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Authors: Lizzie Lane

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BOOK: Wartime Wife
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‘Fancy letting you loose with all them doctors.’

‘I works with one now.’

Mary Anne laughed. ‘Never in a month of Sundays could you describe Doctor Sneed as tall, dark and handsome.’

‘Oooow, no!’ Aggie hooted, her laughter enough to rattle the pans hanging from their hooks. ‘Now your cup,’ she said, once their laughter had died.

Mary Anne dutifully drained her cup and Aggie repeated the same procedure she’d carried out with her own.

‘Oooow! There’s a lot of changes.’ Frowning, she peered closer. ‘Something’s going to happen to make you feel young again.’

Mary Anne thought of her present condition. Babies had
always brought her joy, but she’d been younger then. Was that what Aggie was seeing? ‘That would take a miracle.’

‘There’s them seagulls again as well.’ She looked up. ‘P’raps you’re going to the coast as well. Not thinking of evacuating, are you?’

Mary Anne shook her head. ‘Henry wouldn’t allow it.’

‘I would have thought the sea air would do your Stanley some good.’

Mary Anne studied her hands, which were presently folded in her lap. ‘Henry won’t hear of it. He reckons moving him would do more harm than good.’

If Aggie could have read her mind as easily as she read the teacups, she would have seen her defending herself against Henry’s assertion that she was too soft on the boy.

‘Well, there’s definitely seagulls, and what’s this? Look here, Mary Anne Randall, I see a tall dark stranger. Now who might he be?’

‘You’ve found me out!’ said Mary Anne, slamming her palms down on the table and setting the spoons rattling in their saucers. ‘In fact I’m expecting him tomorrow morning at ten.’

‘You are?’ Aggie’s mouth dropped open.

‘Yes,’ said Mary Anne, gathering up the crockery. ‘I’ve got a new coalman coming with half a ton of Welsh steam coal and you can’t get much darker than that!’

Aggie Hill rocked with laughter, her plump hands holding on to her jiggling stomach. ‘About the only dark stranger we’re likely to get at our time of life! Or at least for me, but you’ve still got yer looks, Mary Anne. It’s a wonder Henry don’t lock you up in case that tall dark stranger do chance to call.’

Mary Anne stood over the sink, turning the tap then swilling the cups one at a time. She was smiling, but couldn’t find it in herself to laugh with the same exuberance as her friend, Aggie.

The moment was too silent for too long. Aggie came and stood beside her, picking up the tea towel from off the draining board.

‘Is anything wrong, Mary Anne? You seem a bit – well – quieter than usual.’

Mary Anne shook her head vigorously. ‘Nothing!’

‘Where’s Henry?’

‘Upstairs. Asleep. He did the night shift last night.’

Aggie took the last cup from her hand. Mary Anne saw her knowing look and dropped her eyes.

‘I saw him come home. The whole street saw him come home.’

Mary Anne snatched the tea towel from Aggie’s hand. ‘It’s no one else’s business.’

Unlike her own family, living in ignorance of their father’s true character, the women of Kent Street were more circumspect.

‘I don’t know how you put up with it,’ said Aggie.

Mary Anne spun round on her. ‘At least I have a husband. There’s plenty who ain’t and plenty who entertain the husbands of other women!’

She could see from Aggie’s face that the barb had hit home. It was a well-known fact that Aggie had been ‘carrying on’ with the husband of a woman in the next street, the poor wife prone to intermittent fits.

Aggie headed for the door.

Mary Anne instantly regretted her remark. ‘Aggie!’

Aggie paused. Her merry expression was replaced with hurt.

Mary Anne wiped her hands over her hips and attempted to make amends. Her smile was weak but her sentiments were genuine. ‘I hope everything goes well for your Joe. I hope he doesn’t travel any further than the south coast.’

Aggie’s hardened expression softened. ‘Thank you.’

Only minutes after Aggie had left, the sound of movement came from upstairs.

Mary Anne raised her eyes to the ceiling, fear prickling her flesh. She tried reassuring herself, though it wasn’t easy. Perhaps he’d fall back into bed and not surface until the girls got back. He kept his hands to himself when the family were around. It was only when they were alone that his temper and physical demands seized him, no matter what she did or said. It was worse after a night shift. Henry Randall with the drink inside him was bad enough. Henry Randall when sobriety was enforced on him – there were no pubs open at that time in the morning – was something else.

