Tabitha Barclay, 1

lore-barcly

IT was really summer, but the rain had fallen all day and was still falling. The weather can best be described by saying it was the kind reserved for church fêtes. The green leaves were being beaten off the trees by the steady downpour and were drifting about in the puddles. Now and then there would come a gust of wind so that the trees moaned and tossed their arms imploringly, though they had been rooted in our soil long enough to know better. Darkness fell early—indeed there had seemed little light all day, so that the process was slow and imperceptible. †

Raindrops plopped into the duck pond and wind rattled the thin window panes. Lore closed the book she had been reading, and fingered her pearl necklace. “It is only the second week of the summer holidays,” she thought, “yet I’m bored already.” She twiddled a pearl whilst worrying about her future—university, hopefully—and sipped from the paper cup which contained the smoothie she’d made earlier that morning, Angel Delight, ice cream, banana and fruit from the garden, but the mix had long since separated. “Ptah!”

Her eyes focused upon an oddly textured oblong box. Clearing aside rubbish sat on top she discovered a battered crocodile skin suitcase. She thumbed both locks, the latches flipped up, and she opened its lid. An aroma of lavender was released, wafting from a tiny muslin sack which lay amongst a nest of tissue paper. She parted the crisp, delicate stuff, revealing an old dress. “Oh yes,” she said. Inside its collar was a label, and written on it: T. Barclay—a long forgotten relative. Excitedly she pulled and shrugged off her Hollister t-shirt, and then slipped into the dress; it fitted her perfectly; she slid her fingers into a pair of cotton gloves which lay beneath it.

Knock, knock, knock.

Lore picked up her phone and read the text: Lido 11 2moro? Cam is going J/K. WYWH Ems.  She noted that it was 6 o’clock—tea time.

She rushed into the kitchen and shook off raindrops, just the same as Dexter does after he’s been out hunting mice.

“Pizza is almost ready,” said Mum. She glanced up at her daughter, then back to the oven’s window, and then she snapped her attention again to Lore, performing a classic double-take. “What on earth are you wearing?”

“Found it,” she answered, “in a suitcase, in the boathouse.”

Dad looked up from his iPad. “Suitcase?”

“Yes, there’s a crocodile skin case in the boathouse—it was beneath our old scooters.”

He stared into the distance, picturing days from his youth. “It was there when I was a boy. Never bothered with it—girlie stuff.”

Lore’s brother thundered downstairs and plonked himself at the table. He smirked when he looked over at her but didn’t comment, he merely shook his head sadly.

Her father had an idea: “You could sell that dress on eBay—pocket money for the summer.”

“Who was T. Barclay?” asked Lore.

“I think she was my granddad’s aunt—Tabitha Barclay.”

“Never heard of her,” she replied. To Mum she questioned: “Had you?”

“No, me neither,” she said absent-mindedly, placing ketchup upon the table.

“My granddad, Wilfred Barclay, was an American Officer, commanded a tank. He met grandma in Germany at the war’s end. You know, WW2”

“Hannelore,” remembered Lore, understanding at last. “I forgot that there is an American branch of the Barclay family tree.”

“They are the established ones, it us British Barclays who are the branch.”

Her brother grinned. “Great granny was a Nazi, cool.”

“Oh shut up, idiot.”

“Lore, be nice to your brother.” Sister and brother glared at each other across their pizzas with mutual loathing.

Dad continued: “So I guess that when Tabitha Barclay was killed, her suitcase stayed in England with my granddad, and has remained here in the house that he built.”

“Killed?”

“Have I never mentioned it to you two before?”

“No!” said Lore incredulously.

“Your great great great aunt is the only Allied female pilot to be shot down during WW2, excepting the Russians of course.”

“But I thought that women weren’t allowed to fight?”

“Yes, that’s right, but my granddad said to me—and this was thirty years ago, mind, when I was a boy—that his aunt was a transport pilot. Tabitha and several other ATA girls stumbled into a wing of Me109s—enemy fighters. I don’t know any other details,” he said apologetically, but then added: “except that transport planes were not allowed to carry ammunition. I’m unsure of the relevance of that, though I s’pose it means she couldn’t defend herself.”

“No wonder she was shot down!” said her brother. He returned to the matter of his Nazi great granny: “How old was Hannelore when she married Grandaddy Barclay?”

“Only seventeen years.”

“So the same age that Lore is now. C’mon, sis., chop-chop, there’s not been too many boyfriends of late, eh?” He had scored an unlooked-for hit and his eyes flashed with triumph.

She kicked her brother under the table. “H—h—hilarious!”

The pizza was a homemade one, a delicious mixture of homemade dough, tomato, mozzarella and whatever else Mum had found in the fridge. An unexpected chilli—it had been frozen and so was red hot—which had been hiding beneath a mushroom, burned Lore’s lips and tongue.

“eBay—” began Dad.

Lore stood-up, sending her chair clattering upon the kithen tiles.

“I want to keep the dress, and so should you!”

The Pyramid By William Golding

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