In London, despite it being nearly nine, the moon still hangs in the sky like an abandoned balloon, half hidden by clusters of clouds. Mrs Brown ,who lives up to her name with brown hair and brown eyes and a brown skirt and brown shoes, is picking up the milk bottles from outside her brown front door.In Plymouth it is foggy, and cloudy, just like yesterday’s paper said it would be. In a flat towards the edge of the city, Alfred Stevens, who has been up for nearly half the night staring at the cracks in his peeling wallpaper, is getting dressed quickly, throwing on his crumpled shirt and squeezing feet in to scuffed shoes.
In Edinburgh, it is raining as usual on Mr Green.
It is, to begin with at least, a normal day. They all buy a copy of a paper. Mrs Brown has The Times delivered; Alfred Stevens grabs his packet of cigarettes and Daily Mail from the dubious street kiosk on his way to work. Mr Green buys The Scottish Daily Express-the ink runs as usual. They all miss the postman by 10 minutes. Mr Green is late for a meeting, having been forced to dry off in the ladies' loos. Buying an umbrella wouldn’t be such a bad idea, he thinks, as he scrapes the mud from his new shoes.
Mrs Brown gets the news first, around lunchtime, catastrophe hidden among a bill and a late birthday card. She nearly trips over the letters on her doormat, and drops her shopping. The nondescript letter is from the War Office and she reads it four times, brown freckles standing out on her cheeks.
She’s thought about it often, how she would react if she got this news, but she’d always imagined crying and screams: not this incredulous horror. And she’d not felt it, her only child dying four days ago.
She’d gone to Church like she did every Sunday and prayed for her son like she did every Sunday and thought about what she was going to have for dinner during the hymns like she did every Sunday. Her brown-suited husband trips over her when he comes home from work, slumped against the door still clutching the letter.
Alfred Stevens gets the news from his mother at 4. She’s waiting for him in his kitchen, hard faced and her mouth forms the word ‘dead’ before she says it. He is the first person she has told, the first person who she has had to face and look them in the eye and tell them her son is dead, the first person who she has to tell with brutal finality that his brother isn’t coming back from the war. Alfred doesn’t cry until she is gone and then he sobs into the washing up bowl.
Mr Green is late back from work having spent his day preparing for a business proposition: a large army order for thousands more boots. He ignores his letter on his kitchen table in favour of getting dry and warm. Despite the news, his first thought is ‘Thank goodness, I have a reason not to catch the train to Newcastle tomorrow.”