tagIncest/TabooHome is the Hunter

Home is the Hunter

byMoondrift©

London. 21st January 1944. 10-15 pm.

The train from Southampton pulled into the terminus and came to a halt. Carriage doors flew open and people seemed to spill out, and with them, Captain Lester Woodward.

With no batman to do his fetching and carrying he hoisted his own kit and made his way to the exit barrier.

The train, had been packed with service personnel, all either coming or going from somewhere to somewhere; they had filled every spare inch of the train, which seemed to have taken an interminable time to arrive.

The station, just like the rest of Britain, was blacked out. At the exit barrier was the ticket collector, and beside her two Military policemen (red caps).

As the train approached London the passengers had become aware that an air raid was in progress. Now they could hear the drone of aircraft and crack of the anti aircraft guns.

Arriving at the barrier the red caps saluted Lester, and one said, "Papers sir."

Lester presented his papers, including his fourteen day leave pass.

"Eighth Army sir?" one of the red caps said.

"Yes, nearly three bloody years of it and I'm glad to be home."

The other red cap laughed and said, "You've chosen a bad night for it sir, haven't had a raid like this since -- or, I don't know how long."

"May the sixth nineteen forty one," said the other red cap smugly.

They saluted him again and then turned their attention to an RAF sergeant who was next in the growing line of service personnel.

Lester glanced at this watch; 10-20. At Southampton he had managed to get through on the telephone to his mother. He had anticipated arriving home no later than 11 pm, but that was now out of the question, but he knew she would be waiting up for him.

* * * * * * * *

He made his way to the dark entrance of the underground station. The escalator was not working so he had to walk down to the platform. Arriving at the platform his eyes met an incredible sight; it was packed with people sheltering from the raid. Some were sleeping or trying to sleep on makeshift bunks, others were awake, chatting, and children playing.

It was amazing that the trains were still running, but thankfully one pulled in. Lester got in and saw that the carriage was nearly empty. The train passed through several stations on its way to the Liverpool Street terminus, at one of them someone was leading community singing, and Lester heard the strains of "Roll out the barrel."

The escalator was not working at Liverpool Street either so it was another walk, this time up.

Gaining the main platform he made his way to the barrier where another pair of red caps stood waiting. This time they only saluted and waved him on, there attention focused on a sailor who seemed to be having trouble finding his leave pass.

The train, due to be pulled by what looked like an update of George Stevenson's Rocket, (every available engine had been dragged back into service) sat panting unhappily; the carriage, like everywhere else was in darkness. The sound of the anti aircraft barrage seemed to have moved away, although it could still be heard as a distant rumble.

10-45 pm and the train gave a sudden jerk and slowly made its way out of the station on its journey to the outer eastern suburbs of London.

The train was due to stop at every station on the way, and Lester sat thinking of his mother. She would be alone.

Back in nineteen forty one, when the German U-boats were decimating the British merchant fleet in the Atlantic, his father, leaving the prosperous antique business in the care of his elderly business partner, Mr. Jenkins, he had volunteered to join the Merchant Marine as an ordinary sailor.

In nineteen forty two he had drowned when his ship was torpedoed. He was forty eight when he died, and left behind his relatively young wife, Caroline.

Lester had been informed by his colonel about his father's death, and this was followed by a letter from his mother. In it she wrote nothing of the grief Lester knew she must be feeling. He wanted to go to her, but at that time in North Africa there was no compassionate leave, the army was finally in the midst of a successful campaign against the Axis forces.

Even when that campaign was over, the invasion of Sicily and then Italy took place. Lester had thought he was destined to end the war fighting in Italy, that is, if he survived. He was therefore surprised when he was told he was to be posted back to Britain.

He was not told why, but he had a fair idea. The armies that were to soon invade Europe were being assembled and trained, and he, as an experienced officer, would be part of that training.

* * * * * * * *

11-30 pm and the train finally wheezed its way into the station where Lester alighted.

