Chapter Seventeen

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Dorothy's leg was washed, disinfected and dressed, and Juliet gave her a blouse and a skirt to wear. All the while, Charlie told the tale of how he had fallen off the sofa and how Mrs. George and her sister came out of their bedrooms loaded shotguns, ready to shoot any German invaders who came to the door.

"You should have heard Mrs. George. 'I'll be damned if my Malcolm is going to spend the last year breaking his back building trenches only to come home to find a German in his house!' You should have seen her and her sister: the two of them covered in plaster, in their nightgowns, loading up a couple of hunting rifles like they meant business. They'd have blown a hole in anyone who walked in that door!"

According to Charlie, the black community in the north end of the city had largely been spared from the blast by the hill that covered it. Thinking Dorothy was at work that morning, and once Mrs. George and her sister realized it wasn't an invasion and were willing to let him go, Charlie ran all the way through the destroyed Richmond to Quinpool Road. There, he was urged by Mrs. Cormier and her sister-in-law to stay put instead of going to look for Dorothy.

"The house we lived in when we first left home is gone," he said, and started to cry.

She told him that her flat was gone and everything they owned was probably burned up.

"No one is going to try and save a pile of bricks, Charlie."

At first, he turned red and his nostrils flared as he tried not to cry again, and then he said, "Good riddance to that filthy place."

She wasn't ready to tell him that they had nowhere to live for the next month if she couldn't find Robbie.

Nor did she tell him about what she had seen when she went looking for their father. She couldn't, not yet.

The house quickly filled up with people who had seen the sign. They waited in the parlour and the front hall while Julia and her oldest niece ran an impromptu medical clinic in the kitchen. Just about everyone was covered in greasy black soot with oozing wounds. The majority of the injuries were glass and burns, and except for the more severe cases, the children were treated first. A few men had taken blankets and nailed them up over the broken windows, and lamps were lit to make up for the lack of light.

"Can I go with you?" Charlie asked when she got ready to leave.

Dorothy shook her head. "What you can do is stay and help Julia with whatever she needs. When I'm back, I'll be doing the same."

"Dorothy," he said as she shrugged into one of Mrs. Cormier's coats. She turned, and after looking around, he lowered his voice. "Are you sure it was an exploded ship and not an invasion? I mean, maybe it was. Maybe they're just waiting off the coast until nightfall when no one is expecting it."

"I don't think so, Charlie. Enough people say they saw what had happened," she told him, though she wasn't entirely sure herself now that she'd had time to think about it. It could still be Germans, couldn't it?

A few arguments had broken out in the parlour. Those who had seen the collision of the ships insisted they had seen the words RELIEF on the one that had struck the other, and that it was the other ship that had blown. Those who were convinced that this was an attack and not an accident said that this was what the Huns wanted everyone to think, and that when the sun went down they were all going to be slaughtered.

Leaving Charlie there to listen to that sort of talk wasn't an ideal option for her, but taking him out onto the streets to see more God-knows-what again was worse. He was safe where he was, and she wanted him to stay that way.

"I'll be back as soon as I can," she said, and turned as he followed her out the front door.

"You saw Rob last night?" he asked.

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