“He wouldn’t turn away the women with babies, surely, no one could be so heartless as to do that”. They both stood, at the window, looking down into the yard. The people there began to slowly turn and face the gate at the entrance to the yard. Fred and Rose followed their gaze. At the gate, they saw a man dressed in what Fred could make out were old fashioned oil skins, and with sea boots, showing beneath. Fred remembered seeing pictures of sailors dressed this way, in boys comics, he read as a boy. The people in the yard moved away from the door and formed a line, on each side.
The man at the gate began walking slowly towards the back door of the inn. Their seemed to a darkness about him. Even darker than the storm. The closer he came, the bigger he became. The man, in the oilskins, reached the door. He looked like a giant. Both Fred and Rose heard him banging loudly on the door. They both looked at each other. Again, there was a loud thumping on the door. They could hear the landlord making his way down stairs. “The landlord will see them on their way, then we can get back to bed”. Fred’s expression had changed, from serious, to worried. Rose said nothing, she looked down into the yard. The rain was pouring down. “I hope he lets them in”, she thought. “Those babies will die, out in this”. They heard the landlord open the door. They saw the landlord step out into the yard. He walked to the side and joined the others standing there. He looked up at the window; the others were still looking up at the window, staring. Like Fred, Rose began to look worried, “Why has the landlord gone outside with them, Fred, and where is his wife? Come to think of it, we never actually saw his wife, did we?” Fred had no time to ponder this. He saw the oilskin man walk towards the door. “The captain is coming in here, I can’t understand what is going on”. Fred was wondering to himself, why he had just referred to the man, in the oilskin, as, “The Captain”. They heard the captain walk across the floor. Both Fred and Rose looked at each other. “I’m scared, Fred, what if he comes up here”. As Rose spoke, they could hear footsteps on the stairs, climbing, slowly and heavy. The footsteps were getting louder. They could hear the captain walk along the first landing. They both knew he was coming up to the top of the house even before they heard his steps climbing the last flight. As the captain was taking the last steps towards their room, Fred took Roses’s arm and began to move back, away from the door. Fred stopped walking backwards only when he reached to foot of the bed. He stared at the door. “Fred, what shall we do? Go and meet him at the door, ask him, what does he want”. Fred was like a stone. He just stared at the door. Rose was starting to panic. “Fred, do something, I’m scared”. Another loud banging on the door made Rose scream. The door, unable to resist the heavy foot of the captain, sprung open, unable to resist the kick given by the captain. Fred and Rose both, stared at him. The captain stared back. Such a look of calm determination on his face. Rose saw, there was water on the floor, it was dripping off the captain’s oilskins, like rain. The captain gave a sigh, as if he could sense that his mission was almost complete. Fred just stared. The captain, his size, almost filling the whole doorway, gestured to Fred to come with him. Fred just stared. Again, the captain gestured. Fred pressed against the bed, trying to make more distance between himself, and the captain. The captain stooped to enter the room. Fred scrambled onto the bed. The captain grabbed Fred’s foot, and pulled him into his grip. Fred began to struggle. He was beating the captain with his fists. The captain just stared at Fred, impervious to the blows. Fred screamed. The captain struck a powerful blow to Fred’s head. Fred slumped like a wet, rag doll. The captain brought Fred up and over his shoulder, turned, and left the room. He did not look at Rose. It was as if she wasn’t even there. Rose stared at the doorway, stunned in disbelief. She heard the captain descend the stairs, walk along the landing and down the last flight. Rose ran to the window. The people were still there. They weren’t staring up at the window any more. Now, they were looking at the back door. Rose, looking down saw the captain, still carrying Fred, emerge into the yard. The people, there, gave, together, a sigh of satisfaction.
