A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

Memories of his childhood suggest something for Wallace and his family to do


Years can pass as though they were sprayed with fairy dust that makes them vanish in an instant. A child can learn its first few tricks (which will it say first, mama or dada?), then it will crawl, hands and knees, towards its first few upright steps and then run like the wind through the years.

Eloise did that. Eloise was bright as a shiny button on a uniform jacket, and the years passed as if they were racing to an ending somewhere and somewhen, and all Wallace wanted to do was cry out halt, stop, woah there, but time had its own way and would do no such thing.

So Wallace had to help it.

When I was a nipper,” he said to Eloise, “a long, long time ago...”

It was 1976 and everything before she was born was a long time ago to Eloise. She would be leaving school soon, or not if she wanted further education and a place at university, which she hummed and hawed about because there was this boy she thought she just might love and then thought she might not even like in a sort of rota of love and hate.

Here we go again,” grinned Eloise, “back to the good old days!”

They weren’t all that good,” put in Maureen, “what with the bomb...”

It never fell,” said Eloise, “you’re always on about it, but it never fell and now, look at the sunshine, like how gorgeous the weather is...”

There never was such a summer,” agreed Wallace, “they say it’s the hottest since the year dot, and I think we should do something special.”

Do what, darling?” asked Maureen, still as lovely as ever and despite being a bit older still looking younger than him.

My mum, Helen that is, used to take us into the country, picking blackberries. They grow wild round here, in the fields along the Swanspottle road,” he said slowly, “we’d pick loads of blackberries and eat some of them instead of putting them in a basket. Innocent came one year and made himself sick!”

The weather man on the telly. That was what Innocent had become and Wallace almost felt a smidgen of his fame shining on him over the years when he remembered his friendship with the handsome, dusky boy with African blood in his veins.

Probably sick of all this hot weather,” suggested Maureen.

My mum used to make blackberry and apple jam,” recalled Wallace, “several jars of it with circular bits of cloth tied round the top with elastic bands… and it was delicious!”

Is that what you want to do, dad? Go out and pick dirty old blackberries and make jam?” asked Eloise, screwing up her face.

No. Not jam, but wine,” said Wallace. “I know how to make blackberry wine. I’ve read it in a book and I really fancy having a go.”

So you want us to all go out in the boiling heat so that you can get drunk at Christmas?” asked Maureen.

I wouldn’t mind … we all need interests, and making my own plonk sounds like a money-saving exercise as well as an interest,” explained Wallace. “I’m not trying to say we actually need to save money now that I’m in charge of housing, but it never hurt anyone to have a few more pennies in their pockets.”

And that was that. Wallace got his own way and the three of them went out, walking rather than driving towards Swanspottle, a village tucked round a bend and out of sight until they were almost on it. (There were still only three, try as they might Wallace and Maureen couldn’t produce a sibling for Eloise, and sometimes it seemed they tried so hard they’d wear themselves out. Still, they both agreed, it was fun trying and disappointment was only a kind of postponement of what might yet happen possibly, somewhen.)

They took baskets with them, wicker baskets lined with greaseproof paper, and soon they were happily picking large, juicy blackberries ripened to sweetness by a long, hot summer.

These should make really tasty country wine,” said Wallace, “they’re full of natural sugar. You can taste it. Delicious.

After an hour or maybe longer they had filled the baskets and were about to turn round and go back home when they came upon the almost forgotten lane that led to the woods the encircled Swanspottle, and Wallace had a far-away look on his face when he gazed down it.

I wonder if it’s still there?” he asked himself.

If what’s still there, dad?” asked Eloise who was beginning to feel that they’d done enough blackberry picking for a lifetime.

Our bomb shelter,” sighed Wallace, remembering how he and Innocent had been convinced that there would be a nuclear war any day then, and that the only place on the planet they’d be safe was in their underground shelter. “Come on, it’s not so far, come along, I’ll show you.” And he started walking purposefully down what was little more than an animal track,

Just a minute,” called Maureen, “isn’t that where your old girlfriend was murdered?”

It was an accident, and I’d fallen out with her ages before,” frowned Wallace, “nobody was done for it though Helen’s dad did time for not reporting it. Anyway, it’s all water under the bridge now. I’ll bet the place isn’t still there, and if it is the old wreck of a cottage will have fallen in on it.”

They had to follow him. Of course they did! This was all part of his story and they’d heard about his bomb shelter on and off over the years from him when he mentioned his best friend Innocent.

He led the way and to his surprise the ruined cottage was still there, unchanged it seemed, as tumble-down as it had been way back when as boys he and Innocent had declared their own determination to remain safe in the certainty of war.

He led the way past brambles and briars, fighting them determinedly and being scratched in return, towards the door which led into a kitchen which was now more a greenhouse for wild plants than anything remotely to do with human habitation.

He stood by the cellar door, open a crack, but hiding what looked like a staircase to hell.

It was down here,” he said, “in the darkness of an old cellar. We used our bicycle lights to see.”

So we’d best not go down to that nasty dark cellar?” suggested Maureen, who had no intention of visiting an ancient murder site.

It so happens I’ve brought this,” grinned Wallace, and from the sandwich bag they’d brought with them he produced a small torch. “You don’t have to come,” he added, “I know it’s scary. But I’ve just got to take a peep, remind myself of the old days.”

I’ll come too, dad,” said Eloise, and he’d never been so glad to hear those words as he was then.

Just follow slowly then,” he whispered, “and she shadowed him as he slowly crept down the old brick staircase.

It was just as he remembered it when he shone his torch round the dank place. There was still a dusty pile of coal against one wall, and even the camp bed that Penny had taken down there when she’d hoped to make her fortune lying on her back.

She was gone, of course.

But there was someone lying on that bed, someone dry as old dust, all bones really, bones and a hollow-eyed skull and rags for clothes.

Eloise screamed when she saw it, loud enough to bring the cottage tumbling down, thought Wallace, grateful that it didn’t.

But he was only too happy to push his daughter back up the stairs, away from what looked like very old death lying in a black slumber on a rotting bed.

© Peter Rogerson 14.07.19

© 2019 Peter Rogerson

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Added on July 14, 2019
Last Updated on July 14, 2019
Tags: blackberry, nuclear, wine, country wine, cellar



Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 75 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..