Paper Faces

Paper Faces

by Rachel Anderson

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Paper Faces by Rachel Anderson

The pale young soldier in the silver frame stared serenely out across the wide spaces of the kitchen with faraway forget-me-not eyes. Dot tried to remember her father's face from the brownish photo which Gloria kept in her handbag. She wished she could recall it more clearly. Even when she had the picture in front of her, she seemed to only see the flat paper.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466878778
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 08/19/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 150
File size: 192 KB
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

The author of several books for children, including The Bus People and Paper Faces, Rachel Anderson is a mother of four who has worked as a journalist and an actress. She lives in London.

The author of several books for children, including The Bus People and Paper Faces, Rachel Anderson is a mother of four who has worked as a journalist and an actress. She lives in London.

Read an Excerpt

Paper Faces

By Rachel Anderson

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 1991 Rachel Anderson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7877-8


The Day the Peace Began

In the afternoon, the landlady hung a line of colored bunting along the fence outside her house. Gloria and Dot rented a room in the basement. Gloria led Dot up the outside steps from the basement to look at the cotton flags flapping in the sun. Women from along the street came out of their front doors too.

Gloria gave Dot a hug and said, "Take a peek at that, Dot. So you won't never forget today. Today's ever so special." Then she took a little tin brooch from her pocket. It was in the same colors as the bunting, red, white, and blue.

"There you are, ducks. That's a victory token, V for victory."

One of the grown-ups from along the street noticed the brooch and said to Gloria, "You're in luck! Where'd you find that? We went up to Derry and Tom's yesterday. They was sold clean out. Not as much as a secondhand Union Jack left."

"Got it for her week before. Last one they had in," said Gloria, and she pinned the tin brooch onto Dot's cardigan. "So you mind you keep it safe as houses, Dot, then you'll always remember."

"Is it over, then?" said Dot.

"Course it's over, you silly goose," said Gloria.

"Over now," Dot repeated, but she wasn't sure what it meant and if she even wanted it over. It sounded insecure.

One of the grown-ups said, "I was hoping for a bit of a flypast." Another said, "I'd a thought you'd had enough of that by now!"

They stood around hopefully, occasionally glancing up into the sky or peering down the road as though expecting something to happen. When nothing did, they drifted indoors again.

So Gloria and Dot went back down the steps to their room, leaving the sunshine behind. It was always dim down here, but Gloria didn't switch the light on because of being told to save electricity. There was always a faint smell, too, of something rotting.

"Just the gas," said Gloria. "Escaping. It won't do us no harm."

They hadn't had gas in their last room.

Gloria lay on the bed and thumbed through the pages of her magazine. Picturegoer was about film stars. Gloria liked reading about the stars. She knew all their names. Sometimes she tried to do her hair like some of them in the photographs.

Dot could hear the landlady listening to her radio next door in the kitchen.

After that, nothing happened for hours till Gloria suddenly said, "Listen, ducky, I'm going to pop up the West End. Just see what's going on. Mrs. Parvis'll keep an eye on you. Won't be back late, promise. All right, love?"

She took her best outfit from the paper carrier on the mantelshelf, shook it to get rid of the creases, and soon was all dressed up and ready to go with her red lipstick, her pretty pinned-up hair, and her fancy black peep-toe shoes.

"You look nice," said Dot. "Like a real star."

Gloria was pleased. She wanted to be like a star. She never wore slacks because she said stars didn't. She said they mostly wore silky slips and dressing gowns.

Gloria tucked the blanket around Dot and kissed the tip of her nose.

Dot said, "But what about Baby?"

They hadn't been to see him today. Would it matter?

"Not one day won't make no difference to him," said Gloria. "Today's ever so special. Maybe you don't understand. You will one day."

Of course Dot understood. She'd heard the landlady say how it was all over now, bar the shouting. "He'll be right as rain, pet," said Gloria. "And we'll be seeing him tomorrow."

Dot tried not to mind being left on her own in the basement. With their two paper carriers on the shelf, the scrap of carpet on the concrete floor, and the gas fire in the corner, it was almost beginning to feel like home. The last place they were in they didn't even have a proper bed.

