Hammersmith: Reckoning Up (part one)
Somehow, the hour had come to this—
A rising sun, beaming insistent rays at eyes their bleariest of a lifetime. Alone at the kitchen table in Vic’s empty house, Aimee woke, not from sleep—a thing not to be managed on a wooden chair—but to the fact that she would be walking home in daylight.
Poor Vic, his world had been knocked sideways. Or no, (she quibbled with herself), sent spinning…?
However, the world always spins.
Never mind. His condition called for wifely sympathy. Then knuckle-rapping.
Zetland’s intelligence, Lieutenant Hickman had dutifully borne to Washburn. Washburn had ordered smoke bombs, holding his mounted patrols outside the factory gates, to spare the horses and block escapees. Inside the gates, his men crawled on their bellies under an oily cloud, with orders to grit their teeth against any shower of bricks.
Once through the bay doors, still unchallenged, they rose. They were nervous, but combat-ready.
“Do not fight!” Oldfield shouted. “The victory today is tyranny’s. Tomorrow it shall be ours!”
The first round of Washburn’s prisoners, the ringleaders, had been marched through the militia camp, past the tree stump where Aimee and Vic, Minnie and Mr. Sandy, sat at a game of baccarat. Minnie, having them on her person, had furnished the cards.
Nico spoke aside to Oldfield, pointing his chin at Vic.
True, this looked like cheekiness. Aimee was just pointing out that Nico was denied the use of his hands, when Vic flew. She flung after, body-blocking him before he could humiliate his daughter.
“I am quite willing to speak to the press. You will permit me,” Oldfield addressed his guard, “to pause a moment. Indeed, I have prepared a statement. Young man,” he said to Aimee, “in my pocket, you will find information, the identical publication I had given that fellow, whom the militant arm of the state designates Commander. And let me inform the readers of your Clew…yes, Mr. Mack, I am not ignorant of your identity. Write this. Are you taking notes?”
Aimee tapped her temple, choosing not to speak.
“That it came to me as no surprise, to witness this oppressor discard my words on a pile of burning refuse. I carry in the pockets of my garments an even gross of these documents, issued from my own press. Long experience has taught me that study on the part of our journalists is sorely needed, as to grasping the proletarian aims, and the nature of our movement, which none who grasp can find inimical to the welfare of human society.”
Committing none of this to memory, Aimee dared the pocket, extracting a folded list of ready-made Q’s and A’s, and a pamphlet, one Oldfield encouraged the reprinting of.
So he said, and proceeded to interview himself.
“You wish to know, do I consider this a setback? No, emphatically not. That we make inroads at all against the vast resources of a Mossbunker, can be regarded as nothing other than success. You ask me, then, how large is the movement? I count hearts, sir, not heads…”
June, walloping a pair of uniformed shoulders with the flat of her hand, bobbed in, taking Nico’s arm, deaf to her father’s background murmur of: “Why…? What…? How…?”
She spoke to a cowed private. “I am not going home with Victor Mack. I don’t belong to my father. What was your name…Spanner? You can just take your hands off me!”
“She doesn’t mean it.”
Aimee saw Vic blink in her direction.
“Well, all right, she means it.” She hooked his elbow.
“I need to see Washburn.”
“I doubt Washburn has much to do with the prisoners anymore. The government will hang onto to Oldfield and Nico…and of course they won’t let June bunk in with Nico. Vic, you’ll have to help her. I mean with money. And a lawyer, a Philadelphia lawyer.”
“What’re you talking about?” He scratched his head. “A rest home, maybe. I wonder if Sandy…or even Elton…?”
“Will ever forgive you? Now, Vic. You’d consider it, packing June off, telling everyone she’s not well? Do you think that’s fair? Do you mean you’re not proud of her at all, leading the men that way? Winning for herself a man like…”
Between the sexes, Aimee decided, some things don’t translate. “Likely they’ll deport Nico to Sicily. And so he and June might have to be married, even if they don’t believe in it. But they love each other… Or, they’re philosophically in harmony with each other…”
She was scanning Oldfield’s documents, as they walked to the offices of the Clew.
“I better get off to town hall and drag her back where she belongs.”
“No, Vic. Come through to the kitchen, and sit with me.”
Aimee put the kettle on to boil, rummaged the breadbox and found a few rolls, crunchy only at the edges. This, and butter, two plates and two knifes, and after a longer search, a jar of her own peach marmalade, she laid on the table in front of him.
“Why have I never wanted to marry you?”
“I don’t measure up. What I figured.”
“Oh, nonsense. Who do I like keeping company with better than you?”
“Mr. Hogben…” She flapped a hand. “Is a whatyacallit in the night.”
“Ship that passes. Think about your daughter.”
(2019, Stephanie Foster)