called it Una's good-day dress and kept wrapping herself in the folds of it while Rosemary and Una worked around her. It was the blue of the sky at that weird hour between midnight and one in the morning. Rosemary looked at her in it, a clutch of pearls at her throat, and said, 'Wear that colour always, darling.'
'Firecracker,' said Li, 'would never let her wear anything else.'
She slipped a feathered band, sleek and peacock-rich around Una's head to excellent effect. Rosemary watched their reflections and thought of the last time she had watched Una like this, on a June evening long ago. Recalled how golden Faith had been, how gently Una had protested and how the world had broken open shortly thereafter. It seemed worlds ago. Certainly the Rosemary that had pinned Una's hair for the harbour light back in 1914 would never have believed she would do it again, or that she'd hear Una laugh while she did it.
There were other things too. Li had the most elaborate broach Rosemary had ever seen, all finely spun glass. Not expensive, perhaps but meaningful in its impression of a clutch of irises. Their long, slender stalks, their bent leaves, the peculiar blue that occurred nowhere else in nature. But her shawl was silvery silk and slippery with it; it matched the clip that twisted her hair in place. Rosemary tried to work it but it was unfamiliar, so she watched as Una took over, and did Li's buttons for her instead.
They were slippery like the shawl, small and black on a dress the green of a peacock eye. It had been too long since Rosemary had done this, and she felt the gap. But she could see, and was glad, that this was not true of the other, younger women.
Someone – Puck at first but then the neighbour charged with Iris's safety – took photos, and they were off. They walked, because that was what the young people did, and Rosemary felt the length of it. But she enjoyed it too, the way the fireflies danced and winked like auxiliary stars. Not that you could see the stars, but she saw a thousand thousand city lights as they made their way into the bustle of Singapore at night.
They went to a taxi dance and the men who waited on them were as smartly dressed as their own. They offered them guavas with salt, and after the long walk they were exactly the right thing. Rosemary joined the others in peeling off her gloves and picking them up from the plate.
'Iris,' said John, 'would love this.'
'No children,' said Li. 'It's one of our rules.'
It had been one of their rules once, Rosemary recalled, on rare evenings out. She said to John, 'We used to say the first one to mention them had to pay the cost of the evening.'
'Of course,' he said. 'But I took it as read you and I were doing that anyway.'
It had all been moot of course. What she had earned from the piano lessons and what the parish paid him all ended up in the same place. But it was one of those private whims between people. Li laughed her wonderful, fluted laughter and nudged Carl as she said, 'Why did we never think of that?'
'Plenty of time to play catch up,' said Una.
The music rippled and shifted with the fluidity of moonlight. At first Rosemary sat with John and let the young people enjoy the evening, fascinated that they had found this island of safety after observing how protective and cautious they had grown of Li and Iris per necessity.
Carl had learned to dance in spite of his eye, and Li was a good lead, Rosemary could tell this from the security of their terrace table. Una came and went on the arms of friends who were obviously years old, and that was lovely too, because once there had been an edict that ministers' children couldn't dance. That year, though, the music played and a singer crooned As Time Goes By, a reminder if Rosemary needed it that nothing was static.
'Look at them,' said John, needlessly. 'Can you believe how happy they are? How light?'
'No,' said Rosemary and meant it. It was mesmeric, the gossamer-levity of them. The way they traded partners, Una now on Carl's arm and Li in the arms of some well-dressed acquaintance. They took it in turns to come back, lit by the paper lanterns and the glow of the music, the winking, dappled firefly light. Always there was some bright observation, some exhortation to join them. It was tempting, but drinking them in like this was better still.
Now an arm extended, smart and white-gloved over Una's shoulder, and the speaker, who Rosemary could only half see for the shadows, said, 'The sun may clasp the earth...'
'And the moon may kiss the sea,' said Una, taking the hand and finishing the quote. That was, of course, her cue to dance, so Li came back and sat down, rubbing her heels through her silk-shot shoes. They were green like the dress.
'Who said that?' said Rosemary but no good. John was in an abstracted mood. Opposite her, Li shook her head and said, 'I like it when Una reminds me she can quote people who aren't God.'
It was such an unusual way to put it, but then, so right, too, that Rosemary smiled. It was not meant unkindly and she kenw when Li smiled back that she knew it, too.