As she lay listening to the sound of the grown-ups' laughter coming through the wall, Dot felt round the sharp tin edges of her victory brooch still pinned to her cardigan front and remembered how Gloria had once said you'd always be safe in a place like this. "Even if the whole house collapsed on top of you. They'd never get you down here."

There was more noise than usual coming through from the landlady's kitchen. Then they began singing. Dot remembered how sometimes there used to be singing down in the shelters in the dark. But this singing was different; not quiet holy hymns, but loud and impassioned. They must be having a party in there. Dot wished, after all, that Gloria hadn't gone out because Gloria liked parties and now she was missing it.

Dot was hungry. There hadn't been a proper tea. They hadn't been to visit Baby in the hospital, either. What a strange unsettling day. She knew she wouldn't forget it, even without her victory token.

Dot woke when she heard Gloria coming down the clanky metal steps outside, heard her stumble her way across the room, and then felt herself being pushed to the far side of the bed.

"Shove over there," said Gloria. "Make a bit of room. Age before beauty."

When Gloria climbed in beside her, they both rolled down into the dip in the middle of the bed. Dot felt Gloria snuggling up close.

"You're nice and warm, pet," Gloria said. "Ooh, Dot, I do wish I'd took you. It was wonderful! You don't know the half of it. There was thousands of us!"

Dot put her arm round her mother's neck and hugged to show she was still awake and listening.

"We saw the king. And the queen. And the princesses. We shouted for them till they came out on their balcony. Then we danced, right there in front of the palace. And we sang. And there was the searchlights up in the sky. And down King Edward's Docks all them boats was letting off their hooters."

Dot tried hard to imagine it. She said, "I think they had a party here, too. In Mrs. Parvis's kitchen."

"Did they? I'm glad of that. So you weren't lonely? I would've come back sooner. But all the roads were that crowded. I couldn't find a bus nowhere. Drivers must've been celebrating too. So I had to walk all the way."

"Was it a long way?" Dot wondered.

"Not too far when you're having a good time. You know, pet, I been thinking. From now on everything's going to be all right. I just know it. Like they said. We've won ourselves a new world. Well, better get some shut-eye. Nighty-night, pet. God bless."

When Dot heard the deep, slow breathing of her mother sleeping, she was alone again and she was frightened. People had been saying that once the war was over, things would change. Dot didn't want anything to change. She'd had enough of that. Change was unsettling. It meant brick dust and disorder. The war was over, and she was afraid.


Dot's Baby

The next day things were back to normal. Gloria tied on her red head scarf, Dot buttoned up her pink cardigan, and they went to wait for the bus to take them down to the hospital to see how Baby was doing. The only difference from usual was the tin brooch. And they saw quite a lot more flags hanging out of windows.

It was always a long wait at the bus stop, followed by a long ride. Gloria said it wasn't half as bad as the last place. When he'd first been taken poorly, Baby had been driven in an ambulance from one hospital to another. They never seemed to be near where Gloria and Dot were. It was like cat and mouse trying to keep up with him.

"He's more like a little sparrow, ain't he?" said Gloria. "Always hopping around, never stopping put in one spot."

One time, the people at the hospital didn't even tell Gloria that Baby had been moved. When she and Dot turned up to visit, he just wasn't there anymore.

"Oh, but he's been transferred," said the nurse. "You must have known." She didn't seem at all bothered that Gloria and Dot would have to go trudging off to another hospital somewhere else to find him.

Gloria became angry. "We come up all this way to visit. Now you tell me he ain't even here!"

The nurse just said, "Well, what d'you expect me to do about it? Burst into flames for you?"

The latest hospital was built tall, of blackish-red bricks, with rows of dark windows reaching upward toward the sky.

"What d'you think it's like in a ward right up top?" Dot said. "D'you think it's like flying? D'you think it's frightening? They could get you more easy up there, couldn't they?"

"Don't drag. Keep up with me," said Gloria. "You're more bear than squirrel today. I don't want to go losing you in here."

