Read Ruby Online

Authors: Marie Maxwell

Tags: #Sagas, #Fiction


BOOK: Ruby
7.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Marie Maxwell
Avon (2012)
Sagas, Fiction


As a former evacuee, feisty Ruby is forced to fend for herself when she returns to her family in London. Set in the aftermath of WW2 and based in Southend, this gripping saga is richly evocative of the period. Home is where the heart is...After having lived peacefully in Cambridgeshire as an evacuee, 15-year-old Ruby Blakeley is bought back to reality when her bully of a brother Ray comes to take her home to East London. Far from being welcomed back with open arms, Ruby finds herself being treated as a skivvy by her widowed mother and subject to a tirade of taunts from her two brothers. Things get worse when she becomes pregnant. Unable to tackle her family, Ruby runs away and makes a new start for herself in Southend. But she soon finds she can,t escape her past. A hard-hitting, gritty drama that will appeal to fans of Katie Flynn and Dilly Court.

Marie Maxwell

This is for Riley, my gorgeous grandson. His first dedication! xxx

I’d also like to pay a special tribute to the fabulous author and friend Penny Jordan/Annie Groves who died on New Year’s Eve 2011. RIP Penny, you’ll be sadly missed.

Table of Contents

Southend Hospital, 1952

‘Someone give me something … I’m in such pain … I can’t breathe,’ the woman on the trolley groaned. Her head rolled back and forth and she clutched fiercely at her chest. ‘I can’t breathe, help me …’ As she spoke, all her strength seemed to float way from her body and she could feel herself being pulled towards unconsciousness. She tried to turn onto her side to curl up into a comforting ball but hands reached out to stop her and hold her flat on her back.

Her mind confused by the ever-increasing waves of pain, she was losing track of where she was. All she knew was that she was suffering the worst pain she had ever felt in her life. She felt as if her lungs were on fire. She could hear voices all around her but she was finding it hard to focus. An atmosphere of urgency pervaded, but the words she could hear made no sense.

She kept drifting between pain and oblivion: floating away peacefully to another place and then being pulled back with the fierceness of the pain.

Then the voices became louder and more urgent, and she felt herself being moved quickly. Bright lights flashed overhead, wheels rattled loudly underneath her and doors slammed behind her. Almost as soon as the journey had started, so it stopped, and people she didn’t recognise grouped around her, touching her, pulling at her clothes. Then there was a pain in her hand, a mask over her face, and she was drifting away again. She just had time to wonder if she was dying, if that was it for her life – if that was all it had been about – before oblivion took her over and she succumbed to the anaesthetic.

‘Time to wake up now,’ a disembodied voice said. ‘Your operation is over and we need to see you awake.’

She tried to shake herself awake but it was hard.

‘Don’t move. You’ve got dressings on your chest and your arm is in plaster. Just open your eyes so we know you’re out of the anaesthetic and then you can go back to sleep.’

She forced her eyes open and focused on the nurse standing beside the bed.

‘What happened?’ The words came out slowly past her swollen tongue.

‘You’ve had surgery. The doctor will talk to you about it later once you’re transferred from post-op.’

As she watched the ramrod-straight back of the nurse walking away, the memory of some of it started to come back to her. It was all disjointed in her head: the sudden crippling pain in her ribs that made breathing agony; the feeling that her chest had exploded; tumbling down the stairs and cracking her head; crawling along the hall to the open front door and then out onto the path looking for help. And then she remembered the fear …

‘What happened to me?’ she whispered, her chest hurting with every breath. ‘Nurse?
Nurse … ?

By then the nurse was tending to a patient across the other side of the post-operative ward. She looked over her shoulder. ‘Sshh, you’re in recovery,’ she said in a loud whisper. ‘Don’t disturb the other patients now. Go back to sleep and doctor will talk to you soon.’

‘Why am I here?’

‘You’ve had an operation. Stop shouting.’

‘Operation for what?’ Her voice was hoarse and her tongue felt as if it was filling her mouth so that she struggled to get the words out.

‘I told you,
. I really can’t tell you anything. Doctor has to talk to you and he will, later. He’s talking to your fiancé at the moment.’

‘To who?’ She tried to clear her head. There was an image she was trying to catch hold of but it wouldn’t stop long enough for her to focus on it.

‘I’m sorry but there are seriously ill patients over here I have to look after, so stop the talking and rest,’ the nurse snapped impatiently in a tone that proved tolerance obviously wasn’t her forte in the middle of a busy night shift.

She closed her eyes in despair and let her head fall back onto the skinny pillow that had been placed under her head, but even that hurt. She reached up and touched her face, then had another flash of recall. She struggled to sit up.

