2. The Late-night Caller

2. The Late-night Caller

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



Jane had never felt so lonely. At least, not since before she had met George back in ‘39 when he had been relocated to the electric works in Brumpton from way up North where he was a clerk in the main office. It had all to do with preparing for war, and clerks with their bundles of paper were important.

He’d been a bachelor back then. An unmarried man somehow managing to keep aloof in a country swimming with unattached and often quite pretty young women because, and this was an eternal sadness, the number of men in the peak of life who had succumbed to either bomb or bullet during the first war left a yawning gap in the dreams of the girls back home.

No, not just a gap, a chasm.

And back then she had felt particularly lonely. Monica, the tart from the corner shop, had filched Eric from under her nose and there were very few alternatives in trousers for her to swoon over.

She might have been happy with Paul, Paul Belcher, but he died as a result of a war injury back in ‘29. Unfair, really, for him to survive above a decade and yet not sow any wild oats before he succumbed to a chunk of shrapnel and was mourned over by a handful of single women. Not that he’d have been a brilliant husband, but beggars couldn’t be choosers, could they?

Now George, the Northerner, had wooed her (no difficult matter, she was sure) and won her, had wed her and sowed not wild but carefully cultivated oats and all in nearly no time. They had produced Roger and Betty, now in bed and aged five and six. Both had been safely launched into life as far from the bombs that rained on the county as they could have been. In the hospital for Roger because of an unnamed problem (she hadn’t understood the exact reason because there had been the unbearable pain to distract her) and at home for Betty, her first and the apple of George’s eye.

Roger had survived a difficult birth and they had decided that enough was enough. With the world as it was it was the only sensible thing for them to do.

And now George was in the hospital where Roger had first seen the light of day. It was an old Victorian affair and barely adequate, but had to suffice because there was nowhere else.

George was dying.

It seemed so cruel. He’d come from the North West with his cute northern accent, and no sooner had he fathered the two sleeping upstairs than he started coughing blood. More than he admitted to, but she found the evidence in handkerchiefs he’d tried to wash and then hidden away, stained pink.

It was when he told her he’d smoked his last cigarette that she knew he must be expecting to die. Why else would it be his last?

Then after weeks of illness had come the bomb shell.

They’re taking me to the hospital,” he told her, “tomorrow, they said. I need a few clean things…”

Clean things had been a problem, but she’d scrubbed and coped.

That had been a week ago, and now the world was dark and she was on her own except for the kids in bed. The wireless was boring. It might not have been, but the light classical music was no distraction. A comedian would follow, but she was in no mood for laughing.

She’d visited him twice since he’d gone in and she could tell he’d never come back home from the way he was. Listless and weak. Her mum had always said that’s what hospitals were for, places where people went to die where the kids wouldn’t see them. Places where death was tidy.

She turned the radio off. The music just wasn’t the sort of thing that would do anything but keep her on edge. George had liked music. Brass bands, raucous stuff like that, but tonight’s programme was all weeping violins and slow sad rhythms. George would have turned it off, so she did.

Just in time for her to hear the peremptory knock at the front door. The knock she’d both expected and feared.

It meant news, and the only news she expected was bad news.

A policeman, all shining buttons and smart helmet stood there. A middle-aged, rugged man trying to adopt an understanding expression and not quite making it.

Mrs Simpson?” he asked, “Mrs Jane Simpson?”

She nodded. Who else could it be, in her house at that time?

I’m sorry,” he said, and she guessed why he was so apologetic.

It’s George, isn’t it?” she asked.

He nodded. “Passed away,” he told her, “peacefully, in his sleep, I was told. They sent me round to tell you.”

She’d know it would happen. She’d guessed from the first sound of the knocked door and it had been confirmed by the expression on the constable’s face.

He smoked,” she said, “the fool smoked!”

Not understanding, the policeman pulled a cigarette packet from his own pocket and offered it to her.

You need one?” he asked, “to calm your? It’s not an easy thing to hear at this time of night…”

She pushed to packet away and the flood gates opened. In her head an image of the future formed itself, her future, two kids, a boy and a girl, growing up with only her to see them through the years, the quiet evenings, stretching out beyond the here and now until most of her own life was over… after all, she was no spring chicken, was she? She’d been well in her thirties when George had turned up and, well, not exactly swept her off her feet.

The kids,” she mumbled through her tears.

What you need is a good cup of tea,” he advised her, “come in, dear, I’ll show that men know how to boil a kettle and mash a good pot…”

And she let him lead her in. A kindly man with a helmet, a sympathetic face, a willingness to comfort her… with a cup of tea.

She wanted George’s comfort, though, his special gift between the sheets, the smell of him, fading cigarette smoke that never actually went away despite him refusing to smoke any more. Armpits even. George’s smell.

He left it too late,” she told the policeman.

He did, dear?”

Yes. The doctor told him. The cigarettes were killing him but me, I talked him into it…”

Into what, dear?” he asked.

One last cigarette. One last lungful of poison to kill him… I’ll never forgive myself…”

Everyone smokes, dear… it’s the healthy thing to do, keeps the lungs clear, keeps the smog out…”

No,” she whispered, then, “thank you, officer… thank you…” and she escorted him back to the door and closed it, and took her tears with her back into the living room.

Automatically, she turned the radio back on.

She didn’t hear what the chirpy comedian said but she knew it wasn’t funny. George was dead.

© Peter Rogerson 14.06.21


© 2021 Peter Rogerson

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Added on June 14, 2021
Last Updated on June 14, 2021
Tags: hospital, deaath, police constable


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..