This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 740 words.
Walking into work on Monday morning, Vera felt as if she had been transported into another city. She was exhausted from having had little sleep, but the familiar streets were no longer so familiar. Evie Tyler’s house at the end of the street was gone. It was just a pile of bricks where a house had once stood. In the rubble was a half of a large doll, the clothes blown off, and it sent a chill through Vera to think that little Jessie had been under all that.
Mr Lewis’s shop had wood nailed all over the main window, which had obviously shattered. He had written on the wood with chalk. ‘Open As Usual’.
The docks were still burning, and the smoke rose up so high into the sky, Vera couldn’t see the top of it. As they reached the main road, she heard her mum gasp. The butcher’s shop on the corner was gone, along with most of the houses that had been in the same row. Men were throwing debris into carts next to the damage, and one house at the end remained, like a single tooth in someone’s mouth. Other men were jamming huge wooden beams against the side of it, and hammering supports against them with sledgehammers.
The jam factory came into sight, and appeared to have been spared the worst. From the gate, Vera could see Mr Prentice nailing boards across some windows that had been blown out, but the building looked sound.
And everywhere was dust and ash. It was floating down constantly on the hot morning air, covering their clothes as they walked like light snow. Vera shook her head constantly, hoping to get the worst off her hair. The other people walking into work were not even trying to smile. Everyone looked drawn and tired out, their faces turning in the direction of the docks as they heard more cracking and crashing sounds.
Inside the factory, work started up as normal. The radio played through the speakers, and the women got on with their jobs. Nobody talked about the weekend, or mentioned the devastation that had occurred. There was no point, as they all knew it was going to get worse.
They had to go into the basement during a daytime raid, but it wasn’t too bad. Nothing like it had been over the weekend anyway. Mr Prentice had stayed on the roof in case of incendiaries, and after the all-clear he told them the Jerries had dropped a few bombs on the East End across the river, but been chased off by RAF planes appearing. At lunchtime, Janet told Vera that there was no more news about Les, and that her house had not been hit. Her and her parents had gone down to the arches near London Bridge Station, and sat out the night raids there. Vera said she could stay with them, but Janet didn’t want to leave her mum.
When they got home from work, Albert was sitting at the table. He looked so old, Elsie thought. He told them that Evie Tyler and little Jessie were dead, and their bodies had been dug out of the ruins and brought to the church hall. Evie’s husband Ron was a fireman, and had been on duty all weekend. “I can’t imagine what Ron will do, when he finds out. He’s been out fighting fires all night and day with his crew, and has to come home to no house, and his wife and daughter dead, poor man”. Elsie had tears in her eyes. “I expect he will go to his mum’s in Camberwell, Bert. That will be best for him”.
As Vera was chopping up some carrots, she heard her dad carry on talking. “Did you see the butcher’s? Norman and his missus were in bed when it got hit. What we found of them was barely recognisable, caught up in the springs and bedrail. Their daughter is in training with the Wrens. Someone’s going to have to tell her”.
Vera thought of June Walters in her Wrens uniform, being called in to be told her mum and dad had been killed, and her family home and business destroyed. Then she thought about how her dad had suddenly started talking about what he had been doing all night, and how he spoke as if it was somehow normal.
Some of her tears splashed onto the pile of carrots.