The captain moved out of the yard. The people moved into line behind him, and, slowly followed. Rose decided to follow. She put on her borrowed coat and her borrowed shoes. She made her way out of the inn, through the yard. It was still pouring with rain. Rose didn’t notice. She saw the people just ahead walking slowly, silently. They were walking towards the glow in the sky. Towards the bay. As she followed, she noticed the glow in the sky getting brighter. She wondered, how could a bonfire stay alight in this downpour. She reached the rim of the bay. Looking down, she could see the procession walking down the shingle path. Towards the bonfire. There were other people standing around the fire. Men, women and children. All dressed in the same style as the people in the yard. Some, like them, holding babies, some holding children by the hand. They all turned to watch the captain approach, still carrying Fred. The captain walked to the bonfire, then stopped. The people opened the circle. Fred was beginning to come round. He began to struggle again. Rose could her him shouting, but could not make out what he was saying. The captain, still carrying Fred, walked slowly into the centre of the bonfire. Rose could hear Fred’s screams. Fred struggled and screamed for only a moment. He slumped lifeless in the captains grip. The captain stood, quite still, for a minute, then released his grip. Fred fell into the red hot ashes of the fire. Clouds of sparks, from the fire, soared into the night sky, as if carrying Fred’s soul to wherever sailor’s souls go. It was still raining hard. The captain walked out of the other side of the fire. The people, carrying their babies or leading children, walked around the bonfire and fell in behind him. They were walking towards the sea. Rose looked up.
In the water, about ten yard offshore, she saw the rotten hull of an old sailing ship. There was only the stern end of the ship to be seen. The bow was missing, leaving a gaping, black hole. The hull glistened, reflecting the light of the bonfire. The rotting hulk looked as though it were made of black, shiny coal. The captain led his people into the water, towards the hulk. Rose could only look. They walked into the water and disappeared into the black hole of the hulk. The wreck gave a groan, as if being scraped by undersea rocks. Slowly, the hulk began to slip back, into the sea, sinking deeper into the waves as it went. Within a few moments, the wreck had disappeared. Rose looked back towards the bonfire. It was dying down, now. Little remained of it save a few last licks of flame and a heap of red hot ashes. She could hear the rain drops hiss as it fell onto fires debris. Rose walked up the beach and towards the dying fire. She looked in. Nothing of Fred remained. She looked out, into the bay. Nothing of the wreck could be seen. The water in the bay was still. The rain was easing. The storm was drifting off. She could hear distant thunder rolling out to sea. She could see flashes of lightning far beyond the horizon. Still believing she was living a dream, she turned. She didn’t look at the bonfire again. She just looked, straight ahead. She found the shingle path and slowly climbed out up to the rim of the bay. She was still walking in a dream as she stepped out on to the path. “Are you all right miss?” she heard someone say. Rose made no reply. “Miss, are you all right, are you hurt, are you out here on your own?” She felt a hand gently touch her arm, “Are you all right dear, it’s all right, were the nightwatch from the village, we came to see what was burning, we thought a plane had comedown, are you all right, miss, miss.” Rose turned. She saw a man dressed in oilskins. He was tall and heavy built. He was dripping wet. He was wearing oilskins. Rose dropped in a faint, onto the ground.
