“I want to write a letter,” Curley announced one morning.
“Who to?” Gordon asked, expertly rolling a thin cigarette from the remaining shreds of tobacco. “The Prime Minister? You could ask him why us blokes aren’t home yet.”
“D’ya reckon he’d read it?” Curley replied, frowning at Gordon.
“Sure, mate,” replied Eddie. I’m sure he has nothing else to do but sit back and read letters from people staying in Singapore at the Emperors’ Pleasure.”
It was hot. So nothing had changed. The Secret Nine were strewn about their makeshift camp, trying to find some kind of relief from the intense humidity outside. Gordon and Eddie sat together, playing a game of cards. Tommy lay in his bed, idly sketching a picture of his girl back home. Dave lay on his cot with his eyes closed, trying to sleep.
For the past hour, Billy had been sitting opposite Curley on the floor running through his spelling. Curley was a quick learner, once he got the hang of it. The others had been writing out sentences for Curley to read, and told him more to dictate. Bill had tried to discourage them from writing anything too rude, but after Curley decided he only wanted to read something he considered “worth reading”, the boys went back to the crudest poems or jokes that they could think of, without having to explain them to Curley.
“I want to write a letter to my girl back home,” Curley said to Bill.
“That one you knocked up?” said Dave, opening one eye lazily. “Why? To give her parenting tips?”
Curley frowned. “Nothing like that. The whole “dad” thing hasn’t hit me yet. I guess I had to think it over, you know? I mean, she is my wife and all. It’s about time I actually wrote her one. Instead of Bill doing it for me.”
“What’s she like?” asked Eddie.
Curley thought for a moment. “Well, she’s got real pretty hair and she’s got really nice teeth.”
“Yeah. Teeth. Well, smile actually.”
“What’re her tits like?” piped up Gordon, blowing out smoke as he spoke.
Curley reddened. “Aaw don’t! That’s my wife you’re talking about!”
Dave sat up. “How many times you root her?”
“I don’t wanna tell you that!” Curley stood up, making for Dave.
“Well what’re her tits like, then?” Gordon asked again, making Curley spin around and face him.
“Are they big?” Eddie asked, winding Curley up.
“Leave him alone, mate,” sighed Billy. “Let’s carry on with your letter. So,” he waited for Curley to sit back down, “you want to write her a letter. Well, let’s start with her name. It’s Vi, isn’t it?”
Curley suddenly calmed down. “Vi. Short for Violet.”
“Right. Vi. Short for Violet. How’d you want to start it?”
Curley thought for a moment. “To Vi. No. Wait. My dearest Vi.”
“Good,” Bill said. “Do you know the spelling?”
“Uh… well her name is spelt V-I-O-L-E-T. But it’s just Vi. V-I.”
“That’s right, mate. How about the “my dearest” part?”
“M-Y is “my”,” Curley continued.
It went on like this for the next two hours. Billy sat patiently next to Curley as he spelt out all his words, making sure that his letters were clear and correct.
Finally, the letter was finished.
“My dearest Vi,” Curley read, his brow furrowed in concentration. “I am sorry that it has been a long time since I have sent a letter to you. Today I told Billy that I wanted to write the letter by myself using my own writing. That is why it is not neat. I am very happy to hear about our new baby. I cannot wait to see her when I get back. I miss you very much and I love you. I miss seeing you and I miss being near you. I know that you are a great mum and I hope I will be a good dad. Heaps of love, your Curley.”
Billy sat back, pleased with his student. “Good job, mate.”
Curley grinned and put the letter in an envelope. “You know what this means? It means that I can teach my daughter to read and write. And I can get a better job. No more factory work for me. I’ll have a top notch job and I can wear a suit and all.”
“Good on ya, mate,” called Gordon. “We’ll probably be working for you one day.”
“I reckon I’d make a good boss,” Curley said, reflectively.
Billy smiled. “I’m sure you would, mate. You’d better get some writing practice in first though. Or you could do some more reading.”
“Nah,” Curley replied. “Reckon I’ll do some more writing. I can write a letter to my new baby. Jean. And when she’s older I’ll be there to read it to her. Like how you blokes read to me.”
Gordon grinned. “Sounds fair. Probably the only fair thing you’d find in this place.”
The others silently agreed and turned back to their activities, each wondering about what lay for them in the days ahead.