Dot knew there must be people up there in the vulnerable places on the top floor because on their way through the drafty corridors they passed the lift shafts, each with its rattling metal cage and fearful loops of cable and black rope dangling beneath like greasy snakes. The lifts were for transporting patients too sick to protest to departments on higher floors.

Luckily, they didn't have to get into the cage, for the children's ward was on the ground floor. Gloria went in. Dot stood outside the double swing doors. She wasn't allowed any farther. Children couldn't go into the children's ward unless they themselves were poorly.

The corridor was dark brown. Gloria had said it was painted like that so it wouldn't show the blood. But when Dot said, "What blood?" Gloria laughed and said, "No, not really, pet. Just pulling your leg."

The ground-floor windows were barred like a prison, so nobody could climb in or out. And they were glazed with opaque white glass so that the patients couldn't see out, either, nor passersby see in. Dot hoped it was nice for Baby in there.

Visiting him the day after the peace began, everything was the same as always. Dot waited and waited in the long brown corridor with nowhere to sit. Once some nurses bustled along. Then an empty bed was wheeled by.

When it was time to go home again, at the hospital gates the friendly porter was on duty, sitting inside the cozy little wooden porters' hut. It would have made a compact little home except it was painted dark brown like the corridors. The porter recognized Gloria and leaned out of his hut.

"Hello there, dear. And how's the little laddie doing today?"

Gloria half nodded her head and shrugged. "No change," she said, giving an elusive and empty smile. "Not so you'd notice."

Dot was glad. She felt safe. Changes were always bad. No change must be good. The nearly worst thing that could happen would be her father coming back. It had to happen one day, but not yet. And the very worst thing would be having to move again. But she didn't tell Gloria.

They were back at Mrs. Parvis's just in time for the evening meal. "By the skin of our teeth!" said Gloria as they scurried for their places at table. It was called high tea. Here, too, there were still no changes that Dot could see. Always toast and dripping followed by a good hot dish. Today's main dish was cabbage and swede stew with dumplings. Dot liked the reassuring look of those dumplings, plump and pale, floating among the shreds of yellowish-green in the huge pan.

"Now that it's over, you'd expect they'd start getting things right at last, wouldn't you?" said Mrs. Parvis, standing up at the end of the table to ladle out to her assembled household.

"Well, things are bound to start looking up soon," said one of the lodgers. "I mean, they promised, didn't they?"

"I'm glad it's finished. But I still got that feeling that we lost something. Know what I mean?"

Dot listened as the grown-ups continued to grumble along as they had done for as long as she could remember, like the harmless rumble of gunfire far away.

"For myself," Mrs. Parvis went on, "I'd have felt more excited-like if it'd finished last summer. When we all thought it would. Somehow I can't feel so interested in the peace now. I feel sort of, 'So what?' Don't you agree, Mr. Brown?"

Mr. Brown gazed down at his plate and nodded. Mrs. Parvis always made him agree with whatever she said. Gloria said he only went along with her because of the housing shortages, because he knew he was lucky to have a room at all, even if it was only half a room at Mrs. Parvis's.

Mr. Brown's room, first landing, back, was tall and narrow like a thin passage. It was a sliver of a larger room that had been partitioned off. Dot peeked in when he was out at work. She wanted to see what there was out of that lanky half-window. Downstairs in the basement, all they had to look at was the brick wall of the coal hole with Mrs. Parvis's aluminum meat safe hanging on it, and a line of smelly bins. Mr. Brown's half-room turned out to be nearly as dark as the basement because of the cardboard panes stuck in the window where the glass had been blown out. That was ages ago. They'd still not been replaced.

Dot didn't hear Mrs. Parvis come creeping up behind her.

"Prying! I've warned you before, you young hoyden," Mrs. Parvis scolded. "I will not tolerate children wandering around wherever their fancy takes them! Whatever will Mr. Brown think!"

