My Name is Eva

Pat sighs again, straightens her back and says, ‘Yes, well, I have to, seeing as I have that responsibility.’ She bites her lip for a moment, then says, ‘I don’t want to cause the family any embarrassment. I’m trying to handle everything carefully. It wasn’t so difficult deciding how to deal with the land and the outbuildings, but the house is a different matter entirely. There’s so much personal stuff stored there, I feel I’ve got to check through all of it. And some of it – well, some of it I’m just not sure about. That’s why I’ve been worrying about the keys.’

She stands up, then bends to kiss her aunt goodbye. ‘Oh well, if I have to force the locks, I’ll just have to. Shame though, as that bookcase is worth a fair bit.’

As she turns to go, Danielle appears in her chef’s whites, her clipboard of menus under her arm. She smiles at Pat, who says, ‘I hear the food has been very good again today, but don’t let her twist your arm into making one of her stodgy old-fashioned puddings.’

Danielle smiles again and says, ‘Mrs T-C has a very good appetite for her age. And she certainly likes her fish. She had fish again today.’

Pat’s smile fades as she stares first at Danielle and then at Evelyn, then she says, ‘But you just told me you had chicken for lunch.’

‘No, I didn’t,’ says Evelyn. ‘I had fish. I expect you weren’t listening to me. You never listen to me.’


17 April 1940

My dearest darling,

Forgive me if I sound just the teeniest bit cross with you, but it is so very hard to stay cheerful when I haven’t the faintest idea where you are and what you are doing. I really do try not to, but I sometimes begin to imagine the most awfully gruesome scenarios and lie awake half the night, thinking I shall never see you again. I know I must try to be positive, and I do, darling, really I do, and of course I just want this wretched war to be over and for you to return to me in one piece.

I think what has rattled me all the more are the things you told me when we had those two blissful days of leave in Ilfracombe last month. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spell it out in this letter, otherwise the censor will come down hard on you and will score through your letters with even more black pencil than before, but you know you did say how you and some of the other chaps are extremely concerned that a ‘certain person’ is gambling with all your lives. He believes ‘the end justifies the means’ you said, but I simply can’t agree. If that means you are being put at risk unnecessarily (and yes, I do realise that war is a risky business and there will be losses) then I shall never think well of ‘he who cannot be named’. How could I, darling, when my precious husband’s life is in his hands? I just hope you can all talk some sense into him for all our sakes. I know you can’t tell me exactly what you are up to, but my guess is that you and the other chaps are performing some of the riskiest, most highly secret operations in this war.

Oh dear, this is all a bit miserable, isn’t it? I promise I shan’t whinge any more, darling. I just want you to know I think of you all the time and long to have you back safely. You have to come through this so we can look forward to all the marvellous plans we have made for our life together, you with your horses and me with my own garden, plus one or two little helpmates of our own in due course. So please take care, my darling, and come home to me safely.

Your dearest wife, Evie Ps I love you xxxx


Mrs T-C, 20 October 2016

Who Can Tell?

She’s at it again. Rosemary Jenkins, over there in the corner. She’s chatting away to a visitor, probably one of the support group workers who come in to help with the musical afternoons. And she’s telling her what she did when she was young during the war. Evelyn can’t quite catch everything that’s being said, but she can certainly pick up the gist of it.

‘You never!’ the visitor gasps.

‘I know. I was never meant to tell anyone,’ Rosemary says. ‘None of us were. All of us had to sign the Official Secrets Act. We thought we’d be court-martialled or even shot if we didn’t keep quiet.’ She giggles. ‘But I don’t suppose I’ll get into trouble now, at my age. My memory isn’t what it was, so I really can’t remember who I’ve told and what I’ve told them.’ They both laugh at this admission.

‘So, where did you work again?’

‘MI5 to begin with, in London. They recruited me first and then later on, I joined MI6.’

‘Ooh, how exciting! And what did you do?’

Rosemary shakes her head. ‘Nothing very important. I’m not sure I was much use. We did a lot of filing mostly.’

