Lucy was home alone, again, when she heard the sounds of airplanes overhead. Her mother, Helen, had been working nights at the factory in order to be home with her during the day, ever since her father had been deployed almost a year beforehand. Right after the war began many of her friends and schoolmates had gone to the country, but most had come back a few months later when nothing had become of the declaration of war. Life had gone on as usual with the exception of some rationing here and there, but she hoped that everything would soon be over and they could get back to being a family and a community. She was used to being alone, in spite of being only eleven years old. Her neighbors, the Millers, were just on the other side of the wall of her comfortable rowhouse if she needed anything. But the sound of the planes overhead terrified her as the Germans had been bombing them almost every night for days at that point.
She quickly ran down the stairs to the front door, her arms full of blankets and food. She would go next door and wait it out with the Miller kids in the safety of their house. As she reached for the door, an explosion went off a little ways down the street. She could feel the explosion in her chest as it knocked her off her feet and back across the entryway. It was too late. Her escape was already cut off and it was no longer safe to go next door. She scrambled the several metres across the entryway, picking up the items she had dropped and taking shelter beneath the stairs.
There were pillows and blankets already waiting for her, as well as water and food. It was the central most portion of the row house they were living in so she dumped her armload of items in a corner. She then braced the door and curled up in a tiny ball amidst a nest of pillows to wait out the raid. Pulling the blanket over her head she lay praying that God would protect her.
She could feel the house shake her awake multiple times with deafening crashes. The darkness pressing in around her felt comforting though, and the little room under the stairs remained untouched. Eventually the noises silenced and she drifted off to a peaceful sleep.
She awoke to her mother desperately crying her name, but she sounded like she was on the other side of the house.
“In here!” she called back as loud as she could. “Under the stairs.”
The little room was pitch black and she couldn’t see any light under the door. Her mother must have come home early when the bombs started falling. She normally didn’t come home until well after the sun had come up. As Lucy felt around for the torch she could feel that quite a few items had fallen off the shelves and there was dust or plaster on top of her blanket. It took her several minutes to find the torch and she wondered why her mum hadn’t looked under the stairs yet?
She finally found the torch and switched it on. The room under the stairs was in shambles. Everything had fallen off of the shelves and there were chunks of plaster scattered across the floor. More than one bomb must have hit nearby, she thought to herself, clearing a path to the door. It’s going to take me forever to clean up this mess. “I’ll be right out!” she called, ashamed to let her mum see the state that the little room was in. Her mum would be tired and hungry after a long night of working. It was only fair that Lucy should clean up and then get into the kitchen and make breakfast. She gathered up the food she would need and tried to open the door. Great, the stairs shifted, she realized, The door’s stuck.
She set the food down and put her weight into it this time, but she was small and slight. The door didn’t even move. “Ugh! Mum, I’m too small to move the door!” she yelled. “You’ll need to go get Mr. Miller’s son, Ezra.”
The Millers lived next door and their oldest, Ezra, was almost sixteen. He helped her and her mum quite often, as he was a strapping lad at a little over six feet tall. Her and her mum were both “tiny” at a little over 5’3” and slight. He got no end of joy from teasing Lucy about it. He would probably open the door easily, taunting her about how weak she was.
When she received no answer, she pounded on the door and then the wall that separated their house from the Miller’s. After a few minutes she could hear voices coming from the Millers’ house, but they sounded panicked. Had something happened during the night? I hope all of the Millers are alright, she thought to herself.
She walked over and sat back down in her little nest saying a prayer for the Millers and their protection. They were like family and Lucy had never known a time when the Millers hadn’t been just on the other side of the wall. She didn’t want to think about something happening to any of them.
After several minutes, she heard what sounded like Ezra shouting through the wall, but he sounded so far away. “Get back from the wall!” he yelled. “I’m coming through with a sledgehammer!”
A sledgehammer? She thought. What was going on?
She curled up in her nest against the wall that the door was in, as far under the stairs as she could fit, and waited. She could hear crashing on the other side of the wall for what felt like an eternity. Suddenly a sledgehammer breached the wall and plaster flew everywhere.
“Lucy?” she could hear Ezra cry, his voice weak and cracking.
“I’m right here,” she soothed. “I’m just fine. Only, I can’t get the door open.”
Ezra’s black curls were visible through the hole he had made and his soft blue eyes were wet as they darted around the little room. “Oh thank God!” he cried. He then turned and yelled, “She’s alright! I’ll have her out as soon as I can make the hole big enough.”
