A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



It seemed that mere weeks after a sun-tanned Karl and Annie arrived back from their honeymoon and around the time that the nastiest war in the history of wars was started that, not quite out of the blue, Mildred and Ralf got married, almost on the quiet, which is what it had to be. Both were entering a second marriage having experienced the dreadful losses of their first in very different ways, and neither of them wanted a fuss. What they wanted, though, was the convenience of having each other, though it must have been a great deal more than Ralf wanting to marry his chauffeur!

But not everything was bleak.

Not everything was dark, though blackout curtains made the nights when the lights were out unbelievably dark.

Annie in her twenty-first century chair sighed and the genuine feathery heart-beating thrush rather than the ceramic version sighed back.

My news wasn’t as phoney as that war was to start with,” she explained to the window and any of her avian friends that might be listening, “and the last thing I expected was for mum to forestall me.”

In retrospect, it had been called the phoney war, the first few months of the conflict, but in the imaginations and minds of Annie’s admittedly small circle of friends it was a flaming torrent of flying bullets and exploding bombs, and they had to be careful. Their mental images were based more on images from the Great War than any personal experiences.

Mum had suffered from the first war, losing my dad as she did, and so had Ralf. He never got back the use of his leg, but soon after their marriage he had a piece of news that sent his heart spiralling to the Heavens and beyond.

He’d believed that he was infertile. The doctors had told him he’d be lucky if he ever got another erection, but instead of mourning lost potency just to be glad he was alive. That was what sent him towards his paint brushes and easel. And then, during that phoney war a woman who refused to say no to anything helped him back to being a romantic shadow of the man he’d been long ago, and probably more by luck than judgement she found herself to be pregnant.

She was in her early forties by then and at first thought she was experiencing the first signs of the change of life, but that wasn’t so. In long dark nights the newly weds discovered the joys of love they both thought were gone for good.

The thrush nodded understandingly. Maybe it, too, had suffered a trauma from which it had belatedly recovered. Maybe that half blind cat next door had lost its unseeing eye after a sharp meeting with an avian beak, and the conflict had had unexpected repercussions in the bird’s love life. Who could tell? Not her, anyway.

Gertrude had been a beauty,” she told the thrush, “even I thought that! And mum, well I loved her, of course I did, but she had a hard side to her even after the influence of Ralf had soothed the rough spots off her, so to speak. Maybe that’s what he needed to get his seed flowing once more! Someone who couldn’t say no. I don’t know. It could be he had just slowly recovered naturally.

Anyway, it was still during the dark but relatively peaceful months of that phoney war that mum took me to one side when I visited her at the big house.

I’ve got something to tell you,” she said, “I hope you don’t mind.”

That sounded sort of ominous, but I was intrigued at the same time. What was it that mum could do that I possibly mind?

I’m in the family way again,” she said simply, in a burst of confession. That was an old fashioned way of saying she was pregnant. But it didn’t shock me like she had expected it to, but then, I hadn’t been aware that Ralf had any problems in the fertility department. After all, it wouldn’t have been something he went around boasting to the servants about, and I had been a servant.

Well, mum, you are married,” I told her, “it is allowed even though there’s supposed to be a war on.”

It’s not that,” she confided in me, “Ralf always said he couldn’t do it. Since the last war, you know, after he was injured. He hadn’t with his first wife, you know, the poor woman. He told me, they’d tried when they could but it had been no good, and in the end he’d given up trying. It had been the war, the same bloody war that stole my Bert and now from what he said it seemed that it had stolen the juice from my Ralf’s thingies!”

That opened a lot of possibilities in my mind when I wondered what they’d actually given up trying, but I couldn’t ask, it wouldn’t have been at all polite, and anyway, what were thingies?

You’re married now, Annie,” she said nervously, and that was odd to start with. Mum being nervous with me? Well they say there’s a first time everything and I reckon this was the first time for that.

You know how it works between married folk,” she ventured, “you know about men and what they contribute to the marriage bed…?”

Mum, there’s no need for you to be shy about it!” I told her.

And there hadn’t been. During our honeymoon Klaus and I had probably exhausted the book of marriage rites, if there is one. We’d done everything, tried everything, even naked on a summer beach with sand likely to find its way where it shouldn’t.

It’s embarrassing,” she murmured, “Ralf being injured like he was and believing he couldn’t do it any more. You know what I mean by ‘it’, don’t you Annie?”

Make love?” I suggested, and the conversation was getting to be awkward. People didn’t talk about such things back then, certainly not mothers and daughters. What happened in the bedroom stays in the bedroom was a phrase that did the rounds.

Anyway, I’m in the family way so you’re going to have a brother or a sister if all goes well,” she concluded, and I got the impression that she had redacted a whole lot of what was going to say, and I was glad. I couldn’t have been more uncomfortable if I’d tried. Discussing love and relationships and babies, especially how they get to be where they come from, wasn’t a natural conversation for mother and me. There you are! Just thinking about it all these years later has turned mum back into mother!”

It was a different age, back then. People had been different in a multitude of small ways. They’d looked different. I’d always thought that mum looked quite ordinary back then, a woman amongst many. No skirts with the hem anywhere near above the knee, no flashes of thigh like twenty-odd years later, and looking back I guess we were all pretty dowdy back then by later standards.

I smiled at mum, though. I was delighted for her, for her news, even for her embarrassment. But I had some news for her, too. I’d waited until I was certain and I’d called in at Mrs McGiver only the day before. Back then, Mr Thrush, we women didn’t consult the doctor unless we were ill. We saw Mrs McGiver the local midwife and she either confirmed or refuted any suggestion of pregnancy, and she’d told me I was expecting too.

You’ll be glad to hear then, mum,” I said, “that I’m the family way too! Fancy that! I might in future find myself celebrating a son or daughter’s birthday on the same day as my sister’s.”

And she looked at me, eyes wide open, and then laughed out loud. It wasn’t so often that mum laughed like that. She wasn’t naturally given to jollity.

That’s really good,” she said, “and to think the McGiver never mentioned it to me!”

She wouldn’t,” I said, “it’s not her place to tell truths even if they’re happy truths. She knows how important confidence can be.”

She was still smiling when she told me she’d been living in mortal fear because I’d married a German boy and maybe, she suggested, he wasn’t so sure how to do it to an English girl.

Back then, seams of prejudice were so deep you could mine them!

© Peter Rogerson 17.05.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on May 17, 2020
Last Updated on May 17, 2020
Tags: family way, pregnancy, impotence, midwifery, prejudice


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 77 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

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A Chapter by Peter Rogerson