My Name is Eva

I have been thinking I would like to join the A.T.S (they are paying £2 a week, 1/6 food allowance daily & all uniform & board provided) or the Women’s Land Army (you’ve always said you think I look attractive in jodhpurs) or the River Ambulance or something. So I have decided I will go up on Monday & have a look around. The British School of Motoring are offering special courses at reduced fees for women who will do National Service & the Motor Transport Training Corp said when I enquired that they would place me (where secretarial knowledge was useful) if I could get a driving licence, as they won’t take my word for it that I can already drive. They don’t seem to think that pootling around the estate counts if one is driving important officers around. But wouldn’t it be nice if I could get one of those secretary-cum-chauffeuse jobs to a sweet little general or something? Can’t you just see me in a smart uniform, cap at a jaunty angle and all, saluting as I drive past?

Darling, I suppose it is hard for you to understand why I feel I must ‘do my bit’, but it’s like this. Right now, there are opportunities for doing something different, which will never come again. At least I sincerely trust they won’t, but the fact remains that the opportunities are here now. I know you want me to stay where I am safe, waiting for your return, but this war is not like the last one. Women aren’t just sitting at home knitting, or dashing out with white feathers, they are making a real contribution, I know they are. And it feels as if times are changing for us and I want to be a part of that.

I promise I will let you know how I get on and won’t let them send me anywhere hazardous where I might risk not seeing my darling husband when he is finally home on leave and we can spend some precious hours dreaming of having our very own home in the country one day.



Much love, my darling one, with umpteen kisses, Yours, Evie xxxxx Ps I love you xxxxxxx





5





Mrs T-C, 6 October 2016





Keys and Puddings





‘You’ve got your collar all skew-whiff again,’ Pat complains, slipping her hands either side of her aunt’s neck, then turning the collar up and then down again, smoothing the material and pursing her lips. ‘Didn’t you look in the mirror before you left your room?’

‘’Course I did,’ Evelyn says, looking at her niece in her old checked golfing trousers covered in dog hair. ‘Don’t make such a fuss, dear. There’s plenty here worse off than me.’ She nods towards her fellow residents on the far side of the drawing room, asleep in their armchairs.

‘Oh, don’t I just know it! I saw quite a commotion as I was arriving this afternoon. I was standing outside waiting for someone to let me in and there was an old gentleman bashing away at the buttons on the keypad by the door, trying to get out. He was shouting and hollering something about being expected at home for lunch and how he was going to be late. Then one of the staff came along and persuaded him to go back to his room.’

Evelyn sniffs. ‘It’s lucky he didn’t get out then. They’d be in almighty trouble if someone actually escaped.’

‘They certainly would be. It’s their responsibility. I expect they have to change the security codes all the time, just to be on the safe side.’

Evelyn doesn’t correct Pat and tell her she knows the numbers are never changed. One, two, three, four. That’s been the entry code for months, ever since she first arrived at the Forest Lawns Care Home. It shows such a lack of imagination. If she were in charge, she would choose something with a bit of history: 1066, the Battle of Hastings, perhaps, or maybe the Great Fire of London, 1666. That would make it so much more interesting as well as being memorable.

She knows the code is unchanged, because she’s watched the staff tapping at the buttons often enough. If she sees anyone using the keypad as she shuffles through the entrance hall (taking her exercise, she calls it), she deliberately slows down so she can check the code is still the same. She doesn’t like to think that she might not be able to leave when she needs to.

But she can guess why the numbers never change. It’s because the staff think the residents wouldn’t remember the code, even if they were told, so what is the point? Otherwise they’d have to keep reminding each other of the new number and passing it on to approved visitors and volunteers, who are allowed to come and go freely. Too much trouble for them.

Evelyn knows the code, though, but keeps that knowledge to herself. She can’t let Pat suspect or she might wonder how well she remembers other details, so she just says, ‘Probably dear, probably,’ and waits for what might come next.

‘So, have you thought any more about what we were discussing the other day?’ Pat leans forward with an encouraging smile. ‘You know, about the keys?’

