Ethel felt a slight shiver, as she saw the neat pack of sandwiches on the dresser.
Charlie, her husband had left for work in a hurry.
Without a wage for the last two weeks, because of a long bout of ‘flu, he needed to earn some money.
Influenza, a disease that had laid low all the family, and for that matter, most of the country for the last few weeks, now seemed to have moved on.
She smiled, as she put his lunch on the cool marble slab in the larder. He will cycle back the mile or so at midday, she would hear the clatter of his bike against the fence, then see his sheepish grin as he passes the kitchen window—this is not the first time, and probably not the last.
Just above baby Donald’s noisy play as he tease’s his little brother—so close in age are they, as to be almost twins—she could hear the school bell, the four older children will be safely filing into school now, she thought.
But then, there was another bell, the mournful bell of the grave yard, first a muffled tone then a full one. Another funeral, another ‘flu victim, one of many in recent weeks.
She paused for a moment, poor Mrs. Thompson, and that young man in Cowley Avenue, just a street away, and more still up the top of the town.
Another shiver, more intense this time, as she thought how easily it could have been them. She slowly did the sign of the cross—not a thing that she had ever done before, both she and Charlie had always been free of any religion.
Pulling herself together, she grabbed the huge pile of washing from the table. Today is washday. She fills the copper tub that is built into the corner of the scullery, with buckets of water, a handful of soda, a quick stir with the copper stick, then to light the fire.
First some newspaper—but not before she sees the Head-line—500 ‘flu deaths in London—she quickly piles on some wood and puts a match to the paper and watches the head-line burn away.
Working quickly now, as if to change the subject of her thoughts. First in, will go the white sheets and towels, then the coloureds followed by Charlies work clothes.
The crackle of the wood blazing under the large copper tub and the white bleached copper stick plunging up and down on the washing, all sounding like a machine, anything— anything, to cast away those thoughts of sadness.
Now best of all, some bread on a long fork, toasting so quickly on the flaming wood, it burns.
The boy’s licking their lips at the thought of some dripping on toast.
Ethel sits back in her favourite armchair, green velvet with lovely curved mahogany wood-work, a hand-me-down from Charlies family, as was the huge picture of ‘The Charge of the Light brigade’-family legend has it, that a member of our family was there on that day.
On the dresser, next to the sandwiches, was the green alarm clock, a wedding present from her sister Tina, she winds it up and sets it right to St Peters Church bell, it’s already ten O’clock.
Looking around the kitchen, seeing the dust that had laid there for these last few weeks. With the early springtime sunlight streaming through the window, highlighting the steam and smoke from the copper as it drifted slowly across the room. She thinks of spring cleaning—not today though, perhaps next week.
Through the kitchen window, she sees Mrs. Salmon, as usual she’s carrying a cake, and coming around for a chat and a cup of tea.
They have been friends since they each moved in to their newly built council homes, just two doors apart, taking turns to make the tea and a cake every morning.
Rosy Salmon was a very large lady, her full face always blushed with the effort of just being so big, her name, Rosy, was well chosen. A kinder lady you would be hard pressed to find.
She came through the door with a huff and a puff, with one thought on her mind, to sit in that lovely green chair—the so-called Rosies chair.
Ethel stood up to put the kettle on.
“There’s a nice seedy cake for you Ethel.”
They settle down for their tea, and the local gossip.
Of course, the subject is the very thing Ethel was trying to avoid, there had been another poor soul taken from their family, an old lady from Ruxbury hill, but not a person known to them.
The sound of a bicycle clattering against the fence, first startled, and then delighted Ethel, it must be Charlie, perhaps the ‘flu has closed the propeller factory, and all the workers had been sent home.
She quickly put the kettle back on the hob as she went to the back door.
“It’s the front door, Effie.”
Mrs. Salmon leant back to see who it was at this time of the day.
For once her cheeks lost their blush.
It was a few years ago now, that a young PC Reynolds had knocked at her front door, with a telegram, saying that her husband was missing, believed dead.
Gathering young Alan up, Ethel opened the front door.
With the bright sun making his hat badge sparkle as he removed his helmet, stood a sad faced Sgt Reynolds.
Stepping down from his car behind him was Dr Dudley Ward.
Dr Ward, our local doctor and Sgt. Reynolds, sat at the table, probably thinking they had seen the last of moments such as this, when having to tell a young mother some terrible news. When just a few years ago, during the war it was a weekly task
Ethel, now looking from one man to the other, with their sad drawn faces, why were they here in front of her? It must be the children, had they not left for school, all holding hands less than an hour ago?
Sensing her fear, Dr Ward—who knew her well, and had delivered most of her children—held her hand and quietly said.
“Ethel, the children are safely at school, but I have some very bad news for you, It’s Charlie.”
She felt a flush of heat go through her body, now looking intently at the doctor, needing to know what could possibly have happened, and at the same time not wanting to know.
Sgt Reynolds, a big man, now with tears in his eyes, turns away, lifting young Alan from his mother’s arms and walks slowly into the garden. Here is a woman, just thirty-four, with six children, the eldest just twelve and a child of two, with everything to look forward to, it was all too much for him.
Dr Ward took some pills from his bag, knowing no amount of medicine will ever be enough to dull the pain, of what he was about to tell this poor young woman.