Time like the present
Arthur inspected himself: shirt, pullover, trousers (with belt), and sock. Just the one sock. The other was stranded on the end of his foot like a piece of flotsam at high tide, a pixie hat of ruched wool with a holly pattern woven into it. Bugger! Arthur took a deep breath, coughed rousingly, and geared up for another assault. Rocking himself forwards in his seat, he rode the impetus towards his target, now illuminated by a sliver of sunlight angling in between the still closed bedroom curtains. Aha – a bomber’s moon! In my sights now, slight course correction at Knee Joint, Danny giving it everything in the rear gunner’s bay, RAT TAT TAT! Old girl had better hold out or we’re done for. And it’s a direct hit! Back to Blighty in time for tea! He pinched the recalcitrant sock between finger and thumb and hauled it downwards and then upwards to dock with the cuff of his long johns. Three Six Three squadron counted home, all present and correct, Sir! He dropped back into the chair, huffing a little from the exertion, and closed his eyes for a moment, half a salute hovering in the air.
‘You decent, Arthur?’ It was Allie; cheery, bustly, and somewhat rotund due to her having a face like a starved puppy around people’s chocolate supplies. ‘Sarah’s all dressed up and ready for her date,’ she said, pulling back the curtains and eyeing up the biscuit tin Arthur kept on his dresser. He noticed but said nothing. Often, she would bring her tea in with his and they would share a dunk on a Saturday morning, but not today. Today was special. Arthur’s thoughts flickered like an old film, re-winding, cutting and splicing, bringing up the colour. A soundtrack crept in alongside on syncopated soft shoe shuffling patent pumps. Jazz and boogie; all the girls in ration-shortened dresses and glowing with excitement at the prospect of meeting a handsome sailor or a soldier, or even an airman.
‘Need a hand out of that chair?’ Allie was standing, hands on ample hips and head cocked over to one side in professional evaluation.
‘Got rope and tackle?’ Arthur winked back. ‘Thought not. Right then …’ and he began rocking back and forth to gather momentum. ‘Let’s see. How soon. I can reach. Escape velocity!’ And he was upright. Allie slid a hand under the blue blazer that had been laid out on the bed, military insignia neatly pinned to the lapel, and held it out behind for Arthur to slip his arms into.
‘I bet you were a right looker, in your day,’ she beamed, turning him round and fussing like a proud nanny over a child in his new school uniform. She smoothed down the pockets and pulled the shining buttons towards their targets. ‘I bet Sarah had to fight off the competition, alright.’ Arthur raised an eyebrow and mustered a twinkle. ‘Ready for your Christmas lunch then? Table for two, Sir, right by the window!’ She offered her arm.
‘Thank you, Allie, but not today,’ Arthur replied, not looking at her, looking instead at the man in the mirror. ‘Today I will get there under my own steam.’ Face: shaved, no nicks. Check. Collar: crisp. Check. Tie: neatly knotted and centred. Check. He felt in his pocket for the little box with its smooth edges and precious cargo. ‘You get, on, I’ll be there in a minute.’ The man in the mirror looked back; blond hair slicked and brylcreemed into place under his precariously balanced cap, eyes ready to burst into life with the telling of a rambling story that might or might not be true, the faintest of smiles threatening to crack the carefully assembled military carapace supposed to add gravitas to his bare eighteen years. Time to go.
The young airman straightened his back, tugged down his uniform jacket. Then, cap tucked under his arm, he made his way down the corridor into the hall with its flags and bunting, and across the crowded dance floor towards the best girl in the room.
(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2011