Thomas scans the
room looking for something familiar, something to ground
him in the present. He’s recently taken to leaving the daily
paper on the coffee table so that when he returns he’ll have
something definite to reference his existence to.
When he first
started to time shift, he discovered that the return journey
often caused a kind of travel sickness—mental nausea—a confusion
as to when he was. He’d chanced upon the newspaper solution
one day and used it ever since.
His eyes catch
the banner and then the date, and his mind quickly reorients
itself to the present.
“Cup of tea I
think. Could do with one after that.”
Thomas stood outside
the hall and rubbed his boots on the back of his standard
issue trousers. No light escaped the blacked out windows,
but the sound of a dance band drifted out through the doors.
A nervous breath and in he went.
At twenty, Thomas
was a product of his family’s inhibitions, shy, lacking confidence
and forever putting himself down. Just walking into the dance
hall took nerve; what he experienced there could have been
a different world entirely. The swirl of humanity before
him grabbed his attention. Men in all sorts of uniform: airmen,
seamen, soldiers. Each man desperately clutching a woman,
some in uniform, some not. The couples danced round the hall
to the crackly sound of an amplified gramophone playing big
band music. Laughter and shouts punctuated the steady swing
rhythms of the music. A layer of smoke drifted over the moving
couples, sometimes wafted here and there by a particularly
energetic move. It was all action, sound, movement, smell.
Thomas edged his
way around the edge of the hall to the makeshift bar serving
weak beer and tea.
“What’ll you have
The barman placed
a glass of flat looking brown liquid in front of Thomas.
He paid, and sipping
his drink, watched the door to the hall. The last time they’d
met she’d been cross with him. Over what, he didn’t know.
She wouldn’t come, he knew she wouldn’t, but he had to be
sure. If she did and he’d not come…
He’d been posted
to the Far East in two days time. He just had to see if there
was a future for them, someone back home he could write to
and stay alive for. Theirs had been a quiet, unremarkable
courtship. Films at The Hackney Empire when they were both
free, or afternoon teas in a café on Homerton High Street.
It hadn’t been a whirlwind romance, but as far as Thomas
was concerned, their relationship had grown steadily with
the passing months until he couldn’t think of anything without
asking himself what Grace would think. He knew he loved her
like he’d love no other.
And then she was
there, in the door way scanning the hall.
“Er, yes please—and
a half. Back in a tick.”
Thomas edged his
way back round the edge of the hall, never taking his eyes
form Grace. He was almost to her when she spotted him. Her
smile told him everything was alright.
“Hello Tommy,” she
said, taking his hand.
“Hello. Dance?” he
replied, surprising himself.
And that’s when
it started: sensual woodwind overlaid with muted brass counter
melody and a lazy double bass. Right hand around Grace’s
waist, left in her right hand. An easy and rhythmic drift
around the floor. Three and a half minutes they danced through
Moonlight Serenade. Three and a half minutes: his face in
her hair, hers on his chest.
“Marry you? Tommy…yes.”
The dance ended.
Thomas wanted to leave with her, to be somewhere quieter,
more personal. He led her to the door and into the foyer.
The spiv leaned
against the wall holding an imported American camera and
large press flash head.
Only a shilling; I’ll post it anywhere you say.”
“Two,” he said
There they stood,
against the drab brown wall: him Brylcreamed, her freshly
washed and curled—smiling at the start of their adventure.
Thomas scans the
room, lost in time again. He looks at the Hackney Advertiser:
June 7th 2009, Headline: Sixty-five year Anniversary of Homerton
He’d served eighteen
months in the Far East and safe home. Grace had served six
months at the hospital and been buried under tons of collapsing
He sighs and picks
up his photograph album, empty save for the first page. There,
looking out from the black pages are a handsome young man
with slicked back hair and a face splitting grin, and on
his arm, a beautiful, shyly smiling young woman.
Thomas leans across
to the turntable and picks up the needle.
The LP begins
to turn its regulation seventy-eight per second. A crackle
as he carefully places the needle in its well worn home,
and then it begins: sensual woodwind overlaid with muted
brass counter melody and a lazy double bass.