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An Ordinary Life(3)
Author: Amanda Prowse

It would be disingenuous to say that in recent years she hadn’t disliked her physical weakness. In her younger days, she could never have imagined a time when what she considered to be a Herculean task – the climbing of a mountain or the chopping of a log – would be replaced by taking the top off the toothpaste tube or the putting on of tights. All of these, however, had become equally impossible for her. It was not only a lack of strength, but a lack of dexterity too, as everything – everything – became fiddly and so time-consuming! It drove her absolutely crackers. She was not a person used to relying on others, much preferring to be self-sufficient in all matters.

And surely she was not the only one who felt that her life happened in a blink, with time passing so quickly she sometimes wondered if the whole thing had been some ghastly trick.

‘We are all but dust . . .’ This she spoke in her mind.

Molly felt another wave of unexpected emotion and hated the feeling of hot tears crawling over her temple and along her nose. With one hand in plaster and the other trapped under a top sheet, she realised that to reach her face was not easy. Suddenly the thought of dying without giving Joe his letter was almost more than she could bear.

Is this it? she pondered. Is this where I die, in this horribly bland corridor? This was quickly followed by the question: did it really matter? Her life, had, she believed, been an ordinary one and therefore an ordinary death was befitting. This she surmised without the modesty that so many feigned, and with the glorious benefit of being able to stand on the mountain of her years and look back at the path she had trodden. A path littered with pitfalls and rocks into which she had fallen or clambered over, and some of it done with her hand in his, holding her steady, upright, calm. Even after he had gone . . .

Despite her withering body, Molly’s thoughts remained exact and clear, which seemed most cruel. She sometimes wished she did not have such ability for perfect recollection, thinking it might be preferable for her musings to dull a little so the reminder of what she had lost might also be blunted. But there was no such luxury for her. Her memories remained sharp and taunting, jostling her from sleep. Not only the bad memories, but the good too, and for those she felt some small gratitude. She could lie in bed and taste a fresh peach placed on her tongue over seventy years since, still sweet in her mouth, making the slippery, tinned, syrup-soaked variety often spooned in her direction most revolting. An insult! And the memory of her lover’s palm running over her back beneath the winter sunshine on a stolen afternoon, as they lay close together on a tartan blanket among the ruins of war was, even now, enough to make her weep like the willow beneath which they had sought shelter. His face, captured in her mind like a picture, a particular smile, lips closed, one side of his mouth raised more than the other, his hair flopping forward, his eyes mid-laugh . . . It had always been him.

And now, here she was. Lying alone on a trolley in a corridor, unable to imagine whatever might come next, able to think only about what had gone before: each step, each breath and each day that had led up to that point in time. Her body quite useless now, but oh! The miraculous thing it had done: bearing a child, a boy! A beautiful son . . .

She cursed her inability to finish the note she had started, wishing nothing more than to place it in the hand of the boy who had shaped her whole life. She needed to tell him of her history. Her story, her ordinary life, and thus his story, the full truth he’d never known but that she’d promised, finally, to tell him. The truth that now he might never know.

 

 

TWO

Malet Street, Bloomsbury, London

December 15th 1943

Aged 18

‘Goodnight, Geer, Molly. See you in the morning,’ Mrs Templar called from her desk.

Molly raised an eyebrow at her friend. ‘Well, she’s in a good mood for once!’ The two girls laughed.

‘Please come for one drink,’ Geer begged. ‘Oh, don’t be a bore, Moll!’ She studied her reflection in the shard of looking glass on the back of her locker door. Opening her compact, she patted powder over her nose, forehead and chin, licking her index finger to smooth her shapely brows.

‘I don’t think so. Not tonight.’ It was the last thing Molly felt like after such a long day. Her back ached, she was tired, and in truth was hoping for no more than a wash with hot water, a cup of hot cocoa and to feel the joyous contact of clean, starched cotton sheets against her skin, in anticipation of a good night’s sleep. That was unless the bloody Jerries had other ideas and she would yet again be forced to tramp down to the Anderson shelter for the night, where some could snore the hours away, but not her. Once seated inside the corrugated-iron structure she always found herself thinking of her father and wondering what in God’s name he had fought for only a couple of decades or so ago in the ‘war to end all wars’, if this was how she and thousands of others were now living: like moles underground, with the scent of the earth filling their nostrils and the sound of the bombs going off overhead. She would think of a poem her father had written, damned if she could recall any more than a line or two:

‘. . . and there in the clearing, somewhere in France,

I spied two moles engaged in a dance . . .’

This would never fail to make her smile – a happy distraction from the thought of the sirens and the bells of the fire trucks, which were not quite enough to drown out the wailing grief from those who had lost their homes and their loved ones. The Blitz had been devastating to both the fabric of the city and the people in it. She knew they would never forget it. Not that she ever let on to her mother quite how anxious she was, preferring to smile and say, ‘Well, here we are – snug as bugs!’ before tucking the crocheted blanket around their legs, while her heart hammered and fear made her limbs tremble.

Back in the present, she heard Geer’s entreaty once more: ‘Oh come on! What else have you got going on? Is Clark Gable popping over again for a corned-beef sandwich?’

Molly looked at her friend and replied without missing a beat, ‘No, that’s Thursday.’

Geer hooted with laughter. ‘Oh please, Moll! Just one! That’s all – one measly drink and then you’re free to go.’ Geer slipped her arms into her blue wool coat and buttoned up the front, looping a silk scarf around her neck, letting the two pointed ends hang down over her shawl collar in the style they had seen favoured by Princess Elizabeth. She fished in her handbag for her lipstick. Red, of course.

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