When Rose woke up, she found herself lying on a camp bed. There were two women sitting beside her. “Your all right now my dear. What on earth were you doing, out on a night such as this, why, you’ll catch your death. Your quite safe now. Where are you from, dear, the camp is it. Did you get lost?”. Rose slowly collected her thoughts. “Are you from the camp, dear, do you want us to call someone. Your in the church hall, in the village, your quite safe, don’t you bother yourself none. You rest a bit, we’ll call the camp, get them to send someone over, pick you up”. Is it the NAAFI, where you work then, is it?” Rose finally spoke, “I’m not from the camp, We were staying at the Inn.” The woman was puzzled, “There’s no inn around here, dear, not in the village, anyway. Were you with anyone? You were in a right state when the men found you, lucky for you they did too. You could have perished out there in this weather. There was nobody with you when the men found you, you know. Did you say you were with someone?” Rose sounded confused, and dazed, “I came down for the weekend, with Fred”. The woman enquired, “Fred, who, Dear, there was no one with you when you were found.” Rose was beginning to remember, now, “Fred, he’s a man, I know, he asked me down for the weekend”. The two women looked at each other and nodded, knowingly. “Now, don’t you worry about a thing my dear, we’ll look after you. You best get some rest now. In the mooring, we’ll fix you up proper, get a good breakfast inside you. You’ll feel better in the morning, see if you don’t.” Rose was becoming agitated. “We were staying at the inn, at the top of the bay, where the bonfire was.” One of the women took hold of Rose’s hand, “Now then, my dear, you must not get yourself in a state, you’ll make yourself ill. The inn, at the top of the bay has been closed, now, for”, turning to her companion, “how long is it been, Maude?” Maude couldn’t say. The woman continued, “Oh, it’s been, at least, three months, anyway. The landlord drowned, you know, my dear, in the bay. His body has not been recovered yet. Probably never will be, if you ask me. Not in them waters, anyway. Probably jammed in between some rocks. Them rocks is treacherous things. Some say there’s a curse on ‘em. Wouldn’t surprise me if there were. Don’t go to the bay myself, awful scary place it is. Lots of awful things has ‘appened in that bay so they say, over the years, you know.” “You get yourself to sleep now, my dear, you’ll feel better in the morning, be able to think straight, your just tired. Sleep now.” Rose slept.
In the morning, Rose awoke. She felt better, now after her sleep. One of the women, the one who had done all the talking, the night before, had stayed with her, all night. She smiled, and said, “You feeling better, now, my dear”. “What’s your name, dear?” Rose told her name and went on telling the woman of her stay at the inn. “As I said last night, Rose, the inn there has been closed down for months. Nobody lives there. The landlord lived there alone. He just appeared, like, out o’ nowhere. He bought the place from the Army. It were empty ‘afore he took it. Bought it cheap, I hear. Nobody wanted the place, ‘see Rose, not enough business, only the soldiers go there. We don’t go there, not the folk from the village dont, too near the range, ‘sides, it’s near the bay. None of us like being near the bay, Rose, ‘specially after dark. He disappeared, the landlord, that is, believed drowned in the bay. People had seen him there, in the bay, wading up to his waist in the water. They tried to hail him out, from the cliff top, you understand. Nobody would go down into the bay to warn him, ‘specially ‘as he was already in the water. He didn’t take any notice o’ them. Them waters, they’re bad, even the men don’t sail into the bay. The old hands, who know this coast very well don’t go into the bay. There’s something about the place. The old hands, they tell the young’uns about the bay, they say to them don’t go’s there, into the bay. And nor do they Rose, not the young’uns, not if they has any sense they don’t.” “But, stayed there, at the inn, with Fred,” protested Rose. “Well, you must have stayed somewhere, dear, but it wasn’t at the inn, not unless you broke into the place you didn’t. ‘sides, the army have boarded up the place. Took everything out, I hear. The best thing you can do, Rose, to satisfy yourself, is to go up there, see for yourself”
Rose decided to walk up the inn and find out for herself. She still couldn’t believe what she saw, or thought she saw, last night. She thanked the woman for looking after her, and took her leave. The woman patted Rose on the cheek, “You make your way back here, my dear, after you have been to the inn, don’t go loiterin’ up there, it’s a bad place.” Rose left the village, and made her way up to the bay. When she reached the top of the cliffs, she turned and looked down into the bay. On the beach, she saw the blackened remains of the bonfire. Black ashes. She looked inland, towards, the Inn.
Rose reached the place. All the windows on the ground floor were boarded up. The boards had those little arrows painted on them. showing them to be army property. The windows on the upper floor were covered with sand and salt blown in from the bay by the wind and rain. Rose walked, slowly around to the yard, at the back. There were weeds growing in the yard, where, just last night, she had seen those people, drenched through, carrying their babies. Rose could see, just by looking around, there had been no activity around here for a long time. There was the back door. It had a great hasp fitted, with a huge padlock through it. Rose tried the door. It hadn’t been opened in months. On the doorstep, Rose found some fresh seaweed lying. She picked it up. It was still wet. It still smelled of the sea. She looked up towards the window. It was the window both she and Fred looked out of, last night. It was the window that the people in this yard, looked up to, last night. The glass was full of grime. Several of the window panes were broken. There were blades of grass growing out of the cracks, were the window frame joined the sill. It was not the window that she and Fred looked through, last night. yet, it must have been, there was no other window, to the rear, that looked out on to the yard. The inn was as described by the woman in the village, deserted.
