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Excerpt from Chapter 1

They began by blaming each other for things, but things turned loud and ugly when Gran and Roy [Jamie’s cousin] started all the shouting. The terrible things they yelled roiled Jamie even more than bombing did.

She said he stole stuff, that she’d lose her jobs if they found out. He said she was . . . an itch? And she said he had a dirty mouth. She said it had to stop, he said what’s she going to do about it, and she said she’d call the coppers on him. A crash like a dish breaking. He hoped it wasn’t Gran’s good one from her nice home. She said he was no good, just like his mother. Then there was some quiet. A sudden funny cry like that time Roy pushed Gran over and she couldn’t go to work for a few days. But at least it was quiet, which was always better.

Jamie curled forward on his bed, hands clamped over his ears in case they started again, and soothed himself with rocking— back and forth, back and forth. Gran would be cross if she saw him. “Fiddle-faddle, big boys don’t rock,” she always said. He held his ears tighter; he couldn’t do with so much noise—big bangs, sirens, people shouting outside, Roy and Gran shouting at each other inside. Keep rocking, such a comfort, softly, softly.

Crashing, a big crashing. Would the house fall down? Shaking, people shouting, but not Roy and Gran, rock, rock, eyes closed, rock, rock. Sirens yowled, but far away.

A knock at the door, Roy shouted something. Jamie began to hum, had to stop the noise and Roy getting in. His breath had gone all raggedy; it might even stop if this went on much longer.

Say like Gran, “Fiddle-faddle, ddle-faddle,” sounded brave. Louder better, “Fiddle-faddle.” More louder, “Fiddle-faddle.” Can’t hear them now. “Fiddle-faddle!”

Roy slapped down his hands.

“Stop rocking, idiot. And stop that stupid fiddle-faddling. What’ll Gran say?” He had his unkind look, a hitting look. He kept making fists, uncurling them, and then fisting again. Wasn’t dressed up now, except for grease in his hair. There was a big dark spot on his trousers, quite low down. Looked wet. Roy probably hadn’t noticed it yet or he would have changed.

“Won’t do it no more. No more. Promise. Don’t tell!” Jamie sat on his hands, pulling in his chin. He risked looking up at Roy, and Roy turned away and moved to the door. He looked back in Jamie’s direction over his shoulder at the postcard on the wall.

“I’m going out, got business with a bloke. Gran’s not feeling well. She’s had a nosebleed and her dress got blood all down the front. She’s all right, just taking a nap now. Don’t bother her. Leave her be. I’m going to lock the door, can’t have you wandering about. You’re not to go out, no matter what. Understand?” Roy got out his shiny black comb and scraped it along his side hair again. Always combing.

“Suppose the warden tells us to get down the shelter. What then? Suppose bitz comes on us?” Roy looked him in the face now. He was blinking an awful lot.

“Bel-itz, stupid. I’ll be back soon. I think it’s all over for tonight. Sit tight. No fusses. And leave Gran alone or I’ll give you a good thrashing.”

“Yes, Roy. I’ll be good. Know what tomorrow is?”

“Yeah, for the hundredth time, it’s your bloody fifteenth birthday, and don’t expect nothing from me, we just had Christmas and you got an orange today, too.”

Jamie suddenly felt brave. “Language, Roy, what would Gran say?” Roy snorted too much, so rude. Couldn’t he find words? “Gran’s got the stuff for cake. I’ll share.” Jamie smiled up at Roy.

“Bloody hell, what did I do to get a retard for a cousin?”

“Don’t you like me anymore? You gave me an orange this morning.” Jamie felt tears coming up, must try not to let them out. One slipped down.

“Don’t start blubbering. Christ, I can’t stand it! I’m going out.”

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