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Authors: Carol Rivers

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BOOK: A Wartime Christmas
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She turned to Alan and made a face. ‘Clever clogs.’

Alan squeezed her hand. ‘Perhaps one day when the war is over we could come back for a holiday. Stay in one of those pubs we saw along the way.’

‘I wouldn’t mind that. We could visit Len and Doris instead of them having to drive all the way to us.’

Alan nodded thoughtfully. ‘Me and Len might have had our differences but I know him and Doris have Alfie’s best at heart.’ He arched a wry eyebrow. ‘Do you remember the
look on your family’s faces when we told them we were married?’

Kay rolled her eyes. ‘Mum never let me forget.’

‘She wasn’t best pleased either when we told them you was pregnant and she worked out the dates.’

‘But we proved them wrong in the end,’ Kay whispered happily. ‘You didn’t turn out to be a fifth-columnist or revolutionary. Instead you gave them a grandson and nephew
that me and Norman didn’t—’ Kay stopped abruptly. ‘Oh, that’s tactless of me, Alan. I only meant I’m so proud of Alfie being ours.’

Alan gave her a long, steady stare. ‘I’m sure you and Norman, if he’d lived longer, would have had that family you and your parents always wanted.’

‘Alan, it’s us and Alfie who counts. You know that, don’t you?’

‘Yes,’ Alan said with a smile. ‘And I couldn’t be prouder.’

Kay settled back in her seat. Sometimes she blurted out her thoughts without due care and consideration. She knew that Alan’s few memories of his hard-working and long-suffering mother
were some of his saddest. She had tried hard to make ends meet for her three young sons while her husband had been away in prison. But she had been taken early from her family. Alan had never known
the love of his wayward father. He’d run away to sea at an age when most young boys were only just beginning to form their character. Kay knew that Alan wanted Alfie’s life to be far
different to his own. And she was determined she would always be by Alan’s side to make it so.

‘They’re big cows.’ Kay pointed to two large hairy brown heads sticking up above the five-bar gate.

‘They’re bulls,’ Alan told her as they walked down the country lane. ‘See their horns? I wouldn’t want to annoy one of them.’

‘I hope Doris don’t let our Alfie near a bull!’ Kay steered Alan to the far side of the winding path. ‘It’s a bit dangerous letting them loose like that.’

Alan laughed. ‘The farmer keeps a good eye on them.’

Kay had to admit that everything she had seen so far had surprised her. There hadn’t been one spot of rain and no mud at all. They’d enjoyed a very nice snack of tea and the luxury
of apple cake at the coach station. The tiny shops had been stuffed full of things you couldn’t get in the East End, like homemade marmalade, apple damson jam and hand-knitted woollen
garments spun from the local sheep’s wool. And there was even things like herb tea that people made from plants grown in their own back gardens. And what back gardens they were! Kay
couldn’t believe her eyes when she’d seen bowers of roses over doors and vines that crept right up to the chimneys and over the other side of the cottages, just like in picture books or
magazines. Willow trees, identified by Alan, had waved their long branches over little ponds with tiny ducks floating on the calm surface.

Kay was mesmerized! She couldn’t wait to tell Vi all she had seen, as they had both supposed that outside of London, there wasn’t much to see or do. The truth was that people who
lived in the country seemed very busy; they worked in the fields along with the Land Army girls who Alan said would probably be billeted on the local farms. There were dogs and cats too –
pets weren’t allowed on the island. During the bombing the government had told everyone to either put down their animals or remove them to safety. Briefly she thought about Babs
Chapman’s cat, Fluffy, who was killed on the last raid. She hoped the children wouldn’t be too upset.

,’ Alan said as he squinted through the hedges at the hidden gardens and looked for name-plates on the cottages. ‘It’s got to be down here

Kay was on tenterhooks. ‘I can hardly speak I’m so excited.’

‘I wonder if he’s grown much.’

‘He was a real mischief when he went away.’ Kay suppressed the lump in her throat. She felt she had missed a vital part of his growing-up. ‘This past ten months have seemed
endless. I can’t believe he’ll be three in November.’

‘This must be it,’ Alan said, pointing to a large hedge in the form of an arch. The sign beneath it was an engraved brass plaque. ‘See, this says

As usual Kay had been so wrapped up in her thoughts that when she looked up the narrow path that Alan indicated, at first she didn’t recognize the child standing beside a woman who was on
all fours, attending to the weeds. The boy, like the woman, was wearing blue dungarees and had big eyes that seemed to fill his round face. His dark hair peeped out in wisps from under a blue
wide-brimmed hat.

