Ruth Cambridge tooted the car horn outside his cottage. Swain trotted to the car. Ruth asked as she drove, “What name should I use in public? Calling you Major might be awkward.”
“Bill is fine. Actually, I prefer Bill. Where did you get the car?”
“My family collectively owns it.”
Swain turned on the car radio. A commentator droned on about the war, “Ministry of Food was distributing new ration books, the Russian were fighting at the border of Romania, and . . .” As Swain listened, the car passed exploded bridges, burned out homes, and unidentifiable rubble. He remembered when the English countryside was pristine and beautiful.
Fifteen minutes later, they were seated in a private backroom of a nondescript pub. The clientele looked like factory workers. Ruth wore a below the knee green skirt with an orange and black motif above the hemline, a cream-colored blouse with baggy sleeves, and dark green flats. Swain had managed to find a clean, unwrinkled shirt and slacks. The stubble on his face shaved. He had ignored the clothing rations, but if this kept up, he might need a few more clothes. Clothing coupons were promptly given to Mrs. Ford.
On the front of the menu, it warned, “FOOD is a Munition of War, Don’t Waste it.” A poster hung on the wall stating, “Food Wasted Is Another Lost Ship.” Not only did the war become a war on the black market but a war on waste. Living in the desert for years forced Swain to be frugal in all respects of his life.
Swain looked around and asked, “Can we speak freely here?”
“The pub is owned by a friend. We have an arrangement with them for special circumstances.”
A barmaid set two cups of tea down and said, “An hour ago, the fishmonger delivered some fresh cod.”
Ruth ordered the fish and chips, and Swain preferred the baked chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. A thin soup with a sparse amount of vegetables and yesterday’s leftovers was served beforehand.
Between spoonfuls of soup, Swain asked, “Are you married?”
“Either I’m married and he’s a POW, or I’m a widow. David,” she paused with her lips pursed, “crashed his fighter plane over Italy. That’s why I’m doing this. The stress has taken a toll on me.
Swain sympathetically said, “Although he might not be treated well, many pilots have survived the crash and the prisons. Don’t give up hope.”
She gave him a weak smile. “Thank you. My sisters say life goes on, but I have trouble believing in...