Chapter two, half past nine, A doctor calls.
It’s been a hard two weeks for Ethel, she was the last of the family to fall ill. She’s still not better and this is the first time she has been able to relax. It will take a day or two to catch up with life. First things first though, at least the washing is on its way, and it’s a good drying day. She smiles, listening to the boys, one speaks well, the younger one makes all the normal sounds and but it’s not quite right, only his brother seems to know what he is trying to say. They will soon finish their toast and the quiet of the morning will be over.
Her thoughts are broken by a sharp tap on the kitchen window, it makes her jump. Rosy Salmon holds up a cake; she’s coming round for a cup of tea. They have been friends for nearly six years, they moved into their newly built council homes on the same day, taking turns to make a pot of tea most mornings, and to catch up on the latest gossip.
Rosy is a jolly lady, her name suits her so well, her cheeks are always flushed with the effort of just being a bit on the big side. Ethel opens the kitchen door ready for her friend to come in. Pulling herself through the door and into the kitchen, Rosy drops into the old armchair with a sigh. A puff of dust flying from the cushions joins the smoke and steam caught in the sunlight.
‘Oh dear oh dear, is it me or is it a bit warmer today, anyway, here’s a nice seedy cake for you Effie, I know it’s one of your favourites.’
Rosy always has the latest Chertsey news, recently it seems to be about someone dying from the ‘flu—Today is no different. Rosy lowers her voice.
‘There’s been another poor soul taken, an old lady from Ruxbury Hill. No one knew she was ill, and she lay there helpless for days. It wouldn’t happen around here, would it Effie? We know everything that goes on.’
She laughs at what she has just said, but it is so true. Rosy is one of those people who knows everyone. Drinking her tea, she twists the cup around so that the tea leaves can be read—something she does with every cup of tea she drinks—for once she doesn’t say what can be seen in the scattering of tea leaves in the bottom. Looking up, she realises her friend is a bit quiet, and 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 a German name, and is really Luz Weguelin, spelt just as it’s pronounced, some people do have trouble with it. So, I just say its Waglin, most people know us as the Waglins’ anyway.
‘I don’t know about it being from Germany Effie, it sounds more like Chinese to me.’
The laughing stops as they hear a bicycle clattering against the garden fence, Ethel is at first startled, and then she says.
‘That sounds like Charlie, oh I hope they haven’t closed the factory again, 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, then she hears a gentle knock on the front door. Rosy leans back in her chair to see who it is.
‘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 same man, then a young Constable, had knocked on her front door and handed her the dreaded yellow envelope—it always held bad news for a soldier’s family. Inside was a telegram saying her husband was missing some-where on the Western front.
A car draws up to the gate, it’s Doctor Ward. A policeman and a doctor calling at the same time means only one thing—an accident. Rosy looks again at the tea leaves in her cup, it’s usually bad luck for someone. Today, she hopes it’s not this house.
Mrs. Phillips from across the road is standing at her gate slowly drying her hands on her apron, she tries to work out what is going on. She had seen the two men arriving while she was hanging out the washing.
She is joined by Mrs. Hyde, they look at each other, tears welling up in their eyes. First a policeman now the doctor, what could be happening? More friends gather around Ethel’s gate, all with the same questions. What has happened? Who could it be? Please—not one of the children.
In the scullery, Ethel picks up the baby on her way to the way to the front of the house. What awaits her at the front door will not be her sheepish looking husband.
‘What are you doing coming to the front… ?’
Her voice fades as the door opens. Standing there is not Charlie but the family doctor. The words she is about to say are lost, 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 her friend to take her seat. Little 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 her little boy, who he had delivered a few years ago. He is trying to find the words he needs to say.
Scarcely breathing, Rosy puts her hand on her friend’s shoulder. Hoping against hope she will not hear what she fears the doctor will say. It is Ethel who is the first to speak, she whispers the quietist whisper.
‘Is it Bernard?’
Doctor Ward knows Ethel very well, she is one of the unofficial midwives in this part of Chertsey. He has delivered all of her children except the last one who he personally took to Woking to be born. He’s finding it hard to gather the words that he must say.
‘Ethel. there’s been an accident.’
She looks at him, 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. He knows 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.
Rosy waits—for once with nothing to say. She knows this is very bad, and now the tears are falling. The words he has to say finally come to the doctor; he holds both her hands.
‘Ethel, your children are safely at school. It’s Charlie, I’m afraid I have to tell you he has been in an accident, and I’m so sorry to say he did not survive. 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.
Chapter Three, Money