Letters and Diary Fiction posted October 4, 2015

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Journal readings and a storm

Taken by Surprise--Part 6 of 9

by jpduck

Wednesday, 26th July, 1951
I couldn’t get to sleep for ages last night. Lots of good reasons for that, of course, but it didn’t help that the air was so hot and muggy. I could hear distant rumblings of thunder.
When I woke I thought it must be only about five, because there was hardly any light. But when I checked my watch, it was my normal 7:30. I twitched the curtain and saw the sky was covered with dense, black clouds and lightning flickered in the distance.
There wasn’t a moment to spare. I threw my clothes on, showed a flannel to my hands and face, grabbed my journal and rushed over to Jack’s tent.
“Knock, knock!” I said loudly, standing outside the tent.
“Come in, Ruth. I’m decent.”
“Oh, that’s a shame.” I grinned, as I entered.
Jack blushed like a beetroot, and looked away.
“Hey, don’t worry Jack; that was a joke.”
“I know,” he said, with a rather half-hearted laugh. “I’m sorry; I blush for England.”
“There’s going to be a hell of a storm, by the looks of it. So, I’ve come across with my journal before the rain starts. It’ll be a good opportunity, don’t you think?”
“Yes. It’ll be perfect. But if the storm arrives and it’s quite close, we’ve gotta stop and watch the lightning. I love thunder storms, and this tent’s perfect for watching lightning.” He pointed to the two plastic windows angled up to the sky on two sides.
He grabbed his journal and his castoff diary and gave me a shy half-smile. “W-would you like to start?”
I opened my journal at my bookmark and cleared my throat. I felt shakingly nervous. No-one else had ever been allowed to read a single word of my journals. Mum had asked three or four times, but, as I told her, it was strictly private. And, now here was I allowing access to Jack. I don’t understand why, but it felt the right thing to do.
“Right! This is my description of an outing I had with Mum last month to the Wimbledon tennis championships.”
“Crumbs! You lucky girl! I love tennis.”
I chose this to read to him because it was an entry I had worked very hard at. I had wanted to convey the whole, exotic atmosphere of Wimbledon — the immense crowds, the wandering from court to court on the outside courts, seeing so many famous people in one day, the scrummy strawberries and cream. Then the climax of the day — two seats on Court One to see the glorious, edge-of-the-seat, leaping-up-and-down, exciting match between Doris Hart from America and number one ranked, and Nancy Wynne Bolton from Australia. I really wanted to describe the extreme tension of this third round match which Doris only won after a hard struggle.
I actually do believe I achieved what I set out to do. Jack certainly seemed to think so, but maybe he was just being kind.

Wednesday, 26th July, 1951
Ruth came over to the tent quite early this morning. Fortunately I was already dressed. She said she wanted to bring her journal across for the Big Read before the rain started. It certainly looked as if there was a super thunderstorm building.
I asked her if she would like to read first. I saw she had put a bookmark in her journal, so it looked as if she had carefully planned which part she was going to read. I was pleased to see that, because I had carefully planned and bookmarked mine as well. It made me feel less soppy about it.
Actually, she seemed very nervous, which surprised me; the book was shaking slightly as she held it open. She read out a smashing description of a day spent with her mum watching the tennis at Wimbledon. It was brilliant. She is such a good writer. She made me feel as if I had spent the day there with her — the jostling in the queues, seeing all those famous people. And then, finally, seeing Doris Hart playing and winning. Crikey, that must have been so special. Apparently, she had some disease when she was a child which left her with a permanently gammy leg; and yet she is world number one.
Then it was my turn. I think I was even more nervous than Ruth. I had decided to read the story of how Bernard and I explored the old, tumbledown, deserted house near Preston Park. I chose it because it was an entry I had taken a lot of time and trouble over, and because it was a hell of an adventure. Once we got into the house, it actually was quite spooky, but I had made the very most of it — squeezed it dry. I glanced at Ruth in the middle of that bit, and her mouth was actually hanging open. And when I read the bit about being grabbed by the policeman when we scrambled out through the hole in the fence, Ruth gasped. I heard her. Wow! I’m not as good a writer as she is, but I don’t think I made a fool of myself.
Just as I had finished reading there was a loud clap of thunder. Ruth leapt up to look out of the window. “I can’t make out which direction the storm’s coming from,” she said.
I quickly rolled up my sleeping bag and pulled the pillow down the airbed so it was immediately under both windows.
“It doesn’t matter. Lie down on the airbed and put your head on the pillow. Then you can see out of both windows at once.”
“That’s a great idea," she said and lay on the airbed.
I stood at one of the windows looking for lightning.
“Don’t stand there,” Ruth said. “You’re spoiling my view. Come here and join me; there’s plenty of room.”
So I did. I was lying on the airbed with Ruth — very close to her. I could hardly breathe. I looked straight up at the windows, praying for lightning. So we could have something to talk about. She wriggled her arm under my neck and laid her hand on my shoulder.
“You’re a funny boy, Jack; you’re very shy, aren’t you?”
“Am I?” Well what else could I say?
Just then the tent was lit with a brilliant light for a moment, almost immediately followed by a crackling, ear-splitting explosion. Although we didn’t see the lightning we could tell it had been on the left, towards the back of the campsite.
“Do you think that struck anything?” Ruth asked.
“I don’t know. I can’t see anything burning.”
At the next strike we did see the lightning. It split the sky in two and seemed to hit somewhere just beyond the road. The thunder followed even quicker than for the last one.
“Jack, are you there?”
It was Dad’s voice, just outside the tent.  I made as if to leap up. But Ruth’s hand held my shoulder strongly down. I looked at her.
“Don’t you dare get up,” she said.
“Jack?” Dad called even louder.
“Yes, Dad, I … we’re in here.”
He came in. “Oh … hello, Ruth.” He gave us a very Daddish smile.
“Hullo, Mr Rendle.”
“I just wanted to make sure you weren’t somewhere out in this storm. Right! Er … I’ll leave you to it, then,” and he backed hastily out of the tent.
Ruth laughed. I felt so comforted by her laugh that, without thinking about it, I gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“Oh, what was that for?” she asked, with a grin.
“For being such a good egg.”



These are extracts from the diaries of two 12-year-old children, Ruth and Jack, who meet on a caravan holiday in Dorset, UK. It is fictionalised biography. The main characters are all real, with names changed. The broad outline of the holiday is also real.

The nine episodes will be posted on alternate Sundays, interleaved with further chapters from the novel, 'Time & Again'
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