‘Oh, come on. There must have been more to it than that.’

Rosemary leans forward, her voice dropping a little. ‘Well, I was on lookout during the war. You see, there were a lot of strange people in London at that time.’ She gives a nod to emphasise these final words and her attentive visitor has a greedy smile, eager for more thrilling revelations. ‘And with my connections, I was invited to all the embassy parties. I was quite the social butterfly.’

Evelyn hears it all quite clearly. Stupid woman. She shouldn’t be saying anything at all. Evelyn will never tell. It just wasn’t the done thing. Once you had promised to keep it secret, that meant, to her, secret for ever. Along with all the other secrets. Perhaps she should pass behind Rosemary’s armchair and lean across to whisper in her ear. The words ‘Treachery Act’ should produce an interesting response.

Another shriek of laughter disturbs Evelyn’s concentration on her crossword. It’s not at all difficult, but she does have to keep her mind on it when she is lightly sketching in the letters, which she will transform with ink in her final version. Today’s puzzle contains more anagrams than similes and she does rather like anagrams; all that shuffling and rearranging reminds her of coding, which was great fun, if a touch headache-making at times when there was such pressure to produce an answer urgently.

And now the music is about to start. Evelyn would really prefer to sit quietly in her own room or one of the other comfortable reception rooms provided by the home, but it is useful to be seen as part of the group, all trying to remember the words to popular tunes. Last month, there was a pianist who was probably more used to playing in a working men’s club as he cheerfully pounded the keys and sang ‘Roll Out the Barrel’. Today, a man has come in to play his ukulele for everyone. Really, as if George Formby was all everyone ever listened to during the war.

Evelyn is rather more fond of classical music, especially the lovely lunchtime concerts at St John’s Smith Square, when she was still able to travel into town on her own. And she had continued attending those concerts even after everything that happened. It was nice to make a day of it. An hour or so of shopping in Peter Jones in the morning perhaps, for a remnant to make new cushion covers, or picking out coloured wools for Pat for her intricate needlepoint. Mid-morning, a nice coffee in their smart café. That and a Danish pastry usually kept her going without lunch.

She sighs; it is rather tiresome not being a free agent any more, relying on the care home’s staff. However kind and helpful they all are, it just isn’t the same as being able to drive to the station after the early morning commuters and the school runs have finished and take the train into London for a matinee or a quick peek at one’s favourites in the galleries. If the weather was fine, after the lunchtime concert she would often stroll along Millbank to the Tate. She particularly liked the Turners and never tired of gazing at Rain, Steam and Speed. Such an atmospheric painting.

And in early summer, there was the Chelsea Flower Show, not when all the public thronged the place, of course, but when it was a members-only day. Hellebores and snowdrops were her favourites; the heralds of spring. But not with Pat. She had taken her once years ago and she was convinced Pat had grown bored only halfway through looking at the show gardens. Maybe that was because Evelyn loved to make notes of the planting schemes and jot down the names of new varieties. Pat was only interested in dog-proof gardens and golf greens. No, it was so much more enjoyable when she went alone and could focus on the beauty of the plants and the skill of the garden designers and specialist nurseries. Evelyn feels a lot of her life has been less complicated when she’s accomplished tasks alone.

And now the music is starting and a song sheet in large print is thrust into Evelyn’s lap. ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’ is engraved on her memory and she knows the lyrics to that and other popular songs off by heart, but she has to be seen to mumble and peer at the printed words as if she is struggling. Her wavering voice joins the other croaking, trembling chords, faint above the rhythm of the music and the pseudo-Lancastrian accent being used by the musician, but grows stronger with the famous chorus.

‘Shall I help you, Mrs T-C?’ asks a kind voice at her side and a hand extends to help her hold the song sheet, then places Evelyn’s crossword on the coffee table and picks up her pencil. Evelyn smiles and allows her helper to guide her through the words, pointing at each phrase with the newly sharpened tip of her pencil. Evelyn likes to keep her pencils sharp; she has found it so very useful in the past.


25 April 1943

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