My story continues… For an explanation of how this story came to be written up to this point, and a link to the beginning, go to my post here.
When Archie arrived home from the shipyard the following evening, he sensed immediately that something was wrong. Usually, he would hear the sound of the back door being unbolted and unlatched – and, in summer, opened, unless the weather was bad. From the open kitchen window, he would catch the enticing aroma of home cooking. Even in these days of wartime rationing and austerity, Jenny managed incredibly well. But today, there was nothing like this. Not even the least sound of domestic activity from inside.
Leaning his bike against the wall of the outhouse, Archie tried the back door. It was fastened on the inside. He knocked. No response. Perhaps Jenny had run out of something, and had gone on a message? Not likely, though; she always planned the evening meal carefully, in advance. He fished in his jacket pocket for his latch key, and walked back through the alley to the front door, and let himself in. Still no noise… and then, a soft moan from the next room. He walked through.
Jenny half sat, half lay on the sofa, clutching her tummy, grimacing with pain, and gasping for breath. Her face looked drawn, her eyes yellow. Archie gasped, himself, as he looked at her.
“Jenny, love… Whatever…?”
“The pain, lovie. It… just came over me sudden… this morning… Went to… baker’s… and then…”
Archie didn’t wait for more. With a gesture of reassurance, he ran back out of the front door, and knocked on the door of their neighbours, Jim and Lizzie Hamilton, who’d been good friends for as long as both families had lived in the same street.
As Lizzie answered Archie’s knock, she could see the anxiety in his face at once. “What is it, Archie? Is it your Jenny?” With a shout to Jim, who was just home, she followed Archie back to Jenny’s side. Quickly, they agreed that Lizzie would wait with Jenny, while Archie ran to the corner shop, to use the telephone.
Jack Duggan was just slicing bacon for a customer, and sorting out the coupons for it, as Archie ran in, breathless. He sensed what Archie wanted, almost before he managed to stammer out a few words of explanation, and led him through to the back of the shop. Archie was thankful that his fire service training meant that he knew how to call an ambulance quickly.
A few moments later, back at the counter, the shop was empty. Jack waved away Archie’s proffered payment. “Och, Archie, if I couldna dae that for a loyal frien’ an’ customer when they’re in trouble… Let me know how she is though, won’t ye?”
Local folk were the salt of the earth, Archie thought. He half smiled, half shook his head in thanks as he made for the door and headed back to Jennie. It was some fifteen minutes later that he opened the door to Fred Wilson, whom he knew well from the past few months. “Hello there, Archie. Hardly recognise you without a tin lid on! What’s to do?”
Fred’s assistant went to fetch a wheelchair as Archie explained what little he knew. Then, as he gently lifted his wife into the chair in response to Fred’s nod, he got a further fright; he realised how much weight Jenny had lost lately. He kicked himself inwardly for not being more observant, then kissed his wife gently. “See you soon, love. Behave for those nurses, won’t you?”
Jenny could only just smile. Archie thanked Fred and his mate for their care, and watched the ambulance drive away. Only then, back indoors, did he succumb to tears. It was the first time he’d wept since the night he visited the children’s ward, back in March.
Lizzie had made tea. Jim came round a few minutes later, carrying a plate of dinner. “Archie, lad, I know you won’t feel much like it, but get this down your inside. Only veggie pudden’ an spam, mind, thanks to Adolf, but ye need to keep yersel’ glued together!”
Archie responded to the squeeze on his shoulder. Truth to tell, he was hungrier than he realised, now. And he’d be cycling up to the hospital as soon as he could.
Later that evening, after he’d been up to the hospital and seen that Jenny was comfortable and being cared for, he visited his warm-hearted neighbours to thank them again, and Jack and Sally Duggan, too. Then, for the first time in years, he went to bed alone.
You can read part nine here.