“What? Ezra, quit destroying the house and just come around and open the door,” she scolded. “We’re never going to get this fixed on rations.”
“Lucy, there’s no house left to fix.” he told her. “We thought you were dead.”
It was only then that she saw that he had obviously been crying.
“Get behind the pillows and put the blanket over you,” he ordered. “I’m going to take out enough wall to get you out, and then we’re staying in the underground.”
She once again hid in the pillows as he took out a hole about a metre square.
She grabbed the food and her gas-mask to hand to Ezra before crawling through the hole. It was only then that she realized the hose to her gas-mask had been broken when she had been blown across the entry at the door. She would have to get another.
Her mother showered her with kisses, trying to brush the debris from Lucy’s golden curls as she crawled through the hole. It was actually the middle of the day and light streamed in through broken windows with open curtains as the Millers all stood watching her crawl through the wall.
“Well, at least I got some peaceful sleep,” she joked, trying to lighten the mood.
They ate a good meal together and took their time gathering up supplies for their stay in the underground. Lucy had only the clothes on her back, so she helped Ezra’s eight-year-old little sister, Ruth, pack up her stuff. Ruth had been following her around all day and clung to her as they packed. She was only a little smaller than Lucy but obviously younger. Her big blue eyes followed Lucy with admiration and she had begged Lucy to help her tie back her thick black curls.
It was quickly approaching evening when they all left to walk together to the underground, in hopes of a safe place to stay the night while their mothers worked.
As Lucy stood in front of what used to be her house, she understood why Ezra had thought she was dead. The roof and part of the front wall were caved in. If she had been anywhere else in that house, other than under the stairs, she would have died. As she stood staring in shock at the remains, Ezra came over and wrapped a strong arm around her shoulders, pulling her into a hug.
“I was so scared. Don’t ever scare me like that again!” he teased. But there was a seriousness behind his eyes.
She took a deep breath and leaned her head on his chest, silently thanking God for protecting her and the Millers, both.
They arrived at the station almost an hour before dark. There was an angry commotion going on in front of the gates so the two mums went to check it out. They insisted on going without Ezra, in spite of his warning that it wasn’t safe.
“You stay here and keep the young kids safe,” his mother firmly ordered him. “They need you a lot more than I do.”
Ezra reluctantly complied, but watched closely as the mums approached the crowd. It was quickly becoming unruly as people started to attempt to push their way in. Ezra was walking toward the crowd when the mums came back and ordered the kids to go back to the house.
“But we can’t,” Ezra protested. “The house isn’t safe, and it can’t be closed up. And Lucy needs a new gas-mask.”
“The underground is closed,” Mrs. Miller told them sadly, pushing a grey streaked black curl back into her tight bun. “And the crowd is becoming unsafe in their attempt to break in.”
Ezra flashed a mischievous smile. “I’m going to help them,” he smirked, starting in the direction of the commotion.
“EZRA!” his mother scolded, in a tone that made even him stop in his tracks. “We need you,” she softened. “We can’t afford to be without you, especially now.”
“But I’m big and strong,” he argued. “I can make them let you in.”
“No, you can’t,” his mum told him, her pale blue eyes sad. “If you go over there, you will be arrested and maybe even injured. And we will be forced to go back to the house without you, vulnerable and unprotected. If you come back with us, you can keep us all safe. No one will dare break in or hurt us with you there.”
Ezra was obviously unhappy to leave, but he conceded that he had a responsibility to protect his siblings and Lucy. It was a sad and quiet affair as they walked back, and Ezra was a little obvious in his disdain to be returning with them to the house.
Both mums had to work, as usual, but promised to return in the morning. Lucy was reluctant to let go of her mum’s arm.
“Mum, please don’t go,” Lucy begged. “The bombers are sure to target the factory. I can’t lose you.”
“I’m sorry babygirl,” Helen soothed, her green eyes soft but strong. “We have no choice. We can’t let them win. We have to continue production, especially in the face of their efforts to stop us. What else can we do?”
“Like the posters say,” Mrs. Miller sighed, “Keep calm and carry on.”
“Agh!” Lucy cried, bursting into tears.
Ezra wrapped her in a comforting hug while the mums cooked a quick dinner for the kids. After a while Ezra set up the room under the stairs in their house for them to sleep. He figured if Lucy’s house could fall in and Lucy still be unscathed, under the stairs was where they would all stay.
When the mums said goodby and left for work, Ezra set up his bed across the doorway to the room under the stairs. Anyone who came in would have to go through him to get to the others, and they would not have an easy time of it. It was the one thing he could do.