Authors: Eric Walters
Up ahead in the distance a car whizzed by, and then another. That had to be the highway. I had to fight the urge to race away.
“Do you want to run?” I asked.
“Maybe a little,” Jack said. “We'd better get home before Mom calls. Those soldiers were a bit scary . . . but not as scary as Mom.”
Despite everything I couldn't help but laugh. Jack sprinted away and I ran along beside him, not daring to let him get away. I was just grateful to leave behind whatever it was we were running from. We soon reached the highway, but neither of us slowed down. We turned onto the side of the road and just kept running.
“Jack, are you asleep?” I asked.
“About what happened tonight?”
“Of course about what happened tonight.”
“And what do you think?” I asked.
“I don't know. I was just trying to figure out who those guys were.”
“What do you mean? They were soldiers.”
“Don't think so. Those weren't regular army uniforms,” he said.
“Could be air force,” I suggested.
“But they didn't look like that either.”
As I thought about it I knew Jack was right. We had both seen enough pictures of men in the different branches of the service to recognize the uniforms.
“I'm not sure who those guys were,” Jack said. “And I'm not sure what's going on up there.”
“Maybe we should ask Mom,” I offered.
“Don't be stupid!” Jack barked. “Do you know how much trouble we'd be in if she heard about what happened?”
“I guess you're right.”
We'd gotten home just as the phone was ringing and Jack had rushed in and answered it. He'd told Mom that we'd been just outsideâ“fooling around in the backyard”âwhen she'd called the first time. He hadn't told her anything about what had happened.
“Maybe we should go back and check it out,” Jack said.
“Are you crazy?” I demanded. “Whoever those guys were they had guns, real guns, and they told us not to go back.”
“Well . . . I was just curious.”
“You can stay curious. There's no way I'm heading back down that road or through that particular field again . . .ever.”
“I guess you're right,” Jack agreed.
“Of course I'm right.”
“Now stop bothering me and go to sleep,” he muttered.
I did stop bothering him, but I didn't think there was any way I was getting to sleep for a long time.
COME ON BOYS, TIME
to get up.”
“What time is it, Mom?” I asked as I sat up.
“Almost seven o'clock.”
“Seven o'clock!” Jack said. “Why are you getting us up so early?”
“Because I have to get to work soon,” she said. She sounded really tired, but she was already dressed in her work clothes, with her dark brown hair pinned up.
“But you're on the afternoon shift. You don't have to be at work until four,” I said as I stretched.
“Not today. Edna Smith needed to be off this afternoonâ something about going to see one of her sons play baseballâ so she asked if we could switch.”
“Does that mean you'll be home for supper tonight?” I asked.
She nodded her head.
That was good news. Rather than leaving something for Jack to heat up and serve us, she'd be making supper.
“You two seem awfully sleepy,” Mom said. “Were you up late last night?”
“No, we got to bed early, didn't we, George.”
“Yeah, early,” I said, nodding my head in agreement. Early, like early in the morning after midnight. Then it was hours after that before I'd managed to drift off. I'd been too revved up to get to sleep.
“Then you both should be well rested,” Mom said. Something about the tone of her voice left little question that she doubted what we had just told her.
“I do feel well rested,” I said as I quickly swung my feet over the side of the mattress. “How about you, Jack?”
“I'm just raring to go,” he said, practically jumping out of bed.
Mom really didn't like leaving us alone while she was at work. She had even threatened to get somebody to babysit us. But though I didn't much like having Jack take care of me, I really hated the idea of anybody else doing it. Somebody else might have been responsible. Not like Jack. With Jack in charge, it meant that we could do pretty well anything we wanted. Or I guess, really, whatever Jack wanted. Thank goodness he almost always wanted to do something fun.
“If you get dressed and come to the kitchen right now there might just be a hot breakfast waiting for you,” Mom said.
“Hot breakfast?” Jack asked hopefully.
I took a deep breath. “Like in pancakes or biscuits?”
Mom smiled. “You've got a good nose there,” she said.
I smiled back. But sniffing out food really wasn't hard. The house was so small that you could smell or hear everything going on everywhere. I was surprised I hadn't heard her up and moving around when she was making breakfast. I guess I really was tired.
She left the room and we started to get dressed. Jack pulled out a clean shirt from his dresser. I reached down between my bed and the wall and grabbed some clothes that I'd already worn. I rummaged around until I found my favourite shirt and started to pull it on.
“You're not going to wear that again, are you?” Jack asked.
“Why not? I'm saving soap and water,” I said.
Before the war, wearing the same thing all the time would have made me a slobânow I was being patriotic by saving valuable resources.
“You thinking about last night?” Jack asked.
“Not really. I
thinking about hot biscuits.”
“I even dreamed about it,” he said. “But I still can't figure out what those guys were up to.”
“I think it's just some sort of base, and they don't want a couple of kids hanging around there.”
“But why wasn't it marked, why weren't there high fences, and why didn't those soldiers wear regular uniformsâif they even were soldiers?”
“Of course they were soldiers. What else would they be?” I asked.
“I don't know,” he admitted reluctantly. “But you know what I do know?”
“What? What do you know?”
“If you don't get to the kitchen quick I'm going to eat your share of the biscuits!”
Jack rushed out of the room, and I scrambled to pull on my second sock, half bouncing and jumping on one foot, and hurried after him. By the time I got there he was already sitting at the kitchen table, piling pancakes onto his plate.
“Leave some for me, will you!” I demanded.
“There's plenty for both of you,” Mom said. “Do you two have to fight about everything?”
I looked at Jack and he looked at me and we both shrugged.
“Yeah, I think we have to,” he said.
I nodded in agreement. “We
“How do you ever get along together when I'm away at work?” she asked.
