Monday Motivations : Escaping the heat

Ball of flame

Image : Pixabay

Nigel pushes the door, boots clunking from the peeling cold of the airfield to the fug of the mess room.

A quick scan confirms what he’d hoped – that the men not currently up in the air have gone into the village. They’ll be lining the bar of the King Billy, a cluster of RAF blue among the brown clad locals. They’ll wink and smile at Sheila the landlady, hoping to melt that grim expression, fixed as a Tussaud’s waxwork. Bernard Faulkes was the only one who made the crows feet gather round her eyes, the only one to stretch the thin lips wide … He tries to shake the thought away.

He gives the door one last pull to keep out the worst of the snapping wind and heads for a chair by the stove. The place is in its usual state – boots flopped over onto the concrete floor, open newspapers, books and a half played chess game on the tables, a long knitted scarf and a dress shirt draped over the back of one of the chairs.

Unbuttoning his coat, he pulls a tobacco pouch from his inside pocket. He just wants to sit, let the warmth from stove fill him, smoke a fag, fall into a fitful doze. His fingers stumble, the cigarette paper slipping, strands of tobacco dropping to the floor. He tells himself it’s the cold but there’s a tremble he never had before, a constant shiver even in the warmest room.

Nothing official has been said and for that he’s grateful. He’s still on the same crew, still rear gunner. But a week ago, he would have been down the pub with the others, winking at Sheila, singing over the strains of a wheezing accordian. Pack up your troubles …

Now he’s always alone. Eats tucked on the corner of the room, shovelling potatoes and grey meat as the others smoke and laugh. A gunner’s cramped perspex dome is a solitary place too, draft tearing the heat from your hands and face, the rumble of the engines, the wind whistling. Sometimes, as the grey curl of the English coast retreats into the black and the stars pop into life above, he imagines he’s the only person left alive, damned to fly over the land forever, never catching the dawn, never touching home.

Finally, he rolls a cigarette, tucks the end between his lips.

‘It’ll get easier, you know.’

The voice makes him jump. He drops his lighter. It hits the floor with a loud thud.

Now he sees him. What he thought was just a pile of coats and blankets tumbled onto an old wing-backed armchair hides a man, cap pulled low, great coat high, so only his nose is visible. The coats shift, fall aside, the petals of a great blue flower unfurling to reveal Stanley Beard – a navigator on another crew – a short, red haired Scot he only knows by sight.

Nigel picks up the lighter, clicks it open, lights his fag in the quivering flame. He doesn’t want to talk, doesn’t want company, but Stanley is leaning forward, elbows on his knees, a sharp look in his green eyes.

‘LMF. That’s what they’re saying.’

The effect is instant. His skin burns, blood heating until he knows it will boil, burst from his skin in ruby bubbles. He can’t speak, can’t swallow. He sees fire, feels the gun triggers under his hands, unable to shoot. Bernard Faulkes’ Lancaster is burning again, flames falling, spinning, hissing to black as the sea swallows the wreckage. Bernard Faulkes with his easy charm, his sparkle. Bernard Faulkes melting in the heat.

Stanley inches forward, rests a hand on his forearm. ‘You’re not Lacking Moral Fibre, laddie. Ye don’t want te die and that’s just fucking sensible.’ A smile spreads across his face, compressing and stretching the skin so his ginger stubble pales and darkens. ‘Do ye drink?’

Stanley talks as he sips his whisky, as he stares into the stove, watching the flames die.

 


Written for Esther Newton’s Monday Motivations, for the prompt word HEAT. Why not pop along yourself and be inspired.

This was inspired by an article I read recently about LMF (Low or Lack of Moral Fibre). A judgement – sometimes official, sometimes bestowed by colleagues – accusing a man of cowardice, of lacking the will to fight.

Read more about the consequences of an LMF judgement here.

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29 thoughts on “Monday Motivations : Escaping the heat

  1. That’s stunning, getting more prosaic, more dense. Do ye drink? I like the grey curl of the shoreline, and so many other touches. Lush.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Bill. I read about LMF a few days back and wanted to write about it. Such an awful stigma for the men who received the tag. Thanks for reading and for your kind comments 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Packed an incredible emotional punch with this one. I got confused first time through, for some reason thinking he was on a submarine or boat (took me the second time to catch what the RAF meant) and this was going to be a Lovecraftian horrors-from-the-deep tale. But the real story is even scarier, in a way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, sorry. Written from and English perspective without even thinking about it. Of course, you wouldn’t necessarily know what RAF means – how about mess room? Thanks Joy and sorry for the confusion 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I really should have gotten RAF; I read and watch enough British fiction and TV. But once I got it into my head that it was a ship, it’s funny how everything else could be interpreted (more or less) to fit.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. That rush to stern judgement, especially from those who have no direct experience of what they’re judging, reminds me of the white feathers handed out earlier in the century. I can only echo what others have said, Lynne: powerful stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, LMF reminded me of the white feather phenomenon too. Quite honestly how anyone walks across no man’s land or gets back up into a plane when their friends were shot down the day before … There must be a psychological separation that occurs to protect the mind from reality, or all soldiers ever would be found curled in a ball weeping. Thank you Chris. It’s an important one to have got right, so I’m glad it workd for you

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You have a great eye for the kind of detail which creates atmosphere. I felt poor Nigel’s pain and misplaced shame.
    Have you read Kate Atkinson’s novel A God in Ruins? While I don’t generally read stories which centre around war, she surpassed herself with that one. It contains what is possibly the most brilliant twist I’ve ever come across.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love Kate Atkinson and God in Ruins and Life after Life are both amazing books. I wish she’d write more and more and more … Loved her since I read her debut, Behind the Scenes at the Museum years ago.
      Thanks so much for your comments on atmosphere – it mens a great deal to me as it’s something I love to do, manipulating the reader through atmosphere and tone. Thanks very much Jane

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So that’s your nefarious plan, to get inside our heads – steal our very souls – and make us carry out evil acts…
        I, too, have been addicted to Ms Atkinson since Behind the Scenes at the Museum. After reading Life after Life, I wanted to eat the book, in the hope that I’d absorb some of her talent, but unfortunately, when I poured gravy on it, the letters ran into one another… 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Haha! She’s amazing, isn’t she? Haven’t read her crime novels, but her other books – wonderful. Reading The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters at the moment – another astonishing writer. Just read a scene where my heart was in my mouth throughout. Wonderful, wonderful stuff. You want to pick the bones of her words to work out how she did it

        Liked by 1 person

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