Lucinda bolted upright, pushing her heavy fall of hair back from her eyes. It wasn’t a dream. The distant drone of the RAF bombers grew louder, the powerful rumble of propellers whirling at inconceivable speeds creating a thump, thump, thump that reverberated within her chest. Her hand crept to the other side of the bed. Empty.
She swung her legs over the side and sat for a second, listening to the sound of the planes. The room was dark, the inky blackness relieved by the opaque grey of the window, which in turn was lit by a sliver of moon frozen in the wintry sky. The street lamps were dark; a normal precaution in these most treacherous of days in east London.
The roar of the planes swelled as they passed over head. West, they were headed west.
Her hand curled around the swell of her belly as she stood, stretching her back slowly. She chewed her lip as she shuffled into slippers, then descended the stairs to the kitchen. Maybe she would make a cup of tea and bake a cake to pass the time.
A dirty oil lamp hung on a peg to the right of the kitchen doorway. She scratched the rough side with a match, which flared to life. She poked the match at the wick through the hood then closed it to allow minimal light into the room.
She pushed the kitchen door closed with her foot before crossing the narrow room to tug at the blackout curtain, to assure that it was indeed tight and no light escaped the room.
Lemon. It would be a lemon cake, sunny and bright.
She gathered two lemons from the fridge and placed them on the butchers block beside the fridge. Next, she pulled out two eggs and some milk and placed them beside the fridge.
As she pulled bowls and whisks and measuring cups from the cupboard, she thought about Gerald. Her handsome husband of twenty eight was a flight captain with the RAF. He was considered a veteran, having served in the RAF in the years leading up to the outbreak of this, a second world war.
Her mind wandered back to their meeting, in a pub in Cardiff, as she subconsciously measured out flour, salt, sugar and baking powder into the wooden bowl.
She had been working as a bar maid in her uncle’s pub, serving ale and plowman’s and cod fish fry lunches to the men in off the boats, both fishermen and navy crews.
The door to the pub opened and a crowd of seamen spilled into the pub, chattering like magpies. Eight navy regulars flowed through the door and in their midst bobbed alone airman’s uniform. Gerald was taller than his companions and she spied tousled blond hair as he swept his cap from his head. His twinkling blue eyes met hers and she was lost.
She smiled at the memory, cracking the eggs into a chipped bowl and whipping them by rote, tipping increments of sugar into the eggs and continuing to stir on auto pilot.
He had been so handsome and so dashing, so mature at twenty one compared to her scant seventeen years. They had married six months later, against her mother and father’s advice.
She sliced lemons in half and juiced them into the egg mixture. Grabbing her grater, she zested the peel into the flour and discarded the hulks.
She grabbed a splint and lit it in the lantern’s flame then walked over to the stove, pushing the burning ember into the pilot hole and turning on the gas for the oven. It clicked a few times before a blue flame popped into being in the oven compartment. She doused the splinter in a trickle of tap water and set it aside to dry.
Pulling the kettle close, she filled it from the tap and set it to boil on a burner of the stove top. Her groping hand found her favorite mug in the cupboard and set it on the counter beside the matching tea pot. Earl Grey, always Earl Grey.
She combined the two bowls and stirred, then dumped the sticky contents into a pan dusted with flour and set it on the oven racking, closing the door and setting a timer.
He should be back soon. There were no scheduled runs tonight. So why was he gone? She closed her mind to those thoughts. That path lead to madness and fear. She rubbed her belly again. The baby kicked in response to her touch. She would write in the baby’s journal, anything to fill the time while the cake baked.
She picked up the lantern and carried it over to a small wooden kitchen table, set with two chairs up against the wall papered with a cheerful flowered pattern.
The kettle whistled and she scooped it up off the flame and poured the boiling water into the pot and set the tea ball inside to steep.
Mug and tea pot and milk joined the journal on the table and she settled down to write.
She felt the need to capture these most desperate of times in her baby’s journal. She wanted her child to know about their fear, their terror but also about their love and their joy, from her hand, not from the books that would someday be written about a history yet to be created. She picked up her pen and sank into her writing, pen flying over paper, capturing her fear and hopes, horrors and dreams, pausing only to remove the cake from the oven when the timer sounded.
So absorbed in her writing had she become that she failed to hear the front door open, downstairs.
The kitchen door swung open, startling her. Her head jerked up and in walked her husband, Gerald in his slate blue RAF jacket and pants, pulling a package of cigarettes from the button down pocket on his chest.
She dashed to him and into his arms hugging him tight. He patted her back awkwardly with his left hand, cigarettes still clutched in the right.
“What are you doing up, Cindy?” She kissed him and hugged him fiercely.
“I heard the planes.”
He rubbed her back. “You should have stayed in bed. It was nothing to worry about. Did you hear any sirens?”
She shook her head.
“These are scouting runs, practice runs. You know we have new planes. I told you that.”
She nodded again.
“These evening runs, well,” he looked around and spied her baking “they are a piece of cake! Simple, easy scouting runs. No one is hunting us; no one knows why we are in the air. When the sirens go off, then you should worry.”
He squeezed her again. “Come on, let’s go to bed.” He turned her towards the door, holding her close to his side.
At that moment a piercingly loud siren shattered the quiet. It wailed in increasingly high pitched swells, sending shivers of alarm down Lucinda’s back. They froze; then Gerald grabbed her shoulders kissed her fiercely and whispered “I have to go! I love you!” then dashed away, slamming the door behind him.
Lucinda grabbed the heavy lantern, the baby’s journal and the uneaten cake and ran for the safety their assigned air raid shelter. The house shook as the first of the bombs fell.
“piece of cake” – Idiom
Something easily accomplished, as in I had no trouble finding your house-a piece of cake. This expression originated in the Royal Air Force in the late 1930’s for an easy mission and the precise reference is as mysterious as that of the simile easy as pie.
Possibly it evokes the easy accomplishment of swallowing a slice of sweet dessert.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved
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