‘Someone tell me what’s happened. I can’t remember …’

‘Stop this, you’re disturbing everyone.’

Instead of the recall of events she was searching for, a wave of terror engulfed her and she started screaming, louder than she had ever screamed in her life, and the pain in her chest erupted.

‘Tell me, tell me what’s going on! I’m scared, I can’t remember …’

This frantic call for help was answered with a dose of sedative that took her away from it all again.

Two men stood facing each other in the corridor. The older was dressed in a green hospital gown and short rubber boots with a surgical mask hanging down around his neck; the younger was wearing dark brown casual slacks and an open-necked shirt, a tweed sports jacket slung from one finger over his shoulder.

‘Your fiancée has three broken ribs and one of these pierced her left lung. It was this that necessitated the emergency surgery. She’s going to be in a lot of pain for a while but we can explain the implications of that to her later when we talk about her other injuries.’

‘Will she be all right?’

‘Well, we hope so. It’s fair to say she could easily have died from the lung injury but we’ve done our best to put her back together,’ the doctor said, a hint of contempt in his voice. ‘At the moment she’s as well as can be expected. First the fall with its accompanying injuries, possibly concussion, a head wound, a fractured arm, assorted cuts and bruises, a punctured lung and then the emergency surgery …’ he stopped to take breath. ‘She’s been through a lot but she’s stable and will be taken up to the ward later. We’ve had to sedate her again, she’s so distressed by the, er, accident.’ He made firm eye contact with the younger man. ‘Tell me again how it happened?’

‘I told you,’ the man sighed as if this was really boring him, ‘I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t there. No one was there. I arrived at the same time as the ambulance. I think a neighbour telephoned for it. He heard some sort of kerfuffle going on. Probably her falling down the stairs. She’s so clumsy with those big feet of hers …’ He smiled as he shrugged dismissively. ‘I don’t even know what she was doing there on her own, to be honest.’

‘I see. But we are very puzzled by the bruises on her neck.’

‘They’d be from when she fell down the stairs, wouldn’t they?’

‘It’s possible, but unlikely. Anyway, that’s not for me to decide. I just put her back together again.’

‘You’re absolutely right, doctor. That’s not for you to decide.’ The man held out his hand to indicate the end of the conversation.

‘I suggest you go home now,’ the doctor said. ‘You won’t be able to see your fiancée until tomorrow evening during visiting hours. Check at the reception desk for the hours. I don’t know which ward she’s going to be taken to. Will you be contacting her family?’

‘She doesn’t have any family.’

‘I see …’

The doctor’s tone was cold and he didn’t take the proffered hand. He simply turned sharply and walked back through the doors he’d emerged from a couple of minutes before.

A look of anger flashed across the other man’s face, and for a moment it looked as though he would follow the doctor, but instead he breathed deeply several times before turning round and heading down the corridor in the direction of the main exit. Once outside he sat on the wall, taking more deep breaths before lighting a cigarette and thinking about everything that had happened. He wanted to get it all straight in his head, just in case. After he’d ground the butt into the flowerbed he walked down the footpath and swung open the door to the phone box that stood at the main gate.

He fumbled in his pocket for coppers and then made his call. ‘Hello? It’s me. I know it’s late – or early, depending on how you look at it.’ As he spoke he checked his hair in the mirror that was fixed on the wall above the phone and then pulled a comb out of his back pocket. ‘I’ve had a strange old night but everything’s OK now and I’m dying for a decent cup of coffee … among other things!’

He smiled at himself in the mirror as he put the phone back into its cradle, then he flicked the comb through his hair, slipped on his jacket and pushed the door open. He held the door back for the elderly woman waiting patiently outside.

‘Thank you kindly young man,’ she said. ‘Have you just come out of the hospital?’

‘I have. My fiancée’s had an accident.’

‘Ooh dear, I hope she’s OK.’

‘Oh, nothing serious. Just a bit of a tumble and a few bruises. I’ve told her to lay off the gin in future.’ He grinned.

Shrugging his jacket straight, he pulled at his collar and walked away from the hospital where his fiancée lay battered and bruised.

Part One
Melton, Cambridgeshire, 1945

‘Here comes the train. Mummy, Mummy, I can hear it, I can hear it!’ As the small boy’s shriek pierced through the general chatter on the crowded railway platform the conversations started to fade away and the train appeared around the bend in the track lumbering noisily towards the station. Children jumped up and down excitedly at the sight and sound of the huge steam engine, and adults automatically reached down to pick up their bags and baggage.

BOOK: Ruby
7.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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