My Name is Eva

Before she woke, she had been dreaming and in her sleep a voice had been calling to her: ‘Evie, Evie, come to me. I need you.’

She is sure it was Hugh she heard calling; his voice was clear and urgent. It was not the way she remembered him speaking to her all those years ago, but it was most definitely his voice. He had sounded distressed, as if he really needed her help.

She presses the button to elevate her bed so she can sit up, then switches on the bedside light. The care home is silent. No other residents are calling or bleeping for assistance, no soft footsteps are padding the corridors tonight and no alarms are going to start ringing till first light.

Outside, in the extensive gardens, she hears the screech of a vixen. Could that have been the sound she’d heard as she was dreaming and translated into Hugh’s voice in her sleep? How can she even be sure she would still recognise his voice, echoing over the years, more than sixty years since he had been killed?

She swings her stiff legs out of bed and hauls herself to standing with her walking frame. Step by slow step, she inches towards the window. ‘It’s time, Hugh, darling. I’m coming to you now,’ she whispers.

The curtains are slightly open and a bright sliver of light gleams through the gap. She pulls them further apart and sees that the full moon is shining in all its silver brightness over the gardens, so although it is the middle of the night, there is very little black in the picture before her, but various tones of charcoal grey and dark green, with every shrub, border, path and curve of lawn clearly defined, as if it was a dimly lit overcast day and not the witching hours of night. And there must have been a frost too, as every leaf is shimmering with silvery ice under the gaze of this bright light.

It is Christmas Eve. Evelyn remembers that first Christmas at the end of 1945 in Wildflecken; the excitement of not just the children but also the adults, tasting foods long forgotten as well as the sweetness of liberation. And tonight, children who have not experienced privation will still be waiting with excited impatience; they await gifts of toys and sweets, smuggled to their beds while they sleep. And perhaps, although it is not an Anglo-Saxon custom, they have been watching at their windows for the first star of Christmas, the way they did at Wildflecken all those years ago. Evelyn searches the sky. There must be stars up there, but she can’t see them from her window. ‘Hugh, let’s go out and look at the stars together,’ she murmurs.

Evelyn finds her thick dressing gown and slippers and leaves her room. No one challenges her as she creeps along the dimly lit passageway. No one sees her pass through the dining room, festooned with paper chains and Chinese lanterns, nor through the hall with its tall Christmas tree decked with the glass ornaments of childhood and sparkling with coloured lights. She can hear the murmur of the night staff drinking tea and chatting in the kitchen at the far end of the corridor, but none of them sees her punching the numbers into the keypad at the entrance to Forest Lawns. One, two, three, four… How lazy of the management to never change the code. She had double-checked again earlier that day and yes, it was still the same as when she had first arrived.

Her fingers are rewarded with a small buzz; the door swings open and then she is outside, feeling the fresh chill of the night air sting her cheeks and freeze her lungs. The garden is clearly lit by the moon shining on the path like a beacon, calling her to walk along its length. She shuffles along the paving stones to an open area of lawn, where she finds a bench and sits down.

There are no overhanging branches, no intrusive lights, so now she can see the full expanse of the night sky, the moon surrounded by a dusting of diamond stars, all twinkling, all claimed by children all over the world, as their very own Christmas star this holy night.

‘Good night, Lieselotte,’ she whispers. ‘Happy Christmas, liebchen. I hope you have been happy in your life so far. Perhaps you have had children of your own and now are blessed with grandchildren. I’d like to think you have known the joy of young lives and I wish you a happy life when I’ve gone.’ She smiles and hugs herself. ‘Hugh, I’m coming now. Hold out your hands for me, darling.’

She fumbles in the pocket of her dressing gown for the button, the very special button that was issued to all of the young men and women during their days of training. It has been waiting in her dressing table drawer for just the right moment ever since. If the poison has lost its potency after so many years, then she is sure this wintry night will claim her. She begins humming under her breath and gradually adds words to the tune, ‘Stille Nacht’, her frail voice drifting away on a wisp of frosted breath in the chilly air.

And then, smiling, she takes the tablet, closes her eyes and welcomes the chill of the night to hold her still at last in a final embrace, beneath the icy moon and stars.