This hollow in my chest is filled with reasons not to sing,
but I found one.
When her husband ran out on her and their son to be with her sister, Carla Langer thought things were as bad as they could get.
That was before the Master came.
Clyde puts on a brave face, like he always does now - always being strong for her. Carla wishes he didn't feel like he has to make it up to her for acting out when he was younger. As his mother, her forgiveness is implicit, as is the fact that she can be strong enough for the both of them. But Clyde is stubborn on this point. She tries not to wonder if he got that from his father.
In truth, Carla’s terrified. She fears for her son, far too young to be burdened by all this. She fears what his future might hold in this new world. But she hardly ever spares a moment to fear for herself. The driving force in Carla's life is the need to keep Clyde safe, just as it was before. With that goal in mind, it’s easy to keep it together. She has to.
After the invasion’s brutal start, a month passes in relative peace for them before the war really hits Ealing.
The day little Addie down the street loses her mother to the Toclafane, and has nowhere else to go, Carla takes her in. It seems the obvious solution; Carla is good at being a mother, and her clarity of purpose makes it easy to look after both Addie and her own child. It doesn’t hurt that Clyde is great with kids.
Carla never would've imagined herself as a single mother of two in the middle of World War III, but it’s happening, and she’s dealing with it.
Growing up, she never had much. Her mother, Lisa, was always just barely scraping by, struggling just to keep Carla and her brothers fed and clothed. The one place they never had to skimp on anything was in school, where Lisa made sure they had everything they needed, with the help of a small savings bond left by her grandmother. When the eldest child struggled profoundly with math, she paid for a tutor. Lisa was determined to invest in her children's futures, so their families wouldn't have to live in poverty, too.
Carla was the middle child, but she never felt invisible. By the time she went to university, she was determined to complete her education, get a good job, and do her mother proud. She felt she owed her as much.
It was the summer after finishing her degree in business administration when she met Paul, while interning at the biomedical company he’d been working at for a year. When Carla moved on to a job at a solar power company in the fall, Paul asked her out, and the rest was history. Paul was young, handsome, and charming, and Carla was swept off her feet. They were engaged within a year, and another year later, Clyde arrived. And they were happy - at least, Carla was.
She had her job and financial security, and she had her family. It was all Carla had ever wanted, but it was never enough for Paul. The dreams he’d always entertained of being rich and famous had endeared him to Carla when they were younger, but they grew tiresome as the years went by. As Clyde grew older, Paul grew increasingly restless. Still, Carla never imagined he’d run off with Nicole, of all people. As if being betrayed by her husband wasn’t bad enough, her own sister had to get in on the fun, too.
In the end, Carla saw that the same things that she’d always valued most highly were still what mattered most. She had her job, she had her son, and she was able to provide for him. And whatever she’d been through with Paul, she got Clyde out of it, which made it all worth it. As long as she had Clyde, she knew that she could make it through anything.
She isn’t sure what to make of all this talk of Martha Jones. What makes her any more capable of saving the world than anybody else out there? Carla thinks she sees the strongest, bravest people all around her every day, right there in Ealing. From the parents putting on a brave face for their children, to the kids refusing to let the Master and his threats dampen their spirits - some seemingly playing louder and even more gleefully than before - her neighbours are all superheroes, as far as Carla is concerned.
The neighbourhood rallies around everyone who’s been hit hardest, like Addie, everybody pitching in. Many of Ealing’s parents manage to hide from the Toclafane long enough to escape enslavement; they’re able to continue caring for their children in their own homes, and they’re discreet in their movements as they provide support to each other. Even some of their more reclusive neighbours stop by Carla’s house with food for her family sometimes, like that journalist from Bannerman Road (until she drives off with a suitcase one day and doesn’t return for months). In return, Carla often cooks large dinners and shares with much of the neighbourhood. Clyde is a huge help, as good at cooking as he is with children, and he seems to take pride in both. Sometimes, after poking her head in to say goodnight to him, it worries Carla. He’s only fourteen, still a child himself. He should been in school, not doing all this. Some nights, when the exhaustion catches up to her, she cries for the end of his childhood.
If Martha Jones is truly the only one who can make the Master pay, then Carla hopes she does.
