Stay Where You Are And Then Leave

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9781427236371: Stay Where You Are And Then Leave
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The day the First World War broke out, Alfie Summerfield's father promised he wouldn't go away to fight―but he broke that promise the following day. Four years later, Alfie doesn't know where his father might be, other than that he's away on a special, secret mission. Then, while shining shoes at King's Cross Station, Alfie unexpectedly sees his father's name on a sheaf of papers belonging to a military doctor. Bewildered and confused, Alfie realizes his father is in a hospital close by―a hospital treating soldiers with shell shock. Alfie isn't sure what shell shock is, but he is determined to rescue his father from this strange, unnerving place. . . . in John Boyne's Stay Where You Are and Then Leave.

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About the Author:

John Boyne is the author of Crippen, The Thief of Time, Next of Kin, The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, and the New York Times and internationally bestselling The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Boyne won two Irish Book Awards (the People’s Choice and the Children’s) for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and his novels have been translated into more than thirty languages. Ireland's Sunday Business Post named him one of the forty people under forty in Ireland "likely to be the movers and shakers who will define the country's culture, politics, style and economics in 2005 and beyond." Crippen was nominated for the Sunday Independent Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year Award. He lives with his partner in Dublin.

Euan Morton’s narration credits include Christopher Moore’s Fool and Sacre Bleu, Neil Gaiman’s Stories, Eoin Colfer’s Benny books, and Frank Herbert’s Dune and Chapterhouse Dune. Morton’s breakthrough role was appearing as Boy George in the musical Taboo, which earned him a Laurence Olivier Award nomination. He reprised the role on Broadway, earning Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League Award nominations, as well as the Theatre World Award (for Outstanding Broadway Debut).

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER 1
SEND ME AWAY WITH A SMILE

