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An extract from "The Carnival is Over" at precisely the point where I decided to go ahead with linking Nell to Erica, the female flyer from my previous Nanowrimo novel. I remembered I needed to get an extract up from a mandatory check-in challenge over at writerverse.

This is taken from a much longer day in the novel (a day I am still writing) but the section here is relatively self contained.


Nell and Steven went into the kitchen to see that Mary Anne had, thankfully, made herself at home. She had taken off her giant grass green duffel coat and hung it over the back of her chosen chair. She had found three mugs, one from the draining board and the other two from the cupboards and she was in the process of pouring out three steaming and absolutely perfect looking cups of tea.

"I didn't know if you took sugar, Nell," Mary Anne said in her soft Scottish accent as she placed Nell's mug by the spot she had sat at earlier to eat her breakfast as if she somehow knew that was Nell's favourite because she could sit and gaze out of the kitchen at the city below her. Nell dismissed it as coincidence for she could not bare to think that Mary Anne could read her so well after such a short time of knowing her.

"It's fine, I don't take sugar," Nell told her with a smile. "You know you didn't have to do this Mary Anne. You are our guest after all," she added, indicating both herself and Steven.

Mary Anne smiled back at her again with that dazzling smile that reached those pale green eyes. "It was really no problem. It gave you one less job to do."

"Yes," Nell said, slowly and somewhat ponderously. "Yes it did. Thank you Mary Anne."

Mary Ann sat down at the table with her own cup of tea, with two seats space between her and Nell and Steven's mug settled in front of the seat beside Mary Anne, although Steven himself was banging through cupboard in search of suitable and appropriate biscuits for the three of them to have with their tea. Nell noted that it was not only Mary Anne's eyes that were pale but her skin was extraordinarily fair and her mop of blonde hair brushed forward as it was reminded Nell strongly of the Beatles' haircuts. It was clearly natural unlike Nell's own far longer, not quite so blonde hair.

Steven found an open packet of biscuits with a cry of delight. He upended every single one onto a plate and plonked them down partway between Nell and Mary Anne on the table before sitting beside his girlfriend and giving her a tight squeeze about the shoulders. She turned that enchanting smile to him at that moment, though to Nell's eyes it was clear that he had fallen under its spell long ago.

Mary Anne turned her pale gaze back to Nell. "I hope you don't mind me asking," she began softly, "but I've been wondering something since Steven first told me about you."

"Yes?" Nell prompted gently, wondering what on earth Mary Anne might want to ask.

She could not possibly thing there had ever been romance between herself and Steven, could she? Surely not, and yet it was the first and only thing that jumped into her mind at the start of the question. Nell felt her face grow warm with blushing as she waited for Mary Anne to continue.

"What is 'Nell' short for?" Mary Anne asked and Nell suddenly felt her blush deepen at the realisation of how wrong her assumption had been. The other girl continued, "I hope I've not embarrassed you. If you don't like your full name, you don't have to tell me. I just wondered that was all."

"No, no, I'm not embarrassed by it at all. It's just I've almost always been Nell as far back as I can remember really. It's short for Helena. That was the name my parents gave me."

Nell saw that Mary Anne looked quite confused at that last statement. Steven could not have told her all that much about her then.

"I was raised by my auntie," she clarified just enough to hopefully put the subject to rest. She didn't really want to get into her whole life story of children's homes and orphanages and why, after her adoption, she called Miss Lydia (Goodrich?) 'Auntie' and not 'Mum'. She might confide at least some of it to Mary Anne later on but not right at this moment.

Mary Anne nodded her understanding and said quietly, "I could not imagine being brought up by anyone other than my own parents."

"You get used to it," Nell told her, feeling almost that she had to reassure her she never really had any hard feelings about it.

She could remember her father just enough to picture his face the day he gave her away but her mother had only ever existed in her small collection of photographs. In each she was present as a smiling, laughing woman dressed in mucky overalls, flying suit and jacket preparing for take off or lined up in the smart uniform of the Air Transport Auxilary from the Second World War.

What she actually knew about her mother's life and personality had been mostly gleaned from reading newspaper articles, some of them even dating back to the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s when she had been a daredevil flyer and intrepid adventurer. Sometimes Nell caught herself thinking that this woman could not possibly be her mother and the orphanage must have assigned a stranger to her because her life had been far more interesting than her real mother's could possibly have been. Then she would catch a glimpse of herself in her mirror and spot a feature she might have been admiring in the flyer's face mere seconds before and that would be enough to remind her that it was all true and that there was more out there for her to discover whenever she was ready.

Nell's memories of her father were mostly lost to time, unfortunately. Yet she had some memories of him that were clear enough to help her understand in later years why she had no photographs of him and why she had never been told his name. She had always seemed to know instinctively that she should not ask too many questions about him and so she had rarely done so out loud. She did, however, have many questions held inside both her head and her heart that she accepted she may never have the answers for.

Her reflection helped Nell to resolve what she had been unsure about when it came to Steven's determination to marry Mary Anne and raise their child together. She knew they were young but at least their baby would not have those same unresolved questions she herself had grown up with. If they did choose to have the baby adopted in the end, then she would stand by them over that decision as well. She would certainly encourage the both of them to leave keepsakes for their child as she had had from her mother.

However, something tugged at her from deep within her heart, that whispered if they did start to discuss adoption that she should try and persuade them to give the baby to the care of a guardian or foster family who would let them continue to see their child. They could surely arrange to take him or her back fully into their own care at some point in the future when the two of them felt properly ready to get married. Nell was almost certain that Steven and Mary Anne would marry eventually. She knew Steven well enough to tell he was more than merely smitten or infatuated by the quiet, shy Scottish lass. He truly and ardently loved her. All he seemed to want to do in this situation was protect her and keep her by his side.