It’s five months into the Master’s reign when Carla awakes one morning to find a neighbour has dropped their two children off at her place in the night. (Marnie is five and incredibly quiet; Robert is only three, but mostly cheerful.) Addie was one thing, but Carla never signed on for this. She can hardly turn them over to an orphanage, though, given the state they’re all in (overcrowded, and no longer receiving any sort of funding). Still, it takes Clyde’s gentle reassurance for her to believe they can really do this.
Most of their other neighbours are still around, somehow, though the threat of the Master’s army taking them away is ever-present. A few have left Ealing to be close to loved ones, or to try their luck in this new world order. As far as Carla knows, no one from their little corner of Ealing has left to fight. One house on Bannerman Road was sold shortly before the Master came along, but the new owners never moved in.
Clyde and Carla don’t do a bad job on their own, but they accept all the help they can get. When Clyde brings a girl his age back after taking a casserole to a neighbour’s house one day, and she helps the children get started on a craft project for the afternoon, Carla doesn’t question it. It’s only when the girl, who’s introduced herself as Rani, admits she’s been sleeping in the empty house on Bannerman Road that Carla grows concerned.
“Park Vale’s headmaster was planning on retiring next year,” she explains. “We were going to move here so my dad could take over. Then the Master happened, and my mum had to come to London to look after her sick mother, since her caregiver went back home to Bristol. Dad and I stayed back in Danemouth until we could figure out what to do next, but dad went out to check on some noises one night...and, well, he never came back.” She looks away momentarily, composing herself. “I came to London to meet up with my mum, only I haven’t been able to reach her. Her mobile and my gran’s phone have both been disconnected.”
Carla isn’t about to let this 14-year-old girl go on squatting down the street, but they’re running out of space. She’s unable to place the look on Clyde’s face until he offers to sleep in the basement, leaving his room free for Rani. Of course, thinks Carla, not sure why she didn’t figure it out sooner. In the movies, doesn’t young love always blossom in times of war?
They huddle together in the basement, quiet as mice, the night a small number of Toclafane sweep through Ealing. Shaking, the small children cling to Carla, while she and Clyde rub their backs comfortingly. They begin to cry softly when a bone-chilling noise pierces the air, Carla’s stomach sinking as she wonders which of her neighbours won’t be there anymore when she emerges.
The young children fall asleep eventually, Clyde and Rani both staring off into space. Hours pass before Carla climbs the stairs to peek out the front windows. No sign of the Toclafane, or whoever made that sound. Nothing left behind in the road to terrify the children the next day.
Carla’s still awake when they begin to stir, that dreadful noise echoing in her head keeping her up all night.
Carla’s always loved to sing. She got it from her mother, always singing to her and her siblings while they did chores, or after she tucked them into bed. Some days, they’d all sing together. Carla felt it was a natural progression to join the school choir, and she stuck with it all the way up until uni. Then, she wound up joining a band made up of fellow students as a back-up singer, and they’d perform once or twice a month at some of the bars and cafes frequented by their classmates. No one had the time anymore after graduation, but Carla never really stopped singing, be it in the shower, while she washed the dishes, or to Clyde after he was born.
One night, when Addie wakes up wailing after a nightmare, Carla sits by her bedside and softly sings her back to sleep. It’s a song that Clyde, stopped in the doorway, recognizes from when he was little, and for the next few nights, Carla catches him singing it to Addie himself. Before too long, Carla finds herself humming as she cooks again, and Clyde joins in, eventually leading all the children in sing-alongs. Rani sometimes makes a show of conducting, while Clyde taps out rhythms on the kitchen table. Carla gives in one evening and pulls out some recordings of her band from uni, and the children listen attentively. The children form a small choir of their own, and begin putting on weekly performances for Carla in the living room. She claps delightedly as they finish each song, and brings out snacks once they’re done. Soon, she gets into the habit of singing all the little ones to sleep.
She even sings to Clyde, sometimes, on nights when the news reports are especially grim. If Clyde is only pretending to be asleep, she’ll pretend she hasn’t noticed.
She hasn’t seen any of Clyde’s drawings in a while, but it seems he’s still found the time to work on some, mostly after the kids have gone to bed. She finds him working away under the light of the tiny lamp on her old desk in the basement, and he hesitates a moment before handing her the piece of paper, making her promise not to laugh.
It’s a picture of Rani. Very well done, too.
