Don’t Touch the Paintwork – It’s Wet! Short Story

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Matilda was born in 1940; the Luftwaffe was no contest as she had the lungs of an adult and actually screamed the place down.  The house in which she was born was a rented accommodation and it was three storeys high with a cellar and the back garden was just a courtyard.  There was no room for an air- raid shelter, instead in the scullery the builders had placed an iron table in the centre of the room. It was an immovable object.  The legs were welded to the floor and under the table top were slits where sheets of iron were stored that slid out and hinged tops would allow the sheets to be clipped onto the side of each leg, making it almost bomb proof.  The tables were longer and wider than the usual dining tables to accommodate larger families.   The last piece of iron to be placed was difficult because the father had to crawl in under the table and turn round pulling the sheet out as if he were crawling out and when it stopped, he had to gently lower it down onto the floor and at the same time scuffle backwards.  Scullery floors were apt to be stone cold, so sheets of cardboard were laid down and then an old mattress, cushions and pillows and bedding.  It could be quite cosy, especially if there was a large family.

Matilda was the first born and a very late arrival as far as the mother’s age was concerned.  It was counted as a one in a million birth.  The father was too old to be called up, but had been a sergeant in the first World War and like so many were heard to say ‘there won’t be another war.’  The mother was over forty and Matilda’s crying was getting her down what with the sleepless nights of bombing added to the artillery gun emplacement firing its shells into the air trying to hit an unseen target.  The gun emplacement was situated about a mile away and it was hell on earth trying to find some quiet corner of the world to crawl into and Martha’s life felt less than useless as she looked down at her baby girl and hoped she would have a better life if the family should survive the war.

Jim, her husband was wondering how other families were coping with the metal table because most of the husbands that were young enough would be serving in the services and a herculean effort was needed to implement the metal sides and not much thought had gone into the design for the weaker sex.  The only way round the problem would be to keep the table sides down, except at the point of entry.

All the houses along MacArthur Avenue were built in Victorian times and were dark inside. The windows were quite large and some were sealed with boards should there be an explosion nearby.  Some were still fitted with gas mantles and were working well, although gas and electricity were never compatible should there be a spark from the electrics.

The fact being that Matilda’s mum was experiencing a nervous breakdown and losing control of her faculties and what with the constant air raids with bombs falling and Matilda with the balloons she loved was just too much for her to bear – it was the beginning of the end for Martha and she could see only one way out for her!

There was great rejoicing when Matilda reached her 5th birthday, because that was when the war ended.  Martha had been able to get over her problems just long enough to enjoy Matilda’s birthday party.  Jim was looking on quietly and on occasions smiled at his daughter when she looked his way.   Being so young she could never have understood what was going on with her parents.  There were no fights between them.  Matilda was old enough to feel the tension between her mother and father, but couldn’t get to the bottom of what it was.

*                             *                             *

It was ten years later – the occupants of the house were preparing for a celebration and Martha was making sandwiches, jellies and all sorts of other puddings and Jim her husband was putting up bunting.  Many colours of ribbons – when Martha remarked ‘Don’t forget the balloons! You know it’s our daughter’s favourite thing.’  Every year Martha and Jim made a fuss of celebrating of Matilda’s birthday and every year it was a failure. They had tried their level best to do the right thing, but it was no use.

When Matilda rounded the corner into her road, there were two police cars and an ambulance outside her house and an official looking policeman blocking the garden gate.  There were balloons and ribbons decorating the front of the house and a large piece of cardboard with rough pen writing on it ‘Happy Birthday Matilda!’

At first Matilda smiled seeing the decorations, balloons and different coloured ribbons.  Balloons were her favourite as a new thing to play with as rubber was in short supply during the war and was used for other important things.  Towards the end of the war, her dad had got hold of an old packet of ten balloons and blew one up so that Matilda could amuse herself until she found that by pricking it with a pin, it would make a nice big bang which used to annoy her mum and even make her jump as if an exploding bomb had fallen close by.

Matilda walked slowly towards the policeman and tried to push pass him, but he said ‘I’m afraid little girl you can’t go in there!’  ‘I live here!’ ‘Oh!  You better wait here a moment.  I won’t be long.’  With that the policeman turned opening the gate and strode up the garden path and disappeared into the house.

When the policeman returned, the girl had vanished.  He asked everybody that were standing and watching where the little girl had gone.  No-one remembered seeing a little girl.  The policeman said ‘But she came up to me and said she lived here!’  All the people who were standing close to him and one man in particular said. ‘There was a girl who used to live here ten years ago, but she was brutally murdered by persons unknown’

The policeman returned to the house and to the scene in the kitchen, the woman had a knife sticking out of her stomach and the man was slumped against the wall and the blood from the side of his head was splattered everywhere.  The uniformed policeman was about to reach the door to push it open to speak to the plain-clothes policeman when Detective said. ‘Don’t touch the paintwork, it’s wet.’  It was wet with fresh blood.  In fact it had reached the ceiling and other places in the kitchen. The plain-clothes man came into the kitchen and spoke to the policeman who was on duty outside and the policeman whispered in his ear what had happened outside.  The plain clothes detective said ‘Follow me, I’m interviewing a girl in the other room, perhaps she came round the back without anyone knowing, she’s about fifteen, I would say!’  Both men walked into the room, there was no-one sitting or standing, the room was empty.

The Plain clothes Detective said to the other policemen who were searching round the house. ‘Where has the girl gone I was questioning?’  ‘What Girl Sir! There’s no-one else here!’

The police were digging out the concrete flooring of the cellar and a gruesome discovery was made. The police found a body of a girl.  The Pathologist reckoned she would have been about five years old!

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