Alice and the Cold War

So here’s a random chapter, but not the first, from something I’ve been working on lately, let me know what you think 🙂

August 6th, 1950.

Evelyn sat quietly, pushing the baked dinner around the antique Royal Albert plate before her. Scrunching her face with frustration, she stares intently at the skinny ceramic salt and pepper shakers in the middle of the table. Her baby blue eyes widen in awe as they grow tiny little arms, open their eyes and waltz around the thick red cloth stretched out across the worn table. Much like Evelyn they too were oblivious to the heavy bickering regarding the latest news of who was threatening who and why the world was in such a state in the first place, but instead, became blissfully absorbed in anything but the present, the unfinished meal a testament to such distraction.

Directly opposite sat her dear mother Katherine. Her soft coffee coloured hair was neatly pinned back into a perfect up-do. Or perfect at least if it weren’t for but one small curl reaching down her pale white cheek, freshly powdered and tinged with just enough blush to appear far younger than her thirty-six years suggested. Evelyn studied her mother’s features, not the typical picture of what is often deemed ‘pretty,’ but rather, familiar, reassuring and elegant none the less. She had a kind of mature beauty that radiated from her chestnut eyes and rosy lips. Even the smallest of movements were an expression of grace and sophistication as she delicately finished of her food, listening attentively and chiming in every second potato or so.

To Evelyn’s left was her uncle Oscar, who above all was a man of routine and logic. His food sat barely touched before him, predominantly due to the fact that he had barely stopped talking long enough to breathe since it was served almost half an hour earlier. He was chattering away with her father William opposite him, who unlike Katherine was most definitely not calm and collected. In fact his temper best resembles a match stick, short and awfully fiery. So when he disagrees with something, by golly, it’s time to head down to your bunker, because WWIII is about to set in.

The sharp, black hand that trailed around the tall grandfather clock at the end of the room struck seven, reminding them all that they were, unfortunately, trapped in this era. The elaborately adorned fixtures further complimented its grandeur, as it looked more than little bit out of place in the simple, 1940’s décor that made up the rest of the room.

“Will, I just cannot bring myself to agree. What you’re saying is absolute nonsense!” Oscar barked across the table, “It is exactly five years since Hiroshima, which in the scheme of things, isn’t long at all. How could you possibly sit there and tell me it’s not relevant?”

He replied promptly, “It simply isn’t.” His smooth, deep voice was firm and well pronounced. “What Truman authorised was merely a necessary feat, we cannot risk the safety of our nation, of our families and friends, simply because we’re afraid to make the first move!”

“But you see that’s just it…the first move will be our last.” Oscar said in frustration. “You know how much I hate those bloody communists, their beliefs are ridiculous, don’t get me wrong…but more than 150,000 casualties resulting from Hiroshima and at least 70,000 from Nagasaki only three days later. Not quick, instant deaths either, the majority resulting from radiation poisoning that stretched on for months afterwards. How could it possibly be fair? Not to mention, the environmental consequences, the blast itself, it will ruin us all…”

“This is a war Oscar, a cold, cruel, political war. We CANNOT bow down and risk losing our democracy-” His voice was rising, and his head shaking.

“But think of the families Will?” Katherine cut in, her soft melodic voice a nice change amongst the heavy tension in the air. “You know we don’t have to go around threatening nuclear warfare to survive, surely there are other ways? And besides, you should know God is going to protect us no matter what, why make things worse?”

Evelyn was still completely lost, her slightly rounded chin propped up by her velvety soft left hand, still absorbed in watching those dancing salt and pepper shakers. She is entirely caught up in another world, much like Alice, and completely oblivious to all this political nonsense. Evelyn envisions this modern mayhem they call the ‘Cold War’ as a kind of wonderland in itself, minus all the wonder of course. The US and Soviet Union are Tweedledee and Tweedledum, bickering back and forth over the silliest of reasons. If you think about it simply, every war originates from a disagreement over a matter of mere opinion. The red queen would be Truman, she decides, playing croquet with people as balls, whilst screaming ‘off with their heads!’ at any threat to oppose democracy. Threatening those who threatened her, only with bigger threats this time, but never actually following through? On and on, the cycle continues, just like each of the parties involved in the tension. Evelyn continues a while longer assigning the familiar characters of her favourite story to cruel facts of reality, a way of making it easier to digest I suppose, just like Alice…