Then the music slowed and the strings swelled, and John held out his hand for The Merry Widow Waltz, and they all danced that piece in its extravagant sentimentality, its luxuriant slowness.
'I didn't expect to hear that one,' said Rosemary afterwards, as John danced with Una and Li fetched them water.
'Oh,' said Li, returning, 'we can be every bit as British as the British when we want to. We know that music took the world by storm.'
Rosemary laughed. Said, reminiscently, 'Hats, corsets, gowns – the lot. All named for a bit of music.'
Then Una came back to them and John held an arm out to Li, so they danced and Una and Rosemary stood together sipping lemonade in the darkening evening. They didn't talk, as per the old rule, of children, or even of the Anglo-Chinese School, but of life, and Singapore, and all the things there had been no space for in letters. And of Shelley, because that was where the quote came from, when Rosemary remembered to ask.
One of the suited waiters brought them curried noodles and Rosemary and John let themselves be schooled in how to eat them, surprised and pleased by the flavours.
The music changed again. Body and Soul became I've Got Rhythm which became Anything Goes and then Begin the Beguine.Still they danced. By then it was too late to think of walking home. The girls complained of shoes that pinched and Rosemary felt tiredness seeping into her bones. They caught an eleventh-hour rickshaw isntead, rattling and jolting back towards Evelyn Road. More than once Rosemary twisted around to see the lights still blinking and winking like stars behind them. It was an unforgettable sight, all those strings of starlight.
And later, Iris's eyes like starlight themselves as she came tearing down the stairs to meet them, babbling in half a dozen languages at once. Carl swooped her up into an extravagant, indulgent bear hug. Li scolded and Una put tea on.
She did not make it in Gladstone Blue Ribbon. She made it in warm, ruby-red teabowls with gold leaf and a butterfly stencil on them. White, Silver Needle tea for evening, because that was their custom. Rosemary cupped a teabowl in her hands, took in her girls in their worn finery, the creases in the men's suits. Puck came and perched on Carl's shoulder, and Harry the lizard on the veranda. Akela lay down at their collective feet and Nenni, in her spotted felininity lounged luxuriant and regal as ever atop Una's blue silk knees. She did not comment on the claw-marks the cat would leave and Rosemary did not point it out. It was so obviously their normal that there was no point.
On Carl's lap Iris sat, wide but sleepy eyed, the red of her pyjamas an improbably elegant touch to his late night attire. She begged them for stories but sleep was on her skin and in the smell of her. So, while the women chatted, Carl got up and danced with her, deliberately, playfully clumsy. And all the while Puck sat laughing on his shoulder like a scruffy grey shadow. Finally Carl whisked her up to bed singing the most imperfect rendition of I've Got Rhythm the world had ever had the misfortune to suffer. Wrong key, wrong notes, but somehow in the moment none of that mattered.
'Should we tell him our Firecracker hasn't really hung the moon?' asked Li.
'Spoil his illusions?' said Una. 'Not for worlds.'
Rosemary liked to think of them like that, as they'd been that evening. The sweet-salty taste of the guavas, the rippling music, the lightness and brightness of the children as they joked and laughed and teased. Of all those lights upon lights like stars, and the stars in Iris's eyes as she tumbled into outstretched arms. No one heard the apologies of the neighbour for failing to get Iris to sleep. Of course they didn't.
Rosemary thought of them like that now as John came into the room. He picked up the ball of wool where it had coiled around the piano and wound it as he walked towards her.
'Everything all right?' he asked. Rosemary held up a hand to stop him. Took the wool unseeing, the softness of it disconcertingly reassuring in the moment. Her fingers sank into its downy centre, and for a moment she came unmoored, unspooled.
The fire had long since gone out. Even the radio was weary. Let us move forward steadfastly together into the storm, it wheezed. And through the storm.
Silence. Total and complete. For a moment Rosemary did not move for the relief of it, just sat there with the wool too soft in her hands, back on that moonlit veranda years ago.
'Rosemary?' said John. He perched uncertain on the arm of the chair. Rosemary dropped the wool to take his hand. Said, because someone had got to say it, 'Singapore has fallen. John, they're still there and Singapore has fallen…'
Quoted throughout is Winston Churchill's speech on the fall of Singapore. It is, obviously, not mine. I can't write that kind of speech.