A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



Wartime rationing had seemed to go on forever. The idea had been sensible enough, that with limited resources everyone should have a fair chance at getting some of what they wanted. But once the bunting was down and the parties over you’d have thought things would go back to normal. That was what Annie Grable thought anyway. But they didn’t. It seemed there were going to be shortages of just about everything for ever.

The thing is,” she explained to the window and its accompanying spider too high up for her to reach with her duster, “the thing is normal wasn’t very good. Normal wasn’t very fair. You could see that if you chanced to take a walk through a graveyard and read what’s on the gravestones. Lord this and Lady that died aged eighty and their butler, old Jock Strapp, and that was a real name, I saw it and I’ve never forgotten it, died aged forty two. Now, that’s not a fair allocation of lifespan, is it?”

The spider wasn’t at all interested. It remained motionless and she couldn’t tell whether it was looking at her or not.

Maybe it was dead. But dead spiders ought to listen when an old women come out with wisdom oughtn’t they? Death should be no obstacle to a proper understanding, should it?

Things were far from equal,” she sighed, “with toffs having a troupe of medics tending to their every need, letting their blood, doing unmentionable examinations to their unmentionable parts and all in the name of prolonging life. But my mum couldn’t afford more than the few coppers a week she paid to Doctor Ogilvy for seeing to emergencies for her. He was good and kind, was Doctor Ogilvy, but he couldn’t stop most folks from dying. Come to think of it, he died himself…

You know, when I was knee high to that famous grasshopper, two things puzzled me. One was why doctors can’t stop themselves dying and the second was to do with clergymen and why their Lord allows them to suffer and die...

Then they came out with a health service for all, taking care of every man, woman and child from birth to death, and at last things started looking up. The thing is, not all folks are born equal. I know that. Some have brains the size of the Universe and others are thick as pig’s dollop. They can’t help it. I dared say it’s in the genes. Elizabeth, bless her and I mean no offence, after all she was my flesh, mine and Klaus’s, but it was plain as a pikestaff from the moment she took her first breath that there was something wrong.”

It was around that time that Elizabeth had been born, one of the first under the care of the new Health Service, and truth to tell I couldn’t have had better care. She was a sweet little thing but there was little of a light in her baby eyes...”

Annie sighed, and the possibly dead spider suddenly scurried along its fragile thread as if to say boo hoo, look at me, I’m not dead!

I’m glad to see you’re okay,” she whispered to the spider, and it might have come out with a whole mouth full of gratitude in reply but for the return of Mr Thrush, who distracted Annie.

Well blow me down!” she whispered to the thrush, “I was missing you! I’d just got to thinking of the war, and afterwards when the rationing seemed just as bad for years. Then I got to contemplating the National Health Service and the wonders that it performs and tonight, it being Thursday, I’m going to open my door and clap the doctors and nurses at eight o’clock, along with everyone else! It’s at times like this that we really need them, and times like this that money men see there might be a profit for them if they sell things that don’t belong to them off.

Then I got to Elizabeth...”

The thrush put its head on one side out of sympathy. It clearly knew all about the misfortunes that can mar a birth.

Elizabeth had been born awkward. In later years it would probably been explained away as her being somewhere on the autistic spectrum but back then she was merely retarded. Backwards. Call it what you will it was all offensive and quite wrong, because Elizabeth was the most warm and loving daughter a mother could have, but not all of the time.

The doctors tried to help with pills and potions, but none of them did her any good and the odd one seemed to make her crazy,” sighed Annie. “She was never going to live for long, I knew that. I’m her mother, and I could tell. And it was Elizabeth that first started driving a wedge between Klaus and me...”

She struggled to get up and went into the kitchen, slowly like old ladies must, and made herself, slowly, a cup of tea.

I’m staying at this table in the kitchen for a while,” she called to Mr Thrush as she sat at her kitchen table, and true to form with a fluttering of his mottled wings he landed on the kitchen window sill.

You’re such a sensible fellow,” whispered Annie, and she was quite sure that it winked at her. That must have been it. The sensible little fellow had quite a sense of humour when you got to understand some of its avian ways.

Klaus insisted she could try harder to be normal,” sighed Elizabeth, “He was sure she was being deliberately naughty and he slapped her once or twice, quite hard. I told him he was wrong, that the child was doing her best, couldn’t he see that? But he was blind to that one reality.

By them and the war had been over a couple of years, he had the gallery up and running again and he was planning to buy us a bigger house. Remember, we were still here, the house where I was born! And new housing estates were going up all over the place. He wanted to buy a brand new house on one of those.”

She put her empty cup into the sink and struggled back into her chair. “This damned lock down!” she grumbled, “it makes an old woman feel like a prisoner. I’ve been one of those as you know, so I know that I’m right!”

Her mind retreated to reliving a scene from the past.

Klaus said a nice new house would be good for Elizabeth,” he said, “a change! That’s what she needs, and then she can put her brains into gear ready to start school.”

Annie sighed, “But I knew that was pie in the sky,” she whispered. The loving, beautiful little soul that was my daughter Elizabeth would never be the genius he wanted her to be. She was happy in her own world and would be miserable in the world Klaus wanted to build for her. The fifties were still drab. There were still bomb sites, craters even, and it would still take years for everything to be put right.

But Elizabeth would be like a fish out of water in a bright shiny new home with too many rooms and a bathroom to spare! Our little house, this one, was just right for her, and the little old school round the corner wouldn’t be too confusing.”

The rift between Klaus and me soon developed into a chasm and things got out of control. It was still the fifties, remember, and usually people who got married stayed married, for better or for worse. But not for Klaus and me. It was horrible, really horrible, but he went on and bought one of the nice new houses without telling me.

I’ve got a surprise for you,” he said, “for all of us! For Daniel and Elizabeth as well as you and me.”

And that is?” I asked. I guessed, and knew for certain when he held some keys up for me to be tempted by.

We’ll be closer to the gallery, too,” he said, “it’s doing so well, selling a lot of pictures to people who want to have something decent to hang on the walls of their new homes. You’ll love it there! It’s got four bedrooms!”

I hope you enjoy it,” I said, icily, “because a big house can be a lonely place when there’s only one person rattling around in it.”

There’ll be two,” he spat at me, “if you’re not coming I’ve asked Daniel and he’s keen. So if you want to be small minded, so be it. I remember that picture of you in the garden, looking forward to the future, to bright days ahead...”

And?” I asked.

These are the bright days,” he said.

© Peter Rogerson 20.05.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on May 20, 2020
Last Updated on May 20, 2020
Tags: rationing, NHS, health, Elizabeth


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