It seemed even darker here and he showed his travel warrant to a tired looking young woman at the station exit. "Are there any busses running?" he asked.

"Last one left five minutes ago, the bloody train is late, as usual," she replied wearily, "I'll have to walk home myself."

"Taxi?" Lester asked hopefully.

"You should be so lucky," she replied, "There hasn't been a taxi here for the past two years."

Lester shrugged and made his way out of the station and began the four mile walk home. It was bitterly cold and he pulled up the collar of his great coat.

This suburb still retained something of a rural atmosphere, with fields and copses. Not until after the war would the houses creep out to engulf the fields and destroy the copses.

Looking south as he walked Lester could see some fires burning along what he thought would be the Thames docks, and to the east he could faintly see shell bursts high up and hear their rumble; but here all was quiet, only searchlights crossed and re-crossed the sky in search of enemy aircraft.

As he watched the display of the beams he heard, rather like a bumble bee, the sound of an aircraft. Suddenly it was caught in a beam and every searchlight within range was brought to bear on it, and within seconds this was followed by the roar and blinding flash of a nearby battery of 3.7 anti aircraft guns.

He saw the plane caught like a tiny frantic moth diving, climbing and weaving as it tried to get out of the searchlight cone. Then it seemed to disintegrate. The searchlights recommenced their weaving and the guns fell silent.

Then came the ping and rattle of shrapnel falling on the road.

Lester thought that any moment he would feel one of those jagged pieces of metal tear into his flesh. "It would be ironical," he thought, "if after all the fighting I've been involved in, I got killed by one of our own pieces of steel."

The shrapnel fall ceased and he came through it unscathed.

* * * * * * * *

12-20 am and Lester arrived at the house.

It had once been a substantial Tudor farm house built, it was believed, by one of the rising gentlemen farmers who had profited well from Henry the Eighth's dissolution of the monasteries.

When his mother and father had moved in not long after their marriage, the house had been in a very dilapidated condition, but loving care and renovation had over the years restored it to some of its former glory.

The front door key which he had carried with him through the years while away he inserted in the lock; turned it and entered.

His mother must have been extremely alert because she must have heard even the turn of the key. As Lester entered she flew to him and they were in each other's arms.

"Darling...oh my darling...thank God you've come back safe," Caroline wept. They stood for a while clinging to each other until Caroline said, "Have you eaten?"

"They gave me some sandwiches to eat on the train," he replied, but they went long ago; have you got anything?"

"I kept some Irish stew for you, but there not much meat in it, you know, the rationing."

"They gave me to some ration coupons to use on leave," Lester said, "perhaps we could do some shopping tomorrow?"

"Queuing you mean," Caroline said wryly.

"You don't have to go to work, do you?" Lester asked.

"When one of the women's husbands comes home on leave they give them time off from work to be with them. When I told them about you coming home they counted it as if you are my husband because I live alone."

"Come on, we'll go into the kitchen and I'll heat the stew, it's warmer in there."

She set about heating the stew and Lester sat watching her. He had thought they would be bubbling over with things to say to each other, but now he was there he didn't want to talk, and neither it seemed did Caroline. It was as if for the time being they were content being in each other's presence and talk would come later.

All had been quiet for some time, but now there came the sound of aircraft engines, not one this time, but several. A nearby gun battery opened fire, shaking the ground and rattling the windows.

He looked at Caroline and said, "Don't you take shelter when it's like this?"

She turned to him and smiled, "I did use to go down into the cellar when things got really bad during the forty one blitz, but they're not really interested in places like this, they go after the docks and all those tenement houses that crowd round the docks. Of course, we've had a few bombs, they say its aircraft that have missed their target and are jettisoning their load. Here you are; it should be hot enough."

The guns ceased firing but there was the faint sound of canon fire.

"It's a lot different now than it was in nineteen forty one," Caroline said. "There were no real night fighters then and all the guns could do was to point up, fire and pray they'd hit something, which they rarely did. That noise," she continued pointing upwards, "that's one of the fighters now."

