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Hopes and Fears and Fidgets

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1

Mrs Phelps doesn't notice Matilda until she's at the counter, her little hands grasping its edge. The librarian crosses over to the four-year-old girl's side and kneels down to hear her better.

"Yes, dear?" she asks.

"I said, I'd like some books about the air raids, please."

"The air raids? Am I hearing you correctly?"

"Yes. I'm reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe over again, and Lewis mentions that the Pevensies have been sent away from home because of the air raids, but he doesn't say anything else about it."

Well, it's only natural that the girl would be curious.

"I'm sure I could find you something," she tells her, and gestures for the girl to follow. "You know, I was evacuated during the war myself. My parents sent me to live on my uncle's farm."

Matilda looks up at Mrs Phelps, her eyes dark and wide. "You were?"

"I was just about your age, in fact." And just like that, she finds herself telling Matilda the story of those long months; of the fear and worry, the hope and camaraderie. It's several minutes later when she realizes: "Oh! You came here looking for a book about this, didn't you? And here I am, nattering on."

"That's all right," the girl says. "I like hearing it from you, as long as you aren't too busy."

"Today isn't a very busy day," Mrs Phelps replies. "But let's find you that book."

It's rather difficult to find an acceptable book. Regardless of her reading level, there are some things Mrs Phelps doesn't think Matilda needs to know about just yet. She eventually finds one, though, and leaves Matilda to her reading.

At the end of the afternoon, Matilda hands her books back to Mrs Phelps.

"What did you think?" she asks.

Matilda thinks for a second before she replies. "It was good to learn more about history, but I think I liked hearing you tell it even more."

"Well," Mrs Phelps says, "maybe you'll be an historian someday."

"I think I will," Matilda says, and practically skips away.


2

It turns out that getting formal custody of a child isn't as easy as having her move in with you.

Though, Jennifer thinks to herself as she sorts through another pile of paperwork with tiny print that of course can't be in simple English, the fact that the police are still looking for Matilda's parents seems to have helped speed matters immensely.

Jennifer is so wrapped up in legal jargon that she doesn't notice Matilda come into the room until she taps her on the shoulder.

"I thought you might need this," she says, and hands Jennifer a glass of cold milk.

Jennifer smiles. "You're right. What are you doing up and about at this hour?"

"I woke up because I was thirsty," Matilda replies. "I saw the light was on, and I figured that since Mr Carroll came to visit this evening, you'd be doing more paperwork." She hugs Jennifer from the side and holds her close for a second. "It's all right. One day I'm going to go to Parliament and I'll change the law. I'll make it simple."

Jennifer turns in her chair and hugs Matilda back. After being alone for so long, she doesn't think holding the girl's sturdy little body in her arms will ever get old.

And though they both understand that life is never that simple, neither of them voices the thought.


3

Lavender doesn't feel like navigating the crowds tonight, so she and Matilda end up on a blanket on the roof of one of Crunchem Hall's outbuildings to watch the fireworks.

A bright silver bolt shoots into the sky to begin the show.

"Aluminium," Matilda whispers, just loud enough for Lavender to hear, and when the silver blooms out into a thousand sparkling pieces, she adds: "and antimony."

Lavender slides her hat up a bit despite the November chill; she wants to see the display.

Next up is a set of red stars, crisscrossing each other like ripples in a dark pond. "That one's a crossette. Probably lithium or strontium."

Now Lavender has to ask. "Excuse me?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. Am I disturbing you? Mr Simmonds gave us reading to do about fireworks instead of our usual chemistry exercises this weekend." Her face lights up blue and then white, but they're both looking at each other now. "It was fascinating. And now I want to make these myself."

"It would be fun, wouldn't it?" Lavender agrees, and turns back to the show.

"You get paid to blow things up all the time, and play with chemistry too. And it's art."

"I don't mind, you know. Any of it."

Matilda nods, and slips her hand into Lavender's. Four shots of green fire light the sky above them. "Barium," she says, and Lavender can practically hear her smiling.


4

Dr Pritchard stands outside the child's hospital room for a minute, listening for signs of activity from within.

There are two people talking to each other inside, so the girl -- Matilda Wormwood, her file says -- is awake.

"You gave me quite a fright," the woman says. "What were you thinking, climbing that tree?"

"I did all the time when I was little," Matilda replies. "Guess I'm not so little anymore."

He checks the file again. She's barely thirteen years old. No wonder she fell; her whole body's starting to change on her.

"Anyway," the woman says, "the doctor will be here in a minute to put a proper plaster cast on your arm. They say that's the worst of the damage, right there. Thank God you fell from the lowest branch."

Dr Pritchard knocks on the doorframe to announce his approach. "Good to see you're awake, Matilda," he says. "I'm Dr Pritchard and I'll be getting that splint off of your arm. Your mother did a good job of putting it on."

The two women share a look, almost like they're deciding not to share something. The woman says, "I'm a schoolteacher. It helps to know some basic first aid."

"So it does," Dr Pritchard says. "Anyway, it's not a very bad break, so it doesn't need to be set any further than it already has been. I'll just be putting on your cast. You can spend the night at home under your mother's care."

"Then why did I pass out?" Matilda asks. "I didn't hit my head, so it must have been the shock of the fall."

"That's probably right," Dr Pritchard replies. "You're a very bright young lady. Have you ever considered becoming a doctor?"

"A little," she says. "But I think I'd want to be a nurse instead. They're the ones who really know what's going on."

A very bright young lady, indeed.


5

Matilda takes a gap year after her A-levels, more out of necessity than of desire. She figures it'll be easier for her to be taken seriously at university if she's a bit closer in age to her fellow students. But more importantly, she has no idea what she wants to do with her life.

(Miss Honey assures her that most fourteen-year-olds have no idea what they want to do, and that she can take as much time as she needs. Even though she knows this is true, she's still sort of lost.)

She finds that talking to the grownups in her life, and thinking about what they've taught her, helps her the most. They tell her to follow her heart, to find ways to help others while helping herself.

And when her year is up and she starts applying to university with the intent of becoming a teacher, she knows she's made the right decision.