Prologue

 

"Say good-bye to Sylvie."

Abigail's mother stands helplessly on the platform, unable to speak. Choked with turmoil, struggling with relief and sadness, her ears bear the attack of a thousand troubled mothers parting from their bewildered children. Wails of anguish, stern admonitions and cold farewells ricochet against the iron girders then float to fill the hollow expanse with their pain.

"Mother, say good-bye to Sylvie."

Patricia stares, as she so often has at the empty space next to her daughter. "Abby, I…"

"I see, " says Abigail darkening her eyes. She adjusts the canvas strap crossing her body and moves the bulk containing the gas mask from her hip. "I really don't see why I have to have this. Surely the whole point of leaving London-"

"Abby," her mother interrupts, "it's the law." Then blinks to ward off the expected retort.

But Abigail stays silent.

Settling on the train Abigail demands two seats. "One for Sylvie." But the train is crowded and anxious mothers and harassed teachers expect use of the apparently unoccupied place.

Abigail is firm.

The whistle.

"This is for the best you know." Patricia's hand hovers near her daughter's forehead, desperate to stroke, brush against her thick black hair. Touch her.

"You'd better leave, Mother, unless you want to come and live in Eastbourne too."

Patricia leaves the train and stands by the window watching Abigail fuss with her invisible twin. She sees her lips moving. She is smiling. Abigail hugs the sister she hardly knew then stares out of the window at her mother. Defiant. She lifts her hand and without any apparent feeling moves it side to side so that it isn't actually a wave, just the impression of one.

Steam rushes from the engine. The pistons heave. A great roar drowns out the cries, engulfing the fear.

Other mothers run along the platform gesturing furiously at young tear stained faces.

Not Patricia. She stands where she is.

It is not until the train is out of sight and the last vestiges of steam have evaporated that she allows the relief to comfort her.