Cora’s An­gel

When the bomb hit, Cora was glad to find some­one look­ing out for her . . .

The People's Friend - - 8 - by Roz Levens

AS soon as she opened the box, the mem­o­ries came flood­ing back as if it were yes­ter­day. It was a per­fectly or­di­nary shoe­box, slightly bat­tered af­ter all those years in the loft.

She had tied it closed in the old-fash­ioned way, with tough brown string, fin­ished with a neat bow.

The la­bel, writ­ten in a rounded, child­ish hand,

said Cora Wat­son. Septem­ber 14, 1941, aged twelve. PROOF.

She had been ill for a long time af­ter the scar­let fever. The doc­tor had been called, his visit cost­ing vi­tal shillings that could have been spent on rent or food.

He’d pre­scribed calamine lo­tion, good food and plenty of rest, and told her mother to keep Cora’s tem­per­a­ture down with sponge baths.

“Make her drink plenty, Mrs Wat­son.”

Cora’s grand­mother had tut­ted dis­ap­prov­ingly.

“Waste of money. That child is in God’s hands now. You’ll see.”

But grad­u­ally her tem­per­a­ture had come down.

Good food was dif­fi­cult to come by, with ra­tioning. Cora’s mother worked in the mu­ni­tions fac­tory and didn’t have time to join the long queues that snaked down the street at the first hint of some­thing good ar­riv­ing at the butcher’s or the green­gro­cer’s.

Her fa­ther had been away for more than five months, some­where in Africa.

Cora missed him des­per­ately, and stub­bornly re­fused to be sent away to safety in case he came home and she wasn’t there.

Home was Ber­mond­sey – what was left of it. Bomb craters lit­tered the area, with miss­ing houses in al­most ev­ery street.

They’d been lucky so far, but Ma was wor­ried be­cause their house was so close to the rail­way. Ev­ery time a siren went off she was cer­tain they’d be next.

They didn’t go to the shel­ters when the sirens sounded. Peo­ple still got killed in the shel­ters.

Cora’s friend Joan and her par­ents had been shel­ter­ing there. None of them had sur­vived.

Ma said she’d rather be in her own home, so they hid in the lit­tle slop­ing cup­board un­der the stairs in­stead.

It was snug in there – Ma had brought the blan­kets in, and all the pil­lows and bol­sters.

“We’ll make our­selves a cosy nest, Cora,” she said. “And it doesn’t mat­ter that it’s dark – we’ll snug­gle up and go to sleep. When we wake up, it’ll be over.”

Cora won­dered about that for a long time after­wards. Had Ma known?

On that aw­ful night in Septem­ber, the sirens had be­gun to wail just as they were about to go to bed.

Sigh­ing, they’d pulled all the bed­ding down the steep stairs into the cup­board be­low and snug­gled up to­gether. Then they heard it. The sad miaow of a fright­ened cat.

Cora looked at Ma. “We can’t leave it out there,” she said. “We have to let it in here with us. It might get killed.”

Ma said no, and that the cat would have enough sense to run.

It miaowed again, louder this time.

“Per­haps it’s hurt, Ma. We can’t just leave it. Please?”

Ma sighed and got to her hands and knees.

“I must be mad,” she grum­bled. “You stay right there.”

She darted to­wards the front door just as the blast hit, and the wall be­tween the sit­ting-room and the hall­way came crash­ing down on top of her.

Cora could still re­call the shock, the dust and the sud­den si­lence. Ma was flat on her back, wear­ing a look of sur­prise.

Even at twelve years old, Cora had recog­nised that her mother was dead. Then there was an omi­nous creak, and ter­ror zigzagged like a hot wire down her spine.

She could see the stars through the hole above her where the land­ing should have been. Her par­ents’ bed­room had van­ished, to­gether with half of the roof.

She watched in hor­ror as one of the fat red chimney pots came crash­ing through, show­er­ing bricks and mor­tar in huge chunks around her.

Cora was be­yond ter­ror. Her mouth was filled with dust. She couldn’t shout for help; only odd, high­pitched croak­ing sounds came out when she tried.

She couldn’t move as some­thing was pin­ning her foot. Then one of the cold wa­ter pipes gave way and be­gan to gush above her, soak­ing her with icy wa­ter, turn­ing the dust to glue.

She re­alised with dread that she was go­ing to be buried in the rub­ble, or drowned. She wouldn’t be res­cued and they would never find her.

She be­gan to pray, des­per­ately, hur­riedly, her mind a jumble.

“Please, God, don’t let me die.”

It was then she saw the an­gel. Gen­tly, softly, it drifted down and slid into the cup­board with her, set­tling on Cora’s feet and arch­ing its beau­ti­ful feath­ery wings to hold up the sag­ging stairs.

Cora could feel the warmth seep­ing into her body, inch­ing up her trapped legs.

The an­gel smiled,

and Cora found her eye­lids grow­ing heavy. The downy soft­ness of the an­gel’s wings spread over her like a blan­ket, and she drifted into sleep.

She was wo­ken by loud voices and a torch beam shin­ing right into her face. Be­wil­dered, she raised an arm to shield her eyes from the bright light.

“Quick! There’s a kid here!”

Fran­tic hands reached in, pulling her roughly through the rub­ble, wrench­ing her stuck an­kle free with an ag­o­nis­ing jolt.

As she reached the air, there was a rum­ble, and she was half thrown, half car­ried to safety just as the wall col­lapsed over the stairs, which sur­ren­dered to the in­evitable with a crunch.

Cora had been the only sur­vivor pulled from what had been a row of eight houses in their ter­race. It took a cou­ple of days be­fore they man­aged to dig Ma out.

By then, Cora was in hos­pi­tal with a bro­ken an­kle and con­cus­sion. She had told the nurses about the an­gel and they had laughed gen­tly, pat­ting her hand and ex­plain­ing how the brain does funny things when it hasn’t got enough air, or if a per­son got a nasty bang on the head.

“You’re safe now, love, what­ever it was,” they said kindly. “You just thank your lucky stars that some­thing was look­ing out for you.”

But she had proof. She hadn’t looked in that box for 70 years, but now that she was mov­ing in with her son, ev­ery­thing in the old house had to be sorted out.

“What have you got there, Grandma?” Phil, her grand­son, busy and brusque, reached out.

She held the box closer and he peered over her shoul­der.

As he reached out to take it, she shook her head.

“Don’t touch it. It’s special.”

He shrugged and walked away, look­ing a bit miffed.

Cora looked down into the shoe­box, where one sin­gle white feather glowed up at her, and smiled.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.