She tried to dull her fears by peeling potatoes, one of the little household chores that dulled her sensitivities. Carrying out simple tasks left her mind free to wander, sometimes in sheer fantasy, sometimes to a past that might have been different if it hadn’t been for the Great War. The best thing about her past was Edward’s lips on hers, the pale pink beauty of the child she had borne. There were a number of worse things: the news of his death, giving the child up for adoption—A dull thud came from the room above, shaking the ceiling and shattering her thoughts. The potato knife clattered into the sink and the colour drained from her face.

‘Woman! Woman!’

He was calling down for her to come up. He was in
that
mood. She knew what was coming and her mouth turned dry. She had to swallow before shouting back. ‘I’m coming.’

Climbing the stairs was a slow and painful process, her legs heavy with reluctance. When she opened the door, he looked up at her, his eyes glassy and red-rimmed, his face flushed and his jaw hanging so low, it seemed to be resting on his chest.

‘Where the bloody hell have you been?’

Smiling weakly, she leaned against the closed door, her
hands behind her, fingers clinging to the doorknob. She found her voice. ‘I was peeling the potatoes.’

‘You was peeling the potatoes.’ He mimicked her voice in a high, squeaky tone. His eyes dropped to her breasts then her belly. ‘You’re getting a fat belly. Not expectin’, are you? I’ll kick it back in if you bloody well are.’

‘’Course not,’ she said. She tried to laugh it off. ‘At our age?’

His eyes stared, though his face clouded. ‘Why not at my age? Do you think I’m not capable, eh? Think I’m any less of a man, do you?’

He stood up, his fingers dropping to his belt buckle.

‘I didn’t mean …’ said Mary Anne, her knees weakening because she knew what was coming.

‘You didn’t mean,’ he muttered winding the belt around his hand. ‘You insult me, and then say you didn’t mean it? Well, I’ll show you, my fine lady!’

Mary Anne winced as his hand cupped the nape of her neck, the hand holding the belt raised high as he bent her over the bed. ‘I’m still the man I always was!’

He repeated the same words with each rise and fall of the belt. Mary Anne bore the pain, gritting her teeth so she wouldn’t cry out. The fact that Henry was shouting so loudly troubled her.

‘Henry, keep your voice down. You’ll disturb our Stanley.’

On this occasion, her rebuke only added to his anger.

His fingers, strong from pulling triggers and lifting pints, groped at her blouse, tearing the material and sending buttons popping. ‘Tell me when to be quiet, would you? I’m not a boy. I’m a man. Do you hear me? A man! It’s just you ain’t the woman you were. You’re fat, ugly and got too much to say for yerself!’

She winced as one hand folded around her neck, the other
digging inside her clothes, squeezing her breast, pinching her nipple.

‘Please, Henry … No …’

‘No? No?’ He sounded surprised. His black brows knitted together, a strange, puzzled expression, as though he was aggrieved or insulted. This was his idea of enjoyment. He gave the orders, enjoyed the power he had over her and revelled in the torture. ‘You’re me wife, Annie, me lawfully wedded wife and I’ve needs …’

The cloth of her brassiere did not give so easily, unlike her breast. She gritted her teeth as he yanked a crescent of whiteness over the top of her blouse. Without looking, she knew her flesh was dappled with redness, the marks of his fingers.

God knows, she didn’t want this, but from experience knew it was best to submit. ‘On the bed then, Henry.’

The hand that had held her neck fell to her skirt.

He mimicked her voice. ‘“On the bed then, Henry.”’

She cringed at the stink of his breath, warm and moist. His spittle sprayed her face.

‘I’ll have you on the bed all right.’

He pushed her. She fell face down, his weight on top of her, pulling her blouse back, baring her chest and pinning her arms to her side.

She closed her eyes, praying Stanley wouldn’t hear, praying it would all be over as quickly as possible, or perhaps he’d fall asleep on top of her. It wouldn’t be the first time.

But he wasn’t drunk, he’d been working all night, and that angered him. Not today, she thought, inwardly screaming as he hoisted her skirt up to her waist, pushing her onto her knees, her head and shoulders buried in the eiderdown, unable to get up on her hands.

There was a ripping sound as he tore her underwear down to the tops of her stockings. He was quick unbuttoning his
flies. Burying his fingers in the waistband of her corset, and without the benefit of preliminaries, he pushed himself into her. The pain was terrible. Squeezing her hands into tight fists she sucked in her breath and bit her lip – anything to stop from screaming.