Rose just looked at the inn. Looking all around, for a sign, that might show, that she, and Fred, were there, last night. There was nothing. Everything that happened last night remained unexplained. She turned to walk out of the yard. She saw, by the gate, her suitcase. The clothes she had unpacked, the night before, including the toothmug she had given to Fred, for his drink, was lying there. She opened the suitcase. The clothes she had not taken out, were still there, just as she had left them. Rose then realized, that she was still wearing her nightdress. The one with roses on the collar and sleeves. There was not a sign of anything, on the ground, that belonged to Fred. His case, his bottle of vodka, were nowhere to be seen. She picked up her things and packed them into her case. Rose slowly left the place, and turned towards the village. She heard a truck coming up behind her. It passed her, then stopped. It was an army truck. “Want a lift”, said the driver. “I’m going in to the village, to the station. Drop this lot off. There on leave. Liverpool mostly. Hop on.” Rose walked, slowly, to the back of the truck. She felt bewildered, by it all. Accompanied by whistles and jeers, she was pulled up, into the back of the truck. “Shut up, you shower of ‘eathens, not seen a woman before”. He was a corporal. His accent was familiar to Rose. “We’re off on leave. This lot don’t know ‘ow to behave. My name’s ‘arry. How ‘bout you”. Rose was still in a sort of trance. Nothing seemed to make sense. She didn’t know if she was in the real world. She doubted her senses. She said nothing. “Cat got your tongue, then”. The corporal held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you. My name’s ‘arry”. Rose looked at the corporal, his hand held out. She took his hand. “Rose”, is all she managed to say. More jeers from the other soldiers. “Trust the corp, always first in the queue for everything.” “Take no notice of this lot, shower of animals. Don’t know ‘ow to behave. What are you doing out ‘ere then, you from the village.” “No” answered Rose, “I came down with a friend. We stayed the night in the, erm, village”. Rose thought better than to say she stayed at the inn. “We spent the weekend, there”. More jeers from the soldiers. The corporal just looked at them. “I’ve got all your names, you know. You’re not out of the army yet. By the time I’ve finished with you lot, you’ll wish you were”. Rose looked at the corporal, “I’m on my way back to Liverpool. I haven’t got any money”. Someone, from the back of the truck, shouted, “If you want to make some money, Rose, the corporal’s your man”. More jeers. “Don’t worry about them, Rose. We’re all going to Liverpool, we’ll all chip in, and buy your ticket.” Turning to his charge, he shouted, “Won’t we?” A begrudged chorus replied, “Yes, corp’ ”.
The truck pulled up, outside the station. The corporal jumped down first. “Come on, Rose, down you get, I’ve got you”. Rose jumped down from the truck, she stumbled, the corporal caught her in his arms. “Oops, I gotcha’.” Yet, more jeers. “Wait here, Rose, won’t be long, just get rid of this lot”. The corporal bawled at the others, “Right, you lot, ‘off, fall in, be sharp, there. You, throw down the ladies suitcase, move yourself, move yourself, bloody rabble”. The corporal marched them off into the station. he lined them up. “Form two ranks, move. Attention. Stand easy. Right, that man there”, pointing to a private at the end of the rank, “Get two bob of every man, for the ladies train fare, every man, don’t forget,” The money was collected and handed over to the corporal. He checked that everyone had given. “Right, Fall out.” The troop fell out, straight to the buffet. The corporal returned to collect Rose. She was still standing where he left her. He picked up her suitcase. “Right, Rose, let’s go. We’ll get your ticket, then we’ll find a comfy compartment, without officers.” The corporal’s intentions sounded familiar, to Rose.