Dot knew that Mrs. Parvis couldn't care less what Mr. Brown thought because Mr. Brown didn't count for anything, because poor Mr. Brown had never been in uniform. Dot had heard Mrs. Parvis say that it was a crying shame, a young fit man like that. He was a steel cutter in the aircraft factory. He was missing two fingers from his right hand. They would never grow again. Dot didn't like watching that two-fingered hand as it grasped the knife to cut the dumplings. Mr. Brown did not like to show it either. At high tea, Dot was glad when he saw her staring and tidied the strange hand out of sight beneath the table. Using only his whole hand, he had to dissect his dumpling with the edge of the fork.

Cutting steel to make airplane bodies was a dangerous job.

"There's over a million homeless in London," Mrs. Parvis grumbled on. "It's gonna take years to put that right."

"If you'll pardon the correction, not so much as a million," said one of the lady lodgers. "I saw the official figures released last week by the Ministry of Information. A hundred and thirty thousand London homes destroyed, so the precise number of homeless is now estimated to be around only a quarter of a million."

Mrs. Parvis ignored the interruption and carried on. "Single men won't come top of the list for rehousing, not by a long chalk." She eyed Mr. Brown meaningfully over her hot cauldron of cabbage before going on with her set piece. "First they let us have this great feeling of elation. It's over, we thought. But that only lasted a week or two, didn't it? Now it's like they're saying the party's finished. It seems to me everything's going on just the same as it was before. Except there's less of this and less of that. Which is why I'll be obliged if you don't ask for bread unless you really want it. I queued a long time for that loaf. And I've no doubt it's the last we'll be seeing till Thursday."

Dot waited for her share of the hot dish. She was served last. Mrs. Parvis gave her a reduced portion. Dot watched half a dumpling sliding onto her plate. As Mrs. Parvis had explained to Gloria when they first arrived, "I'm in no position to go showing no favoritisms to some and not to others. If you ask me, that's the first step to black market. What if everybody was demanding full portions for their children? There's been people starved to death in Stalingrad, so don't you go thinking you're something special."

While Gloria helped dry the dishes after tea, Mrs. Parvis continued to find fault with the people who ran the country.

"They'll nag us now about winning the peace, just like they nagged us about winning the war. And I don't suppose my old man'll be home for months. Heard from your hubby? Does he know about the poor little kiddy?"

Gloria shrugged.

"R.A.F., isn't it? Not expected back for quite a while yet, I suppose? Something very hush-hush, didn't you say?"

Dot knew that her father was at a place that Gloria rarely talked to other people about, but kept like some kind of secret. Some days, Dot couldn't remember what his face was like. She looked at the snapshot of him in Gloria's handbag, but still couldn't seem to see him properly.

"Oh, but it'll be good to have them back, won't it?" said Mrs. Parvis. "Not that one likes to mention too much of that sort of thing in front of poor Mr. Brown. Of course, one can't hold it against him. It's just, he must have felt so out of it, stuck here while all our brave boys have been doing their bit for us."

Dot thought of Mr. Brown's two missing fingers. Sometimes in her memory, it was her faceless father who was two fingers short instead.

She wondered, if Mr. Brown were able to get them back, would he want them, or had he now grown too accustomed to his hand the way it was?


A New Tweed Coat

"She's a scrappy little thing, isn't she?" said Mrs. Parvis. "Takes after her father, does she?"

She was discussing Dot.

Gloria shrugged. Dot fingered her victory badge and tried not to listen in case it seemed like prying.

"If you want my advice, lovie, you'll pop her down to the Town Hall and find her a decent coat to wear. When you go to fetch her rations."

Gloria and Dot went down to the Town Hall once a fortnight to collect Dot's vitamin ration. Two bottles of orange juice, opaque and brilliantly colored, one of cod-liver oil, translucent and greenish-gold. Before the tin victory brooch, these bottles of liquid strength were the only goods that Dot knew were hers alone, belonging to no grown-up. Gloria poured her a spoonful from each bottle every day and said that's why she was tough as old boots, because she always swallowed it down like a good girl. A previous landlady had tried to help herself to the orange juice to put in her gin. When Gloria complained, there'd been a tiff and they'd had to leave.


Excerpted from Paper Faces by Rachel Anderson. Copyright © 1991 Rachel Anderson. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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13 • WARD 3-SOUTH,

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