This time she did get up, despite the very loud protests of her battered body. She must look a fright, she though dully, before she was all but knocked back to the ground when Eli flung himself into her arms. He was sobbing, scared stiff, but he too was alive, and she had never been more grateful for anything. She tried to stay strong, but while her tears were also from fear, they were mostly in relief. The gentleman returned, puffing lightly.
“One down, madam, one to go. If you’d like to take a short walk with me, if you can manage it, let’s get you both cleaned up ready for when we find your Daisy, eh? Won’t be too long now.”
Mary studied this man for the first time. He was middle aged, perhaps a decade older than herself – definitely younger than her father. His hair was dark, though she couldn’t be sure of that, because it was dark and there was so much dust everywhere. There were lines around his eyes, which had a kind and compassionate quality to them. Mary thought he looked like a teacher, the rare sort that the students both respected and actually liked. People from all sorts of professions had become involved in the nightly patrols around London, digging people out of basements like they had just done for her and her children. Her child.
But where was Daisy?
At almost the exact moment that thought crossed her mind, her foot caught on something sticking out of the ground. When she looked down, she almost lost the contents of her stomach a second time. A small hand protruded at an unthinkable angle from between the stones. Her first thought was that it was Jasper, the smallest Jones. But then she saw the paint.
Daisy was forever drawing. Everywhere and any place she could, and often places that she couldn’t. Mary would have recognised those paint-stained hands anywhere.
An unearthly cry was ripped from her lungs as she fell to the ground, clawing at the bricks and mortar that held her daughter’s body. Maybe there was an air pocket down there. Maybe poking her hand above the ground was the only way Daisy could let anyone know she was there, alive. Maybe every second these idiots stood around gawping at her was another second less Daisy was able to breathe.
Eli was scooped up by the well-meaning teacher who may not have been a teacher, looking on at his mother with wide eyes and she scrabbled like a demon possessed, digging Daisy out of the ground with her bare hands. She was sure they were being torn to pieces on the corners of brick jutting out of the ground but that was the least important thing in the world. Within seconds people were swarming around Mary, pulling her away as they continued to work away at debris around the hand. Her daughter was in there. If she listened hard enough she was sure, she was certain, she could hear Daisy’s laboured breathing, her little lungs struggling as they inhaled the building that had collapsed on top of her.
It took longer to pull Daisy’s body out of her rocky tomb than it had any right to take. Mary couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see, as they laid her daughter’s tiny body gently on a canvas some distance away from the shell of the building they had all lived in together only a day previously. Her body was still warm. Still Mary checked painstakingly for a pulse in every place she knew to check, lifted her daughter’s eyelids gently in the vain hope there would be the smallest reaction to light, anything. Eli stood mutely next to his mother, hardly daring to speak, lest she fall to pieces before his eyes, gone to him like his sister. He understood that she would not be waking up, that he would have to leave his constant companion here alone, in the night, surrounded by strangers who had other things on their minds. He didn’t dare ask why they couldn’t simply take her body with them, put her somewhere nice where she wouldn’t be alone or forgotten. She always loved to play on the swings in the park two or three streets away – maybe they could leave her there. He wished his father were here.
The nice man was fussing around them again, trying to find out if they were hurt, and where. Eli thought that maybe the places he hurt couldn’t be fixed by this man. After what seemed like an age, he took a deep breath, stood up, and softly laid a hand on his mother’s dampened cheek. She barely registered he was there.
“Mumma.” He removed his hand and kissed that cheek. “Mumma.”
“Granma Josie will look after Daisy in heaven, Mumma.” He wanted desperately to make her feel better. “Daisy can draw Granma all the pictures she wants.”
Mary looked her son in the eyes, dismayed and proud at steadfastness she saw there. He look so much like his father, those deep grey eyes seeming as though they could see past any exterior, no matter how rugged, and see the truth beneath. Like they could see into your very soul. Mary saw George on their wedding day, looking at her with those eyes as they committed themselves to one another, knowing she never could and never would lie to him as long as they lived. She promised herself she would never lie to Eli, either. She gathered herself, piece by piece, and pulled the remnants of her broken heart into something that only vaguely resembled what it once was.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do now, Eli.” He looked at her for a moment, his forehead wrinkled as he considered their problem.
“Can we stay with Aunty Izzy?” Isobel was George’s younger sister, and although Mary had never gotten on well with Isobel, she had always doted on the children and Mary had no siblings of her own, and her parents too far away to get to them tonight. Isobel would have to do. She gathered her coat about herself and shivered, wondering if she would ever get rid of the chill that had now puts down its roots in her bones.
“Let’s go and find out.”