Evie shook her head. “Oh no, I was just watching the children.”
The woman, a teacher, Evie guessed, frowned. “You really shouldn’t do that, you know. Not that I think you’re a danger, but we have to be so careful these days, I’m sure you understand.”
“Of course,” said Evie, “But I wasn’t doing anything-” she paused, then continued after finding the right word, “Strange. I used to go to school here, during the war. I was just having a look, to see how it had changed. I don’t live far but I haven’t been here for decades. I’m Evie, by the way.” She held her hand out.
The younger woman smiled. “I’m Ivy. I get so used to using my last name around here I almost forget I have a first.” She laughed lightly, shaking Evie’s hand.
Definitely a teacher then, thought Evie. “I’d better be going anyway,” she told Ivy. “It’s about time I got back home.”
Ivy thought for a moment. “Where are you going to?”
Evie told her and Ivy smiled once again. “If you like, I can walk with you for a little of the way. I live in that direction too and I was only on until break today.” Evie nodded gratefully. She enjoyed walking, but walking with a companion was so much more entertaining. On the journey the two women discussed many things; Ivy seemed to have a store of knowledge about World War Two, and Evie felt as though she was talking to an old friend rather than someone she had met only a few bright minutes before. Evie could not help but admire the lovely dress that Ivy was wearing. “Where did you get it from?” she asked, half tempted to get one for herself although not sure it would really suit her.
“This?” Ivy said, looking down, smoothing out the material; “Oh, I made this at home. I make a lot of my own clothes, it’s cheaper that way, and at least you know they’ll be one offs.”
As they neared the corner of Evie’s road, Ivy slowed and stopped. “I’ll leave you here, if that’s all right. I’m in the other direction, really.”
Reluctant to say goodbye, Evie spoke; “Perhaps you’ll come over later? That’s my house, the red brick one with the magnolia tree outside. We’re having a barbecue, and I’d love you to meet my family. The way I’ve been rambling on, I expect you feel as though you know them already!”
Ivy smiled. “Well, perhaps I will pop round later. Thank you for the invite.” And, waving and smiling, Ivy trotted away.
At six o’clock that evening, the family get together was underway. Everyone was interested in Evie’s long walk, and were hoping that Ivy would arrive; she sounded lovely.
Going inside to bring out some more condiments, Evie heard a slight knock at the front door. When she opened it, there was no one there, and at first she thought it was some children playing a prank. But as she stepped back into the house, she looked down and saw a parcel on the ground by the step up into her front porch. It was wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. Picking it up gingerly, she took it inside and placed it on the kitchen table.
“You all right in there?” called Jim from outside. “Where’ve you got to?”
“I’m just in the kitchen,” Evie answered. She poked at the parcel. “I’ve got a present.”
Jim popped his head around the door. “A present?”
Evie gestured to the brown package as though it were a dog threatening to bite. “One of your favourite things?” asked her husband. “A brown paper package tied up with string,” he explained when Evie looked blank. “Never mind. Are you going to open it then?”
Biting her tongue, Evie cut the string and the loose ends flopped sideways onto the table. As nothing dreadful had happened, she began to gain a little more confidence, and began to undo the rest of the parcel. As the folds of paper were carefully left to rest on the table, a scrap of blue could just be seen. Evie caught her breath. It looked so similar, but really, it couldn’t be, could it? The parcel was open and there, lying on the kitchen table, was Ivy’s beautiful blue dress. A copy? Perhaps, but hadn’t the teacher said she made her garments to be one of a kind? Evie was lost for words.
“Oh, that’s lovely, Eve,” Jim said, looking down. “Your colour, too. Who’s it from?”
There was no card, no note of any kind, but Evie knew. “Ivy.”
“Oh? That teacher?” Jim seemed pleased. “Maybe next time she’ll come in.” With that he left, going back into the garden to enjoy the sun and his family.
The school was quiet now. The lessons had just started and Evie could imagine what the children were thinking; break time was a million long years away. She wanted to tell them not to wish time gone, but they wouldn’t understand, thinking themselves immortal. So she paused at the gates, wondering whether, in the twenty-first century when the human race was supposed to be civilised, the entrance to the school would be locked to prevent any strangers from intruding. She pushed tentatively, her fingers brushing the cold steel as though it were burning, and the left-hand gate moved. She pushed again, harder, and the gate opened all the way. Evie, making sure to close the gate behind her, walked purposefully towards the front door of her old school. If anybody saw her they said nothing.
She remembered exactly where the headmaster’s office had been, perhaps not surprising since she had spent many hours there being punished either with the slipper or the threat of letting her mother know what she had been up to, and made her way there. But when she got there she discovered that what had been an office, functional and feared, was now a cloakroom. She turned, looking for any recognisable landmarks but everything inside the familiar building had changed. Evie could have cried as her memories of how things had been were slowly and methodically replaced with the knowledge of what things were now. The only thing that was the same was the smell – disinfectant, poster paint, plimsolls, chalk… That at least hadn’t failed her. Tears pushed themselves into her eyes and she angrily wiped them away, telling herself not to be so sentimental. She was here for a reason.
Evie stared down the hollow corridor with its strip lighting and shiny floors dulled by the dirt of hundreds of small feet, black scuff marks on the skirting board still in evidence. She heard the unmistakable sound of high heels on school surfaces and rushed towards the woman heading in her direction. “Can you please tell me how to find the headmaster?” Evie asked, knowing she sounded desperate but not caring.
The woman raised one carefully plucked eyebrow, looking Evie up and down. “There is no headmaster, I’m afraid, madam. But I’m the headmistress, Mrs. Warren. Will I do?”
Evie blushed, embarrassed by her old-fashioned views and memories. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Warren,” she said, feeling exactly like a contrite schoolgirl which, she reflected, was most likely how she was supposed to be feeling. “When I was here we had a headmaster, and I suppose I just assumed.”
Mrs. Warren nodded, smiled, realising she had treated the woman like a wayward pupil; “You came here? When was that?”
“During the war.”
“Really? Would you mind following me to my office? I know you wanted to speak with the person in charge, and I have a favour to ask of you too, since you’re here.”