Face pushed into the eiderdown, she saw nothing but felt a sudden draught and heard the sharp squeal of rusty hinges as the bedroom door swung open. With a sinking heart and a mix of horror and embarrassment, she knew that Stanley had heard.

Henry also had noticed and slackened his grip.

Mary Anne tried to rise, but only succeeded in turning her head.

Stanley stood at the door, his eyes like saucers; lips pink and moist like a painted angel. He saw his mother’s predicament and there was pain in his eyes. His flickering gaze shifted to his father and turned to hatred.

She escaped Henry’s weakened grasp, swiftly rearranged her clothes and ran to her youngest son. ‘Stanley, Stanley! Come along. You shouldn’t be here.’

Stanley was like a statue, stiff in her arms, though unlike something made of marble or clay, his eyes were not unseeing. He’d seen it all, and although he was not knowledgeable about what bestial act his father had been committing, he saw and reacted to his mother’s distress.

Fixing his eyes on his father’s face he addressed his mother. ‘Why is he hurting you? Why is he hurting you?’

‘It was nothing,’ she said, her tongue flicking across her lip where a droplet of blood had burst through the bitten skin. ‘Just a game,’ she said, her heart racing at the incongruity of her lot. ‘Just a game.’

With her son weighing heavy on her arms, she made her way back downstairs to the front bedroom.

‘I’ll kill him when I grow up,’ said Stanley.

Mary Anne wrapped him in her arms, tears squeezing from the corners of her eyes. She kissed his forehead, her voice faltering and her vision blurred as she attempted to reassure him. ‘You were having a nightmare and it woke you up.’

She felt him tense as her tears turned into sobs.

‘He hurt you. I know he hurt you. I hates him, Ma. I hates him.’

Mary Anne held her child more tightly to her chest, narrowing her eyes against the anger brooding there.

‘So do I,’ she whispered softly against Stanley’s hair. ‘So do I.’

Chapter Six

For days afterwards, Lizzie felt mortified for even considering that anyone could tell by just looking at her that she’d committed ‘original sin’. As if she were wearing a placard around her neck! Eventually, she gave herself a good talking to.

Are you the first? she asked herself. Hardly. It was Eve that started it all in the Garden of Eden.

There was small comfort from that fact. Eve wasn’t her and Kent Street was far from being the Garden of bloody Eden! She was Elizabeth Anne Randall and there was only one of her – at least as far as she knew.

Her gaze kept wandering to her sister Daw. Had she done it with John?

‘What are you staring at?’ asked Daw as she undressed for bed in the room they shared.

‘Oh, I was just thinking how different your side of the bedroom looks to mine. All those toys and dolls you’ve kept.’

Smugly, Daw took in her collection of every toy she’d ever been given. The teddy bears and the golliwogs were handmade by their mother when they were children in the wee small hours after they’d gone to bed. The dolls were bought and dressed; every bit as good as the ones she could have bought
in the shop. They all sat in a row on the chest of drawers on Daw’s side of the bed.

Lizzie also had a chest of drawers on top of which there was only a mirror, a hairbrush and a photograph of Lizzie as a baby, taken at a Christmas bazaar. In the photograph she was chuckling, yet she distinctly remembered being determined not to laugh, until someone had made funny faces. Funny what you remember, she thought.

When they were children they had willingly shared secrets. Lizzie was still willing, telling Daw about Peter and how they sneaked out to see each other under Mrs Selwyn’s nose. So far she hadn’t told her about giving in to him. It was like crossing a bridge, but only wanting to go halfway, wanting Daw to admit to the same sin; sharing it would make her feel better.

‘Don’t fiddle with them,’ said a frowning Daw, snatching a small golliwog from her sister’s hands. ‘You know I don’t like you touching my things.’

Lizzie swallowed a sharp retort. She didn’t want to send Daw into one of her sulks. Finding out whether she’d surrendered to John’s urgings was more important. She had mentioned John wanting to, but so far there had been no sign of her giving in. Perhaps in time she might, but Lizzie was desperate to know.

‘Will you miss John if he gets called up?’

Daw looked hurt, as though her sister had implied something quite insulting. ‘Of course I will. And he’ll miss me.’

‘No doubt.’ Lizzie sat on the bed, one leg crossed over the other as she unsnapped the suspenders that held up her stockings. The real question still hadn’t been answered.

BOOK: Wartime Wife
2.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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