 
Every night before he went to sleep, Alfie Summerfield tried to remember how life had been before the war began. And with every passing day, it became harder and harder to keep the memories clear in his head.
The fighting had started on July 28, 1914. Others might not have remembered that date so easily, but Alfie would never forget it, for that was his birthday. He had turned five years old that day and his parents threw him a party to celebrate, but only a handful of people showed up: Granny Summerfield, who sat in the corner, weeping into her handkerchief and saying, “We’re finished, we’re all finished,” over and over, until Alfie’s mum said that if she couldn’t get ahold of herself she would have to leave; Old Bill Hemperton, the Australian from next door, who was about a hundred years old and played a trick with his false teeth, sliding them in and out of his mouth using nothing but his tongue; Alfie’s best friend, Kalena Janácek, who lived three doors down at number six, and her father, who ran the sweet shop on the corner and had the shiniest shoes in London. Alfie invited most of his friends from Damley Road, but that morning, one by one, their mothers knocked on the Summerfields’ front door and said that little so-and-so wouldn’t be able to come.
“It’s not a day for a party, is it?” asked Mrs. Smythe from number nine, the mother of Henry Smythe, who sat in the seat in front of Alfie in school and made at least ten disgusting smells every day. “It’s best if you just cancel it, dear.”
“I’m not canceling anything,” said Alfie’s mother, Margie, throwing up her hands in frustration after the fifth parent had come to call. “If anything, we should be doing our best to have a good time today. And what am I to do with all this grub if no one shows up?”
Alfie followed her into the kitchen and looked at the table, where corned-beef sandwiches, stewed tripe, pickled eggs, cold tongue, and jellied eels were all laid out in a neat row, covered over with tea towels to keep them fresh.
“I can eat it,” said Alfie, who liked to be helpful.
“Ha,” said Margie. “I’m sure you can. You’re a bottomless pit, Alfie Summerfield. I don’t know where you put it all. Honest, I don’t.”
When Alfie’s dad, Georgie, came home from work at lunchtime that day, he had a worried expression on his face. He didn’t go out to the backyard to wash up like he usually did, even though he smelled a bit like milk and a bit like a horse. Instead, he stood in the front parlor reading a newspaper before folding it in half, hiding it under one of the sofa cushions, and coming into the kitchen.
“All right, Margie,” he said, pecking his wife on the cheek.
“All right, Georgie.”
“All right, Alfie,” he said, tousling the boy’s hair.
“All right, Dad.”
“Happy birthday, son. What age are you now anyway, twenty-seven?”
“I’m five,” said Alfie, who couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be twenty-seven but felt very grown up to think that he was five at last.
“Five. I see,” said Georgie, scratching his chin. “Seems like you’ve been around here a lot longer than that.”
“Out! Out! Out!” shouted Margie, waving her hands to usher them back into the front parlor. Alfie’s mum always said there was nothing that annoyed her more than having her two men under her feet when she was trying to cook. And so Georgie and Alfie did what they were told, playing a game of Snakes and Ladders at the table by the window as they waited for the party to begin.
“Dad,” said Alfie.
“Yes, son?”
“How was Mr. Asquith today?”
“Much better.”
“Did the vet take a look at him?”
“He did, yes. Whatever was wrong with him seems to have worked its way out of his system.”
Mr. Asquith was Georgie’s horse. Or rather he was the dairy’s horse; the one who pulled Georgie’s milk float every morning when he was delivering the milk. Alfie had named him the day he’d been assigned to Georgie a year before; he’d heard the name so often on the wireless radio that it seemed it could only belong to someone very important, and so he decided it was just right for a horse.
“Did you give him a pat for me, Dad?”
“I did, son,” said Georgie.
Alfie smiled. He loved Mr. Asquith. He absolutely loved him.
“Dad,” said Alfie a moment later.
“Yes, son?”
“Can I come to work with you tomorrow?”
Georgie shook his head. “Sorry, Alfie. You’re still too young for the milk float. It’s more dangerous than you realize.”
“But you said that I could when I was older.”
“And when you’re older, you can.”
“But I’m older now,” said Alfie. “I could help all our neighbors when they come to fill their milk jugs at the float.”
“It’s more than my job’s worth, Alfie.”
“Well, I could keep Mr. Asquith company while you filled them yourself.”
“Sorry, son,” said Georgie. “But you’re still not old enough.”
Alfie sighed. There was nothing in the world he wanted more than to ride the milk float with his dad and help deliver the milk every morning, feeding lumps of sugar to Mr. Asquith between streets, even though it meant getting up in the middle of the night. The idea of being out in the streets and seeing the city when everyone else was still in bed sent a shiver down his spine. And being his dad’s right-hand man? What could be better? He’d asked whether he could do it at least a thousand times, but every time he asked, the answer was always the same: Not yet, Alfie, you’re still too young.
“Do you remember when you were five?” asked Alfie.
“I do, son. That was the year my old man died. That was a rough year.”
“How did he die?”
“Down the mines.”
Alfie thought about it. He knew only one person who had died. Kalena’s mother, Mrs. Janácek, who had passed away from tuberculosis. Alfie could spell that word. T-u-b-e-r-c-u-l-o-s-i-s.
“What happened then?” he asked.
“When?”
“When your dad died.”
Georgie thought about it for a moment and shrugged his shoulders. “Well, we moved to London, didn’t we?” he said. “Your Granny Summerfield said there was nothing in Newcastle for us anymore. She said if we came here we could make a fresh start. She said I was the man of the house now.” He threw a five and a six, landed on blue 37, and slid down a snake all the way to white 19. “Just my luck,” he said.
“You’ll be able to stay up late tonight, won’t you?” Alfie asked, and his dad nodded.
“Just for you, I will,” he said. “Since it’s your birthday, I’ll stay up till nine. How does that sound?”
Alfie smiled; Georgie never went to bed any later than seven o’clock at night because of his early starts. “I’m no good without my beauty sleep,” he always said, which made Margie laugh, and then he would turn to Alfie and say, “Your mum only agreed to marry me on account of my good looks. But if I don’t get a decent night’s sleep I get dark bags under my eyes and my face grows white as a ghost and she’ll run off with the postman.”
“I ran off with a milkman, and much good it did me,” Margie always said in reply, but she didn’t mean it, because then they’d look at each other and smile, and sometimes she would yawn and say that she fancied an early night too, and up they’d go to bed, which meant Alfie had to go to bed too and this proved one thing to him: that yawning was contagious.
Despite the disappointing turnout for his birthday party, Alfie tried not to mind too much. He knew that something was going on out there in the real world, something that all the adults were talking about, but it seemed boring and he wasn’t really interested anyway. There’d been talk about it for months; the grown-ups were forever saying that something big was just around the corner, something that was going to affect them all. Sometimes Georgie would tell Margie that it was going to start any day now and they’d have to be ready for it, and sometimes, when she got upset, he said that she had nothing to worry about, that everything would turn out tickety-boo in the end, and that Europe was far too civilized to start a scrap that no one could possibly hope to win.
