From the book
"Ada! Get back from that window!" Mam's voice, shouting. Mam's arm, grabbing mine, yanking me so I toppled off my chair and fell hard to the floor.
"I was only saying hello to Stephen White." I knew better than to talk back, but sometimes my mouth was faster than my brain. I'd become a fighter, that summer.
Mam smacked me. Hard. My head snapped back against the chair leg and for a moment I saw stars. "Don't you be talkin' to nobody!" Mam said. "I let you look out that window out a' the kindness of my heart, but I'll board it over if you go stickin' your nose out, much less talkin' to anyone!"
"Jamie's out there," I mumbled.
"And why shouldn't he be?" Mam said. "He ain't a cripple. Not like you."
I clamped my lips over what I might have said next, and shook my head to clear it. Then I saw the smear of blood on the floor. Oh, mercy. I hadn't cleaned it all up from this afternoon. If Mam saw it, she'd put two and two together, fast. Then I'd be in the soup for sure. I slid over until my bottom covered the bloodstain, and I curled my bad foot beneath me.
"You'd better be making my tea," Mam said. She sat on the edge of the bed and peeled off her stockings, wiggling her two good feet near my face. "I'm off to work in a bit."
"Yes, Mam." I pushed my window chair sideways to hide the blood. I crawled across the floor, keeping my scabbed-over bad foot out of Mam's line of sight. I pulled myself onto our second chair, lit the gas ring, and put the kettle on.
"Cut me some bread and dripping," Mam said. "Get some for your brother too." She laughed. "And, if there's any left, you can throw it out the window. See if Stephen White would like your dinner. How'd you like that?"
I didn't say anything. I cut two thick slices off the bread and shoved the rest behind the sink. Jamie wouldn't come home until after Mam left anyhow, and he'd always share whatever food there was with me.
When the tea was ready Mam came to get her mug. "I see that look in your eyes, my girl," she said. "Don't start thinking you can cross me. You're lucky I put up with you as it is. You've no idea how much worse things can be."
I had poured myself a mug of tea too. I took a deep swallow, and felt the hot liquid scald a trail clear down to my gut. Mam wasn't kidding. But then, neither was I.
There are all kinds of wars.
This story I'm telling starts out four years ago, at the beginning of the summer of 1939. England stood on the edge of another Great War then, the war we're in the middle of now. Most people were afraid. I was ten years old (though I didn't know my age at the time), and while I'd heard of Hitler—little bits and pieces and swear words that floated from the lane to my third-floor window—I wasn't the least concerned about him or any other war fought between nations. You'd think from what I've already told you that I was at war with my mother, but my first war, the one I waged that June, was between my brother and me.
Jamie had a mop of dirt-brown hair, the eyes of an angel, and the soul of an imp. Mam said he was six years old, and would have to start school in the fall. Unlike me, he had strong legs, and two sound feet on the ends of them. He used them to run away from me.
I dreaded being alone.
Our flat was one room on the third floor above the pub where Mam worked nights. In the mornings Mam slept late, and it was my job to get Jamie something to eat and keep him quiet until she was ready to wake up. Then Mam usually went out, to shop or talk to women in the lane; sometimes she took Jamie with her, but mostly not. In the evenings Mam went to work, and I fed Jamie tea and sang to him and put him...