This is the twenty-fifth episode of a fiction serial, in 720 words.
That summer, things started to get serious all around the world. At home, clothes rationing came in, so Elsie told Vera to be careful of her clothes, and perhaps wear an overall to work instead of an apron. She was going to do that, and so were other women at the factory. “We can get two each while they’re still easy to get hold of, then we have a spare for when one’s in the wash”. Then there was the unexpected news that Hitler had invaded Russia. All of a sudden, the Russians were our friends. Albert liked reading about that. “Ha! You can tell that Hitler’s no student of history. He should have read about Napoleon. Nobody beats the Russkies”. But Vera read the paper when he put it down, and it looked like the Germans were already doing just that.
Janet wasn’t the same after the visit to Peckham to get rid of the baby. She looked older and tired, with dark circles around her eyes. She had heard from Frank, and he was in action in the desert, but couldn’t say where. He mainly wrote about the flies, and the boring food. Frank was never to know about her being pregnant, she made Vera swear an oath to never let on about that. Vera was a bit annoyed with her, because she would never have told. There was nothing from Les, which worried the Reid family, and Vera too. Mr Reid said the same old thing, every time. “No news is good news, Vera love”.
The bombing continued, but they no longer just concentrated on the docks. Places in the suburbs were being hit too, and incendiary raids and delayed action bombs caused havoc at times, with fires and road closures. The worst day yet had been in May. They hadn’t been able to do any work, and sat all night in the shelter. Albert was out most of the night, and came back looking ashen. “They say this is the worst it’s ever been, Elsie”. Vera thought she must be getting used to it, as when she saw the newspapers a few days later, she could hardly believe it had been all around where they lived.
One day, Vera and Elsie had to walk a very long way round to work, as the bomb disposal were trying to defuse a timer-bomb hanging from a parachute against the side of the church next to the Coach and Horses. Elsie tried to lighten the mood. “Hope those boys get that bomb safe, or your dad’s gonna be looking for somwehere else to have a pint”.
Then when it hardly seemed things could get any worse, Albert came home from work with his face set, and he looked like he had been crying. It took him some time to compose himself, not helped by Elsie constantly repeating “What is it Bert? Tell me what’s wrong”. Vera had never seen such a look on his face. “It’s the Ark Royal, Teddy’s ship. They’ve only gone and sunk it”. Elsie let out a piercing scream, and Vera felt the tears suddenly run down her face. She tried to imagine that huge ship under the sea, but didn’t want to think about her brother being inside the wreck. Albert tried to calm them down. “Don’t take on so, they say everyone is safe, but reports are unconfirmed so far”.
Elsie made some dinner, but couldn’t face eating anything herself. Albert gave her a big glass of port from the bottle in the parlour, and she sat for a long time holding it against her mouth without drinking any. For the rest of the evening, they sat glued to the radio, hoping for more news. When nothing came, Albert said what Mr Reid always said, and Vera felt like telling him to shut up. Then he tried to change the subject. “At least they defused the bomb that was near the pub”. Nobody smiled.
The following day, there was news on the radio that only one sailor had been killed. They didn’t give his name, but Vera was certain it was going to be Teddy. She couldn’t think straight for days after that, but her dad was equally convinced Teddy would be alright. Elsie said nothing.
All they could do was wait for news.