Marita’s head lowered, shamefaced. The soldiers had teased and wheedled, drawing attention to Marita’s bouncy curls that were “black as a raven’s wing”. They praised her petal soft cheeks’ that “an angel would envy” and teased Betsy Lynn about the cute up tilt of her freckled nose.
“Two such charming girls should not be allowed to shrivel up “like dried old apples”,” Randall declared. Finally, laughingly, Marita had given in, just as Randall unwrapped a sweet and popped it into her mouth.
“Just this once,” she had sputtered trying to speak sternly, but had dissolved into giggles. She had to resort to covering her mouth to keep from drooling! She couldn’t recall where Betsy Lynn and the other soldier had drifted off to. They strolled away in a different direction while Marita trotted along beside a soldier who chivalrously carried her books! They walked for a long time, Marita unconsciously detoured the areas of most severe bomb damage. It had been so easy to prattle lightly about many things, and forget the heavy cares of a war going on at least for the, but finally, feeling wonderfully weary, they collapsed on a sheltered park bench in a common.
Randall unceremoniously dumped her books on the grass beside him. When he reached for her in, what struck her as a rather possessive manner, Marita shrank back feeling ill at ease. He quickly released her, but left his arm resting on the back of the bench. Marita worried out loud about not going directly home after school when she saw how dusky it was getting. What if the air raid siren had gone off? Would my parents have been anxious? Secretly she hoped so, but was afraid they would have been more angry than anxious. Even though it was her final year at the secondary school, her mother had many ironclad rules to keep her in line and her father meekly submitted to them. Coming straight home was one of the ordinances. She knew very well there would be more waiting her than gentle concern or even a stern reproof for not showing up promptly, How was I supposed to have gotten out of the difficult situation I was in?
“Oh well, the damage is done,” Randall grinned mischievously. “If you’re going to get into trouble anyway, you might as well make it worth their while. ‘Why not go out for supper- I mean High Tea with me? I’ll treat you to steak, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding…kidney pie, or whatever your British appetite is craving.”
Marita had doubted that even the more “swish” restaurants could offer such swell fare. After all these are difficult times. Her mouth watered at the prospect of a delicious meal after so many months of severe rationing.
“If you will allow me to ring up Mum from the pub you are taking me to,” she bargained. He cheerfully agreed. Marita remembered shrinking back in embarrassment as her mother’s strident voice carried over the wire. How many of those patrons heard the dressing-down I got? How did I ever have the nerve to go against my mother’s demands? she mused. In her heart she knew she had been so taken up with the thrill of being with Randall; or was it deeper…even that early in their relationship?
The scene that occurred after the dance was one that she would rather blot from her memory, but that was impossible. The anger! The mistrust! The accusations! Doesn't Mum have any faith in me at all? Why couldn’t Dad have said just one word in my favor? I had never defied their wishes before! Had they not taught me to be uncommonly obedient? She also remembered apologizing, but it hadn’t been well received. It had been a relief to finally slip off to her dreary attic bedroom, when her mother had turned on Dad.
Randall’s charisma had been such a bright contrast to her mother’s cold rigidity, and Dad’s pale personality, that she felt suffused in radiance and the fragrance of flowers whenever they had gotten together after that. Well maybe the lovely perfume he had had so much fun purchasing for her had something to do with the mesmerizing affect.
Over the following weeks Marita had become increasingly impatient with what she called her elderly parents’ medieval ways. On the other hand, it worried her that Randall’s gaiety sometimes came from a bottle. She let her mind drift back to how stirring it was to meet his deep penetrating gaze, and knew what it felt to be intensely in love.
Marita’s physical distress brought her back to the present. Sighing despondently, she pressed her fingers against her throbbing temples. A wave of nausea reached her throat, making it sting. Almost before she knew what was happening, Marita was vomiting violently over the side of the ship. When she started, she couldn’t seem to stop. Even after her stomach was relieved of all its contents, her reflexes were still heaving. Weakly she collapsed to her knees, grasping the rail with one hand. Her red plaid dress swirled around her knees as her chin sank against her chest. But really…am I good for nothing? Am I really that wicked? she asked herself once again while gazing at nothing in particular. Twin spots of color flamed her cheeks. She felt so distressed. We are married;( Only at the court house, to be sure, but married none the less. Mum and Dad wouldn’t put on a wedding, so we had to do it that way.) Marita started shivering violently because of the snappy sea breeze. A surprised look crossed her upturned face as something pleasantly warm and cozy settled around her shoulders.
