This is the first part of a fiction serial, in 775 words.
Vera Elspeth Dodds arrived in this world on a cold Friday evening in January, 1924. Her mum Elsie had left it late after the labour pains started, and had to shout for old Mrs Simmons downstairs to go and get Mrs Strickland from number eight. Before they got back, baby Vera had already arrived, on the chipped linoleum floor of the first landing. Mrs Strickland told Clara Simmons to boil some hot water to wash the baby in, and make some tea while she was at it. Then she used two small hairclips to clamp the cord before cutting it with her small fish-cleaning knife and handing the baby to Elsie.
“Get her on the breast, Elsie love. Get her suckling and that will get the placenta out”. Elsie Dodds did as she was told, trusting the unofficial midwife who had delivered all of her other chldren. She watched as the older woman ran a match under a darning needle before threading it with strong cord. “She’s torn you a bit, Elsie. Just a few stitches once the placenta’s out, then we can get you to bed with some hot sweet tea”. Vera’s dad Albert was at the pub, playing darts for The Coach and Horses’ team. Clara wasn’t keen to go out again on that cold night to fetch him, so Elsie said to leave it. “He will see her soon enough, when he gets home. Let him have his night out”.
Little Vera was the fourth child born in that house. Though her oldest sister, Rosie, had not seen her second birthday, taken by scarlet fever. Her other sister, Vivian, was at the pictures with a friend. At the age of fifteen, she was already at work of course, a decent job in the vinegar factory. She liked to go to the pictures with her friends every Friday after work, and would get some fish and chips on the way there. It would be some years before baby Vera would notice the smell of vinegar that no amount of washing could ever quite disguise. Her older brother Teddy was nearly eighteen, and already at sea in the Merchant Navy. If he heard about the new baby sister before he returned from the voyage, he might bring her back a small gift.
Albert Dodds got home just after eleven, hoping a sandwich might have been left on a plate for him. Despite enjoying a few pints with the team, he wasn’t drunk, as he had to go to work in the morning. Shame they had lost, but The Cross Keys was top of the league, so it would have been a wonder if they had beat them. Viv was sitting at the top of the stairs, smiling. “The baby’s come, Dad. Mum’s called her Vera”. He smiled at the news that she had been named after his sister, who had died of disease while nursing the troops in the Dardanelles in 1915. When he got into the bedroom, Elsie and the baby were both sleeping soundly. He got undressed and slipped in beside them, glad of the warmth under the covers.
Baby Vera hadn’t been intended, and when Elsie found out she was expecting, they were none too pleased. Another mouth to feed when times were not so good. She had no option but to leave the jam factory once she was six month’s gone, as the work was too heavy. At least Albert still had his job at the Iron Foundry in Deptford Creek, and could work extra hours on Saturdays when they had a big job on. That had saved him from the Great War too, as it had been a reserved occupation. But they were geting on a bit to have a new baby in the house. Albert was forty-two next birthday, and Elsie would be thirty-seven in four day’s time.
When the crying of his new daughter woke him up just before four in the morning, Albert yawned and stretched. He had to be up by five anyway, to walk to work that morning. As Elsie put the baby to her breast, he leaned over and kissed his wife on the head. “Well done, old heart”. When he was lacing his boots, she spoke quietly. “Bertie love, there’s a sandwich made in the cold larder, you can have it for breakfast, or take it to work. It’s the last of that boiled ham, with a nice thick spread of mustard. If you are having tea before you go, can you make me one?”
When he came back with the tea, he smiled at the happily feeding baby, and kissed Vera very gently on her cheek.
“Welcome to the family, little Vera”.