As he ate Lester felt weariness seep into his bones. It had been a long and frustrating day, but he had experienced more stressful times. He thought it must be because he was home, and he could let go of the past few years.

"I've got your old room ready," Caroline said.

He rose and she came to him, and standing on tip toe kissed him and said, "You can't know what it means to have you home again."

In bed Lester fell into a deep sleep and didn't hear the all clear siren go at around 4 am.

A London Suburb. 22nd January 1944. 6 am.

From military habit Lester woke early. At first he didn't realise where he was, but as the fog of sleep cleared he realised that he could luxuriate in bed for a while. As he lay there the lines of a poem he had learned at school came into his head.

"Home is the sailor home from the sea, and the hunter home from the hill."

He thought of the many men who would never be coming home, and one especially, his father.

His parents had never hidden from him how they came together, and what details they had not told him his grandparents had.

Caroline's brother Jack had been away from home attending university. One vacation time he had brought his friend and fellow student Charles Woodward home for a few days visit.

Charles was a very attractive young man, quiet and a little shy. Whether or not it is true that people fall in love at first sight, then at least Caroline and Charles had come close to doing just that.

His grandmother had once shown him a black and white photograph of his mother taken about the time she first met Charles. She was very young, but he could see in her what she was to become in her maturity.

Her face full fleshed but strong, her nose straight although a trifle longer than was fashionable, her mouth full lipped and almost sensuously curved as she smiled into the camera. Her green eyes that had an almost oriental slant reflected the smile on her lips. Here hair, which Lester knew to be chestnut brown, tumbled in a mass of curls and waves, to spread out over her shoulders.

Her figure was no less arresting than her face. She was very slender apart from what seemed to be her too-full bosom, yet she appeared to be carry her young breasts with pride -- almost challenging arrogance.

Recalling the photograph as he lay in bed, he thought she was the ideal of men's fantasies.

At the time Lester had said, "Mummy looks very pretty."

"Yes," his grandmother had said, "she was very beautiful."

She had paused as if lost in thought for a moment and then almost to herself said, "She was very deep."

Lester had not understood that at the time, but as he grew towards his own maturity he knew the truth of what his grandmother had said. His mother was very deep. For every layer of her personality that was revealed, there seemed to be many more layers to be discovered."

It was small wonder that Charles was completely besotted with by this beautiful young girl, but why she was so head over heels in love with him had been a mystery to those around them at the time.

For Charles Caroline was a voyage of discovery, and as Lester was to learn for himself, the moment you thought you had her pinned down, like water in a sieve she had escaped you again.

Caroline had always insisted that it was she who had seduced Charles. He had insisted that he was to blame but those who knew Caroline tended to believe her version.

When she found she was pregnant Charles said he would marry her, in fact he insisted he would marry her. His parents were by way of being minor aristocrats and might have been expected to be horrified that their son had impregnated such a young woman, but like most people on meeting Caroline, they were utterly charmed by her.

Her own parents did not berate her, but doubted that she was old enough to marry Charles, of whom they otherwise approved.

In the end things were managed discreetly; special permission for Caroline to marry was followed by a quiet registry office wedding ceremony.

There were those who predicted that the marriage could not last, but they were proved wrong. Right from the start it had been a love match, and remained so, and Lester had been taken into the orbit of their love. Caroline had been known to say that she had loved Lester even while he was in her womb.

Now, what Lester viewed as the idyllic days, were over, probably gone for ever; war and the death of his father had seen to that.

* * * * * * * *

In keeping with the depth of her personality that his grandmother had first indicated to him, Lester found his mother endlessly fascinating. Even as a child, when she held him to her full breasts, kissing him and stroking his hair, he had always felt that there was something beyond, something he felt but could not define.

A break in the smooth flow of their relationship took place when he was twelve years of age. He was sent to an expensive private boarding school that promised to "Develop the fully rounded boy."

While at the school he had joined the Army Cadets. He had continued this at university by joining the Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU).