“Why don’t you sit down, Mrs. Smith,” a fellow war bride invited, leading her to a deck chair.
Marita looked up in surprise. “How did you know my name?”
“When I saw your distress, I asked around.” The woman gently tucked the royal blue/sky blue and white blend shawl around her shoulders. “I’ll ask a Red Cross nurse for something to settle your stomach. You stay right here.”
The corner of Marita’s mouth curved slightly upwards. As if I have the strength to go anywhere else. Marita tucked her delicate looking hands under the shawl. Who could this warm hearted young woman be? I love her chocolate colored eyes and gorgeous golden brown hair. I love that fresh, country girl look about her…especially the freckles! They make her look so carefree. Her face clouded over; which is exactly what I’m not any more.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Smith, I didn’t find a nurse but here’s a glass of water and a blanket. To say you are looking greenish wouldn’t be exactly complimentary but it’s the truth!”
Marita smiled wryly “If I feel this unwell now, what would it be like if a storm comes up?” A nippy wind was blowing in, sending white caps scurrying towards them. Margaret wondered if Marita might be in the family way but didn’t comment on it.
“Don’t worry about the weather, Marita, it may be just fine.”
“That’s better,” Marita grinned. “I thought you were going to ‘Mrs. Smith’ me all the time! Hey, I just graduated, I feel too young for that!”
The young lady gave her a teasing looking. “I figured “Mrs. Smithing” you would perk you up. Let’s get acquainted. I’m Margaret,” she continued,” Officially known as Mrs. David Seifert,” she winked. “I’m a newlywed and on my way to join my husband in Halifax.” Her friendly brown eyes sparkled with joy. “He’s a soldier, but is on furlough now because of a serious injury.” She stretched out on a vacant deck chair beside Marita. “He’s in a hurry to get back as soon as he is healed. He is devoted to Canada even though he was born elsewhere, as much as we are devoted to merry old England. He hates dictators, or rather what they do. We married in my home town of Lower Blossomby, and he sent for me so that I could be settled in my new home before he returns.”She leaned back in the deck chair and crossed her hands behind her head. “It’s a relief to finally be crossing the ocean.”
A bevy of girls strolled past them, and stopped to chat. After they continued on their way, Margaret added; “It took ages and mountains of paper work before I was approved for departure. Here, let me tuck this blanket around your legs better. That wind is nippy. Do you know what? I’m going to have an instant family! David was a widower with two small children when I met him. I've never even seen the kiddies, yet! Oh, I do hope they will like me!”
“You’ll make a good Mother,” Marita said reassuringly. “How old are they?”
“Two and four. Sally turns three on August 22 and David Junior will turn five on August l9 so that makes them 2 years apart.” A faraway look came into her eyes; “It must have been a sad, sad day for their family when Janet died of pneumonia. David wasn’t even home at the time! He was overseas.”
“But at least they’ll have you,”
“Thank you. Now tell me about yourself. I’m such a blabbermouth once I get started, but I really do want to hear about your life. Are you staying in Nova Scotia, also?”
The blast of a horn made them jump.” Life boat drill!” someone called. An officer started to bark orders and they were reminded once again of the seriousness of sailing during war time. They quickly realized that lifeboat drill would become as regular a part of their journey as blacking out the windows at night had been back home, and would continue to be until they reached the safety zone.
Several hours later Margaret was relaxing on her lower bunk, and motioned for Marita to make herself comfortable on a nearby chair.
“Where will you be living when you reach Canada?” she asked.
Marita’s face clouded over. She was dreading the strange unknown future that awaited her after they docked. It seemed easier to deal with by blocking it from her mind, but hated to offend Margaret by not answering.
“I’m going inland.” Her voice dragged. “I’ll be taking the transcontinental out west to a place called Deer Flats. Somewhere way out in Alberta where ever that is, but I can’t even begin to imagine what it will look like over there."
"Would you rather not talk?" Margaret leaned forward to look into her eyes. "Am I being too inquisitive?”
Marita’s eyes curved sideways. “I like listening to you.” I couldn’t tell her how it cuts me up to hear about such a loving family! And I really do want to listen to her, she thought defensively.
“Really? But I’d like to hear your story!”
