Sid, returning home with a milk bottle in one hand and the paper squashed in his armpit, tells me a guided missile hit the shopping centre.
That’s nonsense, I tell him. Why would they want to blow up the shopping centre?
He just grunts, sits at the kitchen table, and, opening up the paper, says,
Indian boy at the newspaper shop said he thought they were going for the police station. Apparently a few of ours have been stationed there.
But that doesn’t explain why it hit the shopping centre, if it was guided.
I know, he says, shortly. Have Grace and Richard called?
They called last night.
I know they called last night. I’m asking you if they called this morning.
Not yet, Sid.
The sound of his own name is a check on his anger.
I turn the chair, inexpertly, towards the stove, where the kettle’s beginning to boil over.
I wish this bloody chair was guided, I announce to no-one.
Later, sitting out in the garden, admiring the first flush of the cooking apples, Sid says, almost wistfully,
They’ll carpet-bomb next.
I waste ten minutes regurgitating the words of the newspapers. This is a war of moderation. These people could just drop a nuclear bomb on us if they wanted. But they’re not allowed to. They have to be precise.
Besides, why would anyone want to carpet-bomb Lillington? What use is it to anyone?
None, says Sid, adjusting his spectacles. That’s why they’re going to carpet-bomb it.
Grace and Richard call just after lunch. They’re in a traffic jam on the motorway coming out of London.
Rats leaving the sinking ship, Sid says loudly, and then makes me repeat it so that they can hear.
All right, Mummy, Grace says, the man in the car in front of us says he reckons they’ll try and cut off mobile phone signals as soon as they’ve taken control of the government buildings. So we’ll try and call you once we get to Dorset, okay?
Richard, in the background, murmurs something about four or five hours. He sounds tired.
Richard says he thinks it’ll take four or five hours, if the traffic clears once we get out into the countryside.
Sid, who’s using the binoculars again to peer down at the town over the hedge, says,
Yobs are looting the high street. Nothing to stop them now, I suppose.
I’ll speak to you soon, Grace, I tell her. Love you.
Around four o’clock in the afternoon, Sid calls me out into the garden. The uneven paving makes it difficult; the wheelchair skids and judders on the cracks.
Come on, come on, he snaps. They’ll be gone in a minute.
He comes and helps me, pushing at the back so that the combined force of his weight and the electric wheels shriek me across the path at unnatural speed.
When we’re close enough to the hedge, he lowers the binoculars to my eyes.
What can you see? he asks.
Houses and fields.
Not there, not there. To the right. For God’s sake.
I take control of the binoculars from him and gaze about until I find the out-of-place.
A little black helicopter is hovering just above the grass in the meadows beyond the Lillington railway line. Uniformed men are hopping the short distance down to the ground.
There’ll be plenty here willing to help them, Sid says grimly. Where the hell are our lot?
Well, Sid, I tell him, they’re probably busy in London, and Birmingham, and-
But they should be here, he snaps, like a child, and goes inside to call 999.
He returns soon, looking sour.
They’re engaged, he says, and then, glaring out towards the gathering black marks against the landscape,
I ought to go out there myself and show ‘em what a real Englishman is made of.
I don’t bother to dissuade him. He keeps himself occupied for the next hour-and-a-half, bringing down his old shotgun from the attic, polishing it, even taking a kitchen knife from the rack and practicing stabbing motions.
When he puts it down on the table for a moment, I pick it up and begin to use it to cut the carrots for dinner.
As it begins to get dark, Sid, grasping the futility of a night assault on heavily armed troops by a fifty-five year-old with a bad back, goes onto the computer, and sits, leaning forward, typing furiously with one hand.
Man in Oxfordshire says he’s shot one of them, he announces after ten minutes. Looks like this country is finally fighting back. I’m telling him he has our full support.
After twenty minutes, the man from Oxfordshire has still not replied.
A couple of us are saying we should meet up tonight, he says. Night-time resistance. Take a few of them out, make ‘em fear the English.
Sid, could you get the tomatoes down from the high shelf? I can’t reach in this damned thing.
Mm, he says, right, and leaves the computer screen with reluctance. He plonks the tomatoes down on the side, hurries back to the chair, and refreshes the website to see if anyone’s written anything new.
Should think they’ll shut this down soon enough, he mutters, if we give them a chance.
Maybe they’re already watching the websites, I reply, casually, to see if there are any hotheads who’ll try and start something.
This makes him hesitate. He leaves a final message, turns the computer off, and starts to lay the table.
We open the best bottle of wine to go with our casserole, an old crimson thing we bought in the first year of our marriage. I’m not entirely sure, as we sit in silence, masticating loudly, whether we’re commiserating or celebrating.
But afterwards, as if signalling that nothing has changed, Sid washes up the plates in the sink and passes them down to me, and I dry them with the blue cloth. Once they’re all dried, he puts them away in the cupboards and shelves. Neat and ordered.
It takes ten minutes, every time, to get me into bed. Sid’s long mastered the art of getting it to that precise length- if he’s slow taking off my blouse, he’ll make up for it by hefting me quickly out of the chair and into the folds of the duvet, even if it hurts his back- but he doesn’t seem to be able to go any faster.
Afterwards he brushes his teeth and complains, frothily, while I lie in bed with the battered remnants of the newspaper, and read what the government has to say.
The sound of Sid spitting, repeatedly. Then he begins to swear about a politician who let us all down.
At about two o’clock, the curtains flare faint orange.
That wake you?
A low, steady, rhythm of booms, as if someone is pounding the world’s most enormous drum.
Sid goes to the curtains and comes back.
They’re carpet-bombing, he says, getting into bed, triumphant.