A Lorna POV piece. I’m not sure it sounds like her, at all. So be warned.
No-one would accuse me of being fond of war. Not with what we’ve seen, what we’ve lived through, my generation and I. When the cost of brothers, cousins, friends and fathers has already numbered in the thousands. The men that started this war, the men who so eagerly pushed us towards yet more killing and death, did they not have brothers and sons and friends and family? They say that Herr Hitler fought in the last war, and I wonder what my Bob saw that he did not, what left one so keen to forget, and the other too keen for more.
But war brings opportunities for those of us left at home. In the first war, that war to end all wars, I took my first job as a conductor on the streetcars. I was only young, just married, and it felt like freedom. I rode the rails all day, my Gene at home with my mother, and came home tired on a Friday, my pocket lightened by the pay slip it held. Of course, the war ended, as all things do, and the men came home. This war is no different. I see the opportunities, all around me, with the girls at the factory, with my Sheila, with myself.
I look, as they work, at the girls on the line. Some, I think, know which opportunities to take and which to leave, know which way they will steer their lives. It’s in the eyes, when they look straight at you. It’s how you trust, I hear, eye to eye, and how I have always known the girls in my care to watch.
I look at Gladys Witham and see, as I know she does too, the life she has before her, the child of wealth and privilege. Her education has taught her the importance of the eyes, bright and confident, in far less time than it took me. I compare her to my daughter, to myself, to the others on the line, and want to wonder what she has to rail against. But I know; and that cannot make me dislike her any less. I look at Betty McRae, looking straight back at me, even keeled, and know that there, but for the perverted grace of God, go I. She is self-sufficient, hard-working, and has set herself at the world in a way I pictured for myself when I was very young. And that just means that there are no shortage of people willing and ready to step on her for it. If I can build her up, in spite of that, if I can show her all the things she does right, men like Russell Joseph will have a harder time breaking her down.
Other girls, I think, are just floating with the tide, waiting gently for fate or destiny or a smartly suited man to take them where it will. I look at Kate Andrews, and the way she avoids my gaze, the way her eyes darted down and away from the locket in my hand. How you trust, and how you know. I will not let that be my girl – Sheila is to be something in the world, I want her to have all that I did not, to be aware of all the opportunities that lay before her, and to know how to take them.
I look, too, at my Bob and see how shut he is to opportunity. How he died, really, out there in that French mud, twenty five years ago. I didn’t realize it, at the time. We were so glad to have him back, when so many had not returned. A million dead in the Empire, and two million wounded, they said. Never again, they said. Yet there are my boys, my Gene and Stan, out in the skies somewhere above the fields in which their father fought and shivered and destroyed himself.
Every time I see my Bob heave himself from chair to bed, and bed to chair, I cannot help a surge of bitter resentment, and I think of how our lives could have been different. Of all the opportunities we took and missed, of the ways each one closed off more opportunities and more after that, and those after that, all the way to now. So there was Marco, young and alive and not a spy, and I thought – this is my opportunity, this is one I can grab, and hold to with both hands. This, this one, this is my opportunity. A brief, fleeting thing, that is all mine and hurts no-one else. It wasn’t like setting a newspaper to catch a traitor, the sacrifice of one for the good of many, or the trading of one girl’s career for another. This time, there was no trade-off, no price to be paid.
I went for it, that opportunity, and for once all my sense, that everyone so highly praises, meant nothing to me. I knew the way other women looked at him, full and heavy with desire, and saw that same look reflected back at me, for the first time since before the mud turned my marriage to its likeness.
The smell of him, the feel of him, pressed up and against and inside me, and I know that I could never have missed this opportunity, and lived comfortably with myself, lived with the knowledge of what I had passed up. When I begin to show, to suspect that I have been caught short by my greed for something of mine, I know that this will end any opportunities he has left. I see them, in my mind, as doors in his face shutting one by one by one, and the hand closing each and every one is always my own. I lie, then, as required, and push him away, push his good-hearted declaration down and tread on it.
Bob knows about the child, I think. My eyes, of late, have not met his, and he and I know the same things about life. But knowing is never the same as being told and I need to tell him, soon, before my changing body tells him for me. But for now, as we lay still side by side in that old and worn out bed, I am just waiting for the right opportunity.