by Louise Mangos
Favouring the Blitz over the risk of his three daughters marrying Irishmen, Dad brings us back to Putney from Ireland while the war is still in full swing. Betty and I have a date with Paddy and Sean tonight in the West End. The irony is one of them is from Wexford, the other from Ballylicky. Both on short leave. Obviously we haven’t told Dad.
Our other sister Joan is delivering a Lancaster bomber for the Air Transport Auxiliary. It was the first thing she wanted to do when our boat forged its way across the Irish Sea and we stepped off the gangplank. She prefers the thrill of the sky over amorous young soldiers heading to their destinies on the frontline.
We’ll drink a gin for her later.
Betty stands at the bathroom mirror as the light flickers. The crump-crump-crump of bombs approaching London makes me swallow as I tuck my combs into my hair. Betty’s brush hovers over her mascara cake like a flint over the tinderbox. We think of Joan up there in the night sky on her own, no lights, no navigation, no ammunition. Every time Dad learns she’s flying he retreats to his study, withering under the regret of his decision to bring us home.
We finish glossing our lips ruby red, straighten the seams on our stockings and carry our shoes down the stairs to put them on in the porch. I pull the front door closed without making a sound, letting the latch fall softly into the notch. Betty puts her arm through mine and we sashay quietly down the street, knowing we mustn’t add to Dad’s pain.
We are filling the sleepless hours while Joan is flying, praying we will all be round the breakfast table in the morning.
Louise’s novels, short stories and flash fiction have won prizes, have been placed on shortlists and read out on BBC radio. She has published two full-length suspense novels, and her short fiction has appeared in the Mslexia and Firewords Magazines and in several short fiction anthologies. She lives on a Swiss Alp with her Kiwi husband and two sons.