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Authors: Lizzie Lane

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BOOK: Wartime Wife
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‘So no one will know that I’ve done it.’

He smirked. ‘Not unless they were lurking in the hedges,’ he said, his surliness tempered with amusement. ‘Now come on. I’ve got to get back to the store and you’ve got some shopping to do.’

There was something more important than shopping playing on her mind. She couldn’t let him go without somehow reliving that wonderful moment.

‘Did you mean what you said?’ she asked as she mounted her bike and followed him around to the driver’s side of the car.

Peter climbed in and started the car. ‘Mean what?’

Lizzie positively glowed. ‘That you love me, of course.’

‘Of course,’ he said, and stroked the hand she rested on the car door. ‘Now I must be off. I’ll see you next Wednesday and I can love you some more then. Hope the weather stays dry or I’ll get a wet bum, won’t I?’

The last of the heavily loaded trucks passed and he pulled away, heading towards the far end of East Street and Redcliffe Hill.

Feeling terribly alone, Lizzie watched until he was just one more car in the traffic. It would have been nice if he’d stayed and showed that it was as momentous an occasion to him as it was to her. Where was the boyish young man who’d been tongue-tied when he’d first come across her in his mother’s kitchen? They had met only once before she’d started work and that was on the occasion of Lizzie being interviewed for the job. He had been there at his mother’s request so had spoken politely and generally only at his mother’s behest.

All the sighing in the world won’t alter things, she thought to herself.

She started to push off from the kerb, but stopped, her attention diverted to a young woman with a pram. She was fresh-faced and hardly looked old enough to have a child. Two older women were bending over the pram, peering at the tiny
bundle nestled beneath the hood. Their voices were as thick and sweet as syrup of figs.

‘How old is the dear little mite?’

‘Two months.’

Though they smiled, their lips were taut, as if they were clenching their jaws in order to keep their insincerity at bay.

‘Two months! Now ain’t that lovely, God bless ’im, though what a time to be born into.’

Once the woman with the pram had moved off, the older two watched her go, their heads coming closer together, as though plotting something too dire to be overheard.

‘Shame the father wouldn’t marry her,’ said the first.

‘Ruined for life,’ said the other, folding her hands one over the other and the handles of a square, no-nonsense shopping bag. ‘No one’s going to want her now. She’s soiled goods.’

The other woman nodded dolefully. ‘You’re right there, Gladys. If only these young girls knew what they were getting themselves into they wouldn’t give in as easily as they do. But there, give it away once they’ll give it away again. Sluts, all of them. Not like in our day. In our day—’

Face reddening, Lizzie didn’t wait to hear any more but shoved off, peddling like mad towards the pork butcher in North Street, glad of the breeze cooling her hot cheeks.

A group of boys were playing marbles in the gutter outside the shop where fresh rabbits and chickens hung from a rack in front of the window.

‘Knocked your niner!’ shouted one of them.

Lizzie wouldn’t have given them a second glance, if she hadn’t heard a thin, crackling kind of voice protest that it just wasn’t so.

‘You cheated. And if you don’t give me my niner back, I’m goin’ to knock your bloody block off.’

‘Stanley!’

Her youngest brother spun round in boots that looked too big for his skinny legs, a look of surprise on his face.

Swiftly leaning her bike against the drainpipe dividing the butcher’s shop window from the cobbler’s next door, she made straight for him, grabbing his arm before he could run away.

‘Does Ma know you’re out?’

Stanley coughed then screwed up his face. ‘She said I could go out if I feels all right.’

‘But she likes to know first, and you didn’t tell her, did you?’

He squirmed and twisted his features, but the truth was obvious by the way he jerked his jaw as though he might speak, but only if he was really forced to.

The scruffy group of kids he was with gathered round.

‘She’s me sister,’ Stanley explained, wiping his snotty nose on the back of his sleeve.

‘Yer sister!’

The news was passed from one boy to another. ‘She’s only his sister!’ Derisive scowls appeared on each face.

‘Just ’is bloody sister!’

Lizzie gave a long drawn out sigh. ‘I take it you’re not impressed. Not that I care. He’s still got to come home.’

‘Leave ’im alone.’

‘Come on back and play marbles, Stanley.’

‘Tell ’er to sod off,’ said one lanky soul, his grey flannel trousers flapping around straight, spidery legs. ‘She’s only yer bloody sister. Tell ’er to sod off!’