But poor little Alice’s fantasy is cut short as her father chimes in angrily, “God?! What God?!” His voice grows louder with every word, “When the Soviet Union threatens to completely obliterate us and any allies, where is your God? When our governments, our leaders, whom we entrust the very reigns that dictate the survival of society to, are so busy debating a matter of mere opinion that they are willing to use nuclear weapons of such enormity to prove this, where is he Katherine? Because surely he left us long ago…Abandoned, we must fend for ourselves to try and derive some sort of sense out of this crazy, whimsical haze.”

Katherine’s eyes flicker from a cold glare to complete emptiness, the deep brown colouring more suited to charcoal with each sharp word that so thoughtlessly jumps out of his mouth. Those pale rosy lips purse and her graceful movements freeze as she stares straight into the emerald eyes of the man she loves. This God must exist, she thinks to herself, it is our only hope…Although she would never voice such doubts aloud, no, they must remain completely unhidden. Speaking such words would simply provide them with a degree of validity, and thus a degree of truth, and they just couldn’t be true. Or could they? Was he right?

The thick silence weighs down like a ghastly grey storm cloud, promising some sort of relief from the sticky humidity eventually, but not without a strike of lightning or rumble of thunder first. Sensing the tension Oscar feels the need to cut that cloud right down the middle. “Perhaps you’re right Will, but then perhaps you’re not. Maybe Katherine is right…Maybe you both are. What if hoping for a God at least, is the very thing that will get us all through?”

Although faint, a certain degree of shock crossed both of their faces. To William, defeat was never welcome and he just wasn’t satisfied knowing they didn’t, or couldn’t, understand. Maybe if he explains it differently, if only they would listen, maybe then they would see? “Perhaps she is…” He concludes. “Maybe believing in a God, in a religion and the security it offers is somewhat beneficial. A way of staying hopeful, and sane amongst this chaos…But you see, we must always remember that it is merely that, a belief.”

Katherine disrupts him loudly, “And what if you’re wrong dear? What If I get to heaven and end up alone for eternity because my beloved husband was too prideful and ignorant to admit the place existed?” A kind of bitter sarcasm clung to the edge of her words.

“Well then I suppose you’ll be far too busy rejoicing in the fact that you were right all along to even notice won’t you?” He replies with a cold, bitter glare and harshly clenched jaw. It was impossible not to realise that this light hearted discussion and suddenly gone too far.

Oscar could see it, Evelyn noticed and Katherine’s single, unmistakable tear was evidence enough to understand just how much his final comment stung.

“Well then,” Her cracking voice spoke up, “I think you need to reconsider just how much I love you.” And with that she abruptly stood, and cleared the table in a hurry. Her usual elegance was now a mix of banging and cluttering as she piled the dishes together and rushed off into the kitchen. Most certainly a subtle sign for Will to pick up on, though what man ever understands a woman’s silent motives and hidden meanings?

Whilst her father and uncle head off into the sitting room to drone on about goodness knows what and sip far too much whisky for her mother’s liking, Evelyn finds herself completely alone. She had spoken not a single word throughout the entire meal, as though fading into that wonderland had actually worked. Silence was by far the easier option sometimes.

She fixes her eyes on the grandfather clock, listens to the sharp clicks of the sweeping hand and stands to leave right on cue. The eight heavy drums echo sequentially. One, two, three, four…they tingle her ears amongst the emptiness of the room, five, six, seven, eight. Everybody else had their own agenda, their own purpose. All she wanted was a little escape.

If only a white rabbit would come take her away…she thought intently as she turned to stare at that peculiar clock once more. A kind of continuing fascination ever since she was old enough to understand what the word meant, though she’d never quite been able to pinpoint why…

© 2014 Celsie Richardson

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