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Authors: Carol Rivers

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BOOK: A Wartime Christmas
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‘But come on, man, the war’s not over,’ Len protested. ‘The Luftwaffe could be back any minute. And the docks will always be a prime target.’

Just then, Doris signalled to Kay. ‘You’d better come upstairs with me.’

Kay would rather have talked to her brother, but she could see Doris ascending the stairs. She glanced at Alan, who had sat down again. Len had gone over to join him. He was clearly upset. She
hoped that Alan would be able to calm troubled waters and explain satisfactorily their reason for wanting to take their son home.

Doris led her upstairs along a thickly carpeted landing and into a large room filled with soft toys and a small bed in which Alfie lay asleep. Beside it was a yellow painted chair and desk. The
window above was open letting in the scents of the farms and the fields and the lace curtain moved slightly with the summer breeze.

Kay tore her eyes away from the coloured drawings pinned above the desk as Doris sat on the bed and drew back the cover. Kay remembered how, as a baby, Alfie had always been slow to wake. So she
squeezed into the yellow chair and waited. On the floor were several pairs of lace-up shoes and open-toed sandals.

‘Your Uncle Len has just come home,’ Doris told Alfie, as he struggled to sit up. ‘Shall Nanty take you downstairs?’ Doris glanced across at Kay. ‘He calls me
Nanty. It’s his version of Aunty Doris.’

‘Does he say anything else?’ Kay asked, as Alfie rubbed his eyes.

‘Oh yes,’ Doris said and nodded. ‘He’s quite a chatterbox. Though you have to listen carefully as he has his own language.’

To Kay’s surprise, Alfie still had the blanket that she had given him in his hands. After a long yawn, he smiled. The first smile Kay had witnessed.

‘Oh, Alfie, you have your teeth!’ Kay gasped.

‘Not all of them,’ warned Doris. ‘Just the front ones. He’s teething quite badly.’

Once again Kay had the feeling she had missed so much about his growing-up. She swallowed, returning his smile. ‘Can I help you to put on your sandals?’ she asked.

‘He likes doing that himself,’ Doris said abruptly.

Kay watched Alfie climb out of bed and slip down to the floor. He wore just his cotton top and a pair of underpants. ‘He’s dry then, Doris?’ Kay asked.

‘Yes, no mishaps at all.’

‘Nanty says you’re very clever at this,’ Kay encouraged as he pulled on his sandals.

Kay thought how very much like Alan he was. He had broad shoulders for a young child, and long legs. His hair grew in exactly the same way as Alan’s, without a parting and flopping over
his forehead.

‘It took him some time to master the buckles,’ Doris said. ‘But he persevered. He’s a very bright boy.’

Kay could only gaze in wonder at her son. ‘How clever,’ she murmured, admiring his strong legs, uncluttered by clothes, browned by the sunshine. He had lost none of his baby charm
though. Rather, he had grown in proportion. Eventually, despite Doris’s previous warning, she couldn’t resist bending down to help him. She felt a tingling sensation all along her spine
as her fingers touched his soft skin for the first time.

‘Yes,’ agreed Doris. ‘And confident, He’s come on leaps and bounds living here. I just can’t understand why you should want to take him right now.’

‘Doris, I know how upset you must be.’ Kay was genuinely concerned for Doris, who was obviously under strain. ‘I can see this must be very difficult for you.’

‘You saw how upset Len was.’

‘Yes, and I’m sorry about that too.’

Doris’s tight face softened as she looked at Alfie. ‘He’s become a big part of our lives.’

‘Then tell me how he’s been, what he’s done, all the things that have happened,’ Kay urged as Alfie began to play with his toys. Suddenly it seemed important to get to
know Doris better and understand the relationship she had shared with Alfie. Doris had acted as a replacement mother and it could not be easy for her to part from Alfie. ‘I’d like to
know as you didn’t write very often.’

‘I haven’t had the time,’ Doris said dismissively. ‘What more can I say other than he’s kept very well and been a good boy.’

‘Is that all?’ Kay persisted.

Doris turned on her, the resentment clear in her face. ‘What do you want me to say, Kay? That he’s missed you – pined for you? That he’s led a miserable life without you?
Well, he hasn’t. In fact, he’s been very happy here at the cottage. He missed you at first, but then he began to enjoy himself in the freedom of the garden and with all his toys. At
night we read to him and in the mornings he always enjoys time with Len before he goes to work. I’ve spent every day with him, every hour really. Watching him. Playing with him.’ Doris
looked into Kay’s eyes and suddenly Kay saw all her own feelings reflected in them. It was then she guessed that Doris had begun to think of Alfie as her own son.