They found a compartment, and settled themselves. The corporal tried to start a conversation. Rose wasn’t receptive. Her mind was elsewhere. It was all, still, unreal. She couldn’t believe she was coming home alone, without Fred. All her plans. Marriage, petty officer pay off, job with Liverpool Corporation, kids. All gone. The corporal gave up trying to engage Rose in conversation. Rose fell asleep. When she awoke, they were at Lime Street station. “Here we are, Rose, home safe. Have you got anyone waiting for you?” Rose said, she hadn’t , but she would be all right. The corporal wished her good luck, and said goodbye. He said his wife and kids would be waiting for him on the platform. Rose thanked him as he walked away. Rose watched him. She saw a young woman run to him. She had two children with her. The corporal lifted her off the ground and gave her a big hug. He kissed his children. Rose smiled, then turned away, and walked out, into Liverpool.
Rose arrived back at home. Her mum opened the door for her. To Rose, it seemed like she had been away for months. So much had happened. “I’m glad your home, Rose, your dad hasn’t been very well. I had the doctor in, yesterday. His cough is worse. The doctor gave him some stronger medicine, said he would call again, tomorrow, see if there was any change. Rose put her case in her room, then went in to see her dad. He was asleep. His breathing seemed strange. He was making a snoring noise as he was breathing, but, not quite like snoring. Rose returned to her room and began to unpack. Not much of the things in the suitcase were her’s. She made a parcel of the things that belonged to her friend Mary. The shoes were ruined. She put them under her bed. She would have to buy Joan another pair. She didn’t know quite, where she would get the money, or the ration coupons. Rose came down stairs and sat with her mum for a while. Rose, then made an excuse that she was tired, from walking all day along Otterspool prom. She kissed her mum, goodnight, then went upstairs to bed. She could hear her dad snoring. Rose slept.
Rose awoke, next morning. She missed her dad not being there, sitting at the table, waiting for her to cook breakfast. Rose felt so alone, now. Fred was gone. Rose didn’t bother to cook breakfast, she wouldn’t have eaten anything, anyway. She left the house, no kiss for dad. It’s all, so changed. Rose certainly felt different after her weekend away, but, her feelings were not what she expected them to be. Alone. Rose arrived in work. The supervisor asked if she was better now. The girls were anxious to hear all about her weekend away, with her dreamboat, the one she had wet dreams about. Rose made things up. How wonderful it all was. Fred had gone to sea. They wouldn’t be seeing each other for a while. When he returned, they were going to announce their engagement. She invited all the girls. She gave Mary her honeymoon things back. “Did they do the trick, Rose, I guess they did, your getting engaged, aren’t you?” The girls laughed. She explained to Joan, that the shoes she had borrowed from her, were ruined by the rain. “Don’t worry about that, Rose, did you have a good time?” “Yes”, Rose lied. “Wonderful”. Rose was glad when the bell for eight o’clock rang. The lathes started. No time for more chatter. More questions. Rose was tired of lying. She remembered what her dad said to her, about lying. “Each lie you tell, makes it easier to tell the next one”. Rose had told a few, over the weekend, and today. It didn’t get any easier.
It was about six fifteen, on a wet Thursday evening. There are lots of hustle and noise familiar to anyone, who lives in a large city. The noises and atmosphere seemed to be the same whichever town you could wish to be in. I saw, standing in a doorway, a girl. She didn’t seem to be waiting for anyone. She looked sad. I’ve seen her before. It was about four months since I saw her, standing in the doorway. It was Rose. I wondered, how long had she been waiting there. Rose was standing in a shop doorway. It was the same shop doorway where I had last seen her. She was standing in, out of the rain. She was waiting for her bus, home. Her home was not the same as it was. Her dad had died only six week ago. Before he died, he was probably thinking about his family, about Rose. He was hoping that Rose had enjoyed herself, staying with her friend, at Otterspool, taking walks, chatting, laughing.
Rose had been to a leaving party that afternoon. One of the girls was leaving. Usual reason for leaving. One of the girls had got herself pregnant. Rose was just beginning to show.