“Please, please, please can we buy it, please – it’s just wonderful. Look at the view, and the garden is gorgeous.” Mel gripped Charlie’s arm tightly as she skipped up and down on the spot. Her blue eyes shone with excitement and, in return, Charlie beamed down at her. This girl had made him so happy; when she agreed to marry him he just knew that his life couldn’t get any better. Now they were house hunting, he loved the way that she had no idea at all about the property game. . If she liked a house, she said so, if she hated the wallpaper she said so, if she loved the view she said so. Now she obviously loved this one, and she was saying so loudly and, unbelievably, right in front of the estate agent.
Oh well, there was no chance that they would be able to negotiate a hard deal. The slick agent was having a hard time keeping his face straight;he couldn’t believe his luck. Not to worry: the price was within their budget and although the place was run down, it was just what they had been looking for. Four bedrooms, a great kitchen, a rambling garden looking out over the hills and the sea in the distance. Charlie shook his head in mock dismay and turned to the agent. “Well, I suppose you had better start the ball rolling, mate, we would like to make an offer. As you can see, we are very keen.”
Everyone stood around grinning as the sun began to fall into the sea, painting the windows red and darkening the lawns and shrubbery.
“Oh darling, it’s just wonderful.” Sophie clung to Charlie’s arm as they stood together in the plot that they had just bought. They watched the sun dipping over the sea as they planned the house that they were to build together for the start of their married life.
“Come on sweetie, let’s go into town and celebrate with a slap-up afternoon tea in the hotel.. Then we’ll go and talk to the architect about where to put the bedrooms.” Charlie grinned as a blush suffused Sophie’s cheeks.
They window-shopped as they made their way to the Grand Hotel. Although it was a little town, Millhampton had a well-appointed High Street, and the displays encouraged them to dawdle and dream about the home they would build in their house on the hill.
“Look at that.” Sophie pointed to a display of cigarette lighters in the jewellery shop. “There, that little lighter. It has a house engraved on the front… I want to buy you that darling. I will buy it for you and you will use it when you sit in front of our fireplace and light your pipe.”
Dragging him into the little shop Sophie’s gaiety was infectious, and Charlie allowed himself a moment of pure joy remembering the moment when this beautiful girl agreed to marry him. He just knew that his life couldn’t get any better.
“Would madam like us to engrave her purchase?” the jeweller wanted to know. “There is no extra charge. Maybe your fiancé’s initials or a little message? Of course there isn’t a lot of space, but we could possibly fit on four or five letters, if you would like.”
“Yes please. Put his initials CM, Charlie Meade, and oh I don’t know… Wait, yes, yes I do, what time is it?”
“It is just four-twenty, madam.”
“That’s it then. CM and then four-twenty.” Smiling up into his eyes, Sophie told Charlie, “On this day, at this hour, I am unbelievably happy. It is a magical moment and we will always remember.”
“Charlie look, what’s this? Caught up here in the fireplace. I can’t quite reach it but there is something in the bricks.”
“Move out of the way then, wimp, let me have a go.” Charlie dodged the playful thump and leaned into the old chimney. Stretching up into the sooty void he asked, “Are you sure you want to keep the fireplace?We could take it out and have a stove put in. Uuugh, I don’t know what it is but it’s wedged in hard. Hang on; yes, it’s coming loose now. Well good grief, it’s a cigarette lighter. That’s not going to be much use in this day and age. Shall I just toss it?”
“No, don’t, let me see.” Mel took the scratched and scarred metal and rubbed at it with a dirty finger. “Oh sweet, there’s a little house engraved on the front. There’s something on the back as well, let me into the light so I can see.” She walked to the window, stepping over the boxes piled around the walls. “You’ll never guess, Charlie but this actually has your initials on it. Look, CM, can you believe that? You can’t throw it away. I think we should have it repaired and then we can always use it for lighting the barbecue or something.”
It’s hard to smile when tears are an enormous lump in the back of your throat. The trick is to stretch your lips over your teeth tightly so that it seems you are smiling, it stops them quivering. The train would pull out any time now. Sophie clung to her husband’s hand, their eyes locked, their ears deaf to the band playing rousing music. They existed in a pain-filled void. “I love you Sophie. Now and always.”
“Keep safe my love, keep safe. Write when you can and come home to me.”
The train pulled away, he was gone.
“Are you sure the commute isn’t too much for you, Charlie?It’s a lot of time out of your day, two hours on the train. Why don’t you ask about moving to an office nearer to home?”
“It’s fine love, honestly, and the best projects are in the London office. Once the baby arrives, we’ll need the extra cash. You have a good day and take it easy.”
The train pulled away, he was gone.
The noise was horrendous.. The tank crew couldn’t hear their own words. Charlie crouched in the confined space, simply concentrating on getting the great war machine and the men inside it down the narrow French road, without being blown to smithereens by the German barrage. They hit a pot hole and were thrown from side to side as the tank tilted sickeningly. Scrambling about in the semi-darkness, they scraped and bumped against each other and the metal walls around them. Banging against his leg, he could feel a small metal object. He picked up the little lighter, it had been with him through all the horror as a reminder of life in Millhampton. There was no smell of spilt fuel, and they needed some light, so he flicked the little wheel and held the feeble flame to his watch. Four-twenty.
He was gripped by a feeling. Not panic, that didn’t describe it, it was a knowledge, a foreknowing. He screamed to the others, “Get out, get out now!” They flung open the turret and scrambled hell for leather over the sides of the vehicle. Every one of them leapt to the road and ran. They didn’t know why, he didn’t know why; but they ran and as they did the world around them exploded. Flying pieces of shrapnel screamed through the air. The tank was destroyed: a mass of twisted meta. Having taken a direct hit from the German bomb, it no longer existed.
The office was busy and Charlie felt drained. He didn’t really mind the commute, but at times like this the thought of his home overlooking the sea was almost torture. As he imagined the cosy rooms and Mel sitting with her feet up in front of the fire he fingered the lighter on his desk. He kept it as a reminder of life in Millhampton. Suddenly the lights dimmed and then blacked out completely. Everyone groaned as the computers crashed and people cursed as they collided with desks and chairs in the dark. They needed some light so he flicked the little wheel and held the feeble flame to his watch. Four-twenty.
He was gripped by a feeling. Not panic, that didn’t describe it; it was a knowledge, a foreknowing. “Get out, get out now!” They ran for the fire escapes and the main staircase. They flung open the doors and scrambled hell for leather out into the street. Every one of them ran to the road. They didn’t know why, he didn’t know why; but they ran and as they did the world around them exploded. Flying pieces of glass and concrete screamed through the air. The building was destroyed: a mass of twisted metal and concrete. Having taken a direct hit from the terrorist bomb, it no longer existed.