‘I don’t know how to thank you,’ Kay murmured, feeling this was inadequate. ‘And I understand it must be a wrench to see him go, but—’

‘How can you think of taking him?’ Doris interrupted. Kay got up to comfort her but she pushed Kay aside. ‘How can you be so selfish? The war is still on. What if the East End
is caught up in another Blitz? What if something happens to Alfie?’

‘It won’t,’ said Kay, sympathetic to Doris but also annoyed that her sister-in-law hadn’t given her any credit for considering these issues. ‘Doris, me and Alan
intend to make sure he’s safe. Believe me, being without him hasn’t been easy and we waited a good two months after the Blitz ended before coming to this decision.’

‘Well, it’s the wrong decision,’ burst out Doris, wiping her flushed cheeks with the palms of her hands. ‘You’re putting his life at risk when he can be perfectly
happy and safe here.’

Kay nodded slowly but she decided it was time to voice her own strong feelings. ‘As I’ve said, you and Len have been very kind and Alan and me are grateful for all you’ve done.
But it’s also clear you’ve grown fond of Alfie. Perhaps it’s not before time that we’re taking him home.’

‘What a selfish way to think!’ Doris jumped to her feet, her face flushed with anger.

‘Nanty!’ Alfie ran to Doris. She picked him up and hugged him, the tears wet on her cheeks.

Kay felt her heart twist as she saw Alfie’s concern. She knew then that, despite all Doris’s insistence about the East End being unsafe for Alfie to return to, this was not the true
reason for her wanting to keep Alfie. Her motives were far more complex and Kay knew that there would be no easy way of resolving them.

Chapter Eight

Alan was trying to control his temper. The insults and accusations thrown at him – of being irresponsible and selfish added to the old chestnut that had stuck in
Len’s craw ever since Alan had had the gall to marry his sister: the insinuation that Alan had almost wrecked the ties that bound a close family – had come thick and fast.

‘Agreed,’ Alan apologized again, trying to resolve the situation. ‘I should have sent you a telegram the minute I found out the dates of my days off and given you both time to
adjust.’

‘Adjust!’ Len repeated with a gasp. ‘Do you realize what you’re doing? How in heaven’s name can you be certain the docks won’t be targeted again? And they
will, you know. It’s just a matter of time before Hitler finishes with Russia and sets his cap at us again.’ He pointed a finger in Alan’s face. ‘It’s irresponsible
behaviour, that’s what it is. And don’t go spouting any of your daft political notions at me. I had enough of those when you married my sister.’

‘Len, be reasonable,’ Alan said, ignoring the insult and telling himself that Len’s reaction to their sudden appearance was understandable. Nevertheless he didn’t like
the way Len kept throwing up their past differences. Differences that should be long forgotten by now. ‘This isn’t about my beliefs, or yours come to that. It’s about Alfie coming
back to his family.’

Len pulled down his jacket with a sharp tug and stuck out his chin. ‘You have no idea about families or what makes them tick,’ he accused rudely. ‘Otherwise you wouldn’t
have upset ours like you did. Mum and Dad still haven’t recovered from finding out that Kay, a respectable young widow right up until the time she met you, was in the family way. It caused
them a great deal of embarrassment.’

Alan looked at his brother-in-law and guessed that he was never going to be best buddies with this man, or indeed with Lil and Bob Briggs. But in the scale of things, that wasn’t what
mattered to him. What was paramount was Kay and Alfie’s happiness. ‘Look Len,’ he began carefully, ‘I didn’t intend to upset you or Kay’s parents. I fell in love
with your sister and yes, we did get a bit carried away before we were married—’

‘Carried away?’ Len repeated in a hoarse whisper. ‘My sister’s unfortunate predicament was the talk of the neighbourhood.’

Alan paused before he replied, attempting to keep the mounting anger from his tone. ‘Len, you weren’t even in the neighbourhood in thirty-eight. You’d moved to Hertfordshire by
then.’

Len did another jerk with his jacket. ‘I’m speaking on behalf of my parents,’ he crowed pompously.

‘They spoke well enough for themselves,’ Alan responded quietly. ‘Bob has never been one to reserve judgement in my case and Lil always made it plain that I’ll never come
up to the standard of their first son-in-law.’ Alan took in a careful breath. ‘They’re entitled to their opinion, as are you, but I feel that to continue this conversation is just
going round in circles. It was because me and Kay fell in love and wanted to make a future together that Alfie came about. Yes, the wedding was a bit late, but in the long run it didn’t make
no difference.’