“We do fine,” I said.
“Great! We do great!” Jack insisted. “You don't have to worry about us.”
“Not at all,” I added in agreement.
“I still think that maybe I should ask that nice older woman from down the road to look in on the two of you while I'm atâ”
“No!” we both practically yelled in unison.
“I'm looking after him,” Jack said.
“He's doing a good job. A really good job!”
“And you aren't fighting too much?”
“Not at all,” I said. “We're not fighting at all!”
My mother gave me a look like she didn't believe me.
“Maybe a little bit,” I said. “But not much, really.”
“He's telling the truth,” Jack told her. “We get along great, me and my baby brother.”
“I'm not a baby, youâ” I stopped myself mid sentence. “Could you pass the butter . . . I mean the margarine?” I asked instead.
My mother passed me down the plate holding the margarine. I cut off a small pieceâit had a strange orangey colour and didn't look anything like butterâand put it on top of my pancakes.
“That stuff doesn't taste right,” Jack said. “I just wish we had syrup and then I wouldn't care about butter.”
“I can't get what isn't available,” my mother said apologetically.
“We're not blaming you,” Jack told her.
“We know rationing makes it hard to get stuff,” I added.
Butter and eggs and sugarâwhich meant syrupâwere all in short supply because of the war. Every family was entitled to a certain amount each month of the rationed items, but even then sometimes the stores ran out, and there was nothing that could be done.
I cut up the pancakes and put a piece in my mouth. Goodâbut not great. Still, I knew that my mother did the best she could with what she could get.
“It was so different when we were at home on the farm,” Jack sighed.
“I know . . . I know,” Mom agreed.
That's what probably made things even worse for us about some of the rationing. When we'd lived on the farm we'd had all the eggs and butter we could ever have wanted. Coming here had been hardâbut there hadn't been any choice, really. With Dad gone off to fight we couldn't very well run the farm. Instead, when an opportunity came up to work at the munitions factory Mom just grabbed it. She leased out our fields to neighbouring farmers. They would work them until the war was over and Dad came back and we could all return to the farm again.
“So what are you two going to be up to today while I'm at work?”
“We found these two old car inner tubes yesterday,” Jack said.
“Where did you find those?”
“Just around . . . in the field,” Jack lied.
“You just found a couple of inner tubes?” Mom asked suspiciously. Rubber was another one of the things that was in short supply because of the war.
“They were really, really old and in bad shape,” Jack explained.
We'd actually found them in a pile of old tires stacked up at the back of a junkyard on the other side of townâanother place we probably shouldn't have gone.
“And what are you going to do with two tubes that are
really, really old and in bad shape
?” Mum asked.
“We patched them up so they'll hold air.”
“At least we think we think they'll hold air,” I said.
“We're going to go up to the gas station and use the air hose to pump them up and then go down to Corbett's Creek for a swim.”
“Just the two of you?”
Jack shrugged. “There might be some other kids there.”
“You could invite some other kids to go along,” she suggested.
I knew where this was going.
“There's nothing wrong with you two making some new friends,” she went on.
“We didn't say there was,” Jack answered.
“There are lots of kids all around who are the same age as the two of you,” she added. “You should talk to them.”
“We've talked to kids,” Jack said. We'd triedâthey weren't that friendly. Leaving the farm had also meant leaving our friends behind. Though I guess it was more like leaving Jack's friends behind. I'd had friends at school, but mostly I'd just hung around with Jack and his buddies.
“We've even played with kids on the street,” I said. Not much, but we had.
“I'd better get going,” Mom said. “The bus to the plant leaves in twenty minutes. Are you going to do your papers before or after you go swimming?”
“It doesn't take too long because I help him,” I said.
“Less than an hour,” Jack said. “Especially if we rush.”
She came over and gave first Jack and then me a little kiss on the top of the head. “Be good, and take care of each other.”
“See you tonight!” Jack called out.
The door had hardly closed when Jack got up from the table and went into the cupboard. He pulled out a bag of semi-dried banana strips, reached in and took out a piece, stuffing it in his mouth.
“Do you want some?” he asked, offering me the package.
I shook my head. “I really don't like the taste of those any more than I like the taste of the margarine.”
While eggs and sugar were in short supply, things like bananas were impossible to get. Anything that had to come from the tropics, like rubber or bananas, just wasn't available any more. Instead we had these dried banana strips.
“At least they're sweet,” Jack said as he crunched on another piece. “So the plan for the day is to clean up, do the papers and head down for a swim.”
I snuggled down into the inner tube. My arms and legs dangled in the cool water. It felt so good. I closed my eyes and just let the world float by.
“Doesn't this remind you of home?” Jack asked.
“It does,” I agreed, opening my eyes and looking first at him and then around us. It was calm and quietâlike where we lived . . . where we used to live. There was a creek running right through our farm, and when we'd finished all our chores Jack and I would go for a swim. I really missed it.
Of course we weren't alone in being new here in Whitby. Almost everybody on the whole street was new. People had
moved from all over the country to work at the munitions factory, making bullets, and tons of new homes had been built for all of us to live in. They were all prefabricated houses constructed by the Wartime Housing Corporation. All exactly the sameâtwo bedrooms, no basement, one storey, on a little piece of land. They all looked so similar that for the first week we lived here I couldn't figure out which house was even ours. Once I even walked up to the wrong house and walked in the front door. Thank goodness nobody was home and I saw the furniture, realized it wasn't our house and left before anybody noticed.
It was all so different from our farmhouse. Our house was really old and made of stones from the fields and timbers from our forest. And it was so big that you could be in one part of the house without hearing everything that was going on everywhere else . . . not like here.