This is the final part of a fiction serial, in 860 words.
Vera almost couldn’t believe her eyes. It was Les, though he was half the size he had been the last time she saw him. She had forgotten how tall he was, and as he swept her into his arms, her face pressed against his chest. Her first reaction was to scold him. “Leslie Reid, fancy you turning up when I look such a state. I had a new outfit ready and everything, and now I’m standing here with a scarf around my hair, and an old cotton dress on”.
Les kissed her, to shut her up.
At least the army had given him a new uniform, so he still looked smart. He had three stripes too, and as he had a cup of tea with Albert and Elsie he explained that he had been offered the job of Armoury Sergeant at Chelsea Barracks. “There’s married quarters too, a flat near Victoria Station”. Vera had been tidying herself up, and came back downstairs. She pulled a chair over next to Les, and sat holding his hand. He straightened up, and spoke seriously to Albert. “Mr Dodds, you know me and your Vera have talked about getting married before, but I would like to do the right thing, and ask if that’s okay with you”. Albert stood up, and offered his hand. “Welcome to the family, Les”.
Reaching into his trouser pocket, Les produced a small fold of tissue paper. He opened it, and showed Vera the gold band inside. “I can’t get an engagement ring just now, Vera. But this was my granny’s wedding ring, and if that’s alright with you, we can get it sized for you to wear on the day”. Vera was too happy to speak, and just nodded. Les had been busy, it turned out. He had been to St James’s church, and the vicar said he would marry them, even though they hardly ever went inside a church. He had booked the wedding for three weeks on Saturday, as the married quarters would be available the week before. He was getting help from his army mate Jimmy to sort out the flat once he had the keys, and Jimmy was also going to stand up as best man.
The next couple of weeks seemed to pass by in a blur for Vera. She handed in her notice at the jam factory, as she didn’t fancy the two-bus journey to and from work from Victoria. Besides, Les had said she wouldn’t need to work unless she wanted to, and he had even talked about them having a baby as soon as possible. Viv came round with her wedding dress, and between her and Elsie they managed to alter it to look nice on Vera. Roy had started back as a car mechanic, and there was a lot of work now people had started to get their cars back on the road. Despite all the rationing still being in force, including petrol, lots of people were eager to start trying to live as they had before the war. Les turned up with Jimmy one night to introduce him. He was from Newcastle, and nobody could understand his accent. They kept laughing at him, but he took it in good part.
Vera went with them to see the Victoria flat, and was most impressed. It had a small kitchen, an indoor bathroom, a decent-sized living room, and a big double bedroom. Les was getting it furnished by mostly buying second hand stuff from around the housing estate, but Vera didn’t care. It would be their place. Les still had to see the army doctor about his leg. There was a big bandage around where they had removed the ulcer, and it needed changing regularly. He was also booked in to see the dentist, as the poor diet had played havoc with his teeth. The German medics in the camp had pulled two of them out, after he complained of toothache. “No gas or anything, just one bloke holding me down while the other one yanked them out with what looked like electrical pliers”.
The wedding day weather was dull, but it didn’t rain. Vera walked to the church with her mum and dad, as they could see it from their front door. Viv met them there, with Roy and the boys, who were both looking smart with little bow ties on. Janet and baby Mildred were there with Les’s parents, and Uncle Ernie too. Teddy hadn’t been able to make it, as his ship was still in the far east. But he sent a telegram that arrived the day before. Les and Jimmy looked so smart in their number one uniforms, with peaked caps. But Elsie was upset to see they were not wearing the redcoats and bearskin hats like you saw outside the palace.
After the ceremony, they had sandwiches and drinks in The Coach and Horses. Uncle Ernie played the piano, and sung a lot of old favourite songs. Les had booked a taxi for six that evening. He had arranged an overnight hotel room and dinner at the Strand Palace Hotel. Said it was the least he could do, as there would be no honeymoon. Vera walked back home with her mum to change into her going away outfit of the green velvet dress and suede shoes. Elsie started to have a talk with her about men and sex, but Vera stopped her, touching her arm. “It’s alright mum, Les will be kind to me, I just know he will”.
As the taxi drove away that evening, Vera looked out of the window at the familiar streets where she would no longer be living.
Her life was finally beginning.