Bunny’s dreams were simple; to get out and see life, away from her smart but stultifying middle-class upbringing. Her father was a doctor, her mother a housewife and she was their only child, brought up to please, but chafing under their restraint.
Edie came from a large and noisy family. Her father was a stevedore at London docks, worked long, hard hours; her mother sweated out her days in a hotel. Edie loved and missed her parents, but for her the farm was a haven where she was well fed and warm and, like Bunny, she did not mind the hard work. Her dream was to stay in the country – she never wanted to go back to the city.
Once every few weeks, the two girls would dress in their best and Bunny would sit Edie down to slick on some lipstick, laughing when tomboy Edie hastily wiped most of it away on the back of her hand.
“Sweetie!” she would exclaim. “You are gorgeous!”
Then they would dance the night away together at the local town dance hall. Bunny taught Edie how to do the jive and the foxtrot, and a new dance called the Lindy Hop, imported by the Americans from the air station nearby.
Those airmen would often ask Bunny to dance, and Edie too, sometimes, but the girls always refused. At work and at play they were inseparable, arms linked as they wandered back to the farm along dark country lanes, ever mindful of Mrs Bridges’ curfew.
They were there during the whole war. They had leaves, of course, and sometimes went home. Once or twice Edie’s family came to visit her, but Bunny’s never did.
“They do not approve of moi country ways, m’dear.” She parodied the Norfolk accent. “They think Norfolk be full of manure and mad cows.” She winked at Edie. “They could be right, sweetie – you are the maddest cow I know.”
“Cheek!” Edie playfully belted her around the ear and the two girls collapsed, laughing, into the pile of hay they had been stacking, where Bunny wriggled on to her back and sucked at a stalk of hay.
“What are you going to do after discharge, Edie?” she asked. “Will you stay on at the farm?”
“I do not know,” Edie said, her voice uncertain. “I would like to, but the Bridges boys will come home, so they may not need me any more. What about you? Will you go home?”
Bunny turned her head to look at her friend.
“Now, you know me better than that, Edie. No, I am going to find a job and a place of my own somewhere.”
“Where?” Edie asked in a small voice.
Bunny looked at her in genuine surprise. “Why, near here, of course. Near you. You don’t think I would ever leave you, Edie, do you?”
Edie’s eyes filled with sudden tears. Bunny put out her hand and gently stroked her cheek. “We will never be parted, Edie.” She grinned mischievously. “If those Yanks could not come between us, then nothing will.”
It was soon settled. Bunny found a small cottage for rent on the outskirts of the local market town, and a job with the local baker. Edie was to move in with her and cycle to the Bridges’ farm each day, at least till their boys came home.
Together Bunny and Edie scoured second-hand shops and auctions for furniture, knick-knacks and treasures to make their house a home. Excitedly, they purchased linen and towels, pottery and knives and forks with their hard-earned cash. Soon the small cottage was ready for them to move into.
Then, as they stood, cases packed, to stay goodbye to the kind old Mr and Mrs Bridges, a bomb was dropped – one far more destructive than anything Hitler could have unleashed on them in six long years of war.
Mr and Mrs Chalmers arrived to take their daughter home.
No amount of cajoling and pleading on Bunny’s part would make them leave without her. Bunny had served her country, and now they insisted it was time for her to come home.
Besides, they had a letter, they said, from the local minister’s house, hinting that all was not well with Bunny’s new domestic arrangements. They eyed Mr and Mrs Bridges with scorn and implied that they should have taken better care of their daughter. They did not even look at Edie as they bundled Bunny into the car and drove off.
The last sight Edie had of her beloved friend was a sad white face and two hands pressed up against the window as Bunny mouthed desperately that she would return as soon as she could.
The small parlour was still. I took Aunt Edie’s hand and, for a wonder, she did not shake me off.
“Did Bunny ever come back?” I whispered, but I already knew what the answer was.
A tear rolled down Edie’s cheek.
“I never saw her again. Her parents kept her away somehow – she was so under their thumb at home. And then a few weeks later… well, I got word from Mr and Mrs Bridges that Bunny was dead… she had caught a cold and it had turned to pneumonia. So she would not ever be coming back…”
Surprisingly strong for an old lady, Aunt Edie banged her cup down on the coffee table. “That is enough ancient history. Back to work, Miss. You young folk just do not know what work is!”
She never noticed that I had slipped Bunny’s photograph into my bag. I would get it framed, I decided. Then at least she would have Bunny with her for this move.
Aunt Edie never did make it to the residential home. The day after I had helped her pack up her few possessions, she slipped peacefully away in her sleep.
After the funeral, I asked Mum and Dad to leave me by the graveside by myself for a little while.
Kneeling on the earth, I gently let Bunny’s photograph fall into the grave. As I got up and turned away I swear I heard a giggle and a laughing command, “Do not wriggle so, Edie, or your lipstick will smudge.”
Were my Aunt Edie and her beloved Bunny together at last?
Source: My Weekly
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