“I think I’ll come back later,” said I.
“Nonsense!” said Mrs. Babcock. “Here I am, right in the middle of cooking supper, so do come in, will you? There are biscuits in the tin, up there, see? Help yourself while you’re waiting.”
Her dress was an expression of prudence. Made out of industrial blackout cloth, it was trimmed with lace that, by the yellowing of it, must have been used to decorate some old pillowcases. Wearing a flowery, ruffled apron that puffed around her belly, she had a soft, pillowy breast, which could not be avoided, no matter in which corner I tried to tuck myself or how fast I stepped out of her way, in the close quarters of her kitchen.
A coal stove, which served not only to cook meals but also to heat the place, was already roaring.
“This evening, just for the two of you, love birds, we’re going to have a special meal!” said Mrs. Babcock, with a great sense of familiarity, as if she had known me forever, or at least since my childhood. “If you ask me—which for some reason, no one cares to do—tinned food is anything but healthy. No one believes me; they say that even if I’m right, which I usually am, what of it? In the end you’re dead, no matter what.”
“Looking forward to it.”
“To being dead?”
“No,” said I. “To supper.”
“No tinned meat tonight!” she said. “Lately, it’s forced down our throats, thanks to this glorious war, because unfortunately, fresh fish are in short supply, and so are bananas—ah, just the thought of bananas makes me drool, I crave them so, I do! But they’re no longer imported on ships from abroad, because nowadays, their space is filled by other things, such as oil and guns. Forget bananas, then.”
“Consider it done.”
“The only thing we can get in abundance, these days, is carrots,” she complained. “Carrots, carrots, and then, guess what? More and more carrots. We’re drowning in them, to the point that the Government keeps telling us it’s a good thing, which it can’t be. They claim that the exceptional night-flying vision of Royal Air Force pilots is due to nothing else but eating carotene. And they insist that it would help us see better in the blackout, but if you ask me—”
She paused, waiting for me to ask, “Really? Is there any truth to that?”
“No,” she stressed. “I don’t think so!”
“Neither do I.”
“I must admit, I dislike changes. They’re quite a challenge for me,” said the woman. “And this war, unfortunately, it’s all about changes! I’m a grammar school geography teacher, trying to teach my pupils the boundaries of European countries, and guess what? From one day to another, borders are being altered, they get erased and redrawn in the course of Nazi invasions.”
While she was talking I cast a look around the kitchen. There was no refrigerator or icebox. Instead, there was a meat safe, which was a small, wooden cupboard. Colored dull red, its hinged doors were inlaid with tin plates, decorated by a lovely design made of punched holes. It was not only pretty but also served to ventilate the products stored inside, while keeping flies away from them.
Mrs. Babcock took out a small package of ground beef. According to her it was a great find, which meant that she had to spar over it with other customers at the market. She unwrapped it and placed it in a large skillet with a pinch of salt and pepper. Then, just as she added carrot and onion, the front door opened and there was Natasha, taking off her hat.
Lenny in Dancing with Air
★ Love romantic suspense? Treat yourself to a thrill ★
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