“Maybe later. Tell me more about your family. You seemed to have had such a jolly home.”
A subdued type of quietness lingered between them. Margaret hesitantly broke it.
“Yeah, I guess we did. I took it too much for granted especially when I was younger.” She dabbed at her eyes. “I miss them…alot…You’re right, we were really close. There were only the four of us. Mumsey, Dad and my brother Richard. He’s in the air force somewhere.” She smiled at Marita’s reflection in the mirror. “Just like a swot, he doesn’t keep in touch very good. Unless it’s because…” her voice trailed off, then she abruptly changed the subject.” Why were your parents so opposed, Marita?”
“How can I know why?” Marita snapped. Her chin jutted outwards as she tried to force back the tears. “They wouldn’t even speak to me after we were married! Literally.” (At least Mum wouldn’t)she amended to herself. “Dad tried, a little, but I foolishly gave him the cold shoulder. “I was stuck living with them because Randall was stationed in France. They would have kicked me out if there was a place for me to go!”
Margaret’s dark brown eyes, glinted with gold, widened. “Oh, Marita! Was it that bad?”
“It was worse, “Marita looked grim. “It was bad enough being so lonesome—and heartsick for Randall without any support from my parents, but there was other things. Remember the air raids? Of course you do! They terrified me! Hearing those sirens was enough to make my hair stand on end!”But she wasn’t saying what really bothered her about the air raids. If I could of snuggled close to my parents or at least held their hands,…or even just felt their sympathy, it wouldn’t have been so awful! But to sit alone in the dark with those horrible bombs going off—and not knowing where—let alone how—Randall was doing, was enough to make my blood run cold!”
Margaret nodded in sympathy. “It was because of all the bombings that David urged me to leave now; immediately,; before the war is over. We almost chickened out when we found out about that shipload of children being sunk—the poor dears- but our papers were completed so,” she lifted her hands expressively, “here I am! I am nervous about being hit by a submarine, but David is convinced it would be more dangerous to stay in England. I hope he’s right! “She paused, then added thoughtfully. “We should be okay. if it didn’t leak out to the wrong people when we were leaving.” She toyed with her spoon, wondering; should I tell her that I’m trusting God to carry us through? but didn’t feel brave enough.
“Loose lips sink ships,” Marita whispered, peering fearfully at the far horizon through the small, round porthole. “Didn’t it make you a little nervous that they told us to keep off the decks after life boat drill today? I wonder if they spotted something that they’re not telling us about? I suppose we should feel safe with the convoy of ships around us, but I don’t.” She tucked the blackout cover securely around the window then resumed her sitting position.
“Were you from London also?" Margaret shook her head. “There was a lot of bomb damage done in our area of London,” Marita continued, “probably because it is such an important city. Heaps of buildings were wrecked. Randall was frantic. He wanted to evacuate me weeks ago but…” she sealed her lips. She didn’t want to voice the rest of the thought out loud. He could never communicate peaceably with Mum so there was sort of a deadlock. Marita sighed and her shoulders sagged. All the fire of bitterness seemed to have gone out of her spirit, leaving a weary, discouraged look on her pale features. “Tell me about Randall,” Margaret invited.
Marita smoothed down her hem. “Well, he’s nice…and handsome…”
“Oh come onnn. He must have swept you off your feet by something more concrete than that!” Marita couldn’t help but smile. Then her eyes lighted up in a reminiscent sort of way.
“Yeah…you’re right. He’s a charming man, awesome… The most handsome guy alive!… A real neat person to be with. Funny, too.”
“Soo?” Margaret teased. “David is to. Anything more definite?”
“He has the most gorgeous auburn hair with high-lights of gold.”
“Ohh. So you married him for his hair!” Margaret pretended to be scandalized. “What if he goes bald?”
Marita gave her a playful punch, something she would have never done to anyone in her mother’s presence.
“Redheads never go bald,” she retorted glibly.
“Oh, is that so?” Margaret teased. “I don’t think you have your facts straight.” Marita didn’t care.
Someone opened and closed a series of doors. The aroma of sausage and onions followed him upwards. It was an assistant from the kitchen, they supposed. He knocked at each cabin door in their section, announcing supper.
“Do you want to go right away, or wait for the second setting?” Margaret asked.
“I’ll wait,” Marita replied, holding her stomach, “Although I don’t know if I’ll feel any better, later.”