‘My God,’ Alan breathed beside her. ‘Is that our Alfie?’

Kay was too overwhelmed to reply as she stared at her son, magically transformed from a baby into a sturdy toddler since she had last held him in her arms ten months ago before Len and Doris had
taken him away.

Chapter Seven

All Kay’s emotions were in turmoil as Doris caught sight of them and climbed to her feet. Kay watched breathlessly as Alfie held up his arms to Doris who lifted him with
practised ease onto her hip. As Alan pushed open the garden gate, Alfie’s plump hands went tightly around Doris’s neck.

‘Alfie?’ Kay called, but Alfie turned away and buried his face in Doris’s blonde hair.

Alan slipped his hand to Kay’s waist, drawing her back a little. ‘Don’t rush him, Kay. We caught him by surprise.’

Kay realized that she had to be patient though her disappointment was bitter.

‘Hello,’ Alan said to Doris, who looked at them with a frown.

‘So you’ve come,’ Doris replied, her hand going protectively to Alfie’s back.

‘Yes, of course.’ Kay had to restrain every muscle in her body from darting forward to Alfie. ‘We wouldn’t have let you down.’

‘Your letter only arrived this morning,’ Doris said hurriedly. She stepped aside from the fork and trowel that she had been using to dig in the rich brown earth.

‘I’m sorry about that,’ Kay apologized, her eyes fixed on Alfie. ‘Alan only found out about his days off last week.’

Doris transferred Alfie to her other hip and nodded to the door. ‘Well, now you’re here, you’d best come in.’

Kay was shocked to find this rather plump, rosy-cheeked woman wearing dungarees and a grubby green gardener’s apron with earth-covered fingers in place of the somewhat thin and pale
sister-in-law who she remembered as her brother’s wife. In ten months, Doris had blossomed. Obviously caring for Alfie had suited her. But what hurt Kay the most was Alfie’s reaction.
He seemed to have forgotten them.

‘This is lovely,’ Alan said as they entered the cool interior of the cottage. Kay tried to catch Alfie’s attention but he continued to bury his face in Doris’s shoulder.
Despite Kay’s urgent wish that he should look up and into her eyes he refused to do so. Alan squeezed her arm, as if to say he had guessed the thoughts running through her mind.

Tearing her eyes away from her son, Kay glanced out of the pretty lattice window at the rear of the sitting room. From here she had full view of the lush, flower-filled garden radiating with
bright sunshine. A neatly cut lawn folded its way around a child’s swing which was looped around the branches of an apple tree. There was also a large stuffed dog on wheels that had seen
better days and was leaking horsehair. But the rope attached to it meant that someone was able to tow the rider along as they sat on the dog’s back. The thought gave Kay a cutting pain across
her heart. Her little boy must have spent many hours with that dog on sunny days. Either Doris or Len or perhaps both had towed him around the garden, laughing and playing with him.

Doris indicated two very large elderly chairs covered in flowered material and big, squashy cushions that spilled over the arms. While failing to catch Alfie’s eye, Kay had time to look
around. The cottage was homely, but not expensively furnished. The furniture was obviously well cared for and the same black oak beams that crossed the ceiling also surrounded the wide brick
hearth. A round china jug stood on its mantel and was filled with fresh flowers. There were brass ornaments hanging on the beams – horseshoes and tiny bells – and a big copper kettle
stood next to the grate. The walls were a creamy colour that looked a bit like lumpy ice cream and had old mirrors and pictures of farm scenes and landscapes hanging on them.

‘Len’s at work, but he’ll be home soon,’ Doris told them as she sat on the big settee with Alfie. ‘He’s not seen your letter as the postman was late.
It’s going to be a surprise for him to find you here.’

‘I wrote in June to prepare you,’ Kay reminded her sister-in-law. ‘But we never heard back.’

Doris lifted her head sharply. ‘We thought you were certain to reconsider as the war isn’t over.’ Doris slid off Alfie’s hat and slipped her hand through his rich, dark
hair, stroking it into place. Once again, Alfie refused to look in Kay’s direction. ‘He’s wary with strangers,’ Doris said, then corrected herself quickly by adding,
‘I mean I know you’re not strangers, but he hasn’t seen you for a while.’

