SHORT STORY: Kath’s Clever by David Dunford

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Here is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub

June 1944. Bert sat on the park bench waiting for Kath and wondering if he’d be involved in this D-Day thing he’d heard about. Then he caught sight of her. She smiled when she saw him but it was not the smile she used to give him.

‘I can’t say as I’ve ever got on with your family lad, but your mum’s always been pleasant enough to me. There’s only Kath, father and me here, but your mum’s had six to bring up and you don’t look too badly britched I’ll give you that.’

‘Christ, she’s lovely,’ he thought ‘and I’ve got to go back to barracks tomorrow’.

She sat beside him and he knew what she was going to say.

‘It’s got to be tonight Bert, what with you going back tomorrow.’

‘Come round about half-past seven when mum and dad have had their dinner. They’ll be in a better mood then,’ said Kath.

Eighteen-year-old Bert, wide-eyed and pale, was scared stiff.

‘Are you sure...’

‘Of course it’s yours Bert. What sort of girl do you think I am?’

‘I didn’t mean that Kath. I meant are you sure you’re...’

‘Bert, I’ve missed two... Oh, you wouldn’t understand. Just come round our house at half-past seven. I’ll tell mum you’re coming.’

‘Bert’s coming round after dinner mum,’ said Kath as she ate her meal. Mum just looked at her as Kath tried to avoid her gaze.

‘Were you sick when you got up this morning my girl?’

‘No mum,’ lied Kath, much too quickly. Dad continued eating, missing the significance of it all.

Kath felt herself colouring up as mum kept looking at her. She was saved by a knock at the front door.

‘That’ll be Bert, I’ll go.’

Bert couldn’t stop his leg shaking. Kath stood alongside him, both parents looking at them, he couldn’t get the words out.

‘,’ he muttered. Mum could stand it no longer.

‘You’re expecting, aren’t you my girl?’

Kath just nodded.

‘You dirty...’ roared dad rising from the table

‘Now now father we won’t get anywhere like that,’ said mum quickly stepping between them. Bert took a step back and only just stopped himself from hiding behind Kath.

‘I’ll knock the … block off...’

Mum took a step closer to dad, pointed a finger at his chest and looked him in the eye.

‘Now John, don’t take on – remember we were lucky that night of your brother Jim’s wedding, so you can’t talk.’

Father looked at the floor, unable to talk about such matters with his daughter present.

Mum turned her back on him knowing he would not strike her however angry he was. She gave Bert a filthy look and he took another step back, unable to help himself. She put an arm around Kath.

‘Now my girl, how far along are you?

‘Mum, I’ve missed two,’ she said, eyes full of tears.

Dad was in his chair now, head in his hands.

‘I thought you said you were keeping an eye on them,’ he said.

‘I was,’ said mum. ‘I was,’ wondering when and where.

Dad read her mind.

‘Left alone in his house just up the road I suppose. She should never have gone with him. That family never was any good, absolutely useless every one of ’em.’

Bert didn’t like insults to his family, he reacted instinctively and took a step forward.

‘Now just a...’, but Kath nudged him hard while mother kept a close eye on dad.

‘I’ll talk to you later lad. Now Kath, go and make your father a nice cup of tea, there’s a good girl.’

‘Good girl? Good girl?’ said dad.

‘Father we’ll have none of that talk here. Go on Kath, run along.’

Kath left the room anxious about leaving Bert but pleased to have something to do. Bert just stood there while mum sat down and wiped her eyes. Bert spoke first.

‘I’m sorry Mrs Andrews.’

‘Sorry! Sorry! I’ll give him sorry.’ Mum was instantly out of her chair, getting to dad just in time.

‘Now John, what’s done’s done. We’ll get nowhere like that. Sit down and wait for your tea.’

Kath stood in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to whistle and hearing every word. Now she was shaking and scalded herself as she warmed the large teapot. She arranged the cups on the tray making sure dad’s big cup would be where he could reach it when she put the tray down. Having put the cosy on and checked all the cups and saucers for chips, as she’d been told to do whenever they had guests, she went back in the room. Only mum noticed the cups were rattling as she put the tray down.

Kath remained standing, she had a lot to say but didn’t know the words, especially with her dad there. Mum had struggled to tell her the ‘facts of life’ and ‘men’s desires’ as she’d put it, but Kath had learned most of it from her mates at work, some of whom talked of little else. She took a deep breath and looked straight at her mum.

‘It’s not just Bert’s fault mum, I....’ Mum cut her short.

‘Say nothing my girl. As I said to your father what’s done’s done. Have you told anyone else?’

‘No mum,’ said Kath surprised. Mum looked relieved. At least the gossip wouldn’t start yet. She turned to Bert.

‘I can’t say as I’ve ever got on with your family lad but your mum’s always been pleasant enough to me. There’s only Kath, father and me here but your mum’s had six to bring up and you don’t look too badly britched I’ll give you that. Your dad’s down the docks like Mr Andrews isn’t he?’

‘Yes Mrs Andrews.’

‘Works in Pattersons’ crew,’ scowled Dad.

‘Have you told your mum and dad yet lad?’

‘No Mrs Andrews.’

‘He won’t tell ’em, He’ll be off back into the army now ’e’s ’ad ’is fun just like the rest of ’em. His lot always do. He’ll leave our Kath in the lurch. You mark my words you won’t see ’im for dust,’ said Dad.

Bert had had enough. He stepped forward and stood in front of dad who stood up and faced him, a middle-aged man facing a strapping lad.

‘No I won’t. I won’t! I’ll do right by ’er.”

His voice was strong now. “I’ll marry ’er, I will, I will.’

Louder now, voice full of determination. ‘I’ll stand by her, I will! No matter what.’

Mum looked on.

‘You know lad, I think you will,’ she said.

Kath smiled properly for the first time in weeks.

• David Dunford has been writing short stories for some time and is currently trying to convert some of them into podcasts. He shares many interests with his wife including travelling, gardening and spending time with their five grandchildren.