They had been drinking their tea and eating their way through the biscuits in absolute silence. It was natural of course, considering the three of them were clearly deep in thought. Nell wondered if she would prefer or not prefer to know what was going on in the minds of the other two. On the whole, she decided she would rather not know. After all she would hate anybody to have spied in on her own thoughts over the past few minutes or so. If she closed her eyes she could see her father and she could see the small island where she had been born and spent her first few years of life. When she concentrated hard enough on the memories, she could taste the salt in the air and she could see and hear the planes flying overhead. She could also hear the other children's taunts both before she left the island and after her arrival at her first orphanage.

They knew more about her from her accent than she knew about herself. By the time she would have even started to have an inkling about what those names meant, she had spent enough time around other children to grow out of her accent did not bother for a long time to question why people had found it so strange or worthy of teasing her about. It wasn't until German had been presented to her at secondary school as a language she could learn that the penny truly dropped.

Her German teacher had kept her behind after the first lesson to tell her that she was doing exceptionally well. Though, Nell had thanked her, she did not attempt to explain that the reason for that had been spending the first five years of her life speaking the language. She simply said she could not explain why she was so adept at it and had then hurried off to her history lesson.

They had been having lessons about the Second World War for several weeks already and it hadn't really bothered Nell so far because the war had been a part of all their lives growing up and she did not honestly count herself as any more or less affected from her class mates in that respect. It was just her war experience had played out differently. There had been planes and bombs, except the planes had mostly been German and the bombs when they had come had come from the English.

Nell, of course expected to get upset at least in some way when the history lessons got away from the build up to the war and onto the occupation of France and the Channel Islands and the atrocities committed by the Germans. She could detach herself from men like Hitler and Goering and all that lot but she knew that seeing photographs of ordinary Officers at the same time as hearing what they did was far more likely to hit too close to home for her to bear.

When the subject of the Occupation of France came up, Nell braced herself for some mentions of the Channel Islands. What she did not expect was an entire three quarters of an hour devoted to a slideshow of photographs on the Channel Islands. Every single one of them had been taken by their history teacher who revealed to them that he had lived on Jersey throughout the Occupation and that he had at one point put his talent to good use spying on the German Airmen and Soldiers.

It was towards the end of the slideshow, when Mr Edmunds had moved onto talking about the fraternisation that took place between the island women and German men, that Nell got the shock of her life. Mr Edmunds had flicked up onto the screen a wedding photo to illustrate his point that many of these relationships lead to marriage between the sides. As he focused the projector Nell saw what the others saw to begin with, a couple, the bride in white and the groom in his German dress uniform. Then, with everything brought into sudden sharp focus, she saw her mother's face and beside it the smiling face of the man she knew to be her father. She had seen that face smiling back then, of course, but always her strongest memory of that face had been watching it slowly crumple into tears as her father thrust her into the arms of the British service man(?) who had brought her with him back to the mainland.

The concern in Steven's voice brought her back to the present. She found his blue eyes, wide with worry and she suddenly found herself able to breathe once more. Nell was thankful that she could not dwell just now on the tears and panic that photograph had brought crashing down upon her. That she would have to wait until a private moment to relive those long minutes where her utmost desire was to talk to Mr Edmund's alone and demand that he tell her everything he knew about her parents. It could wait. She would wait.

"About our arrangement," Nell began, realising as she did so that, though she was broaching the subject, her own mind was on the whole still elsewhere. She felt tired. The whole thing made her feel tired.

Mary Anne nodded. "Steven told me I was to tell your landlady that I'm your friend."

"Yes. That's right. It should in all likelihood be just the three of us for about a week but then all our house mates will start crawling back out from under whatever table they've drunk themselves under or whatever ditch they've driven into in the middle of the night. You'll probably have to answer to them more than to our landlady."

"Are they bad house mates?"

"No, just messy. And noisy. And a tad bit smelly sometimes too."

"But on the whole very nice people," Steven reassured his suddenly rather worried looking girlfriend.

His girlfriend. Or should that really be fiancee, Nell wondered. After all Steven had told her his plans to marry Mary Anne as soon as he was able to. Then again, surely he should have to have proposed formally with a ring to make her his fiancee. It couldn't be the best thing, going straight from girlfriend to wife with no period of bragging about being engaged in between. Still, it had to be better than nothing, which was what Nell herself had at that moment.

There was that one lad, of course. The last time she had seen him, he had said he was desperately trying to get a long term job over here so that he could be with her for what he called 'for good'. Every day Nell grew a little more nervous about seeing him. She worried and fretted that 'for good' might be forced on them rather than being their own decision.

It had almost been a joke once. Get married and chose which of their countries they wanted to live in. Now it was a worry constantly on her mind. Could she leave her band, it was almost universally acknowledged as hers these days, because she happened to be the one leading the way with the folk stuff, for his sake? Would he leave his followers and fans to settle here? Would he want to? Would he end up resenting it, and resenting her for it?

Nell watched as Steven cuddled Mary Anne, her blushing as he laid his hand on her belly, which was not yet even showing the signs of her pregnancy. Then again, neither was Nell's own. If her American lad did not reappear soon, she would have to write to him about it. She dreaded that more than telling him the truth face to face. She could not face having him write back with talk of marriage. She could not, positively would not agree to marry him under those circumstances. It would feel like a lie. She wanted to marry him because she loved him, not simply because she had to.


This entry was originally posted at http://alicia-h.dreamwidth.org/42049.html
Child of the nineties
Harks back to earlier times
Sounds of the sixties

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