It was during this period in his life that he discovered what he had come to call, "The something beyond," in his relationship with his mother. This became his dark secret, that which must never to be spoken of. It was that which he knew would fulfill their relationship, but a fulfillment that would be for ever beyond his reach.

It may have been a secret held back from everyone else, but not from Caroline. Thought transference might be going too far, but there is another sort of transference, one that sometimes takes place between two people deeply committed to each other which for want of a better term, might be called, "The transfer of feelings."

It existed between Lester and Caroline in a way that seemed hidden from other people, but was very real for mother and son. It was therefore the case that although they never spoke of the dark secret, each knew that the other was aware of its content.

Another break in their family life came with the outbreak of war in nineteen thirty nine. Lester had not completed his degree course; nevertheless he volunteered and was accepted for the army. Having had some training in the OCTU he was sent to an officer training unit.

At the end of this he was a posted as a second lieutenant to an infantry regiment.

He missed the debacle of France and Dunkirk and with the accelerated promotion of wartime and the shortage of officers he was quickly promoted lieutenant and then captain. At that point he was posted to North Africa which for a while was yet another debacle, until October nineteen forty two when the British Army took the offensive at El Alamein.

* * * * * * * *

Lester woke again with a start realising he had dozed off but had carried his musings into his light slumber. He glanced at his watch and saw it was nearly eight o'clock. He heard his mother moving about the house.

He rose reluctantly and went in search of her. He found her in the kitchen and looking up at him she said, "There's some cereal or porridge and tea but no coffee, and if we're going shopping we'd better get going soon because if anything off ration has come in it'll be gone very quickly."

Lester had expected that once home he would feel on top of the world, but somehow he felt dull, leaden, as if the past few years had suddenly caught up with him. He ate a bowl of cereal and drank a cup of tea, and was on the verge of saying he wouldn't go shopping, but changed his mind because it would seem very churlish.

"We'd better go in by bus," his mother said, "it's too cold for the bicycles."

"Bicycles!" Of course, the car was up on blocks in the garage and would stay there until some time in the distant future when petrol would be generally available again.

"Can I have a shower before we go?" he asked.

Showers were a rather exotic feature in Britain at that time, but it was one of the things his parents had installed while renovating the place.

"Can you wait, darling," his mother said, "we really should be going."

To be able to go to the shops after a night's sleep was a luxury for Caroline; normally she had to shop soon after coming off nightshift at the factory or somehow fit it in at the end of the dayshift when the shops were near to clsing time.

Lester still had the grime of the previous day's traveling on him, but he agreed the shower could wait until after they got back from the shops. He grinned to himself when he recalled how at times he had gone for days and even weeks without a proper wash.

He noticed that his mother was wearing an overcoat bought just before the war, and he remembered that she had in those days bought at least one new coat every year.

As they went in the bus to the shopping centre Lester noticed a few signs of bomb damage. He hadn't seen the damage in London, but he had seen the devastating damage done to Southampton when the Germans were making an all out effort to close British ports.

The bus got diverted from its normal route because an unexploded bomb had fallen in the street.

Arriving in the shopping centre he saw that Barclays Bank had been reduced to rubble and Spencer's men and boys wear shop had been gutted by fire and the nearby shops had also been damaged and abandoned; all the result of the nineteen forty one blitz.

There was a long queue outside the poultry shop and Caroline said excitedly, "Quick, let's find out what's come in." They learned that it was rabbits, and these were off ration.

"You join the queue," Caroline said, "and I'll go up the street to see what the fishmonger has got in."

Lester discovered that his uniform worked miracles. He was classified as "One of our brave boys," and he was passed up the queue rather like a game of pass the parcel until he found himself standing in front of the counter.

A plump woman grinned at him as she wrapped a rabbit in newspaper and handing it to him said, "No charge love."

Lester began to protest but a burly man who had been busy skinning the rabbits said, "You 'eard what the missies said, no charge, so bugger orf and Gawd bless yer."

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