Elsie attends a funeral.
“Are you all right, Elsie?” Ronnie asked, seeming concerned by my reaction to the bad news.
The initial shock had started to wear off and I managed to compose myself, realising that Ronnie’s loss was greater than mine. “Yes, I’m sorry about that but it was a terrible shock. I didn’t know your friend Chalky for long, but I could tell what a lovely man he was.”
“Do you want me to see you home? We will have to leave now because I am on duty this afternoon.”
“No, I’ll walk up.” I didn’t want to delay him. I knew if he was late reporting in, he would get into serious trouble. I felt as if I wanted to be alone anyway and I didn’t want to get home looking in a distressed state. The walk would give me time to sort my head out.
“I can call at your house some time after dark and we can go for a drive. If you want to.”
“Oh, yes, I want to. I’ll see you later then.” The parting kiss was brief. Not only because there were many people about, but we both did not feel in the mood. Maybe later we would feel better.
I got home and sat with Aunt Maud in the kitchen. She was sorry to hear about Chalky even though she had never met him.
“Why did it have to happen to him?” I said.
“That’s something I wanted to speak to you about anyway, Elsie.”
I was puzzled wondering what she was about to say.
“I know you think a lot about Ronnie, but you need to try to distance yourself a little. Don’t go getting silly about him.”
“What do you mean by that, Aunt Maud?”
“Those fighter pilots are doing a brave but very dangerous job. Lots of them, and I mean lots, are killed.”
“Are you saying that Ronnie will be killed?”
“No. What I am saying is that his chances of surviving if the war continues for many years, is slim, and you need to realise that.”
“Don’t want to hear any more, thank you. Ronnie is a good pilot, a skilful pilot. They all say that at the base.”
“I suppose the chap who was killed was also a good and skilful pilot.”
“I’ve heard enough. I’m going to my room. Can you call me when Ronnie gets here?”
“I don’t mean to upset you, Elsie, but think about what I’ve said.”
“You can’t upset me anymore than I am already.” I hurried up to my room and collapsed onto my bed looking up at the ceiling. Maybe I could have a word with Ronnie and get him to give up the flying and get a desk job or something. Would that be possible? I don’t know, but it is a thought. My mind went on to nicer thoughts as I imagined us getting married in a small country church. With those thoughts I dropped off to sleep.
When it got dark I walked back down and sat with Aunt Maud and Alice listening to the radio. Uncle Stan was out doing his duty in his van. Our earlier conversation was not mentioned and we got on as normal. I went outside. The siren was not sounding but I could hear the distant explosions over in London and saw that the sky was turning that horrible flickering orange-red colour. I wish Ronnie would show up and then I would know he was safe.
I was back inside and the mantle clock was striking eleven. Uncle Stan was still out and Aunt Maud and Alice were getting ready to go up to bed. I heard a quick hooter sound outside. I went to the door and saw Ronnie in his car. “I’m just popping out for a drive with Ronnie.”
“What, at this time of night?” Maud said.
“We have to spend time when we can. He is flying or on standby most of the time.”
“Still, it does not seem right. You had better take a door key.”
I got in the car and the atmosphere had improved a lot. Chalky was still on our minds but we knew life has to carry on. “Do you want me to drive?” I asked him, but did not have much hope.
“Not of a night, Elsie. I know you can drive okay after the few lessons you’ve had, but it is different at night. It’s dangerous without lights.”
“What, as dangerous as flying an aeroplane?”
“I suppose the public bars will be closing now,” I said. “So what shall we do?”
“We’ll think of something. The important thing is that we are together.”
We were not driving long before Ronnie pulled up beside a small village green. Right away we engaged in a passionate kissing session. We continued the embrace for a few minutes before I decided to come up for air.
“Were you up flying today?” I asked.
“Of course. I am up every day.”
“I was thinking. Maybe you could apply for a job on the ground?”
“What! Give up flying, are you mad?” Although Ronnie gave a brief laugh, it seemed to be sarcastic.