When the party started, everyone tried to be cheerful and pretend that it was a day just like any other. They played Hot Potato, where everyone sat in a circle and passed a hot potato to the next person and the first to drop it was out. (Kalena won that game.) Old Bill Hemperton set up a game of Penny Pitch in the front parlor, and Alfie came away three farthings the richer. Granny Summerfield handed everyone a clothes peg and placed an empty milk bottle on the floor. Whoever could drop the peg into the bottle from the highest was the winner. (Margie was twice as good as everyone else at this.) But soon the adults stopped talking to the children and huddled together in corners with glum expressions on their faces while Alfie and Kalena listened in to their conversations and tried to understand what they were talking about.
“You’re better off signing up now before they call you,” Old Bill Hemperton said. “It’ll go easier on you in the end, you mark my words.”
“Be quiet, you,” snapped Granny Summerfield, who lived in the house opposite Old Bill at number eleven and had never got along with him because he played his gramophone every morning with the windows open. She was a short, round woman who always wore a hairnet and kept her sleeves rolled up as if she were just about to go to work. “Georgie’s not signing up for anything.”
“Might not have a choice, Mum,” said Georgie, shaking his head.
“Shush—not in front of Alfie,” said Margie, tugging on his arm.
“I’m just saying that this thing could run and run for years. I might have a better chance if I volunteer.”
“No, it’ll all be over by Christmas,” said Mr. Janácek, whose black leather shoes were so shiny that almost everyone had remarked upon them. “That’s what everyone is saying.”
“Shush—not in front of Alfie,” said Margie again, raising her voice now.
“We’re finished, we’re all finished!” cried Granny Summerfield, taking her enormous handkerchief from her pocket and blowing her nose so loudly that Alfie burst out laughing. Margie didn’t find it so funny, though; she started to cry and ran out of the room, and Georgie ran after her.
*   *   *
More than four years had passed since that day, but Alfie still thought about it all the time. He was nine years old now and hadn’t had any birthday parties in the years in between. But when he was going to sleep at night, he did his best to put together all the things he could remember about his family before they’d changed, because if he remembered them the way they used to be, then there was always the chance that one day they could be that way again.
Georgie and Margie had been very old when they got married—he knew that much. His dad had been almost twenty-one and his mum was only a year younger. Alfie found it hard to imagine what it would be like to be twenty-one years old. He thought that it would be difficult to hear things and that your sight would be a little fuzzy. He thought you wouldn’t be able to get up out of the broken armchair in front of the fireplace without groaning and saying, “Well, that’s me turning in for the night then.” He guessed that the most important things in the world to you would be a nice cup of tea, a comfortable pair of slippers, and a cozy cardigan. Sometimes when he thought about it, he knew that one day he would be twenty-one years old too, but it seemed so far in the future that it was hard to imagine. He’d taken a piece of paper and pen once and written the numbers down, and he realized that it would be 1930 before he was that age. 1930! That was centuries away. All right, maybe not centuries, but that’s the way Alfie thought about it.
Alfie’s fifth birthday party was both a happy and a sad memory. It was happy because he’d received some good presents: a set of eighteen different-colored crayons and a sketchbook from his parents; a secondhand copy of The Life and Most Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe from Mr. Janácek, who said that it would probably be too difficult for him now but that he’d be able to read it one day; a bag of sherbet lemons from Kalena. And he didn’t mind that some of the presents were boring: a pair of socks from Granny Summerfield and a map of Australia from Old Bill Hemperton, who said that someday he might want to go Down Under, and if that day ever came, then this map was sure to come in handy.
“See there?” said Old Bill, pointing at a spot near the top of the map, where the green of the edges turned brown in the center. “That’s where I’m from. A town called Mareeba. Finest little town in all of Australia. Anthills the size of houses. If you ever go there, Alfie, you tell them Old Bill Hemperton sent you, and they’ll treat you like one of their own. I’m a hero back there on account of my connections.”
“What connections?” he asked, but Old Bill only winked and shook his head.
Alfie didn’t know what to make of this, but in the days that followed he pinned the map to his bedroom wall anyway, he wore the socks that Granny Summerfield had given him, he used most of the coloring pencils and all of the sketchbook, he tried to read Robinson Crusoe but struggled with it (although he put it on his shelf to come back to when he was older), and he shared the sherbet lemons with Kalena.
These were the good memories.
The sad ones existed because that was when everything had changed. All the men from Damley Road had gathered outside on the street as the sun went down, their shirtsleeves rolled up, tugging at their braces as they spoke about things they called “duty” and “responsibility,” taking little puffs of their cigarettes before pinching the tips closed again and putting the butts back in their waistcoat pockets for later on. Georgie had got into an argument with his oldest and closest friend, Joe Patience, who lived at number sixteen, about what they called the rights and wrongs of it all. Joe and Georgie had been friends since Georgie and Granny Summerfield moved to Damley Road—Granny Summerfield said that Joe had practically grown up in her kitchen—and had never exchanged a cross word until that afternoon. It was the day when Charlie Slipton, the paper boy from number twenty-one, who’d once thrown a stone at Alfie’s head for no reason whatsoever, had come up and down the street six times with later and later editions of the newspaper, and managed to sell them all without even trying. And it was the day that had ended with Alfie’s mum sitting in the broken armchair in front of the fireplace, sobbing as if the end of the world was upon them.
“Come on, Margie,” Georgie said, standing behind her and rubbing her neck. “There’s nothing to cry about, is there? Remember what everyone said—it’ll all be over by Christmas. I’ll be back here in time to help stuff the goose.”
“And you believe that, do you?” Margie said, looking up at him, her eyes red-rimmed with tears. “You believe what they tell you?”
“What else can we do but believe?” said Georgie. “We have to hope for the best.”
“Promise me, Georgie Summerfield,” said Margie. “Promise me you won’t sign up.”
There was a long pause before Alfie’s dad spoke again. “You heard what Old Bill said, love. It might be easier on me in the long term if—”
“And what about me? And Alfie? Will it be easier on us? Promise me, Georgie!”
“All right, love. Let’s just see what happens, shall we? All them politicians might wake up tomorrow morning and change their minds about the whole thing anyway. We could be worrying over nothing.”
Alfie wasn’t su...

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