FoundlingReview

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A small gathering of men, brilliant white cricket flannels glinting like metal in the heavy sun, stride out onto the vivid green. Purposeful, some of them, marching out chest first, laughing brazenly; others, less so, walking slowly, casting looks back over their shoulders at the small pavilion. Yet, by an invisible and indestructible thread, they are all connected, these men; they know their place and purpose in this team. They look at their fellows with trust and a feeling close to love. The leader of the charge holds a bat, swinging it carelessly like a weapon in the direction of the opposing team, who stand silently at the crease. A shout and a wave from the captain, and the walkers all break into a trot, heading towards the small, yellowing patch of grass that will be their arena of conflict.


In the glorious August sun, a crowd settles down on the grass to watch. Picnic hampers are opened, jugs of cold cider uncorked, pickles and cheese set out on crisp, clean table cloths. Families sit together, but the groups are fluid and bodies move like a sea; in the closeness of a small village, ties are deep and children, relatives, friends, ebb back and forth from picnic hamper to picnic hamper. A pie is shared, a cake is crumbled into tiny hands. A rattling chatter descends comfortably on the spectators.


“This should be over quickly,” one father says to another.


“Our boys know what they are doing,” the other agrees.


They watch the home team scamper to the slips, paternal pride turning their gaze inward; he runs like me, one thinks. I was strong like that once. Despite their boasts, the fathers wring their hands together anxiously.


Standing alone, a mother cranes her neck, squinting into the sun. Her boy is also out there, dressed identically to his friends in white. He’d insisted on joining the team as soon as he was old enough for the seniors. Cricket bores her terribly, though she bleaches his whites on washing day without comment. Finally she can contain herself no longer. “Adam!”


Shock-haired, bones too big for his skin, her son turns and waves. Then, attention back to the game, before his friends can snicker.


A woman friend arrives at his mother’s elbow and they link arms. The summer warmth turns their stays and long skirts into hot sheets that seem to burn their skin. “Did he go?” the friend murmurs.


The mother knows what her companion means. “This morning. With the rest of them, I suppose. I couldn’t stop him.”


The women sniff together and look at their boots.


A shout and a knock of cork on willow, and a ball flies high into the air, arcing over the heads of the in-fielders and out towards the boundary. A mutter breaks from the spectators; not a good start.


“Keep your shape!” shouts a man sitting apart. A fashionable moustache covers most of his red, ruddy face. He pounds a fist into a palm. “Edward! Use your brain!”


A young man looks once over his shoulder towards the shouter, lips pursed into a tight line. He mumbles to himself, and his friends watch on with sympathy. One of them says something and they all laugh, the mood lightening. The scarlet-faced parent frowns and drinks deeply from a cask of cider.


“How can they enjoy this game?” a thin woman asks, sitting on a table cloth with a friend. She has long blonde hair piled high on her head, and she curls a stray wisp around a finger, over and over. She watches one of the players intensely.


Her friend shifts next to her. “It’s not so bad.”


The thin woman bites her lip. “All they seem to do is stand still, and occasionally run after a ball. They look like white statues standing there in the sun.”


Her friend, used to these curious pronouncements, hums her agreement and tries to move the conversation on. “Did he ask you then?”


“He’s going to speak to Father tomorrow. After church.”


They huddle up, giggling, seriousness forgotten.


The game goes on. Shouts, cries, applause render the sky and, out on the horizon, dark clouds gather. Parents and siblings shuffle close together in the cooling breeze. The older spectators watch the boys carefully, knowing that a few miles away, on a neighbouring village green, a similar game is being played. Beyond, out in the county, other families will watch their boys for the last time this summer. The thought is sobering and stays the hand that brings cider to the lips. There is a strange, alien feeling of sadness when the visiting team is caught out quickly.


“Let’s take our time, now,” a father mutters, as his son steps up to the wicket, ready to open for the home team. “We can make this last a little.”


There is a murmur of agreement. The poor start to the game is forgotten. What the spectators want now is a long match, a close run thing, a tight squeeze. Anything to keep their boys out there just a little bit longer, just a little bit longer in their whites. They watch, in silence now, as the second inning begins.




Rebecca is a mum-of-two and has no time; she writes at night when the kids are in bed, and when she should be paying attention to her husband or tidying the house. In a previous life she gained a PhD in English Literature – her analysis of postcolonial and feminist theory that has now been superseded by an in-depth knowledge of Thomas the Tank Engine and Peppa Pig. She still loves to write and – most days – is able to put pen to paper.

 



In this story I've tried to explore and portray the sensations experienced by those on the cusp of a life-changing event. Using the metaphor of a cricket game, I wanted to hint at the conflict and turmoil that the young men of 1914 were about to experience.

 






 





  


Copyright 2009