Kay didn’t need to be reminded of that. Every hour, every day of every month away from her son was engraved in her mind. She leaned forward, a trembling smile on her face.
‘Alfie?’ she whispered. ‘It’s Mummy and Daddy. We’ve come to take you home.’

At this, the little boy clung harder to Doris. ‘You should have given us more time,’ Doris berated, brushing her short hair from her eyes. ‘We would have told Alfie you were
coming and showed him your picture so that he understands.’ She nodded to a shelf beside the settee. ‘Look, Alfie, this is your mum and dad. Like in the photograph up there.’

They all gazed at the picture. It had been taken on the day when the council had kitted out Alan for his work with the Heavy Rescue Squad. He wore his new uniform of dark overalls and a tin
helmet. Kay had been dressed in a smart utility suit with her hair coiled around her head. With arms linked, they smiled into the lens of the camera held by one of Alan’s friends from

Alfie stared at the photograph. Doris lowered him to the floor and lifted the wooden-framed photograph from its shelf to place in Alfie’s small hands. ‘Alfie, give your mummy and
daddy a hug.’

Kay sat nervously on the edge of the chair. Slowly she opened her arms. It would break her heart if he refused to do as Doris said.

‘Go along, silly,’ urged Doris as she gave him a gentle nudge. ‘You’re not really that shy.’

Kay kept her arms wide and her eyes hopeful, trying to find that place within her that would reach out and unconsciously reclaim him. This was her son, her beautiful boy, and she ached to hold
him. Uncertainly, he came towards her. ‘Yes, it’s me, Mummy,’ Kay said. ‘Mummy from the photograph.’ She reached her hand towards Alan. ‘And this is

Kay guessed Alan was smiling but she felt his reluctance to move and frighten Alfie. She also knew Alan must be as upset as she was that Alfie had forgotten them.

The seconds seemed to stretch into long minutes before Alfie took another hesitant step towards them. Kay drank in his beauty: his softly tanned skin, chubby face and arms, the sturdiness of his
legs under the blue dungarees, his little brown toes peeping out from the straps of the sandals. She wanted to burst into tears. All the pain of separation threatened to overwhelm her. The war had
done this, as it had done to so many families. The day Doris and Len had come to collect him at the beginning of the Blitz still haunted her. The terror of the bombs had been nothing to the agony
she had felt as she saw them taking Alfie away. He had been crying for her and Alan had to hold her in his arms as she’d fought to rush out to Len’s car and stop them. Second only to
Norman’s death, it had been the worst day of her life. That night in the Anderson, she had cried continually. Even Vi reminding her that the East End was no place for a child hadn’t
helped. Nothing had mattered then. She hadn’t even cared about a bomb dropping on the house. Without Alfie, her life had seemed over.

‘Alfie?’ Kay fought back the threatening tears. ‘Do you remember this?’ She pushed her hand down into the shopping bag that Alan had carried all the way from London. She
found what she was looking for. An old remnant of blanket from the cot she hadn’t been able to part with. She had embroidered his name on the edge of the thin wool.

Kay pressed the blanket to her face and smiled. Alfie gazed at it with the same deep brown eyes as Alan. Cautiously, he took the blanket. Kay was certain that now he would walk into her arms.
But instead, he returned to Doris.

‘He’s tired,’ Doris told them as he curled in her lap. ‘It’s time for his nap.’

Alan reached forward for Kay’s hand. Through the tears that she was struggling to control, Kay told herself she must be patient. At least the blanket had meant something to Alfie.

Over an hour later, Len arrived home. Kay saw how surprised he was to see her and Alan sitting in the front room. ‘Good lord,’ he muttered, his jaw dropping.
‘What are you two doing here?’

Kay went to greet him, kissing his cheek. He was not very much taller than her and had thick auburn hair like her own, though there were now flecks of grey at his temples. He had grown a small
moustache that made him look much older than his thirty-one years.

Alan stood up and took Len’s hand. ‘Good to see you, Len.’

‘This is a surprise,’ said Len sharply. Then, looking at Doris, he demanded, ‘Where’s Alfie?’

Doris was quick to explain that he was napping upstairs. Then she showed him Kay’s letter. ‘This arrived after you left,’ she said. ‘Kay wrote to us at the beginning of
the week but the post must have been delayed.’

‘You want to take Alfie?’ he asked in a startled voice after reading it.

‘That’s the plan,’ Alan replied. ‘I’m sorry it’s such short notice.’

BOOK: A Wartime Christmas
5.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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