It wasn’t as easy as she thought, coping in the absence of her younger sister, Rose.
Grace was the eldest of the Howard siblings, the responsible one. And, considering the circumstances – her own lack of a maternal role model, she didn’t think she’d done too bad a job of dragging up the others. Certainly, their father, John Howard hadn’t been around much to dish out any advice; and her stepmother, mother of Rose and Alfie, hadn’t stuck around long enough for Alfie’s third birthday. Not that there’d been much to celebrate. Not by then.
Not by the time The Wall went up.
So much for Rose. Rose who’d abandoned her and Alfie, gone over to the other side, just for some boy – after all she’d done for her. And now?
Now she and Alfie just had each other. Still, with Rose gone, at least Grace had one less mouth to feed, one less fledgling to forage for. When The Wall had first gone up, the food supplies had been plentiful enough. With the generous housekeeping money their father provided her with, Grace had been careful to stockpile a large quantity of provisions in the cellar of their family home; the family home being an eight-bedroom mansion in Northumberland. Not really a mansion, of course, more of a large-suburban newbuild but, to give it its due status, it was rumoured to have been built on the site of Harbottle Castle. It was said, by some, by those who had once been the readers of History books, that Harbottle Castle had originally been home to the ancient Angles, and later to Margaret Tudor, sister to Henry VIII.
And on, or in, or below, what may or may not have been Harbottle Castle, ousted by a new-build, now lived Grace. Grace and her half-brother, Alfie Howard.
It was non-too comfortable, down in the cellar; the house had long since been burnt to the ground by the raiders – whether that be by the marauding gangs of the starved-crazy youths from the South, or by the uniformed and vengeful Scots was of little consequence. Once kinsmen, neighbours and, some of them, even family to the Howards – all were now, to Grace, nothing more than monsters. Monsters sanctioned by the state. Monsters of New Europe.
Still, at least the Monsters from the other side had clothes on their backs, food in their stomachs and homes to go to. At least they still registered with anyone who mattered, the authorities in Europe, as being fully human – fully Scottish and, as such, fully European!
As for Grace and Alfie, then being English and on the wrong side of The Wall, they were now officially worthless. Worthless and wasting. It wasn’t so bad for Grace; being seven years Alfie’s elder, she had more flesh on her bones to keep her going. But, Alfie?
“How much more of this old piece of trash do I have to read?” Alfie queried. “How much more before I can have something to eat?”
“One more chapter, Alfie! Just one more chapter, and the soup will be ready!”
“Yes, soup again! You love soup Alfie. Yesterday, you said it was delicious!”
“I do like it. I wasn’t lying, sis. It’s just that ..”
“Well, I was hoping that today we might eat something more …”
“Yes? More what?”
“Nothing. Sorry, I forgot! I love soup. I really do! I’ll just finish reading this chapter then! But, seriously, what is the point of reading this old history textbook. What’s the point of it now?”
“It’s important to know about the past, Alfie – about our past! About England! If just one thing had been different, one different decision made, everything as we know it now would be different!”
“Yes, but it isn’t different is it? I mean, we can’t go back and make a different decision now can we? And, even if we could go back in time, it wouldn’t be our decision to make would it? It would be Horace Thompson’s decision. And he’d say exactly the same thing, make exactly the same mistake, that he made back then! It would be all out of our control!”
“The trouble with you Alfie, is that you think too much. You’re too clever for your own good!”
“Clever? How can anyone be too clever? You and Rose, you brought me up to question things, not to take anything at face value, to think for myself! And, now you’re telling me not to …”
“It’s ready! The soup’s done! Come and help yourself. Have as much as you like!”
Of course, the have-as-much-as-you-like bit was all part of the game – the game of let’s pretend. Alfie knew, just as Grace did, that the soup was mostly all water. It contained very little meat. What little meat they had needed to be eaten sparingly, made to last.
Grace was very aware that of the change in Alfie. The chubby little baby had disappeared long ago. Alfie’s eyelids were shrinking back into his skull, making his big-blue eyes appear larger than ever! At thirteen years of age, almost an adult, Alfie deserved more. Alfie needed more. It had been eleven years, since The Isolation, and ten years since The Wall’s completion. And still, still the English people were waiting. Waiting for all that had been promised to them, all that had been dangled out to them by the people’s Primeminster – Horace Thompson. Waiting for the restoration of England’s wealth, pride, their language and their National heritage.
But what they needed most of all right now was food. It had been bad enough for the first year of the change, when the ships stopped arriving from Europe and the people started to mumble about the lack of variety in the big supermarkets. Brie couldn’t be bought anywhere, not even on the black market, and croissants – more popular with the British than the French themselves – became little more than a fading memory of sweeter times. TV chat show hosts had to referee heated arguments between those with a traditional English palette (usually the over sixties), and those who’d once fancied themselves to be open-minded and modern – the multiculturalists. But, if they were the bad times, then there had been a lot worse to come.
Shipments of supplies from the non-European continents had soon dried up. The matter made worse by sanctions from Europe. What country would want to trade with England, when it meant cutting off trading ties with Germany, Spain, France and Portugal? The loss of such a miniscule source of income had little effect on the rising powers of China and Japan. Indeed, profits went up, almost as soon as they had dipped, with European countries seeking other suppliers for services once provided by the English.
But try explaining all of that to a growing teenager. Alfie needed food. Without it, he stood little chance of making it even into adolescence, let alone into adulthood. Grace, always the provider, had to do something. The food had to come from somewhere. Recalling family stories about how her great-grandmother, as a child during World War Two, had been glad to eat rabbit offal, Grace had glimpsed a way forward. A slow way forward perhaps, but speed was of no concern, whereas survival was everything. Rabbits. There were always rabbits.
And rabbits had originally been brought over to England from mainland Europe, hadn’t they? Brought into England from Spain, by the Romans, ready to be bred in walled enclosures, fed up and cooked up as a gourmet dish. Later, when the cold English climate threatened to wipe the rabbits out, some thoughtful keeper was kind enough to dig underground bunny homes for their warmth and comfort during the winter months. And the unwitting European invaders hadn’t stopped their tunnelling and burrowing since.
Sweet rabbit soup. Sweet vengeance.
Grace and the sling-shot had become one.
Copyright owned by Jay Cool, 15th October, 2019
 Angles = people originally from North Germany, who settled in England in the 5th century
 offal = During WW2 women left the home to work in factories, filling in vacancies left by men at war; some had the messy job of skinning rabbits. A perk of the job may have been a pocket stuffed full of stolen waste, e.g. offal such as heart, liver, tail, paws and tongues.