‘There wasn’t even an invite to this so-called wedding!’ Len persisted. ‘We were all very upset.’

‘I’m sorry about that, but marrying by licence was what Kay wanted. Her dad wouldn’t give us his blessing, you know that.’

‘He believed Kay was on the rebound,’ Len argued. ‘And so did I.’

‘Norman had been gone well over three years when I met Kay,’ answered Alan patiently. ‘Enough time for a woman of twenty-four to know her own mind.’

‘You don’t understand how hard Norman’s death hit her,’ Len insisted. ‘She gave in her perfectly good job with prospects and went to work in a factory. Well, I mean
to say, what was that all about? And when Mum and Dad tried to get her to see sense, she’d just say something daft, like she wanted to make new friends.’ Len gave a stifled cough.
‘Now, if that’s not being on the rebound I don’t know what is.’

Alan just couldn’t button his lip any longer. ‘What was wrong in changing her job? It was Kay’s way of making a fresh start. She was bored in the office and did something to
change her life. There was no question of her being on the rebound. Now, can we stop bickering about the past and talk reasonably?’

For a moment Len looked as though he was about to round angrily on him, but then a cry from Alfie drifted down from upstairs. Alan glanced round and stood at the same time as Len, but before he
did so he caught the look of genuine concern in his brother-in-law’s eyes. That look hit home to Alan and he immediately forgot about their differences, feeling as bad for Doris and Len as he
did for himself and Kay.

Alan stepped beside Len and lightly placed his hand on his arm. ‘Look, Len, I really am sorry – for everything. I should have given more consideration to yours and Doris’s
feelings, but Kay’s my priority and she just ain’t herself without Alfie. Try to imagine how it’s been for her. He wasn’t even two when she had to part from him. Then night
after night in the Blitz she was down the dugout, never knowing what disaster she’d find in the morning, or even if she’d see me walking through the door again. Losing her friends and
neighbours and having this big empty space inside her that no one, including me, could fill. Honest, Len, I’m not making excuses, but your sister’s had a real rough time of
it.’

To Alan’s surprise, Len stared at him, his eyes very wide and his eyelids flickering lightly, as though for the first time he had cooled down enough to absorb what Alan was saying. Then,
very slowly, he seemed to crumble, his stiff shoulders sagging as he slumped down into the armchair. Pushing his hand wearily over his forehead, he sighed, lifting his chest hard and high under his
shirt, so that Alan had an even greater sense of compassion for the man.

‘Doris and I knew Alfie would only be with us temporarily,’ Len breathed in a raspy voice full of emotion. ‘You just don’t imagine it to be so painful when the time comes
to . . .’ He looked up at Alan. ‘We got too fond of him, I suppose. Always being about the place. At nights up there in his cot, just like he was—’ He stopped abruptly and
Alan saw him blink fast, disguising the moisture in his eyes.

Alan moved to take the seat beside him, giving it a few moments before he spoke. ‘Look, it’s none of my business, Len, and I ain’t especially good with words as you know. I
seem to have hit all the wrong notes today and I don’t intend to add fuel to the fire. But it’s plain you and Doris make damn fine parents. I’m sure it’ll happen one day
– kiddies, I mean. But until then, would you consider, well, adopting?’

Alan feared he had gone too far as Len’s face tightened and again his body tensed. But to Alan’s surprise, he gave a sharp cough and cleared his throat, making an effort to
speak.

‘I’d consider it, yes,’ Len muttered, his shoulders braced. ‘But it’s a big step to take. And Doris isn’t – she’s not—’ Len looked
down at the floor over his folded hands. ‘I’ve tried to talk to Doris about it, but she’s always held out hope for – for one of our own. You see it’s like admitting
defeat if you go along another path.’ He glanced swiftly at Alan. ‘Anyway, not the thing to discuss here – and yes, you made your point about Kay. We’ll just have to get
over this the best we can.’ Len swiftly resumed his former detached self, patting his knees and standing up.

Just then there were noises on the stairs. Kay appeared, carrying a small case. Doris followed with Alfie in her arms and Alan and Len took a step towards them.

‘I suppose we’d better be on our way,’ Kay murmured, looking to Alan as though she’d had all the life drained out of her. ‘Don’t want to hold you both up . .
.’ Her voice tailed off into a whisper.

BOOK: A Wartime Christmas
10.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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