Times Slow Release
by Damien Marquess
I remember huddling with my mother there in the dead of night. Held close and kept warm despite the chill in the night air. The walk had been in pitch darkness, no lights on for fear of guiding the planes or giving then a target. And just as we arrived at the bunker along with the rest of our neighbours I heard the faint sound of engines, the planes coming closer.
My memories of that night are fragmented; they jump from the walk and the chill smell of the night air, to sitting inside the bunker leaning in close to my mother and her warm evening coat. Her arm wrapped around me pulling me tight against her, keeping me safe and calm. The others that had joined us inside were a mix of the pragmatic, neurotic and strangely excited. A warden who was much more relaxed about the air raid than I would have expected was gently getting people in and settling them down amidst the muted lights allowed within. One of our neighbours had started to panic about her cat and another offered her a secretive swig from his hip flask to help calm her down. I remember there being closeness, a nervous but genuine camaraderie.
I don't remember the falling of the bombs or the explosions. I do remember lying apart from my mother, reaching for her as I could see her reaching for me. There was concrete dust and fumes affecting our breathing, part of the roof had caved in. There were whimpers, sobs, coughing some shouting but strangely no screaming. I was aware of movement around me as everyone helped as best they could. In my mind at least there seemed to be stillness just around me and my mother as she lay facing me, reaching out to grasp my hand. I remember my panicked breaths and tears, something terrible had happened to us and I still couldn't deal with it properly.
In the years since I try to come back here at least once every year, nature has taken over again and I find it peaceful; I feel close to my mother.
I have tried to live my life well. My wife and I were lucky enough to be blessed with three children and ten grandchildren. With each of our children I tried to make time to take them back here and show them where I came from and tell them something of their grandmother. I hope that I have passed on the love I felt from her to them and their children. Each life one that wouldn’t be here without her, and I believe I can see her strength and bravery in each of them as they face their own challenges in their lives. They have all made me proud and I hope she would feel the same.
I always try to remember her exact words to me and never can. I do know that she told me she loved me. That she was so relieved that I at least had escaped injury; she herself was pinned down, bleeding and finding it hard to breathe. She grasped my hand tightly before telling me to leave her, that I was to find my way out of the bunker, it was too dangerous to stay; that I was to make her proud. At first I wasn’t as strong as she wanted me to be; I clenched her hand in mine and told her I would never leave. That I loved her, that I should have been sitting where she was, it was my fault. Eventually just as the air raid sirens started up again I reluctantly agreed to leave. Intending to break my promise and bring help back as soon as I could. She died alone, without me there.
It wasn’t until I visited the bunker with my wife that I managed to move past what had happened. We had recently become engaged and I asked if she would come with me to visit the area I grew up in. I hesitantly showed her the remains of my old house and eventually we walked to the bunker and sat nearby. I told her about my mother urging me to leave; making it possible that I would eventually meet and marry her. Words spilled out of me about my guilt for leaving her and then as I got older my guilt for not leaving fast enough. I told her how I hoped she could see who I had become and who I was lucky enough to be with now. She held me while I let myself feel the hurt again and told me as I found myself crying for the first time since I was a child that she would have liked to have met my mother, that she was sure that she would have been proud of me and that I should try and let the guilt go. That I would best honour her by living my life as well as best I could. It was only then that my future life with her, my children and grandchildren became possible. I realised I had still been trying to hold on to my mother’s hand, torn between various kinds of guilt holding me back, it was only then with my wife and our future lying before us that I found the courage to finally let it go.
Husband, dad, like to write a little. Hoping to write some more.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'Air Raid Shelter '