Nine Thirty, Ethel has an early visitor.
Her neighbour, Mrs. Salmon taps on the kitchen window as she passes, she holds up the cake she is bringing round for a chat and a cup of tea. They have been friends for nearly six years since they moved into their newly built council homes, just two doors apart. They take turns to make a pot of tea most mornings. Rosy Salmon is a very large lady, the name suits her very well, her face is always flushed with the effort of just being so big. Ethel opens the kitchen door ready for her friend to come through. Rosy, with a huff and a puff has just one thought on her mind, to sit in that big green chair.
“Hello Effie, is it me or is it a bit warmer today”?
She takes aim at the chair and drops into it with a sigh, a puff of dust flying from the cushions joins the smoke and steam caught in the sunlight.
“There’s a nice seedy cake for you Ethel, I know it’s one of your favourites”.
The tea is soon ready, and they settle down for the local gossip. The subject for today is the very thing that Ethel was hoping to avoid.
“There’s been another poor soul taken by the ‘flu, an old lady from Ruxbury Hill. No one knew she was ill, and she lay there helpless for days. That wouldn’t happen around here, would it Effie? we know everything that goes on”.
She laughs at the comment she has made, but it is true enough. Rosy is one of those people who knows everyone, and everyone knows Rosy. She drinks her tea, twisting the cup around so that the tea leaves can be read, something she does with every cup of tea that she drinks. For once she does not say what can be seen in the bottom, looking up, she realises her friend is a bit quiet and she searches for something to say.
“Do you know Effie? I have never seen how you spell you name”.
Ethel is relieved for the change of subject.
“It’s spelt just as it’s pronounced, Weg-ue-lin. It’s a German name and some people do have trouble with it, so I just say its Waglin, most people know us as the Waglins’ anyway”.
Rosy laughs, “I don’t know about it being from Germany, Effie, it sounds more like Chinese to me”. The laughing stops as they hear the gate latch and then a bicycle clattering against the garden fence, Ethel is at first startled, and then with a worried frown she says.
“That sounds like Charlie, I just hope they haven’t closed the factory again like they did last week, I don’t know what we will do if they have”.
Putting the kettle back on the hob, she goes to open the back door, but then there is a gentle knock on the front door. Rosy, leaning back to see who it is, says.
. “He’s at the front door, Effie”.
For once, Rosie’s cheeks lose their flush, instead of Charlie standing there, it is a policeman—it was a few years ago during the war, that the very same man, then a young Constable, had knocked on her front door. He had given her the dreaded yellow envelope, it always held bad news for a soldier’s family. Inside was a telegram saying that her husband was missing, some-where on the Western front.
A car draws up to the gate, she sees Doctor Ward step out and walk up the garden path carrying his doctor’s bag. A policeman and now a doctor calling at the same time can only mean one thing, an accident. Rosy looks again at the tea leaves that she had been reading in her cup—it’s usually bad luck for someone—but she hopes that today, it’s not this house. Ethel, not knowing what awaits her as she goes to the front of the house, picks up the youngest child and opens the door.
“What are you doing coming to the front door”?
Her voice fades away as the door opens wide and standing there is not her sheepish looking husband, but the family doctor.
The words she was about to say are smothered, a visit from our doctor was not expected, then she sees the Policeman standing to one side. They look at each other for what seems to be an age. The doctor takes the child from her and they step in-doors, still without saying a word.
Rosy stands up for Ethel to take her seat, young Donald climbs onto his mother’s lap, it’s as if he senses something is wrong. The doctor looks down at this young woman with the little boy that not so long ago he had delivered. He is trying to find the words that he would have to say.
Scarcely breathing, Rosy puts her hand on her friend’s shoulder, hoping against hope that she will not hear what she fears the doctor will say. But it is Ethel who is the first to speak, she whispers.
“Is it Bernard”?
The doctor is quick to put her mind at rest, at least about her children.
“Ethel, all your children are safely at school, but I have some very sad news for you”.
She looks at him, her mind is racing, trying to make sense of his words and at the same time not wanting to hear them.
The doctor takes some pills from his bag, knowing that there is no medicine that will dull the pain of what he is about to tell this young woman, just thirty-five years old and with six young children.
“Ethel, there’s been an accident.”
Rosy waits, for once with nothing to say, she knows this is very bad news, and now the tears are falling. The doctor is finding it hard to say the word’s, but they finally come to him.
“Ethel, I have to tell you that Charlie has been in an accident and I’m so sorry to say that he did not survive”.
Sergeant Reynolds, hardened to hearing the saddest of stories, finds this just too much to bear, he lifts baby Alan and walks into the scullery, the doctor carries on.
“Charlie would not have suffered in any way my dear, it would have been very sudden”.
Ethel is sitting still, not believing what has just been said, it must be a mistake. Rosy looks away. Through the window she sees Mrs. Phillips from across the road, she had seen the two men arriving while she was hanging out the washing, now she is standing at her gate slowly drying her hands on her apron trying to work out what is going on. She is joined by Mrs. Hyde they look at each other with sadness in their eyes, trying not to say the words that they were thinking. First a policeman now the Doctor, what could be happening? They are soon joined by three or four friends now gathered around Ethel’s gate. All with the same question, what has happened? who could it be? Please, not one of the children.