“Clyde, this is beautiful,” she breathes, blinking away the tears that threaten to fall. Is this how everyone feels when their children start having crushes, or is it different in their current circumstances? She does her best to keep her composure in front of Clyde, not wanting to embarrass him any further.
Clyde lights up like the Christmas tree they decorated with the kids a month ago, and haven’t yet had the heart to take down. Carla’s son has been bitten by the love bug, and there’ll be no turning back time now - not to the days when he still fit in her lap, and not to the days when he’d run into her bedroom with his newly completed crayon drawings of himself with her and Paul (and whatever toy or pet he was gunning for at the time). They will never be able to go back to the days before the Master. But maybe, if they keep on choosing to let love into their hearts instead of hate, they can fill their future in this new world with just as many happy memories as their past.
When she finds them asleep in Clyde’s room one night - Rani stretched out on top of the covers, Clyde curled up on the floor, resting his head in his arms on the bed near Rani’s feet - Carla only fetches a pillow and quietly maneuvers Clyde into a more comfortable position on the floor. Carla remembers how it was to fall asleep talking to someone, when she was young and in love. And these kids deserve the chance to find meaning wherever they can in such dark times.
The journalist - Sarah Jane Smith, Carla’s since learned her name is - reappears a full six months after leaving, with a teenage boy in tow. Luke is rather withdrawn, but that’s hardly a surprise, given the circumstances of his arrival in Ealing, with a new guardian, in the middle of a war. Clyde is quick to take him under his wing, and before long he’s over at the Langers’ daily, slowly opening up to Clyde, then Rani. He begins to greet Carla politely as he grows more comfortable, and she can tell he’s an intelligent boy from the snippets of conversation she overhears around the house, and the way he sometimes helps the younger children with the basic English, maths, and science Carla and Clyde have tried to set them up with. She appreciates his contributions and tells Sarah Jane as much, but is always answered with a guarded, sort of sad smile. She doesn’t ask where Sarah Jane went for six months, or where she found Luke.
She does ask for help with tracking down Rani’s mother, getting the sense that Sarah Jane is a competent investigator. With her help, it isn’t long before they’ve tracked down Gita Chandra and managed to reach out to her; she’ll be on her way to Ealing to collect Rani as soon as she’s found someone to look after her mother while she’s gone. Rani looks flushed with joy and relief when Carla tells her the news, but looks down after a moment, chewing her lower lip worriedly by the time Carla leaves the room. Carla goes to the basement, then, to tell Clyde, who mostly manages to control his expression and keep his voice steady despite what Carla knows he’s feeling. While she doesn’t regret setting a mother and child’s reunion in motion, she imagines it’s never easy to see your baby get their heart broken.
Martha Jones arrives in Ealing in mid-April. In Carla’s kitchen, she looks surprisingly...normal. She has that same hardened look on her face they all do, now, having fought this war for ten solid months; but there’s something else there, too. Something Carla’s only glimpsed in Sarah Jane’s eyes, and Carla catches the two of them exchanging an inscrutable look. She knows better than to ask what they talk about when they disappear into the backyard for some time.
Later, after telling everyone assembled at Carla’s house about the plan, Martha pulls her aside, too.
“You’ve done a remarkable job, here,” says Martha quietly. “Your son, too.”
“I couldn’t have done it without him,” says Carla, swallowing the lump that’s appeared in her throat.
“If there’s anything at all I can do for you before I go...”
Carla breathes out slowly. “There’s one thing I’ve been wondering.”
But Martha seems to have picked up on it already. “Why me?” Carla nods. “Could’ve been anyone, really. I was in the right place at the right time - or the wrong place, you could say. And I wound up so deeply into this mess, the only thing to do was try to fix it. I have to...to save my family,” she says, choking on her words a little, “and all the people I love. And the only way to do that is to take the Master down, once and for all.”
Carla can understand that, and she’s beginning to see why the world has named Martha their hero. “Alright,” she says, “go on, then. We’ve got things under control, here.”
Martha smiles. “You certainly do.”
On Rani’s last day in Ealing - once Gita’s arrived and met everyone, taking a particular liking to Clyde, it seems - Clyde announces, as they all finish eating lunch, that he has something to show everyone in the basement. Carla follows behind the children and Gita, and as she reaches the bottom of the stairs, she finds an entire wall has covered in sheets of paper, like a makeshift mural. Clyde’s apparently enlisted all the children to draw each other, their friends and family, and whatever else they wanted. In the centre, Clyde’s drawing of Rani is on display, along with one of Carla. She tries to wipe her tears away as discreetly as possible.
