Do steam trains go from Kings Cross to Scotland? Lydia asks. Her father sober smiles. Are you eloping with the Benny boy of yours? He says. Big eyes staring; blue large marble like. Whats eloping? She asks, frowning. Running off to be married secretly, the daddy says. No, Benedict and I are only nine, so how would we be eloping? Practice run? No no, she says. Nibbles her buttered toast her mother gave. You be mindful, busy that place; crowds are there. He sips his tea. She nibbles more toast, staring at him. How are you getting there; too far to walk? Dont know; Benedictll know; he knows these things. Underground trains best, the daddy suggests. But how to get the money for fare? He asks; his eyes narrow on to her. Dont know, she says, looking at the tablecloth, patterned, birds. Has your Benny boy the money? Sober, good humoured, he smiles. Expect so, she says, doubtful. See your mother, ask her, he suggests, smiling, as if. Well, must be off, work calls, he says. Where are you today? She asks. Train driving to Bristol. Is that near Scotland? He smiles, shakes the head. No, Bristols west, Scotlands north; do you not know your geography? The daddy says. She shrugs. Sober he shakes the head. Well, Im off. See your mother about the fares. She nods; he goes taking a last sip of tea. She eats the buttered toast, cold, limp. She sits and gazes out the window. Sunny, warm looking. The birds on the grass; the bomb shelter still there. Wonders if the mother will. Money for fares. Knock at the front door. Her daddy answers. Opens up. Your Bennys here, Princess, he mocks. See you mind her, Benny boy, shes my precious, the daddy says out the door and away. Lydia goes to the door. Benny is standing there looking at her daddy walking through the Square. Her mother comes to the door wiping her hands on an apron, hair in rollers, cigarette hanging from her lip corner. Whats all this? her mother asks. Lydia looks at Benny. He gazes at the mother. Kings Cross, he says. Is he? The mother says. Train station, Benny adds unsmiling. So? We thought wed go there, Lydia says, shyly, looking at her mother. How do you think of getting there? Underground train, Daddy said. Did he? And did he offer the money? No, said to ask you. Did he? The mother pulls a face, stares at Lydia and Benny. Am I to pay his fare, too? She says, staring at Benny. No, Ive me own, he says, offering out a handful of coins. Just as well. If your daddyd not been sober youd got ****** all permission to go to the end of the road, her mother says, sharp, bee-sting words. Wait here, she says, goes off, puffing like a small, thin, locomotive. Benny stands on the red tiled step. Your dad was sober? She nods, smiles. Rubs hands together, thin, small hands. How are you? Fine, excited if we go, she says, eyeing him, taking in his quiff of hair and hazel eyes; the red and grey sleeveless jumper and white skirt, blue jeans. He looks beyond her; sees the dull brown paint on the walls; a smell of onions or cabbage. Looks past her head at the single light bulb with no light shade. Looks at her standing there nervous, shy. Brown sandals, grey socks, the often worn dress of blue flowers on white, a cardigan blue as cornflowers. They wait. Hows your mother? Ok, he replies. Your dad? Hes ok, he says. They hear her mother cursing along the passage. He says ask for this, but he never dips in his pocket I see, except for the beer and spirit, and o then it out by the handfuls. She opens her black purse. How much? Dont know. The mother eyes the boy. How much? Two bob should do. Two bob? Sure, shell give you change after, Benny says. Eye to eye. Thin line of the mothers mouth. Takes the money from her purse. Shoves in Lydias palm. Be careful. Mind the roads. Lydia looks at her mother, big eyes. Shyly nods. You, the mother points at the boy. Take care of her. Of course. Beware of strange men. I will. Stares at Benny. Hes my Ivanhoe, Lydia says. Is that so. Go then, before I change my mind. Thin lips. Large eyes, cigarette smoking. Take a coat. Lydia goes for her coat. Hows your mother? The mother asks, looks tired when I see her. Shes ok, gets tired, Benny says, looking past the mothers head for Lydia. Not surprised with you being her son. Benny smiles; she doesnt. He looks back into the Square. The baker goes by with his horse drawn bread wagon. Hemmy on the pram sheds with other kids. What you doing making the fecking coat? The mother says over her thin shoulder. Just coming, Lydia replies. Shes there coat in hand. The mother scans her. Mind you behave or youll feel my hand. Lydia nods, looks at Benny, back at the mother. Mind the trains; dont be an **** and fall on the track, the mother says, eyeing Benny, then Lydia. Shes safe with me, Benny says. Ill keep her with me at all times. Youd better. I will. Eye to eye stare. And eat something or youll faint. Ill get us something, the boy says. The mother sighs and walks back into the kitchen, a line of cigarette smoke following her. Ok? She nods. They go out the front door and Lydia closes it gently behind her, hoping the mother wont rush it open and change her mind. They run off across the Square and down the *****. Are we eloping? She asks. What? Us are we eloping? No, train watching. Why? The daddy says. Joking. Sober. Benny smiles, takes in her shy eyes. Whats eloping? He asks. Running off to marry, Daddy says. Too young. Practice run. Daddy said. Not today, Benny says, smiling, crossing a road. Looking both ways. Not now, not in our young days.
A GIRL AND BOY IN LONDON IN 1950S AND A TRIP TO KING'S CROSS.