Honey Mine

2 April 2003, revised 5-15 June 2003, 6 December 2004

by oosh

“Well, that's lovely to hear... and I'm relieved, because I have to tell you...” Ellie's mother drops the receiver to her breast and turns toward the door, afraid that her daughter may be eavesdropping.

All is quiet. No creak of floorboards. Ellie is probably still closeted in her room, as she usually is these days, doing goodness knows what in there. Ellie's mother would rather not think — although she suspects.

She turns back to the telephone and lifts the receiver to her mouth once more. “...I just wish she could be like that when she's at home. You don't know what it's like for me — for us. We have to be so careful... Touchy? I should say! ... How long? The last couple of weeks, at least. Honestly, it makes me wonder if something's going on... I only have to say the wrong word, and she blows up in my face. She's like an unexploded...”

The voice in the earpiece interrupts, and again, Ellie's mother turns, anxiously watching the doorway.

“No, that's not it at all,” she says, a more confident tone entering her voice now. “Quite the opposite: he keeps calling for her. But she won't talk to him. She keeps telling me she'll call him back; but she never does. — At least, not when I'm around. And she's been staying out ever such a lot recently. She says she's babysitting. But I can't believe that she...”

Out of the corner of her eye, Ellie's mother sees a shadowy movement out in the passage. “Well, dear, I must get on. Thanks for the update, though. She seems to have gone down a bomb! And I'll – er – keep you abreast of any developments... Bye.”

She turns toward the door. Was the blasted girl eavesdropping? — Had she said anything on the phone that might cause friction? Only that she was glad that Ellie had found something worthwhile to occupy her time at last — instead of moping around with that awful Ian Barnes. And mother's views on that subject have always been crystal clear.

“Ellie?” she calls. “Ellie?”

There is a moan from the kitchen.

Ellie's mother composes an affectionate smile – a smile of approval. She wears it as one might wear a headscarf, or a brooch. Once it is properly adjusted, she bustles in, to find her daughter seated at the table, staring moodily at a plate, empty save for a few crumbs and a smear of jam. “That was Amanda on the phone.”

Ellie looks up moodily. “Oh yeah.” She looks down again.

Amanda was the one who started it. She was the one who told Mum about poor Mrs Davis – on her own with two difficult children, and not coping. Needed help. And of course Mum was only too keen to rope Ellie in. Ellie can do it. Ellie needs something worthwhile to do. Worthwhile — huh!

“Amanda saw Myra Davis this morning. She's singing your praises, you'll be glad to hear.”

Ellie blushes, and makes a non-committal noise.

“She says the children adore you. And apparently Myra seems a lot brighter. You're obviously a big hit.”

Ellie turns a deeper red, and her mother laughs; but Ellie twists her lips, refusing to smile. “I... I ought to be getting my stuff together. MzzDavis wanted me to babysit again tonight.”

“Not seeing Ian tonight, then?” Mother asks as lightly as she can.

“Why? Has he rung?” Ellie's blush has drained away.

“Only about two or three times.”

“If he rings...” Ellie sighs irritably. “If he rings again, tell him I'll call him, okay?” Abruptly, she launches herself from her chair and prances out, flicking her hair. The exaggerated sway of her hips, beautiful in their tight, faded denim, serves to emphasize her vexation. But then she is gone, and there is only the sound of sprung footsteps upon the stairs, and the slam of Ellie's bedroom door.

In her room, Ellie stands cursing. “Why can't you fucking stay out of it... Mother?” A venomous whisper.

Yes, Ellie is angry. Angry because her thing with Ian now seems so small, so far away, so... crap. Angry because Mother is so, so fucking right, and so completely fucking wrong. She knows nothing. Nothing.

What was it she said? “You ought to help her, Ellie. Her husband is a hero — a real hero.”

Of course, Ellie had been unconvinced. She couldn't say what she thought. What she thought was: “You're just trying to say that Ian's a waste of space. Which you do every day anyway. Why don't you save your breath?”

