Here is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub
‘It’s a bomb shelter on Warren Street, bit of a shambles now,’ said the professor. ‘They’ve asked us to take a look before they put new retirement homes up. Can you find it?’
‘I know where it is,’ said Kath, giving nothing away. ‘I’ll get over there later.’
‘I’ll leave it with you then.’
Kath walked to the building site, passing her childhood home, a Victorian terraced house which had served families for generations.
‘Couldn’t have imagined these things then,’ she thought, marvelling at the high-tech structures replacing it.
‘Nice places these,’ said the site manager. ‘Just suit you two when Bert retires.’
‘You know Bert?’
‘He delivers to the sites I work on, often speaks about you, says he doesn’t know how you brought up three kids and held down a big job at that university.’
Kath smiled ‘Only a year for him now’.
‘There you go then, I’ll have some brochures for you when you go. We’ve cleared the outside, but that’s about all. Take care and use your panic alarm if you have to, I’ve warned the lads.’
‘Thanks,’ said Kath. ‘It’s not my first time in one of these places.’
‘Certainly not the first time in this one,’ she thought, remembering the night her daughter Alison had been conceived in this very shelter, her mother sleeping peacefully only 10ft away.
‘Mum would’ve had a fit,’ she thought, rounding the corner of the shelter that, back then, they had been told would protect them from the blast.
There was never any privacy at home – mum never let her out of her sight when she and Bert were together. She disapproved of him because he was one of six and she was an only child.
‘You can do better than that, my girl,’ she’d said, but Kath wasn’t listening.
Bert had needed some encouragement at first – they hadn’t planned to go the whole way, admitting later that it was his first time.
‘He didn’t need any encouragement after I whispered, ‘let’s do it’,’ she thought, smiling at the memory. They’d both looked forward to the night at the shelter and their timing was perfect.
Bert got there early before the siren sounded and she joined him, oh so casually, 10 minutes later. Back behind the cupboard, not much room, even less privacy, but people would stay asleep if they kept quiet.
‘Not much debris for 50 years,’ she thought, as she went deeper into the shelter, memories flooding back. The cupboard was still there, rusty with paper thin metal.
‘I wonder...’ she thought.
The door was hanging open like it was when they’d used it for what privacy they could get.It creaked as she gently closed it, rust falling through the air, and there it was – the OXO tin.
He’d told her it contained a sandwich when he had handed it to her and she could still remember the diamond sparkling in the darkness as she’d opened it.
The newspaper he’d used to mount the ring was brown now, but the box was still there complete with the name: Dunn’s of Andover Jewellers of Distinction.
‘A charity shop now, I bet,’ she thought, picking up the box.
Kath considered herself lucky to be able to look back on 40 years of happy marriage as she remembered telling mum and dad she was pregnant and the hasty wedding before.
As mum put it: ‘She started to show’.
Bert’s promise that he would stand by her ‘no matter what’ prevented the row from turning to blows.
‘He kept that promise,’ she thought.
‘I thought you were keeping an eye on them?’ her father had said at the time, anxious to blame someone.
‘I was,’ said her mother, wondering how they had managed it.
‘The other two only came along because of dad’s early shifts and mum’s cleaning job,’ she remembered. ‘But then we got the council house.’
She turned the box over in her hand. ‘I wonder...’ she thought.
‘In a rush tonight,’ said Bert as he came in from work. ‘Picking up Geoff on the way to the gym.’
‘I knew you would be – it’s only a sandwich,’ she said handing him a plate.
He noticed the box nestling in the sandwiches and picked it up.
‘Couldn’t find an OXO tin,’ he read.
He gave her a puzzled look – recognising the Dunns of Andover legend, she just returned his gaze.
‘Open it then,’ she said.
Inside the box was a shiny iPod Nano.
‘Thank you,’ he said.
‘Turn it over.’
Engraved on the back were the words: For promising to stand by me, no matter what.
‘Thanks for the iPod, love,’ said Bert on his return. ‘I’ll get some songs on it and use it at the Gym, but tell me – where did you get the box?’
Kath continued with her ironing and told him of her visit to the shelter.
‘Good times, those Warren Street days,’ he said, playing with the iPod.
Kath picked her moment. ‘Those retirement homes have everything, even the plugs are half way up the wall – that would help your back, and there’s an en-suite shower, just like Alison’s.’
Bert took his eyes off the iPod and looked at her.
‘The ironing board comes straight out of the kitchen unit. You just slide it back when you’re finished.’
Another pensive look from Bert. ‘He was always reluctant to commit,’ thought Kath.
‘I suppose we could have a look.’
‘No need – brochures are here, and we’ve got the money.’
Not for the first time, Bert realised that the next phase of his life had been mapped out for him, but this time he was not reluctant to commit.
‘Let’s do it,’ he said.
Kath just smiled.
David Dunford has been writing short stories for some time and is currently working on converting some of them into podcasts.
Send your short story to the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub via e-mail at email@example.com. For more information check out the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub on Facebook.