“I don’t feel the best either,” Margaret looked a little white around the gills.
The girls sat in companionable silence for awhile. Marita glanced covertly at her new found friend.She seems so loving. Can she really be as sincere as she appears?Was Margaret shocked by anything I’ve said? Will she gossip? Dare I reveal more? Lying there, with her ankles crossed, and her hands locked behind her head, Margaret looked so gentle and calm. She claimed she talked too much, but it was not loud meaningless chatter. Even the times they had nothing to say, Marita felt relaxed in her company. Margaret was wearing a forest green two piece outfit. If she hadn’t laid her hands across her abdomen, she would have barely showed. The joyful, yet tender look on her face revealed that she was very happy. Marita assumed that included being glad to be carrying David’s child.
The petite teenager had qualms about her own pregnant condition. It was difficult being in the family way when the baby’s Daddy was not even around. It made it so much worse that her own Mum was coldly aloof. One of the many thing she had to do on her own was to see a doctor. Marita wished she could forget how embarrassed and uncomfortable she had been with the whole procedure. Dr. McIntire had strongly suspected that she was carrying twins, and an X-ray two days before she left confirmed it. But I didn’t tell anyone!
Cautiously at first, then more freely, Marita started sharing more and more of what was on her heart after they went down to eat. She marveled at her open-heartedness until Margaret explained that lots of people were laying down their barriers ‘during these trying times’ and getting closer to others.
Marita nodded. “It’s the Dunkirk spirit.”
Margaret grinned: “We Britishers know how to pull together when the need is greatest.”
Long after the supper dishes were cleared away, the girls continued visiting while sipping tea. A concerned waiter had provided them with a full pot of their favorite English beverage from which they replenished their cups now and then.“How did you feel when you found out you were expecting?” Margaret asked.
“I was thrilled…at first. I was madly in love with Randall and thought it would be so special to have a little boy just like him.”
Margaret quirked a puzzled eyebrow at the use of the past tense in Marita’s statements, but didn’t interrupt. “I hoped he would be deliciously cute with auburn hair just like his Daddy. I could hardly wait until he—Randall I mean, could have a weekend pass so I could share the wonderful news. It was all I could think of!” She played with one of her dark curls which had fallen over her slender shoulders.
“It was a lonely time when he was gone,” she concluded simply.
Margaret nodded sympathetically. Marita was quiet for a while as if not sure whether to continue, then added hesitantly;” I’m still shocked by his reaction, ‘A BABY! So soon! Good grief, what were you thinking? He had been striding back and forth across the room when he said that, then he stopped and sort of sneered at me. ‘Ohh-h, so you’re gonna be a Mama, eh? That’s what you really wanted! No more time for flirting with Randall, eh? “You just got married so you could have a baby, didn’t you?’ I tried to insist that he would always have first place in my life, but he sort of sneered and acted as if he didn’t believe it. Then he took his beret and left! I’m just heartsick!” ‘He hadn’t even kissed me good bye’, Marita admitted secretly, but certainly wasn’t about to tell anyone, not even Margaret! “Maybe it worried him. After all there is a war going on, and everything.”But Marita was not listening. “It was only eight -thirty!,” she continued; “He didn’t have to leave ‘til the next morning! Why was he so upset about me getting pregnant? I thought he would be overjoyed! That got me so worried”
She remembered throwing herself on the bed and sobbing so hopelessly that her Dad had come and tried to reason with her, but she had been crying too hard to be consoled. “I might have calmed down eventually if Mum hadn’t marched in right then and started scolding.Margaret laid a comforting palm over Marita’s hand.
"Some people don’t know how to show sympathy and caring.”
Marita’ twisted away. “That’s not Mum’s excuse.”
She abruptly changed the subject in that impulsive way of hers. “I had all those piles of forms to fill out, and Mum refused to help me. Not one bit. (Those papers from the government, y’know?) I was so bewildered about it all, that I finally turned to a former school marm for assistance.”
Margaret nodded. “Yes, I got a stack to.”
“I guess they wanted to know if we were worthy to be Canadian citizens,” Marita was sounding bitter again, which made Margaret’s heart ache. “What really made me feel like crawling under the rug was when they asked if I had to get married. I’m glad I could honestly say ‘no”’.She removed the quilted tea cozy and poured herself another cup, then slowly stirred in several teaspoons of sugar. She obviously wasn’t thinking about what she was doing.