But it was true. Gerry Davis was a hero. A man with the kind of courage that few people alive could dream of. A man who could creep twenty yards across the ground, light as a kitten, towards an unexploded mine. A man who could feel it carefully with his fingers, while the sweat of fear wept from his face. Who could feel gently for the weak spot, the link, the fuse, and with infinite tenderness, ease the danger away with his own fingers. Bomb disposal officer, first class.

And who knew it? His comrades, of course. There would be the slaps on the back, afterwards. The drinks at the bar. “Have another one, Gerry.” But nobody knew it like those two kids. Nobody! Gemma – silent, crafty Gemma – she knew. “There's nobody like my dad,” she'd said, clutching her pillow with just a little too much force. And Jimmy! What pride in his eye, as he rolled his toy SRVB1 across the carpet! “It's just there,” he would whisper, “just there. So we stop here, and we get out.” In his mind, he is out there with his father, out there in the hell of war, living whatever he can of that fear with the mind of a seven year old boy.

And Myra – what of her? Does she love him for it, or hate him? Not easy to say. Unforgettable, that first afternoon, with Myra sitting, brooding in front of the silent television, oblivious to the children, just watching the war headlines scrolling up on teletext. All you could hear, when Jimmy was quiet, was the tick tick tick of that damn clock. What was she thinking?

At first, Ellie thought that she must be worrying about him, away from her for months, not even able to write back, unable to say he loved her — nothing. Living with that kind of danger, there can be no room for any other emotion but fear – fear beforehand, and after, the elation of having survived another — what would they call it? Another job?

And is that why she seems to hate him, sometimes? What can there be left over for her? For them?

All that courage, all that plus, somehow needed a balancing minus somewhere else. It was as if that sublime heroism out on the battlefield left at home a still more terrible void: the children, hyperactive, grasping, clinging, desperate for affection, and the mother, sucked dry of every feeling, just staring at the headlines in uncomprehending despair.

But nothing is quite as simple as it seems, is it? Even in that vortex of emptiness, strange anaerobic creatures grow, and flourish unsuspected.

Why was it, by the end of the first afternoon, that little Jimmy would not let her go? She'd been standing by the door, and he fastened on to her leg, gripping her tightly to him, his little hands gripping in places that were suddenly unexpectedly sensitive. And why had she responded as she did? Never, when Ian touched her, had such thrills coursed through her body. What was it Myra had said, with that wry little smile?

— “Who'd be a mother, eh?”

I. I want to be a mother. That's what Ellie had felt. I want to be a mother, and be loved like this. Be touched like this. By need, simple need.

Later, Jimmy had shown her his most prized possession: the model of a bomb that Gerry had made for him out of olive-wood, sanded smooth and polished with penetrating wax, redolent of turpentine. “Feel it! All nice and smooth, isn't it?” he had said, his eyes huge with excitement. “Put your finger here! What do you feel?”

Ellie hadn't known. But Jimmy could tell her, delighted to share his father's esoteric knowledge. “Do you feel a little bump?”

Yes, Ellie felt it. Just a little bump.

“That's the fuse!”

“And what does the fuse do?”

“That's what makes the bomb go off.” And Jimmy had closed his eyes, drawn a big breath, and let out a piercing “BOO-OOM!”

Ellie had covered her ears and laughed. But both Gemma and Myra were ashen-faced.

And then there were the rough-and-tumble games. Jimmy in particular liked those. Gemma would sit, just like her mother, and watch, a sneer upon her face. Sometimes she would pretend to read a book, or play with one of her dolls, holding it to her breast.

Can a seven year old boy feel sexual desire? It seemed like it. Every game, no matter what the pretext, ended up with Jimmy sliding his hands under Ellie's t-shirt, up the sleeve, down through the neck, or in at the waist – always feeling, exploring, tickling, until she had to swat him away. At first she thought it was innocent — but was it? “He loves you, Ellie,” Myra had said. “He thinks you're the cat's whiskers.”

And then there was that awful time she'd worn her short mini. What a ridiculous mistake! It would have been bad enough on its own, but Myra and Gemma sat there, pretending to pay no attention, but watching, more avidly than ever.