The others, beaming with admiration that their chum had uttered a forbidden word and got away with it, took up the anthem.

‘Yeah! Sod off!’

‘Sod off!’

‘Sod off!’

Though they gathered round, threatening to push her towards the butcher’s shop, Lizzie ignored them. She wasn’t the type to be intimidated, certainly not by a group of children.

‘Come on,’ she said, still gripping Stanley’s arm. ‘You’re staying with me.’

Under pressure from the chanting boys, she made for the shop door more hurriedly than usual, having to take the route immediately beneath a row of dead rabbits, ducks and hare.

Somehow, the boys sensed her aversion to all things dead.

‘Look,’ said the most vocal, a boy who could have passed for fourteen, though must have been only ten if his clothes and cherubic features were anything to go by. He pointed upwards. ‘They’re all looking at you, and there’s blood dripping from their mouths.’

‘Ughhh! Blood.’

‘And brains.’

‘And innards.’

Lizzie pushed Stanley through the door. ‘Don’t be so disgusting. And clear off,’ she shouted before slamming the door so hard that the
CLOSED
sign fell off its nail.

Averting her gaze from the rows of glassy-eyed rabbits and chickens hanging from hooks above their heads, and after replacing the sign, Lizzie pushed her brother towards the blue and white tiled counter on which a plaster pig sat holding a sign saying:

Pork Sosages – 3d a pound.

Pigs Trotters – 1d each

Pork Driping – 1d a corter

‘He can’t spell,’ Stanley murmured, scuffing his button-up boots on the sawdust floor.

Lizzie nudged him. ‘Stop doing that.’

‘No! I like the sound it makes.’

Lizzie saw the smirk on his face and the cheeky grin he exchanged with his friends outside, whose faces were now pressed against the window, their features distorted and their breath misting the glass.

‘Just wait till I get you home,’ Lizzie whispered. ‘Or I might clip your ear before then.’

‘I’ll tell Ma and she’ll tell you off.’

He was right there. Mary Anne spoiled him, and that was a fact.

‘I don’t care. I’ll still give you a clip around the ear.’

In response, Stanley proceeded to scuff the toes of his boots against the counter. It seemed to Lizzie that he was enjoying annoying her.

She glanced down at him, just to make sure it was the little brother who had lain sick in the front parlour, ever since his chest infection back in January. He’d always had bad days and good days, but wasn’t normally so badly behaved in those moments when his health improved.

‘I don’t know what’s up with you. You never used to be so badly behaved. What’s brought this on?’

‘Cos I’m a man, that’s why.’

‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’ She shook her head. ‘I don’t understand.’

Stanley continued to scuff his toes against the sawdust, piling it in small drifts against the counter.

Lizzie sighed. Don’t let him see you’re annoyed, she said to herself, and purposely looked overhead at the hanging game rather than the boys making faces at the window.

The sights and smells of the pies were so delicious that she soon forgot the glassy-eyed corpses hanging overhead.

Stanley, whose appetite tended to come and go, forgot about
goading his sister; his eyes opened wide at the sight of thick strings of sausages hanging from overhead hooks and draped like a cloak around a plaster pig sitting on the counter clutching the blackboard on which the price list was chalked. Crusty pies and home-cured hams sat in wooden trays on the counter, blending their fragrance with the irresistible aroma of succulent faggots, juicy pork dripping and freshly made Bath chaps.

Lizzie eyed them too. Sampsons’ was the best butcher in Bedminster according to her mother. Judging by smell alone, Lizzie had to agree.

The door between the shop and the area to the rear opened, and the butcher came in. Standing six feet three in his boots, Fred Sampson peered down at them, his curly black moustache quivering as he spoke.

‘Well now. What ’ave we got ’ere then?’ he bellowed, the timbre of his voice a direct result of being deafened in the artillery when serving on the Somme.

Compassionate eyes peered over round cheeks and his rubbery jowls quivered with unspoken sympathy as his eyes rested on young Stanley.

‘And how are you, young man?’

Stanley gazed up at him wide-eyed and muttered, ‘All right.’

It was apparent to Lizzie that Mr Sampson must seem like a giant to him and his voice reverberated like cannon fire.

‘Now what you need in order to grow bigger is to eat more of yer mother’s suet puddings and boiled potatoes.’

Stanley had a sour expression on his face. ‘I’m big enough, mister, and don’t you say any different.’

