Packages tied up with string

“But why do I have to go?!” Wailed Rose Bennet for about the third time that morning as she sat eating a meagre bowl of lumpy porridge at the kitchen table. Her mother was fervently running around stuffing things into a battered satchel, her patience wearing thin

“Because it’s bleedin’ safer for you in the country than having the jerry drop bombs ‘ere and could do with a rest from all yer moaning!” Emily snapped as she stuffed a rather grubby pinafore into the bag. She instantly regretted it though once she saw a tear trailing down Rose’s small face.

She softened immediately and out a boney arm around her daughter’s skinny frame. “You know I didn’t mean that, right love?” She stroked her cheek, “A mum doesn’t ever want to be apart from her kids no matter what.” Rose nodded and hugged her mum back. “A mum just wants her kiddies to be safe.”

She straightened up and dashed away her own tears and picked up the plastic comb and began to run it through her daughters raven hair, she’d given rose a bath last night and used the last of her good shampoo. She didn’t want anyone saying she couldn’t look after her daughter, with each stroke of the brush she wished the war to pass quickly and perhaps then things might be better and they could have a fresh start. The one bedroom flat was sparse; the chairs had wonky legs, the floor full of splinters. Emily had tried to make it homely by lighting a small fire in the grate on the coldest nights, the cream curtains were made from one of her old floral frocks and she’d knitted a nice peach bedspread to cover the lumpy mattress that her and rose shared. Pride of place on the mantle was a photo of the King and a smile came to her lips as she remembered how when Rose was little, she’d pretend that was her daddy. The less said about her real father the better.

Rose had gone in the bedroom to fetch her teddy and battered book of bedtime stories, whilst Emily went in the kitchen and scraped together the last of the jam and stale bread to make Rose a sandwich for the journey and a tin flask of water. She sighed as she gathered together the last few things. She wishes she could afford a full pantry and better clothes for her daughter, she hoped whoever cared for her wouldn’t think Emily a bad mother. Right now though, she just wanted to get this morning over with.

***

Rose was still reluctant to leave her East End but, her mother had found a way to get some toffees and the new Beano which made things a bit easier.

The sky was grey and overcast by the time they reached the school playground, The wind whistled through Roses thin mac. Her tummy began to feel funny and bubbly as she reached her class all lined up ready to walk to the train station. She slipped in beside her best friend Nancy Carter who looked like she’d been blubbing already. Rose couldn’t help feeling envious of her friend’s new coat with what looked like a mink collar and her hair tied back into neat plaits with pink bows. She was just about to ask Nancy if they could sit together on the train but, as she opened her mouth to speak Mrs Gundy, nickname Grumpy blew sharply into a whistle which gave her everybody’s attention.

“Listen, children, has everybody been to the toilet?” A chorus of ‘yes’ answered her. “Good, now mums say goodbye to your children please and don’t fuss.” Emily handed over Roses gas mask and made sure she had her rations and coupons in the front of her bottle green knapsack before enveloping her in a big hug. Naturally, they didn’t tell the families where their children would be sent to which made Emily worry even more. “Now you be good,” she whispered, her voice breaking. “Don’t’cha get into any trouble!” Rose nodded solemnly. Emily smoothed over her daughter’s hair and planted a kiss on her forehead. Rose took in her mothers’ scent of Lilly which she only put on for special occasions and promised to herself that she wouldn’t forget her mothers’ scent or smile.

As Rose gave her mother one last kiss before she turned her back and went into line. Lilly pressed a threadbare hankie to her eyes praying that her baby would be kept safe. Mrs Gundy blew her whistle again as it was time to go.

Emily kept her eyes on her daughter until she was way out of the school gates. It was as if they were little mice being led by the pied piper.

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