Alone in her room, Ellie blushes at the memory. What had possessed her to dress like that? The whole atmosphere became overcharged — particularly in Jimmy's case. Several times, Gemma had intervened, pushing Jimmy off and fighting him herself. “You're not to touch her like that!” And when, finally, Jimmy's tireless wrestling and groping and play-fighting had worked her up, to the point that she knew she was getting excited and careless, Myra had stood over them, silent, straight-mouthed and trembling, and Jimmy had fled upstairs. Did she disapprove? That was how it had seemed at the time. But in retrospect, perhaps it was something else, something that dared not find expression.

Had that, perhaps, been the turning point, the trigger that set everything else in motion? In retrospect, it must have been, because for the first time it became obvious that Gemma was competing with her brother in earnest for Ellie's attention and affection. That night, after the bedtime story, Gemma had insisted on a cuddle. And a rather touchy-feely cuddle it had turned out to be, to the extent that Ellie had involuntarily let out a little moan — and Gemma drew back, asked: “Do you like that feeling?” Perhaps she knew already. Perhaps she knew perfectly well what she was doing.

And the very next day, Jimmy wanted to be the bomb disposal man... and Ellie had to play the part of the bomb. And of course he had touched her just there. How had he known, at his age? Could Gemma have told him? But if so, perhaps they weren't competing at all: perhaps they were colluding, in some mysterious way? Could that make sense? Either way, in the light of subsequent events, it had almost ceased to matter.

And once she'd extricated herself from Gemma, there was mother, frozen in front of the silent television. Tick tick tick from the clock. “Come here,” she'd said, patting the cushion, and she'd made Ellie sit down there beside her on the sofa.

“You must think I'm a terrible mother,” she'd said, “making you do everything like this. I do love my children, really.” She began breathing heavily, biting on her knuckle.

That was exactly what Ellie had been thinking, but it was clearly not the time to say so. She'd had to mumble reassuring denials.

“I'm not usually like this, Ellie. It just hasn't been the same since... Since he...” She'd reached for Ellie's hand, almost crushed it in her own. “You see, almost as soon as he went, I realized... that I was... pregnant.”

Ellie had wriggled away a little, afraid of this sudden disclosure.

“He'd only been gone a week, and I knew this was going to be a long job – much more dangerous than any he's had before. And me on my own, not knowing when I'd see him again.”

Of course, Myra was speaking of the war. Ellie thought of Ian being away, living a life of deadly peril, for weeks... for months. But she just couldn't imagine it. People like Ian preferred to sit around in bars, looking cool in front of their mates. Sure, when Ian hadn't been around, she'd sometimes missed him. — Or perhaps it was a part of her, that missed a part of him. Anyway, it was nothing like this chasm of emptiness. This was something people like Ian could never hope to fill.

“I wanted it so much... Him doing... what he does... I wanted so much for us to have... another baby. So that I could be... you know.”

Ellie didn't know. She couldn't imagine someone actually wanting to be pregnant. Hell! Ian had tried to insist that she go on the pill. But her friends had all assured her: you feel sick all the time. Who wants to feel sick all the time? Anyway, if he was so keen to do it, why shouldn't he take care of the necessities? It was terrifying enough for her as it was, always having to worry in case it slipped off, or something spilled out...

“I thought that if I was here, at home, having his child...”

And really, perhaps that was why she got so turned on when Jimmy played his childish wrestling games, and Gemma had her cuddles. They were innocent. Why couldn't Ian just touch her as they did – out of love? Why couldn't he understand that she just wanted to be touched as they touched her, without always demanding more, more?

“And when I missed my period, I thought I was sure.”

Ian. Bloody Ian. All he can think about is getting off inside me, while I lie awake at night, terrified in case...

“The sickness got worse. And I really was sure. And then... I had my next period. Heavier than usual.”

What? “I'm... so sorry...”

Myra sighed. She didn't seem sad, just resigned. “I suppose it wasn't meant to be.”

No, but it wasn't meant not to be, either.