“About those papers; I hardly knew if I should fill them in or not.” She glanced furtively around the basically empty dining room, then dropped her voice to a whisper, “I began to wonder; ‘What if he had deserted me?’ I hadn’t heard from since he went to France, not that that necessarily means anything. Then I heard that he had to go back to Canada for some reason, but never could figure out why! It left me in quite a dither. Eventually I did find out that he had been saving a good portion of his pay check to pay the $200 required. You know about that?” Margaret nodded.
Marita tasted her tea. “EHH, this tea is gross.” She shoved it aside. “So I filled ‘em out. What else could I do? He better not mind when I land on his doorstep!”
“Are you pretty scared?” Margaret asked gently.
Marita’s wide gray-blue eyes gave her away. With shiny raven black hair framing her pale, delicate face, she looked too fragile to face the harsh realities life had thrown at her.Margaret longed to shield Marita from suffering. It made her feel a little odd to be having such maternal feelings, so rose as if to leave. But Marita had so much bottled up trouble just bursting to get out. She gripped the edge of the table, stark fear staring out of her eyes. Margaret sat down again. She tucked a straying strand of aureate brown hair back into place then focused her attention on her young friend. Marita’s face had gone ashen.
“Margaret! Did I tell you about the rumors?”
“No. What rumors?”
“That Randall is a ‘lady’s man’. That he’s given to tippling! That he lived a wild life! How come I didn’t find out sooner? Oh, Margaret, what if it’s true?”
“Then you’ll just have to love him out of it.”
“But what if I can’t?
“But you must!” Margaret closed her eyes momentarily, took a deep breath, then leaned forward. “Marita, listen to me. Have you ever prayed to God? He can give you the strength in time of need.”
“God?” Marita lifted her hands in a helpless gesture, “What can He do?” She glanced at the blackout curtains on the portholes. “He obviously has too much to do as it is.” The big, round faced clock on the wall caught her attention. It was getting late. Almost midnight, but it felt even later. It was time to go.
The next morning Marita woke up feeling dull and despondent. I’ve taken my heart and hung it on display for the entire world to gawk at. How can I ever feel comfortable around Margaret, again? She slunk past Margaret in the corridor, all the while pretending to be fascinated by the tilt of a steward’s jaunty white hat.
Margaret watched her with amusement, touched with pity. She’s embarrassed about telling me so much. Oh, well, I’ll just give her the space she needs until she’s in the mood to talk again. What Marita hadn’t realized however, was that Margaret was more than just a kind, sensitive young lady. Her father was pastoring in a small town church, and Margaret had learned much through observation about being gentle with the fragile feelings of others. She seemed to understand what Marita was going through, so gave her the space she required. Margaret was gracious if they chanced to meet, but did not impose herself on the troubled youth.
It was not long until Marita could feel her icy wall of reserve melting. She had no reason to suspect that Margaret was spreading ugly stories about her, even though with so many idle girls around it could have been a tempting opportunity to do so. Besides, Marita desperately needed somebody to talk to. Marita felt somewhat alienated from the other war brides since she was so much younger than most, and many of the others had one, if not two children around their feet. Besides they were excited about reaching Canada, and she wasn’t.
One day she and Margaret had been strolling up and down the corridors without anything better to do. Marita finally made herself comfortable in a sitting area. Soon a ship officer strode up to her and asked if she knew where Mrs. Margaret Seifert was. Marita pointed to the railing where Margaret was letting the breeze toss her floating hair. The uniformed worker went to Margaret and seemed to be conversing in low tones with her. Marita saw her eyes widen as she pressed her hands against the front of her skirt.
“Lower Blossomby, bombed! Are you sure?”
The man nodded. “A radio message just came in. The Methodist church was hit during Wednesday night prayer meeting—” Marita hurried over and clutched Margaret’s arm.
“Oh, Marita! It was bombed! The church was…” Several hands reached out to Margaret before she collapsed to the floor. As Margaret was laid on a stretcher and glided swiftly but gently to her dorm, the officer matched his steps with Marita’s.
"Are you a good friend of hers?"
Marita nodded, speechless.
“When she awakens could you tell her that someone wired for more information and there were seven casualties, including her parents. Break the news gently please.”
Marita swallowed hard, and her eyes brimmed with tears. “I
will,” she replied, but her voice trembled.