Evelyn knows perfectly well what Pat means, but can’t let her think that, so she tries to look mystified before she answers. ‘Keys… what keys are you talking about?’

The smile disappears and Pat frowns. ‘Honestly, it’s so hard trying to get anywhere with you. I asked you on Tuesday if you ever remembered having any keys to that lovely bird’s-eye maple breakfront bookcase. A couple of the drawers are locked and I really don’t want to force them open. It’s such an important and valuable piece of furniture.’

‘It was Mama’s,’ Evelyn murmurs. ‘She kept her letters there. And her diaries. Have you read them?’

‘How can I, if I can’t open the drawers?’

Evelyn’s reply is deliberately slow in coming. ‘I don’t think there’s anything else in there.’

‘You said that last time. But how can you be sure? You can’t remember what you had for lunch half the time. Anyway, you said you’d think about where the keys might be.’

‘Did I?’ Evelyn looks away towards the view of the gardens through the drawing room windows. Smoke is still drifting behind the trees. Anything could be burning there. A bonfire is a very good way of gradually disposing of papers that might prove inconvenient – and other evidence.

‘So, did you think about it? Where the keys might be?’

Evelyn is quiet for a moment, as if she is thinking hard, then says, ‘What about the kitchen drawer? Did you look there? We always threw all sorts of bits and pieces in the kitchen dresser drawer. It was full of junk. They might have slipped down the back.’

‘Of course I tried that drawer, then I tried every other darned drawer in the kitchen, the cellar, the workshop, the whole damn house. Honestly, Aunt Evelyn, the place is a total mess. Please remind me not to leave such a horrendous muddle to my kids when I go.’

‘Then maybe the children would like to have a look around with you, to help you. It would be like a big treasure hunt for them. We always enjoyed a treasure hunt when I was a girl. I remember once, Great-Uncle Will—’

‘Oh, Aunt, really! They’re not kids any more, they’re fully grown adults with important jobs and responsibilities. They can’t take time off work to come and rummage through all your old rubbish. For goodness’ sake, some days I’m sorely tempted to call in house clearance and have done with it. If it wasn’t for the valuables and the family trust, I’d have happily done that straight away.’

Evelyn can see it won’t help matters to let Pat get even more annoyed, so after a few seconds of silence she says, ‘Chicken. I had chicken for lunch today.’

That almost makes Pat smile. ‘Good for you. I’m glad you’re eating well here. You certainly look as if you’re enjoying your food.’

‘I’ve always had a good appetite. Mama always said so. And Mrs Glazier said I had the best appetite of all of us, when we were very young.’

‘Mrs Glazier? She was your mother’s cook or housekeeper, wasn’t she?’ Pat knows that Evelyn can easily be persuaded to talk about the past.

‘Cook mainly, we had Violet to help clean. Mama always said staff were hard to get and keep, but Mrs Glazier was there for years. I loved her steak and kidney pudding and she made delicious apple dumplings. We always had them with custard. Have you ever had an apple dumpling, Pat? Such a treat, I tell you.’

‘No, I haven’t ever had one. And I doubt I ever will now. I don’t think anyone makes that kind of pudding nowadays. It’s all ready-made cheesecakes or packet crumble mix, if anything. Most people don’t have any kind of pudding these days and I certainly don’t need to start eating them.’ She pats her well-padded waist.

‘Oh, we always had a pudding when I was a girl. It wasn’t considered a proper lunch or dinner if there wasn’t a pudding, you know.’ Evelyn pauses, dreaming of puddings past but not forgotten, then says, ‘Have you ever had a Sussex pond pudding, dear? It has a lovely lemon sauce.’

‘No, Aunt.’ Pat sighs. ‘I haven’t had one of those either and I’m really not likely to.’

‘I could ask the cooks here to make one for us, as a treat one day. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? They’re always happy to cater for special requests.’

‘No, no, I haven’t come here to talk about puddings! I need to talk to you about the house and the trust.’

Evelyn knows this, but stares at Pat, then strokes her niece’s hands, as if she means to comfort her. ‘I know, dear. I know and you’ve been very helpful. But I’m not able to get out very much now, you see. I’m sure you’ll make the right decision.’

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