The sky was dark that morning, grey clouds promising another snowfall by early afternoon at the latest. A bitter breeze blew through the street, making me pull my jacket tighter with hands shoved in the shallow pockets. The wind bit through the thick tights under my dress, hurrying my pace to the bank. My eyes were still red and scratchy from thankful tears; the Legion was able to give me enough shillings to cover the rent and a few extra while I searched for work. I was eager to deposit my few coins in the bank for safekeeping, knowing the scummy apartment I had moved to was no safer than a jailhouse lot.
I pulled my skirt up as I climbed the bank steps and pulled the heavy door. The patrons quietly stood in line, and the sound of typewriters and clinking coins filled the musty hall. The cathedral ceilings and frosty glass windows made the place seem almost ethereal compared to what I was now used to. After Warren passed, I was left with nothing, in more ways than one.
It was three weeks after we confirmed I was expecting that he received the draft notice. The war was moving closer; we knew it wouldn’t be long. The western front was hardly holding up, and we could hear the air raid siren in Briarwood in the distance. I left him at the station, unknowingly saying our last goodbyes. It was less than a month from then that I received a visit from the Padre, confirming my worst fears. That evening I fell ill and lost the child, the first of our four miscarriages I endured alone.
The Legion suggested I find work, and I became a welder in Briarwood. I worked with several women and a few men building light tanks. They trained me to weld together the fuselage tanks and I became quite good at it. I was able to focus on my work during the long days, which didn’t leave much time for worrying or pitying myself.
One night I was making my way back home in the old Chevy when I saw a plane overhead. It was dark, but I could make out the propellers, then the siren from Briarwood behind me. I pushed the pedal to the floor, hoping I could find shelter before being blown to bits. I was spared that night, but the factory was not. My meager income was lost, and I began searching for work once again.
It wasn’t long after that when the old Chevy gave up the ghost on the roadside. I paid the mechanic uptown to haul it off and for a ride back home, knowing full well I would have made at least double had I been able to scrap it myself. Times were hard for everyone, and I could hardly blame the man for taking what he could to feed his family. I was grateful for what I could get, and made it last as long as possible. Eventually I sold the house and moved to the ratty flat in town.
It was winter now, and the farm I worked at had a greater need for saving money than for a helping hand. It seemed that was the case for almost everyone these days; it was a search not of finding a job that needed done, but for someone who was willing and able to compensate you.
A man cleared his throat behind me. I had gotten lost in my thoughts and the line moved without my notice. I closed the distance then looked over my shoulder, catching a glimpse of the man behind me. I apologized and bowed my head, facing toward the tellers again. I caught the sight of his tailored black suit and wide brimmed hat with a gold chain dangling from his pocket. He practically smelled of money. Must have been one of the few wealthy families left; probably in a hurry to withdraw some pocket change, I almost scoffed aloud. I scolded myself for letting the little green monster pop it’s ugly head out.
The next patron stepped up to the window, and I was careful to take a step in due time. My mind wandered again to employment and where I should search after I finished my business at the bank. Before I could take my turn at the counter, the ground shook and my ears nearly burst from the explosion outside. There was an eerie half second of silence as we collectively realized what we had heard. Women began screaming, tellers ducked under the counter, but I just froze. Dread filled my stomach and my legs refused to move.
“Get down, woman!” I was grabbed around the waist and taken to the ground before I could protest or even see who was yelling. Hands covered my head and face, and a weight was pressed against my back. A few seconds more and another bomb hit the ground just outside the bank, shattering the windows and blowing the door from its hinges.
More screams. The next bomb fell behind the bank, another across the street, and several more could be heard in the distance. The weight pushed down harder, and hands gripped my head tighter. Another explosion, this one likely being an automobile parked outside. It seemed to be hours before the bombs stopped falling so close, allowing those that were willing an opportunity to seek shelter. I took the moment to push myself up and see part of the bank was on fire.
“We need to go,” the weight lifted from my back, and I was pulled to my feet by the black suit. He grabbed my wrist and rushed us to the street where we could take in the damage so far. The bank, courthouse, and general store were set ablaze. The air raid siren was now screaming its late warning and the anti-aircraft guns were booming. He looked around, then to the sky before pulling me close behind him. He took us to the Tube station where we ran down the steps to meet a few dozen other residents that had found shelter in time.
I took the moment to turn to him, the man who just prevented my serious injury, if not saved my life. Dark hair was mostly hidden behind his hat, and piercing eyes scanned the crowd in front of us. He stood a head or more taller than me, and he kept a strong grip on my wrist. I took a step back and pulled slightly on my wrist. He noticed and quickly pulled his hand away. My, he was handsome, and surely he knew it.
“Thank you,” my normally clear and steady voice had been lost somewhere back in the rubble, and I only managed to squeak out my thanks.
“Ma’am?” He looked at me quizzically, his brows knit above his nose.
“Thank you, sir, for—well, assisting me.” The words fell clumsily between stutters. Damn nerves were shot.
“Couldn’t right live with myself if I let a woman stand there like a fool, waiting for a bomb to knock her in the head.” My eyes widened in surprise at his blatant rudeness.
“Pardon me, then, sir.” I glared at him before turning away to join the crowd.
“Wait,” He grabbed my arm and spun me back around to him.
“I beg your pardon, let me go this instant!” I yelled at him, pulling my arm to no avail. His grip was much stronger than I had expected from a slight man such as him.
“You’re bleeding, let me—“ He already had his handkerchief in hand and began dabbing at my face where a glass shard must have cut me at some point during the action.
“Oh my, wouldn’t want me to bleed to death, now would you?” I sneered at him while his cloth absorbed quite a bit of blood.
“I would have night mares for weeks, love.” He flashed a wry grin; was he being funny? Stress affects people differently, but this was a bit morbid.
“There, that should be okay now.” He folded the kerchief and handed it to me. “Keep this, in case it starts up again.” His face was almost kind, but his eyes were cold as ice.
“Thank you for your help, I wish you the best, sir.” I accepted the cloth, shoving it in my pocket while I made another attempt at escape.
“Is your family here, ma’am?” He called out to me, bringing a wave of guilt over me. Emotions already running high, I blurted out something I shouldn’t have.
“My husband’s dead, thank you.” I sneered over my shoulder, not wanting another minute of this man’s attention. Grateful as I was for his protection, I couldn’t stand another moment of his attitude.
“I’m sorry, miss.” His voice was gentle then; soft and genuine. It stopped me in my tracks. I could feel his eyes on me, willing me to turn back. I wouldn’t— “What about your children? Parents?” Another wave of sorrow washed over me. Hold it together, thank him again and take your leave, no matter what.
“No children.” I blurted out again. What was wrong with me? Why was I giving him this information? It wasn’t his business; no one’s burden but my own, don’t put this on a stranger— “Parents are across the border, I don’t know if—“ A lump filled my throat, and I dared not utter another syllable. Breaking down in front of not only this man, but the crowd in the tunnel? They’d likely take me to the loony bin.
“I’ll take you back home when it’s safe.” He closed the distance between us, put a hand on my shoulder and led me to a spot against the wall. I sank down, letting out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. He sat beside, not looking at me. My hands shook, and not from the cold.