“Don’t talk to me like that. I am worried sick about you especially after what happened to Chalky.”
“I won’t give up flying, even if I was allowed to. I would be accused of cowardice.”
“That is ridiculous. There are lots more air force people on the ground than in the air.”
“And they are not pilots. Look, Elsie, I know you mean well but don’t ask me to give up flying, because it’s not gonna happen.”
Where do I go from here? I thought. He is angry and I have never seen him angry before. “Don’t you care about me, or how I feel?”
“Don’t be ridiculous of course I care about you. But you have to except what I do. It’s not gonna change so you might as well get used to it. Now let’s stop this silliness and change the subject.”
“Yes, silliness. So can you take a morning off next week and if I get time you can have another drive of the car?”
“Yeah, Wednesday, we are not busy on Wednesday.”
“That’s a date then. By the way Chalky’s funeral is on Thursday afternoon. I won’t be able to go as it is a bit later in the day and I’ll be on standby. Of course you don’t have to go but you can if you want to.”
I thought of Chalky and the time when I was on the back of his motorbike. What a thrill it was and what a thoroughly nice chap he was too. “I’d like to go, Ronnie. And it’ll be as if I’m representing you as well.”
“I’ll be pleased with that. Whyteleafe Church; it is just up the hill on the left as you walk up to the air base. It’s getting late. Better get you back home or you’ll be getting a reputation.”
“Who cares?” I said it, but of course I do care; I just want to spend more time with Ronnie tonight.
“I care,” he said. He gave a quick kiss on my cheek and started the car’s engine. “Let’s go.”
Wednesday’s driving session went well. I felt I was now such a good driver that I could drive one of my dad’s taxies when I returned to London. I was hoping for an intimate time with Ronnie afterwards but he had to go back to the base. It is a wonder that we get to see each other at all with all the time he has to be on duty. Still, that’s his job.
I went to Chalky’s funeral on Thursday afternoon. There was a lot of folk there. Some family of course but also plenty from the air base. Some of his obvious family were openly crying in their grief. I felt like crying myself but managed to keep control. I noticed an RAF sergeant looking over at me a few times and eventually he walked over.
“Elsie,” he said. “You’re Ronnie’s girl.”
“You could say that, or you could say Ronnie’s my boy.” The man laughed. I suddenly recognised him but I had never seen him laugh before. “George. The man at the guardroom.”
“Only occasionally. I’m an airframe fitter but have to do my bit at the gate.”
“Oh, does Ronnie do his bit at the gate as well.”
“Goodness me no. Aircrew don’t do guard duty. They are far too busy.”
“Well it’s good talking to you, but I have to go now,” I said. I wanted to go because I felt as if he were about to chat me up and I didn’t want that.
“I just want to say that I’m sorry if I seemed to be a bit harsh the other day. I didn’t know at first who you were.”
“That’s all right. Just doing your job. After all, I could have been a Nazi spy.”
George laughed. “It’s just you called at the wrong time and there was a bit of a flap on.”
“You should laugh more often, George. You look almost human when you do.”
George laughed again. “I’m sorry George. That’s just me trying to be funny. Ronnie said that he might not make the funeral but I was hoping he would.”
“No, the flight is doing a sweep over on the French coast. They won’t be back for a while.”
That’s just what I didn’t want to hear. I know he is a fighter pilot but I try not to think about what he actually does. “Well, I’ll get off then.”
“Do you want a lift back to town? I have a car outside.”
“No thanks’. I can get the bus.”
“Okay, I’ll tell Ronnie I’ve seen you and give him your love when he gets back.”
“Thank you, George.”
“If he gets back.”
My smile turned into a hostile stare and I turned and walked away. I had the impression that George was a nice man, but I was wrong. He’s nasty, a nasty man and his words have upset me more than attending Chalky’s funeral has. Ronnie is doing a sweep, whatever that means. Now I am worried.