Mr Sampson turned to Lizzie. ‘Not too well tempered is he, your little brother.’

The look Lizzie gave her brother was just as sour as the look he was giving her.

‘He’s not usually like this. It’s the company he’s mixing
with,’ she said, jerking her chin at the faces being pulled against the window.

The butcher leaned over the window display towards the flattened noses and gargoyle mouths. ‘Hop it!’

The boys jumped back, regrouping in the gutter, their dirty knees pulled up to their chins.

‘Now,’ said Mr Sampson, his voice still loud but not enough to break eardrums. ‘Something for yer mother?’

‘No. It’s for the lady I work for. I’d like one pound of sausages, one pound of back bacon and a large pork pie. I have the money here.’

The butcher twirled the end of his moustache with fingers the thickness of his own pork sausages.

‘Certainly, my dear.’

The door that led to the living quarters of the shop and was immediately behind the counter opened suddenly. A woman with protruding eyes and fleshy jowls appeared.

‘Frederick! Frederick! Have you cut my chops yet?’

The butcher half turned. He looked surprised. ‘Frederick! My word, me dear, what’s brought you on so that you’re calling me Frederick?’

‘As soon as you’ve finished. Will you be long?’

‘As long as it takes, me dear. As long as it takes.’

The door closed. Lizzie got the impression that Mrs Sampson was loitering on the other side, waiting to pounce the moment they left.

Mr Sampson, perhaps noticing the look of curiosity on her face, began to explain even though she hadn’t queried Mrs Sampson’s interruption.

‘My Beatrice is a little worried. Every bit of news about the war, and she’s reporting it to me word for word, terrified that I’m going to get called up. As if,’ he said, pointing at his ears. ‘The sergeant major would ’ave to use sign language to get
me marching. But still she comes out ’ere to tell me snippets of news, but if there’s customers ’ere, makes the excuse she wants some chops for our tea.’

After wrapping the bundle again in newspaper, Lizzie paid him.

‘Ah!’ he said. ‘Hang on there. Yer mother wanted a pig’s cheek. Can you manage to carry all of it ’ome with you?’

‘Yes. I’ve got my bike – and Stanley,’ she added as an afterthought, throwing her brother a warning grimace in case he dared dash off once her arms were full.

‘Good.’

He disappeared into his storeroom and came back in with a pig’s head, chopped it in half then chopped each cheek again before this too was wrapped in the same way and slammed onto the counter.

‘There you are, me dears, and tell your mother I’ve left the eyes in. They’ll see her through the week.’ He snorted then burst into loud chuckles at his own joke.

Lizzie managed a smile. He always said the same thing to anyone who wanted a pig’s head, and always laughed loudly at his oft-repeated joke.

‘Tell ’er she’ll make a good bit of brawn from that one. No one can say that I don’t breed the best pigs in North Somerset, and, ’angs ’em proper before I cuts them up. Now. Can you manage? Right! That’ll be ten pence, please.’

Following a quick glance at the coins, he took them to his little wooden drawer that passed as a cash register and counted out the change into Lizzie’s outstretched hand.

‘And take this,’ he added. ‘A piece for you and a piece for his lordship, ’ere. A ham bone – cut in half.’

Another parcel, smaller this time, was placed on the counter.

‘And if that lady you works for wants to open an account, you let me know.’

‘I’ll ask Mrs Selwyn tomorrow morning.’

He turned swiftly at the mention of her name, a serious look firming up his broad face and layers of chin.

‘Mrs Selwyn? ’Er that lives in Ashton? Opposite the park? Used to know ’er ’usband, I did. Officer and a gent, if ever there was. Died a few years back … left a son, if I remember rightly. Bit of a lad about town. Want to watch him, my girl. He’s the sort that would lead any respectable girl astray, from what I hear.’

‘I’d better be going.’ Lizzie sucked in her breath and felt her cheeks reddening. She didn’t want to hear this, and she certainly didn’t want the butcher to read the obvious into her blushing cheeks. Would he guess what she’d done that afternoon? Plucking absentmindedly at imagined grass stalks stuck to her clothes, she made for the door, sausages, pies and pig’s cheek tucked beneath her arm, and one hand gripping Stanley’s shoulder.

She needn’t have worried. Stanley’s attention was fixed on the juicy ham bone.

BOOK: Wartime Wife
7.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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