“Hold me, Ellie. Just for a moment. Please.”

And Ellie found herself saying all kinds of things she couldn't quite remember: “It's not your fault... He knows you love him...” while Myra sobbed and sobbed. And then, from nowhere, the fateful words — where had they come from? “You aren't nothing, you aren't empty...”

At that, Myra had pushed her away, had wrapped herself in her own arms. “Go now,” she had said, “go.” And then, “But come back tomorrow.”

At first, there seemed to be no change. Perhaps the children were a bit more relaxed; and perhaps Myra didn't look away so quickly whenever Ellie turned to her. Perhaps it was time to acknowledge what Ellie had always sensed: Myra's eyes on her, and not the television, whenever her back was turned. But Jimmy had been more insistent than ever on his bomb disposal game – the one where Ellie had to be the bomb.

“Ha-ha,” he crowed, “this is the fuse.”

“Don't touch me there!”

“But it is!”

And in her corner, Gemma gave a sly smile, and looked away into her book.

At last, Myra, not taking her eyes from the television, shuffled in her dressing-gown and issued her edict: “Jimmy... Gemma... time for bed!”


Growling, “Up you go!”

Four elephant feet upon the stairs.

Ellie sat up, straightening her clothes. Breathless. Feeling foolish. Blushing.

Myra, exigent: “Get them to sleep. Then come down again.”

And at last, side by side on the sofa: “They love you, you know.”

Ellie helpless. Not finding words.

“You have come to us out of nowhere.”

“I... My mum said I should come.” Sounds pretty crap. “I mean, you need someone. I mean, with Jimmy and...”

“I make you spend all your time here. You must have a boyfriend?”

“Yes, I've... Well, not really.”

“Do you know what Jimmy says about you?”


Myra's eyes, then. Compelling her. “He says you are beautiful.”

Ellie looked away.

“Look at me, Ellie.”

No. I am bad. I should not feel this. I could never be a mother.

“Ellie, you are a danger in our midst. You have blown all our defences down. Do you realize?”

And then, suddenly, without intending to, as if drawn to it, they had kissed. My God! Kissed for hours!

Never, never had she suspected...

It is late. She has been standing here too long, remembering. Remembering the the need, the passion... And the pleasure. Yes, to be honest, the pleasure. Nothing like those sad, sweaty little fucks with Ian. — Ian, hah! Never again...!

Yeah, much too far in now. No turning back.

Hurriedly, Ellie strips. For a moment, she stares in wonder and disgust at the viscous puddle in her knickers. Myra likes it, calls it “your honey, your lovely honey.” But Ellie is still not used to it. Ian could never do that to her. But Myra — just thinking about Myra... Abruptly, she hurls the soaked underwear under the bed, then throws on one of her most seductive outfits – the one Ian liked so very much. That should go down well. Mascara? Dab, dab. That will have to do. Lipstick? No point. Hair? Quick brush. Heels. Rush down.

“My God! I thought you were babysitting. Where are you going?”

“To MzzDavis. I told you.”

“But... This late? And dolled-up like that?”

“Why not?”

The door bangs. There is just the tick-tick-tick of heels on the pathway, quick and steady like a clock, then fading, fading into fearful silence.

Ellie's mother sighs.

Shortly, another door opens. Myra, too, is resplendent. She stands back, so that they can look at one another.

No facial expressions, no words. Just eyes wide in delighted amazement.

Ellie presses the door closed behind her, gently, with her fingertips, shutting out everything she has known. She didn't run. Not in these heels. Forced herself not to. Why, then, is she so out of breath?

Myra: “They're in bed.”


“I didn't tell them you were coming.” Myra swallows. Breath coming faster and faster. Arms held out. “So come. Oh honey, honey, come to me... You dangerous, dangerous thing... We have to make you safe, don't we, hmmm? Or you will destroy us all...”

Lips greet lips, and sightless eyes all-seeing, in-seeing stare, while slender fingers delicately embark upon their daring, necessary task.

And some time later, there is a carefully controlled explosion.

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