For the whole of one very hot summer two little girls played at housekeeping every day. Each took over a couple of rooms in the ruins of the large house on the corner plot, whose lower floor was almost intact except for the space furthest away from where the entrance door had been, where an iron girder was laid bare between the black and white tiles of the vestibule. The children spent most of the time in what had been the kitchen of the house, with two large basins of white china clay, miraculously undamaged, having come to rest on the floor at a crazy angle. Twisted pipes hung down over the basins; there was, of course, no water, but as there was no other kitchen furniture at all except for the basins, imagination supplied what they needed. There was enough rubble inside and outside to build your own cooker and table and benches. Broken tiles became pots and pans. What they couldn’t invent they imagined and what couldn’t be imagined they discarded as unnecessary.
Having access to a whole house with floor space for playing was luck indeed. The whole street was in ruins; although all the rubble had been cleared from the roadway itself, most of the remains of former houses were standing amid fallen masonry, shattered chimneys and smashed roof tiles. The wood had all gone, used as firewood. The girls were adventurous, to them the ruins were not dangerous places; they made sure they stayed away from black, gaping holes which opened into the cellars. They knew that if they fell in, there was no easy way to clamber out again. Besides, they had heard the adults talk about people who had been inside the cellars when the houses collapsed on top of them. “Who knows”, they said, “ their ghosts might still be down there”.
It was dead people they feared, not the adults they knew. And certainly not houses which had once been houses for real people to live in.
The upper floors to the house were missing, fragments of walls reached into the friendly skies whose deep blue was safe now. The children knew nothing of what had brought about the world in which they lived. The old world the adults spoke of was alien to them, they knew that the houses had not always been in ruins, that they had had walls and roofs and doorways and windows that could be opened and shut, much like the flats they lived in now. The word ‘makeshift’ meant nothing to the children. When the adults said that the day would come when all would be well again, the children looked at them as if to say “ what is not well now?” The adults spoke of toys and food and clothes and shoes they had once had and would have again one day, and the children didn’t understand. They had shoes on their feet and clothes to wear and food in their bellies, and above all, they had their wonderful ruined house, where they could take their rag dolls and play housekeeping.
The house had once stood in its own grounds and although much of the former garden was covered in rubble from the cleared roadway, a small patch right in the middle of it was left free. The black frocked priest in church had talked of paradise and the girls thought they must have found it. Being secretive and unwilling to share the secret, they kept their discovery to themselves, forcing their way through the rubble which was partly hidden under the by now rampant vegetation and overgrown with long strands of trailing brambles, patches of thigh high nettles and thorny rose bushes, until they reached their own special den, the heart of the original garden, where flowering shrubs mingled with a large stand of willowherb. The scent was overpowering. The girls flattened some of the tall willowherb, which was taller than they were; when sitting on the ground they were completely hidden from view.
Here they took their afternoon picnic. They had brought precious lemonade to drink out of toy cups, they had a few sweets; sometimes they had a biscuit each; everything else their imagination supplied. They did as children do, and always will.
Summer that year was a miracle, paradise indeed, never to be forgotten. But all summers have to come to an end eventually.
The following year rebuilding began; the ruined house was demolished completely. One little girl moved away and the other remained a while longer, searching for a long time for her lost garden in the hustle and bustle of rebirth. It had disappeared completely and become the foundation for a whole new world.