“Clyde...” she whispers. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Rani dabbing at her own cheeks with her sleeve. When she drops her hand back down to her side, Clyde laces their fingers together, and Rani squeezes his hand tightly.
“Clyde?” Carla calls from the living room, and he emerges from the kitchen, only just having finished up with the dishes. The children are asleep already, and Carla’s turned all the lights out, to Clyde’s momentary confusion. “Come here,” she says, beckoning him to the space beside her on the couch. She’s got her legs tucked in beside her and is turned to face the window. Clyde sits down next to her.
“Do you remember when your father taught you about the constellations?” she asks. It used to be that they tried not to talk about Paul too much, once they’d both started to move forward, but Clyde never even flinches when people ask after his father now. Carla knows that his wounds, like hers, are mostly scar tissue now, and mentioning him won’t open them back up. And it’s simply a fact that Paul is inextricably tied to so many of her most precious memories of Clyde’s childhood.
“When we went for that picnic?” Clyde remembers. “Yeah, I used to try to spot them from my bedroom window after that.” Carla’s pleased he remembers. He was only six at the time.
“Can you point them out to me?” she asks, peering up at the night sky. It’s a clear night, and the rolling power outages across London have made for a better view of the stars these last couple of months. Clyde knits his brow as he looks up.
“I’m not sure how much I remember,” he says. “Let’s see. Well that one there is the Big Dipper, of course...”
It only takes a few minutes for Carla to doze off, her son’s calm voice filling her with a deep sense of peace. Just before she falls asleep completely, she thinks she hears him start to sing.
Clyde has just finished his latest letter to Rani - he has no way of knowing if they’re reaching her, and hasn’t received a reply, but he keeps on writing anyway - when Sarah Jane knocks on their door, Luke by her side. “It’s time,” she says, and Carla rounds up the kids and brings them all outside. The whole neighbourhood has congregated in the road, buzzing anxiously, yet hopefully. Feeling that hope all around her, still alive and well even after the year they’ve had, moves Carla.
She spots Sarah Jane behind Luke with her arms wrapped around his shoulders, whispering something in his ear. Carla can’t figure out the look on her face - concerned, but deeply reassured, somehow. What did she and Martha Jones talk about, anyway? Did it have something to do with Luke?
She isn’t quite sure of the significance of all this. Martha Jones is a doctor herself, but the story she told was of someone else, a man who could defeat the Master. Carla knows nothing of this man, and very little about Martha, really, but even just the hope they’ve given the world makes a big difference.
So this is the day, Carla thinks. The day they heal the world.
Holding Clyde close, with Addie, Marnie, and Robert crowding around them, Carla looks up, closes her eyes, and whispers.
The rest will be up to him and Martha.
~ ~ ~
“Strange how Saxon just disappeared like that,” Carla remarks, drying off a plate.
Clyde shrugs as he pulls on his shoes. “Did you vote for him?”
“Mm-hmm. I had a good feeling about him,” she says. “Don’t suppose that matters now, though.” She puts the plate back into the cupboard, closes the door, and crosses over to the front hall. “Now call if you’re going to stay out late, alright?”
“‘Course, mum,” says Clyde, leaning in to give her a kiss on the cheek. “Don’t think I’ll be late unless I get detention, though,” he says with a cheeky little grin, and Carla swats at his shoulder.
“Oi,” she warns. “How about you just behave yourself, huh? Would that be so hard?”
“No fun in that,” he replies, slipping out the front door. Carla rolls her eyes as she locks the door behind him and watches him go. As well as he’s been doing at Park Vale, she hopes he hasn’t been too lonely. He’s friends with a few of his classmates, but he hardly ever brings them round or goes over to theirs. He seems happy, but Carla still thinks it’d be good for him to form a stronger friendship or two.
Their lives are good now, though. Everything they’ve been through, and here they both are, doing well. Time may not heal all wounds, but it’s certainly helped, and through it all, they’ve had each other to lean on. Carla figures they could face anything together, be it teenage heartache or the end of the world.
Not that the latter’s bound to happen anytime soon.