This is the twenty-ninth part of a fiction serial, in 720 words.
The milk rationing was beginning to get everybody down. There was no rice pudding anymore, and no desserts of any kind that required milk. But what they hated most was not having enough milk to put in their tea. Vera just couldn’t stomach drinking it black, and the tinned and condensed milk soon became hard to obtain too. Even Albert was beginning to abandon his once-lofty principles, and accept that Elsie could try her best to get extras of everything on the Black Market. He had something to trade at least, as the rabbits didn’t seem to be affected by the bombing, so were producing a lot of offspring.
Her dad had killed the old buck first. Vera had named him ‘Snowy’ as he was pure white. But once the young males could do the business, Snowy’s days were numbered. Albert grabbed him and lifted him out of his hutch. As if he knew his fate, the rabbit squealed like an opera singer, and Vera had to put her fingers in her ears as her dad struck him across the neck with an iron bar. When her mum took him into the scullery to clean and skin him, Vera had to go up to her room. She was sure she could never eat him, but the rabbit pie tasted so good when you were hungry, and so did the casserole two days later.
Snowy was a big rabbit.
Vera still couldn’t really understand why Janet had been so calm when Frank had been killed. There were days at the factory when she actually seemed happy, which felt strange. Then Vera heard that she was spending her Saturday nights with Pauline Collins. Pauline was older, and her husband had been killed quite early in the war, before Dunkirk. One of the other ladies at the factory gossipped about Pauline being ‘easy’, and getting younger girls to go to pubs and dance-halls with her. It didn’t take long for Vera to find out that Janet had been hanging around with her for some time, so one day she confronted her about it.
“Yeah, so what? I go out with Pauline. She’s fun, and she knows some great blokes. Lots of them are in the Black Market, and they give you stuff. And they’ve got gin, cigarettes, perfume, all sorts. They appreciate a girl, they do”. Vera had a bad feeling, and she spoke about it to her friend. “So was one of those blokes the father of the baby you got rid of? Did you just pretend it was Frank, and make up that story about letting him go all the way?” Janet was defiant. “What if I did? What’s it to you?” Best that he didn’t come back. Someone would have told him that I got rid of a baby eventually, and he would have known full well it wasn’t his, ‘cos we never did it”.
Although she was fuming, Vera remembered that Janet was Les’s sister, and if things worked out would be her family. She shook her head in disgust, but at least she now knew why there had been no tears. She learned a valuable lesson that day. The people you think you can trust the most can still let you down. She never forgot that.
There were a lot of Americans in England by now, and many made their way to London as soon as they got leave. They were good-looking, confident, and had smart unifroms. They also had cigarettes, lipstick, chewing gum, and the new nylon stockings. Vera got used to avoiding those who ventured south of the Thames, but it wasn’t long before Janet had gone up west to meet some of them, accompanied by the awful Pauline. Very soon, she was missing shifts at work, boasting about having ten pairs of nylon stockings, and flashing around American cigarettes called Lucky Strike.
It made Vera shudder to imagine how many men she had been with up dark alleys, or in hotel rooms. And her brother a POW too. But she didn’t confront her about it. They hardly talked about anything anymore, as Janet spent her free time with Pauline, who was almost old enough to be her mum.
As the end of that year got closer, all Vera could think about was being hungry, and feeling dirty.