'Survivors' by Sarah Morrison


It fell heavily from the back of an old photo album entitled ‘High summer, 1944’. Although the pin was broken off it was obviously a brooch, still pretty -- a pair of silver wings cradling ‘RAF’ in blue enamel and topped with a blood-red crown. It nestled comfortably in my hand as I turned the pages of photographs. Tennis on the lawn, punting on the river, Granny glowing, luminous on the arm of Grandpa’s brother -- Great Uncle David -- so glamorous in his airman’s uniform. Grandpa, a boy by comparison, pulling a face for the camera just a step too far from the others to be truly with them. ‘15th July, 1944’. It must have been taken days before David was killed in action.
   A photograph fluttered down as I turned the last page in the album. Granny and Grandpa outside St Jude’s. Grandpa still looks like a boy -- first day of his first job perhaps -- in his best suit with his hair perfectly parted. He’s posing as a bridegroom, smiling hesitantly at someone off-camera who has told him to lift his chin by the looks of it. In his eyes I can see him asking, “Is this right?” He doesn’t look entirely sure.
   But even he looks more certain about things than Granny. One of the marble angels in the graveyard has lost her wings and idly linked arms with Grandpa for a moment. Granny’s glacial satin wedding dress and brittle spray of flowers look warmer and more alive than she does. She should be radiant, ‘blushing’ at least, but all light has left her. She leans stiffly on Grandpa and looks stonily at the ground in front of his feet.
   On the back of the photograph it says faintly ‘20th August 1944’. Mummy’s birthday is in March. 'An early honeymoon baby,’ she always says, rolling her eyes. In my palm the wings flutter.

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